“Isn’t man an amazing animal? He kills wildlife by the millions in order to protect his domestic animals and their feed. Then he kills domestic animals by the billions and eats them. This in turn kills man by the millions, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. So then man tortures and kills millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, some people are dying of sad laughter at the absurdity of man, who kills so easily and so violently, and once a year sends out a card praying for ‘Peace on Earth.'” – C. David Coats
Over the past year, my involvement in NARN has lead me down an interesting and somewhat painful path to self knowledge. It’s taken time, but I’ve had to define and redefine the nature of my activism, and my place within the animal rights movement. A lot has changed for me since I became an activist, especially because I live with a form of muscular dystrophy, a degenerative muscle disorder causing muscle weakness and wasting. (I’m lucky to have a mild form of the disease.)
For over a year now, I’ve been attending demonstrations despite the fact that it’s physically difficult and exhausting for me (and if I’m not very careful, painful afterward). Some people might be tempted to view this as admirable or determined, but it was largely my stubbornness and slowness to learn that were responsible, along with a slight disregard for my own health.
Several months into the foie gras campaign, the frequency of the demos picked up, and after attending two in the same weekend, I was left completely exhausted well into the next week. That’s what it took to make me realize that I might need to take my condition and health more seriously. I was emotionally burned out, too, and it was clear I needed to reconsider my role within NARN. The obvious answer was to spend more of my time doing technical work, particularly on the NARN web site.
There’s never a shortage of things to do for the VegSeattle and NARN.org websites, and I was already having a hard time keeping up, so it was the obvious choice. But it still wasn’t easy to talk myself out of demoing in favor of sitting at my desk–I do enough of that at my day job–but I was left with little other choice if I was to take proper care of myself. Although somewhat resigned, I stuck to my decision.
This is perhaps the first major lesson many activists must learn: take care of yourself first. I believe Kim McCoy (of Sea Shepherd) emphasized this at the opener for the Let Live Animal Rights Conference in Portland, Oregon. It’s clear why this is advice that should be taken to heart: if you don’t find a balance in your life and take care of yourself, you won’t be an effective animal advocate. There was a lot of talk at the conference about knowing your strengths, doing what you’re good at, and constantly re-evaluating what you’re doing to see if it works. While a lot of this was focused at the campaign level, it clearly hit me on a more personal level.
Other aspects of Let Live helped me gain additional perspective on my situation, and renewed inspiration. It felt like I gained a new lease on life, although it also left me exhausted (from the drive to Portland, not getting enough sleep, and the sheer number of people attending). I also found it difficult to socialize in this state, which led me to realize that perhaps I wasn’t cut out to network on behalf of NARN–so the same big questions were on my mind that weekend and I plenty of time to ponder them: what was my role? What were my strengths? It was pretty clear that web sitework was one. Writing has also long been a passion of mine–fiction and otherwise–and Let Live provided me with a few pathways to learn more about how these areas intersect with activism.
I attended workshops on design (by Josh Hooten of Herbivore, whose clothing I wore on several occasions during the conference) and writing (by Jasmin Singer of Farm Sanctuary). What both of these had in common was behind-the-scenes work. While often less glamorous and less recognized, supporting the infrastructure of the movement is as important as having people at protests. It also offers opportunities for nearly anyone to be involved—regardless of their abilities. The internet has opened Pandora’s box on this front: blogs, social networking sites, content writing and IT work for websites; the list goes on. And this is on top of other forms of office activism: preparing literature, sending letters and emails, doing basic administrative and financial work for animal rights organizations, etc. The possibilities are almost unlimited.
So if you’re new to activism and looking to get involved, realize that you have a host of options—including things as simple as encouraging friends and families to adopt a more compassionate lifestyle, the most basic form of activism. Prospective activists should also be made aware of the various ways in which they can contribute, although demand for such work usually ensures that it’s sought out (NARN certainly has some such opportunities, and we’re happy to accept help from volunteers). What’s more, this can make it easier to participate in animal advocacy without leaving your home, and without having to so much as leave your comfort zone. You can work when you want to on your own schedule, and if I sound like an ad for a job stuffing envelopes at home, it’s only because I’m excited about my new found focus on this sort of work.
I hope my experiences will inspire anyone reading this to do more – and do whatever you can to help animals. I wrote above that you don’t have to leave your comfort zone to do activism, but I hope all activists will choose to challenge themselves: you can always do more by trying things you’re not initially comfortable with. You might feel like you’re too shy or otherwise not good for front line activism, but don’t discount it without trying it. If you don’t like it, try it again, and remember that some forms of activism will never be comfortable or easy–but they are worthwhile. Even if it was unhealthy for me, I value what I learned about the movement and myself on the front lines.
So do what you can–and don’t run yourself into the ground. Remember, the animals are counting on us to be our best.
Note: this entry has been edited since its initial posting.
Tonight’s NARN Social was a great time. We had some new faces (both were new to me, at least), and some spirited discussion.
The topic I came up with at the midnight hour–literally at midnight last night–was: How can we reconcile animal liberation and animal interests with animal welfare regulation in the agriculture and food industries? How much confidence can we have that changes will be made for the better when Smithfield Food’s phasing out of gestation crates has been delayed, and the veganness of KFC Canada’s veggie chicken sandwich is in question? Does it ultimately matter in the long term, or are these dead-ends on the road to animal liberation?
That’s a mouthful. It was all I could come up with, but it’s a huge issue. I framed it in a way that asks more of a practical question I was too tired to realize when I wrote it: can we regulate animal industries? There are certainly limits on what we can regulate–but the limits on what we can abolish are greater, at least logistically and politically.
Some great points were made in discussion tonight, once we hit on the topic: all social movements have ups and downs, gains and losses, and they all need different kinds of people working on things. I was glad the newcomers had interesting perspectives to share from queer rights and other, more historically established social movements. It was another good reminder (in the wake of Let Live) that all of us working to help animals are chipping away at a larger edifice of exploitation, and that change takes time.
I would go so far to say that it’s a myth that animal welfare and abolition of animal exploitation are exclusive or incompatible with one another. If we only sought to protect animals while they are still being exploited, we definitely wouldn’t get anywhere on the animal rights front. Fortunately, the movement as a whole is not taking things on in such a manner, but instead with a variety of positions, groups, and approaches. This diversity is a good thing. Besides that, animal liberation is probably a long way off if it’s going to happen–so it’s a worthy goal to relieve the more egregious animal suffering that’s out there.
(Note: It’s not that I don’t believe in liberation, it’s just that I’m skeptical about the progress humanity will make on this or any front–but still hopeful.)
I might also make the argument that if we could persuade more people to take action to make animals used for food suffer less (eating fewer of them, not intensively confining them, etc), it might cultivate more awareness and compassion, which might make people easier to reach and persuade to stop exploiting animals altogether.
There is certainly a concern that people becoming comfortable with so-called “Happy Meat” could entrench meat eaters and others who might otherwise be persuaded to go vegan. It’s my feeling that this depends on how pressured people are to give up their (fictional) humane meat.
But in the sense that it reduces suffering, efforts by PETA and HSUS to improve farming conditions is a good thing. But it’s far more important that the vegan message be promoted. I have no doubt that if factory farming was abolished tomorrow, all activist efforts focused on welfare would go towards promoting veganism. (I have yet to read Francione’s entire blog entry about this, which I linked to above, so I may write more on this subject once I have.)
(Edit: Before editing, I erroneously implied that PETA and HSUS both support veganism. HSUS doesn’t particularly support veganism, but PETA does. My point was: it’s good that welfare improvements are underway, but if there was no effort to spread the vegan message, it obviously would not help end animal exploitation. The converse is not so, however–animal liberation would end any need for animal welfare campaigns in the current sense)
It might be a harder sell without the horrific imagery of factory farms, but the situation would be less dire in terms of animal suffering, and abusive agricultural practices (not to mention exploitation) exist independent of factory farms. This movement may not have gotten the kick start it needed if factory farming hadn’t come into its heyday, but I would certainly celebrate if those dank sheds disappeared from the landscape–even if they were only replaced by somewhat less brutal farms.
In its current guise, the movement, like the factory farm, is not old. As someone said tonight, and as many others have said in the past: it’s going to take a lot of smaller steps before animals are truly free.
It’s always heartening to be reminded of the quantity and quality of people who are in it for the long haul.
Recently I had a conversation with another animal rights activist, and this essay is a culmination of that exchange. It was in large part about the kind of emotional response animal rights activists have to the horrors of animal abuse. This really is my first foray into writing about animal rights in general, so bear with me.
She talked to me about her own personal emotional reactions as a vegan to those in her life who weren’t. She suppresses a feeling of horror at having to sit across from someone who has a meat dinner, she averts herself away from the line of dead animal parts in the meat department of the grocery store, and has trouble forming close relationships with those who sees as normal the violence against animals.
And that is a perfectly understandable reaction. Most people don’t support animal cruelty in a general sense, and are shocked when they are presented with information about the cruelty and torturing of animals in industries that are hidden from public view, with full financial and cultural support. Once the veil has been lifted, it’s quite alarming to see the breadth and scope of the kind of carnage and torture that is committed in the name of fashion, food, entertainment, and research. Those that have been moved enough to make the compassionate choice to not support systematic suffering feel a disconnect with those that continue to do so. It is a natural reaction to want to have nothing to do with people that support cruelty, to separate from them and to be only with others who have made the commitment to be more compassionate. Just as it would be uncomfortable to form a friendship with someone who sees no problem with violence against women, for instance, once one adopts the ethical position of seeing no distinction between animal and human suffering, it would be disagreeable to form a relationship with someone who is willing to lay out money for a product of animal torture.
At first glance, that kind of reaction would seem an antithetical position for an animal rights activist. An AR activist not only recognizes the need for a compassionate stance in their own personal life, but of a need to counter the decades of social and corporate conditioning to convince others of their role of encouraging animal abuse; to do so requires constant interaction in situations and with people that have evidence and products of once-living things. To make the most impact to reduce animal cruelty requires one to interact in the culture that supports it, to inform people of the connection between their money and the cruelty that it supports, to constantly engage, inform, and educate in “mainstream” society.
The fear the activist I talked to had, was in order for someone not to express horror at the constant evidence of agony, one has to avoid thinking about the experience of the victim, to become desensitized. She made the comparison of experiences by emergency medical responders she had talked to. They were passionate about what they did and cared very much, but in order to perform their jobs, they said they felt like it was necessary to shut off the part of the mind that elicit emotional responses to the situations they encounter. They said in order to survive mentally, they had to numb themselves to the experiences of those in anguish. While this person admires the kind of outreach AR groups conducts, she was not sure she could do that, and felt that the outward expression of abhorrence was a natural response to the violence surrounding her; she didn’t enjoy being expected to behave as if she wasn’t horrified.
While I’m certainly no psychologist, and don’t even pretend to know the inner workings of the human mind, I think that the kind of education and outreach that we do doesn’t necessarily involve a level of desensitization to the horrors, but rather a channeling of that visceral human emotion. From my own personal experience, even though I had already been an animal rights activist, after I had watched the movie “Earthlings,” and felt my insides knot up in suppressed rage at the unspeakable torture being shown, that made me more determined to reach out to the rest of the meat-eating, leather-wearing world with renewed vigor and passion in order to convince them of what they are directly supporting. There is no way that the normalized violence will end unless we can convince more and more people of their role in it and have them reject it. I think what we are doing at NARN, and by extension every other AR group, is more a redirection of that horror into a method by which we can convince others of their role in it. By bearing witness to those atrocities, and seeing exactly the hidden costs of the products that I’m constantly surrounded by, it increases my focus and reminds me that no matter what kind of discomfort I feel at any point in my life, it is nothing compared to what animals are constantly subjected to, day-in, day-out. The horror then becomes a call to action.
It is certainly not “bad” vegan behavior to act horrified at the situations and evidence we come in contact with; the point is not about condemning our very human reaction to standardized torture, but more about being aware of the perception by the non-vegan world. Most vegetarians/vegans started off as meat-eaters–still rare is the vegan that was born into the lifestyle. And in most cases it was that initial contact with a pamphlet, a video-viewing, or a polite conversation with an activist that planted the seeds of change. It’s important that non-vegans see vegans as approachable, non-stubborn, and non-judgmental; to treat others with distain and militancy will solidify in their minds that our approach isn’t worth investigating, with the net result being the cause of more suffering, not less.
And while it is still germane to feel disgust, we can still feel hope as well. The animal rights movement is still very young; the modern inception of it has only been around since the 1970’s, and since that time, we’ve made many advances. And we’ve saved countless lives of animals–just imagine how much worse animals would have it now if there weren’t a movement underway to eliminate animal suffering. And while it is important to maintain a compassionate lifestyle, the impact of our entire life spent not eating meat will literally double if we convince even just one person in our lifetime to also choose a more compassionate path. And the more people we reach out to, the more suffering we mitigate and eliminate, and the less viable the current structure of society and industry that allows cruelty will be. And that’s something we can truly feel good about.
Thanks to our fabulous and dedicated activists, NARN distributed over 2,000 Veg Restaurant Guides and Gudies to Cruelty Free Living at the Folklife Festival, the U-District Street Fair and the Furry 5k benefit for Seattle Animal Shelter.
At the NARN table, we had signs for our free Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurant Guides and many people excitedly came to us asking: “where is that Vegan Guide? I want the vegan restaurant guide!” It’s always nice to know we’re helping people find delicious, cruelty-free dining options in Seattle – and helping animals in turn.
Other passersby were excited to see the Free Veg Starter Kits, or to have the opportunity to pick up information for their son/daughter/niece/friend that has been a vegetarian or just turned vegan. And of course, the kids always love free stickers!
We also parted with a good number of animal services guides, particularly at the Furry 5k. What a great way to reach people who already love their companion animals! Mark also ran the course in a jersey that read “Vegan Athlete” and NARN’s logo, then carried a sign for VegSeattle through the finish!
It is very rewarding to have people thank us for being out there, and to feel as though we are providing a valuable service. It’s also a lot of fun to hang out with others devoted to promoting compassion for all animals.
This weekend, the fun continues at the Fremont Fair, where NARN will have a table in front of PCC. Come say hello!
As many of you probably heard, Dr. George Tiller, a doctor that performed late-term abortions was murdered at his church this past Sunday.
Any death is tragic, and this one also serves as a reminder of the “special” legal hurdles faced by animal rights activists. The man that shot and killed the doctor was not called a terrorist by the government or by the media, even though the action he carried out was based on his religious and philosophical views. The man is an extremist. He is part of a group that fights in behalf of the voiceless and the anti-abortionist movement as a whole professes to value all human life.
Animal rights activists are often compared to anti-abortion activists , and we do have many similarities to the Anti-Abortionist movement. We both proclaim to value life, we both conduct protests and we have been known to label members of the opposition “murderers”. It is worth noting however, that 4 people have been killed by anti-abortion activists, while zero people have been killed by animal rights activists.
The government however, treats us differently. If an animal rights activists commits an action in the name of Animal Liberation, we are automatically labelled terrorists. Anti-abortionists are not. They are only prosecuted based on their crime, not on their ethical, religious or philosophical views. The man that murdered Dr. Tiller will be charged with murder, not terrorism. He will not be tried in Federal Court, and it is unlikely that he will receive a special sentence.
This double-standard treatment is unfair, but this should be nothing new to us. Animal rights activists are fighting against unequal standards every day. Dogs are given more protection that pigs, cows more protection that chickens. Any cute animal has more advocates that the less visually appealing. We should not let the injustice that we face at the hands of the legal system deter us.
We must keep fighting on behalf of the voiceless, for the obstacles that we face, are nothing compared to the injustices faced by the animals.
During last Friday’s weekly foie gras protest of Quinn’s in Capitol Hill, NARN returned a donation check from the owner of the pub, Scott Staples.
Quinn’s has displayed a banner advertising that 10% of foie gras sales will be donated to NARN (see picture below).
The NARN board of directors unanimously rejects any such donations. It would show neither consistency nor integrity for an animal rights organization to benefit from animal cruelty – especially by profiting from foie gras, a product we’re actively campaigning against.
After the check was returned to him, Mr. Staples replied that he would “never take [foie gras] off the menu”, but that he was “proud of [NARN]” for rejecting the donation. I’m sure he’s happy we won’t accept money for what he considers our “support”.
We will not be swayed. The demonstrations will continue, and perhaps one day this so-called “delicacy” will be a thing of the past in Seattle eateries.
Remember, if you want to help us stop restaurants from serving this inhumane dish, we need you to contact them and politely request that they remove it from the menu. While the protests keep pressure and attention on them, they will ultimately only listen to public pressure. So drop by, call, or send e-mail to Quinn’s and Lark and ask them to remove foie gras from their menu, and make a difference for the ducks.