I didn’t know it at the time, but my journey as an animal advocate began more than two decades ago on the cobblestone streets of Pamplona, where I participated in the annual running of the bulls. As much as I’d like to say I immediately went vegan and dedicated my life to being active for animals after witnessing this cruel spectacle, the reality is more complicated. It took me years to connect the dots and recognize how my choices affected animals as well as humans. But that visit to Spain—and seeing how those bulls were treated—planted a seed. Many of us are like that, I think: we come to this movement in a variety of ways.

Of course, when I did go vegan, I was eager to spread the word about animal exploitation. But how? I found a few resources online, and a number of animal advocates were happy to answer my questions. Yet what I really could have used was a best-practices guidebook to show me the way. After years of trial and error and fits and starts, I found models of activism that made me feel fulfilled—and models that left me feeling depleted. I knew other people new to activism would have the same questions I did, so I wrote Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, which was published by Changemakers Books in 2008. I interviewed more than 100 activists from around the world, getting their advice on what tactics are effective and how anyone can get involved.

Much has changed since 2008, and the publisher agreed it was time for a new, expanded edition of the book. I am proud to say the 10th-anniversary edition of Striking at the Roots is now available (in print and digital formats), and that many vegan stores will be offering it, including Herbivore in Portland. I recently sat down with The Bearded Vegans to discuss the new book in an interview you can listen to here.

Oh, and if you have trouble finding Striking at the Roots at your local bookstore or vegan market, you can order it from Book Depository, which offers free shipping to 160 countries.

Check out the short video below for more information. Thank you!

 

Note: This book is printed in locations around the world. For copies in the United States, my publisher used a new book manufacturer, and the covers of some copies were improperly trimmed. These books were reprinted, but it might take another week or two for them to reach e-tailers like Amazon. If you are not happy with the quality of a book you ordered online, please exchange it for another one. (If you have any concerns, you can also order the book from Book Depository, which ships for free from the UK.)

 

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It’s a question I hear a lot, especially from newer activists: What is the most effective model of animal activism? My response is that I wouldn’t want to characterize one form of activism as the most effective, because every social justice movement needs a variety of forms, and people generally need to hear a message in a variety of ways.

While some longtime activists might criticize so-called “hashtag activism,” for example, it has an undeniable place in our movement and is a gateway for new (and perhaps introverted) activists to ease into campaigns. As a recent article on the Psychology Today site observed, “Hashtag activism can be a powerful way to control a narrative regarding a common cause that has either been neglected or misrepresented by corporate media, and it offers the opportunity for communal participation across the globe.”

Moreover, although public disruptions may not be for everyone, it’s clear they have an impact. Last year, for instance, about 20 animal activists confronted fur-loving fashion designer Michael Kors during a speech; seven months later, he agreed to go fur-free. Was his ban on fur a direct result of the disruption? No, of course not. But it was yet another strong message—one he couldn’t ignore.

And I’ve heard some activists disparage bearing witness, participating in vigils, or giving water to animals being transported to slaughter as a waste of time, yet these activities (which are often very painful) can result in powerful images that may reach well beyond the vegan community they are shared to.

My point is that each of these models has a place in animal activism, because we need every tool in the toolbox to get our message heard. For every person whose first exposure to an animal rights message—a documentary, say, or a vegan leaflet—resulted in them going vegan, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of people who need much more exposure to the message before it will sink in and have an effect. They need to hear about it from their family and friends, they need to see it online, they need to read op-eds and letters to editors. They might even need to listen to podcasts about it or watch a short TEDx talk. The sad truth is, people fear change, and they have been conditioned to believe that animal exploitation and consumption are socially acceptable, so activists have an enormous, culturally imposed hurdle to overcome.

(When various tactics are part of a broader campaign, it’s important that they are coordinated to reach a strategic objective. A campaign to get a local restaurant to stop serving foie gras, for instance, might rely on such tactics as communicating with the owner, outreach to the community, and demonstrations in front of the business, but they should be carefully planned to fit together and gradually escalate to achieve a more powerful impact.)

There’s an old-school marketing principle called the Rule of Seven, which states that a potential customer needs to hear your message at least seven times before they will buy your product or service. And marketing experts will tell you that to achieve those seven contacts, you must never rely on just one type of advertising—whether it’s print ads, radio, billboards, television, newsletters, digital ads, or whatever. Yes, we’re talking capitalism, but let’s not ignore how we as activists can benefit from this wisdom. People are slow to trust, so getting them to believe they need to change their behavior is a challenge. Of course, some people never “buy,” just as some people are harder to convince than others that going vegan is better for the animals, for the planet, and for themselves.

One of the models of activism I think is especially powerful—and one that is often overlooked—is telling stories … stories about animals and about our own transformations from omnivore to vegan. Animal ag apologists can argue with us about statistics and even health, but they cannot challenge our own experiences or the experiences of the animals we know.

The truth is, humans love stories. In fact, our brains light up when we hear or read a good story. A few years ago, neuroscientists at Emory University studied the neural patterns of volunteers who had each read a novel based on real events. The results showed that connectivity in participants’ left temporal cortexes—the part of the brain associated with receptivity for language—was heightened for several days afterward. Results like this suggest that narratives have much more meaning to people than facts and data. In other words, good stories can put you into someone else’s shoes.

We are drawn to stories of how people overcame adversity to become a better version of themselves, and I think that arc can be applied to the person who turns away from meat, eggs, and dairy foods to embrace veganism. Sincerity and candor are deeply moving, so don’t be afraid to admit your struggles and speak from the heart.

Emmeline can smile now.

The same goes for stories about animals who have been rescued from exploitation, whether it’s for meat, eggs, dairy, clothing, research, entertainment, or any other form of abuse. In the new edition of Striking at the Roots, I briefly tell the story of Emmeline, a rabbit who was rescued from a meat farm by my friends Tara and Heidi (with help from their friend Diana and her husband). “Because we had seen where she came from and were part of her actual rescue, we felt a special and immediate bond with her,” says Tara. “I was very protective of her experience. When she came to live with us, we spoke softly around her, moved carefully, gave her space to retreat to, and did all we could to earn her trust. We tell her every day what a good friend she is and how grateful we are that she’s with us. She’s a beloved family member, and now we can’t imagine life without her. We can only imagine what she’s seen in her short time before we rescued her, and we are in awe of her will to survive. The way to honor her is to give her the best life possible and to respect her as an individual.” To see more of Emmeline, check out the Tallulah Rabbit & Friends Facebook page.

When pressed on what my favorite model of activism is, I admit that it’s whatever form of activism you find to be the most fulfilling, because that is the activism that’s going to nourish you and keep you in the movement longer.

And I love the observation of activist and VINE Sanctuary cofounder pattrice jones. “Every successful social-change movement has involved a multiplicity of people using a multiplicity of tactics to approach a problem from a multiplicity of angles,” she says. “Some people push against the bad things that need to be changed while others pull for the good alternatives. Some people work to undermine destructive systems from within while others are knocking down the walls from without. We all need to recognize that and find our place within a multifaceted struggle, being sure to be generous and appreciative of those who are working toward the same goals using different tactics.”

 

You will find more information about the various models of activism—and staying in the movement long-term—in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

Buttons from Compassion Co.

When we embrace a vegan lifestyle, we like to imagine we are bettering ourselves. We are doing our best to avoid all products that come from animals, for instance, and we do not patronize businesses that use animals or keep them in captivity. But we fall short in our quest for personal improvement (or just common decency) if we use veganism as an opportunity to embarrass others, and among the most disgraceful practices some of us engage in is shaming those who—vegan or not—don’t fit into a certain body type.

Body shaming can be overt, or it can be a subtle comment, like “you’re so brave to go to the gym” or “you look so skinny in that.” A vegan might not even be aware they are body shaming when they respond to someone’s social media post of a meal with “I could never eat that.”

That this sort of behavior happens in our movement isn’t really that surprising; after all, not only does our society place value on people with slender physiques few can emulate, but there are prominent vegan “leaders” who claim that being a “fat vegan” hinders that person’s efforts to help animals, vegan documentaries perpetuate body shaming, and major organizations use extremely offensive body shaming ads as a misguided tactic to motivate people to go vegan (I am not going to share these potentially triggering images, but you can easily find them online).

In the vegan world—home planet of the myth that someone who avoids meat, eggs, and dairy foods is either thin or on their way to being thin—body shaming takes on an extra stain of ugliness as concern trolls offer unsolicited eating advice and humiliate their fellow vegans both online and in person. I have heard dedicated animal advocates who have been shamed say they would not attend a protest or do outreach because they fear their bodies would give the public the wrong impression about vegans. I have heard about compassionate vegans who were humiliated by other vegans who doubted their plant-based eating because they were not thin. And I have heard a vegan cookbook author tell of one review she received on Amazon in which the person wrote “don’t buy her book, she is fat” (Amazon removed the review).

Andy Tabar

The bottom line is that body shaming is a form of bullying, it is hurtful and counterproductive, and it has no place in the animal rights movement. I am heartened by the efforts of vegans to speak out against body shaming, including Andy Tabar, the man behind the vegan messagewear brand Compassion Co and one-half of The Bearded Vegans podcast team. I think it was last year that he posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing his latest shirt design, and the first comment posted about the image was “Fat vegan” and a sad face.

In a response that went viral, Andy posted, “I used to be embarrassed to tell people I was vegan because I had been shamed by the plant based dieters who say in order to represent veganism you need to fit into a specific mold. That if you’re a fat vegan you’re doing a disservice to the animals. Well, fuck that. I spent 13 months on the road educating college students about the inherent cruelty in animal agriculture with the 10 Billion Lives tour. During which I had over 10K individual conversations and I talked to so many fat people who said they never thought they could go vegan because they assumed everyone who was vegan had to be super athletic and look and eat a certain way. Then they saw me and realized that anyone can be vegan. Anyone can care about animals and take actions to prevent their exploitation. As I’ve said before, any body is capable of being a compassionate body.”

Andy has since participated in at least two vegfest panels with vegan cooking coach JL Fields and dietitian Ginny Messina in which they discuss body shaming for attendees, and the response has been tremendous. (You can hear a recording of one of their panel discussions here.)

(L to R) Ginny Messina, Andy Tabar, and JL Fields.

In addition to the panel discussion, I encourage you to visit Big Fat Vegan Zine, an online space created by Jenny Marie to explore vegan body positivity.

I also recommend you check out the work of activist Jaime Karpovich and listen to her in-depth interview on episode 170 of the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! podcast, on which she talks about how body positivity has become commercialized. The episode is also valuable to hear the insights of co-hosts Callie Coker and Nichole Dinato.

Body shaming is insidious, and as animal advocates, we can do better than this. We can acknowledge that whether it’s speciesism, homo aggression, racism, sexism, ableism, body shaming, or any other type of oppression, they are all connected. We can recognize that just like the animals we’re fighting to liberate, everyone has a right to their own body. And we can stop—just stop—judging others based on what they look like.

 

You will find more information about body shaming in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that the U.S. public is closely divided over the issue of animal testing: 47 percent favor the practice, while 52 percent oppose it. That’s actually a slight improvement over results from the previous study they did, in 2014, in which 50 percent of respondents opposed animal testing.

This new survey comes as the topic of using animals for testing products and for scientific research is being hotly debated. Researchers, activists, and politicians all have a vested interest in what happens with vivisection, and most—even those who profit from using animals—seem to agree that at minimum more can be done to reduce the use of animals in labs. Among the issues up for debate are specific bans being proposed, such as California’s SB 1249, as well as HR 2790, also known as the Humane Cosmetics Act, which would phase out animal-based testing for cosmetic products in the U.S. in favor of alternative testing methods (such as computer models and in-vitro testing) and eventually ban the sale in the United States of cosmetics tested on animals in other countries.

Activists have a lot of data on their side. For example, previous research has shown that 72 percent of consumers agree that testing cosmetics on animals is unethical. Moreover, using in-vitro models to predict skin irritation in humans has resulted in accuracy rates of 76 to 86 percent. Compare that to the accuracy of just 60 percent using rabbits. You’d get pretty much the same results by flipping a coin.

I asked Monica Engebretson, North America campaign manager for Cruelty Free International, about the efforts she and her colleagues are engaged in to end the practice of animal testing. Founded in 1898 by Irish writer and suffragette Frances Power Cobbe as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Cruelty Free International has been agitating against vivisection since its inception.

“As an organization, Cruelty Free International has a big mission: to end animal experiments worldwide,” says Monica. “Our organization is headquartered in London, so we have campaigns that are focused in Europe as well as campaigns that reach around the world. This makes a lot of sense considering that European countries often lead the way on animal protection and then it becomes our task to get other countries to catch up. In fact, one of our big campaigns in the UK right now, called ‘Lead the Way,’ is working to end the use of dogs in toxicity testing. Another example is cosmetic testing on animals. The European Union started phasing out the use of animals for cosmetic tests in 2009 and the full ban came into effect in 2013. Following on this success, Cruelty Free International has been working in countries around the world to match this progress. Currently we are working to bring a petition of 8 million signatures to the United Nations.”

Stateside, Monica and her colleagues are working on what she calls “prioritizing alternatives” initiatives. “I think most people would be shocked to realize that even when modern non-animal tests are available there is no federal requirement that those alternatives be used in place of animal tests. As a result, hundreds of thousands of animals may be used each year in outdated tests that have scientifically valid, humane alternatives. [In contrast, the EU has mandated the use of available alternatives since 1986.] We were successful in passing such legislation in Virginia last year and came very close to passing a law in Hawaii. California, New York, and New Jersey already have similar laws in place. It’s all about moving the needle and keeping your eyes on the big picture.”

How You Can Help

Obviously, the first step is to not buy products tested on animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo and download the app on your smartphone.

Let the managers at stores where you shop know you appreciate them selling products not tested on animals.

Support legislation, such as HR 2790 and SB 1249.

Contact companies you like and ask if they test on animals or use animal ingredients. If they do, tell them you oppose any animal testing and the use of animal ingredients.

Sign and share the global Forever Against Animal Testing petition, which will be presented to the United Nations when 8 million signatures have been collected.

Share this information with your friends and family.

 

You will find more information about advocating for animals in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

Kim Stallwood and Shelly

Kim Stallwood has been an activist for four decades, and his campaign experience includes working with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (which has since been renamed Cruelty Free International), Compassion in World Farming, PETA, and the RSPCA. He is also the author of Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate, which is both a memoir on Kim’s work as an animal activist and his thoughts on how we can reshape animal advocacy. He has long advocated for making the moral and legal status of animals a mainstream political issue. I find his advice to be among the soundest in the movement, and I am very pleased to share this interview, in which Kim discusses such topics as the importance of lobbying elected officials on animal issues, building community within the movement, and the activist tactics he thinks are a big waste of time.

If someone were to come to you and say, “I’ve recently become vegan, and I’d like to know how I can do more for animals,” what advice would you give them on where to begin?

In your scenario, they’ve already begun. If they have become vegan, they have begun. In fact, they’ve more than begun; they have gone quite a ways down the road. Given the high rates of recidivism amongst vegans, I think maybe the best advice to give someone who is a new vegan is to think about being vegan in the long run and be aware that it’s a journey, not a destination, and that there are times when you’re going to fuck it up, and that when you do fuck it up, you should not beat yourself up over it. I used to think that guilt was a great motivator for being vegan, and I would quite happily project my guilt onto other people in order to make them, hopefully, become vegan. But I really don’t thing that’s advisable anymore.

If they’ve just become vegan, I would say that they should be mindful that being vegan is difficult, be prepared that mistakes will happen, and just do the best you can and don’t let others criticize your efforts to be vegan.

Thereafter, I would say that people need to find what they’re best at doing and where they can make a unique difference. It’s important to not feel isolated, to feel that you’ve got people with like minds, even though you may disagree on some detail, but to generally know that you’re with a like-minded group of people who are mutually supportive and can help you.

How can you best build that community? How do you not feel isolated?

The way to build a community is through trial and error. Find the people who you’re comfortable working with, collaborate, build relationships, be supportive, socialize with them—but keep some distance; don’t be intimate.

Why not be intimate?

I think you can take it too far, where you become too dependent upon other people. We all have relationships, but in the context of activists, I think you should always be mindful of not becoming too dependent, because people let other people down. People aren’t always there, though many are, thankfully. But not everyone is.

What advice do you have for activists who would like to lobby their elected officials?

Lobbying isn’t for everyone. Yes, by all means, people should lobby their elected representatives, whether it’s national, regional, or state. They should generally identify the political parties with the greatest commitments to helping animals, identify the candidates at the time of an election with the greatest commitment to animals. They should go to public meetings and other opportunities to quiz candidates at the time of an election. They should develop a platform of issues to lobby with and talk about at the time of an election. And whoever gets elected, we should hold them to account for whatever pledges they made to help ensure they implement them during the period of time they serve as a publicly elected representative. If they fail to do it, you come back to the next election and make the point that they promised to do XYZ, and they never did it.

There’s another layer of activity on top of that, which is if someone feels predisposed toward a political party, I would encourage them to join that party and work from within to raise the topic of animals as an issue of debate in order to inform other members of the party and develop positions and policies within the party. I think the ideal that we need to strive towards is when we have a national election, the political party with the greatest commitment to animals is elected to form the government so that when that party forms the government, they come ready-made, as it were, with the best pledges and promises to act in that elected cycle. The most effective way to do that is to work from within the political party. Quietly but firmly assert animal issues and build them into your general political ideology within that party. If you just go in and talk about animals and nothing else, you won’t be taken very seriously. But if you go in and talk about animal issues in relation to broader social justice and the environment and public health and so on, then the other people in the party will be more open to taking that position onboard. It’s a long process. It’s a process that other interest groups do, but the animal movement just doesn’t do it well, if at all.

How do you feel about advocates forming political parties?

I don’t speak against people forming political parties for animals, but I don’t agree with it as a strategy. There are several problems with it, in my mind. One is that it further frames the animal issue as a fringe, separate issue, whereas what I think we need to do is frame the animal issue within the democratic or republican ideologies—or labor or conservative or whatever—so that it’s seen as an integral part of that party’s belief system.

Are there any models of activism you consider to be a waste of time?

I think that actions which don’t directly focus on animal cruelty and use people-shaming in some way or make people feel guilty in some way are not the best forms of activism. I think those sorts of things are good examples of what activists feel, psychologically, they’ve got to do because no one else will do it. “Someone’s got to tell the people what’s going on and make them feel guilty.” They think guilt might change their behavior. You can identify 10, 20, 30 years ago the same types of people doing this. Where are they now?

I think one thing that’s important to tease out here is longevity—how are you [as an activist] going to stay with this? Because most people give it up. We know from animal rights conferences that there is an endless turnover of new, fresh faces who have to go through the drama and emotion of going to their first conference and the second, and then by the third they see the pattern of it and they don’t come back. How do you—how do I—keep doing it? Well, I keep doing it because I don’t want to do anything else. It gives purpose to my life. What would I be doing otherwise? I really don’t know. Which isn’t to say I don’t have interests outside of animal rights, because I do. But I think if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be doing some other form of social justice.

One of the nice things about Facebook is that you reconnect to people who you knew decades ago and you’ve lost touch with them, and they’re still doing it! [Laughs] I may think, “Oh, I didn’t like them because of such-and-such or we had a disagreement over so-and-so or I don’t like the point they are making now,” but I still feel a warmth towards them because I’m just so thrilled to see they are still doing it—they are still doing stuff to help animals.

Any final thoughts on animal activism or effective strategies?

What this movement needs more than just activist bodies doing protests—however important that is—is qualified, trained professionals who can use their education and their position in society to advance animal issues. We can all be activists, but we can’t all be doctors or lawyers or people who get elected to public office. Those specialties are really what the movement needs. I would never say to someone, “If you have the capacity to become a medical doctor, that’s what you should do, because you can use your medical degree to help animals,” if they don’t care about treating people. They’ve got to want to do it anyway, but also do it realizing that they can also help animals.

For more insights from Kim Stallwood, I highly recommend his book Growl: Life Lessons, Hard truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate, published by Lantern Books.

You will find more information about lobbying for animals and other activist strategies in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

She’s been called a “farm animal whisperer” and “the heart” of Farm Sanctuary. As the National Shelter Director of the organization―which rescues, rehabilitates, and houses abused and neglected animals in California and New York―Susie Coston oversees a staff of caregivers, feeders, cleaners, and project workers to ensure that the hundreds of farmed animals at the sanctuary receive the best possible care at every stage of their lives. It’s an enormous responsibility, and Susie is constantly in demand, yet she is always happy to offer support and counsel to other advocates working on behalf of animals.

Since joining the Farm Sanctuary team in 2000, Susie has assisted in rescuing countless cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals most people eat, and she has become a leading authority on animal care and behavior. Based at Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen, NY, location, she may be one of the busiest people in the movement, but she is very generous with her time, and I am extremely grateful she paused long enough to offer her insights about sanctuary work and advice for other activists.

For anyone thinking of working, interning, or volunteering at a sanctuary for farmed animals, can you talk a little about the emotional highlights and struggles of this work?

The animals we care for are animals from the food industry, many who have been changed through selective breeding and genetics to live shorter lives, grow faster, produce more eggs or milk, etc., so because of this we are already up against these changes when we are attempting to have them live long, happy lives. Also, there are not solutions for all their conditions. Since they are culled [by the animal ag industry] when they get certain viral diseases, so many of the conditions they arrive with are not treatable but instead are managed. Bottom line is that euthanasia and death are part of farm animal rescue. We do everything you can possibly do, and luckily we have the best school in the country for our animals: Cornell. We have brought animals from California to Cornell since they are so much more advanced with the type of procedures we do. When these animals were bred for fast growth, short lives based on slaughter age, etc., the thing that did not change is that they are loving, amazing, sentient beings, so the loss is incredibly hard. It is the hardest part of the position. There is a sense of guilt that comes from not being able to fix the unfixable.

The second hardest is that these animals need a lot of work, especially when they come in and when they are older. The work is physically exhausting, which makes the emotional a lot worse and harder to handle. Many of these animals are huge and you can get physically hurt, but the biggest issue is the work is backbreaking. It is also not pretty. You never come home without being covered in feces, blood, mud, etc. Part of the job.

The good outweighs the bad in my opinion, of course, because there is nothing on Earth like seeing happy, confident, healthy animals. Nothing can compare.

What do you mean when you say “not being able to fix the unfixable,” and how should sanctuary workers cope with it?

We are fighting a battle that is not going to be easily won, and we’re rescuing animals who have been genetically changed to grow bigger breasts, lay more eggs, produce more muscle, and are designed to live just 36 to 40 days or six months. We want them to live forever because we see them as an individual. Sadly, they are not built to live forever. So instead of taking it all on yourself―“I could have done more,” etc.―recognize that not all of their issues are fixable. Recognize that you may fail to save an animal who arrives in a condition that is not fixable, a condition that in many cases is manmade. And even more important, recognize that you cannot save them all. We have to be able to let go of those things out of our control, so we can function in our role as educators and care providers.

You doubtless have countless examples of how an animal affected you personally. Can you share one?  

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

It happens daily―seriously, it does. One that affected me was with Sebastian pig, who was well known as the bad boy of the pig barn. He has done some serious damage to caregivers’ pants, but also has really bit and chased a lot of people. He just doesn’t really like when he feels people are invading his space―like if they are squeezing past him or trying to get in the barn when he is at the gate. And sometimes, it is completely unprovoked.

I met him, as did others, as a tiny little piglet who was mouthy, but many are. I just never had a problem with him―we seem to get each other. Well, we had a video crew visit the farm, and they were interviewing me about my own life, and during the discussion I started crying. And Sebastian got up from his own bed across the barn and walked right up to me and plopped down beside me. No aggression, which is usually the response with new people like the camera crew, but instead he just stayed with me, and oddly I felt really safe. I think we give each other those feelings: safety, love, friendship.

In a one-on-one conversation, what do you say when you’re trying to convince someone to go vegan?

Most of my one-on-one conversations are about my relationships with these animals and where they came from. What I have seen personally when we do the rescue and then when they are finally happy, is how incredible it is that these animals who were once terrified now trust you, bond with another animal, etc. I try, not always successfully, to be as positive as I can and not make people feel attacked; I try to really get attached to the animals―cell phone photos help―and then give people very basic info.

At conferences, I’ve heard you say activists should not push themselves to view graphic images. Can you explain why you feel that way?

I think unless you are a police officer who needs to go through videos to make arrests, most people working on the ground are not watching video after video of death, rape, and violence against the beings they are attempting to protect. Because those acts are illegal, of course, they cannot be shown publicly. The videos that animal activists watch generally depict completely legal acts—because animals are considered property and have few protections—but we seem to almost thrive on watching these videos, which I think leads to burnout. On social media, I unfriend those people who only post pictures of cats being skinned, for example, or videos of an animal being tortured. It causes you to shut down. I also think it leads to more violent responses—and deep anger, which is not going to effect the changes we are hoping to see.

You said earlier that the good outweighs the bad. What else keeps you going?

There are so many times when it seems like there is no way you can deal with what you see, but while you are at a case, you have to work: help get animals loaded, assess what they need to survive a trip, etc. You go into work mode. Same with stockyard visits. High adrenaline keeps you going, but later it crashes in on you. But even when it does, in most cases we have the animals who came from these places. They are safe, we are working with them, they start to trust us and again, in most cases, they turn around. Some are so scared they throw themselves into walls or fences, and to see them join a herd or a flock and watch them finally feel safe, it just motivates you to keep going. Because there is hope. I see it not just with the animals, but when people are visiting and seeing a pig or a chicken for the first time and learning about them and touching them for the first time. And hearing them say, “I can never eat pork again” or “I had no idea that milk was cruel.” We cannot save them all, but we can help some and tell their stories. Those few can reach thousands or millions of people, and maybe they will stop eating the billions.

Finally, can you talk a little about the importance of activists visiting sanctuaries for self-care?

I do think that activists should visit sanctuaries because they can see the happiness of animals that they are fighting for every day. Seeing an animal even at a small farm is so different than seeing animals who are thriving and feel secure at a sanctuary. It gives some semblance of hope and also shows that even after the abuse, these animals can recover mentally and physically. I find it makes me stronger knowing that they can live through some of the most egregious acts, and come from the most horrific conditions, and forgive and live life fully and happily.

 

You will find more information about animal sanctuary work in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

 

Using dogs to hunt small mammals—most notably foxes, who are often considered “pests”—has been an unfortunate part of British society for hundreds of years. As red-coated hunters on horseback follow, trained dogs with a keen sense of smell chase the scent of a fox through the countryside until they catch and kill their prey. A law banning the blood sport, known as the Hunting Act, came into force in February of 2005, making it illegal to hunt foxes, hares, minks, and deer with hounds in England and Wales. (A similar ban had been passed in Scotland in 2002.)

But many—many—hunters refuse to give up on this cruel activity and have sought loopholes and other means to continue. One such solution was their creation of a sort of hybrid pastime called “trail hunting,” in which the dogs and hunters ostensibly only follow a scent (often fox urine) laid by a hunt enthusiast, and no prey animal is killed. At least that’s how it works in theory. Dogs don’t often follow the rules, however, and they frequently come upon foxes and chase and kill them. When this happens, the hunt organizers inevitably call it “an accident.”

Foxes suffer horrible deaths when they are caught by the dogs.

Working to keep the hunters honest—and animals alive—are campaigners who go into the countryside armed with video cameras to closely monitor and even disrupt the hunts, something they’ve been doing since long before the Hunting Act. It’s a form of direct action known as hunt sabotage, and the activists engaged in it are known as hunt saboteurs (or simply hunt sabs). The hunt sabs also sometimes use horns to confuse the dogs and Citronella spray to prevent them from getting onto the scent of the animals.

I recently spoke with Alfie Moon of the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), one of the most active groups in the UK, about his work as a hunt sab.

Can you give us a little information on your background? How long have you been an activist and how did you get started?

I have been an activist for as long as I can remember. My mum and sisters were anti-apartheid campaigners. I remember putting ‘Don’t Buy Apartheid’ stickers on apples in supermarkets when I was a kid! By the time I was in my teens, I was heavily into CND [campaign for nuclear disarmament] and anti-racist stuff.

Do you remember the first time you went out hunt sabbing? What was your experience like?

I started sabbing when I was about 17 after running into a hunt on a country lane when I was out on my bike. I must have known that hunting existed, but it wasn’t high on my list of priorities until I met the arrogant bastards for the first time. I wasn’t part of any organised group, but I continued to disrupt hunts—probably to no real effect—every time I came across them. In 1996 I was introduced to the Croydon sab group. I was quickly shown how to effectively disrupt a hunt. The group was very welcoming, and I am still friends with many of them after all this time. I have sabbed almost every weekend since then.

What impact does hunt sabbing have on hunting? Is it a successful model of activism?

Hunt sabotage is very effective. In the days before the Hunting Act, hunts would kill four to six foxes every time they went out un-sabbed. If sabs were present, kills were rare. Since the Act, sabbed hunts have to be extremely cautious and many are now genuinely trail hunting when sabs are present. Hunt sabotage helped to keep hunting in the news, and undoubtedly contributed to the legislation.

Are there any special skills or physical abilities required to be a hunt saboteur?

Sabs close in on hunters and hounds. Photo courtesy of the Hunt Saboteurs Association.

There are many desirable skills for a hunt saboteur. Understanding how the hunt operates is crucial to disrupting it. It helps if you can run like the wind, navigate, and give clear, concise radio messages, and being able to blow a hunting horn correctly is a massive bonus. Not every sab will have all of the necessary skills, but effective teamwork overcomes that problem.

What’s a hunting horn?

The hunting horn is a small musical instrument used by the Huntsman to give instructions to the hounds. Different tunes have different meanings. Sabs learn to play the horn, usually blowing the ‘come back’ when hounds are chasing something. Sabs also use homemade whips to make a noise that tells the hounds they are doing the wrong thing when they are after live quarry. [Here’s a quick demonstration of the hunting horn.]

Besides the hunting horn, what are some of the tools and equipment hunt sabs use?

The key pieces of equipment for hunt sabs are a video camera, phone, GPS, OS [ordnance survey] map, gizmo [a loudspeaker playing a recording of hounds barking excitedly as the follow a scent], and Citronella spray.

What do you do with the video you record of the hunts?

The video cameras are mainly a deterrent, both against illegal hunting and hunt violence. They don’t always work! Unfortunately, the Hunting Act is so badly worded that the level of proof required for a conviction is incredibly high. Sabs will review video footage of the day and decide if it is worth passing to the authorities, but the police and CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] usually claim there is insufficient evidence for a prosecution. Most of the more damning sab video therefore ends up on social media, where, I suspect, we are predominantly preaching to the converted!

What is your best advice for activists who would like to participate in hunt sabs?

My advice to anyone who wants to become a sab is to get in touch with their local group, get out there, and see how it goes. Sabbing isn’t for everyone, but until you try it, you can’t know.

What keeps you going after all your years of activism?

What keeps me going after more than 30 years of activism is this quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

 

Note: There is an HSA branch in the United States, where plenty of hunting activity is ripe for disruption. Click here for information.

You will find more information about hunt sabbing and many other forms of activism in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

 

Last month, as Black Panther was breaking box office records and teenage activists were shaming the NRA, calls for animal testing bans were also making headlines around the world.

First, the California Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act entered the state legislature. If passed as is, the bill will ban the sale of animal-tested hygiene or beauty products such as makeup, shampoos, and deodorants throughout California by 2020. It would also encourage manufacturers across the country to stop selling animaltested products. The bill will bring California law in line with regulations in nearly 40 countries―including the European Union, India, Israel, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Turkey―that already prohibit the sale of new animal-tested cosmetics. (The California bill follows anti-animal-testing legislation proposed in Hawaii in January.)

Also last month, Members of the European Parliament from the EU’s Environment Committee called for a worldwide ban on the use of animals for cosmetics testing. The EU’s ban on animal-tested cosmetics went into effect in 2013, and the MEPs pointed out that this has not prevented the EU cosmetics industry from thriving and providing some 2 million jobs.

Although the U.S. government currently mandates that the toxicity of drugs be tested on animals and shown to be safe, analyzing the toxicity of household products like cosmetics and detergents on animals is not legally required. Yet the FDA and other agencies encourage manufacturers to conduct whatever toxicological tests they believe are appropriate to substantiate the safety of their products. Thus, every year companies subject millions of conscious animals to an extensive range of gruesome “safety tests” in which corrosive chemicals are dripped into their eyes, toxic compounds already known to be fatal to humans are pumped into their stomachs, caustic irritants are rubbed into their skin, or some other unspeakable torture results in a painful death.

Sadly, the abuse of animals in the name of product safety goes well beyond the substances being tested. The same kind of frustration we see among animal agriculture and slaughterhouse workers—who often react to the extreme stress of their jobs by lashing out at animals—is evident among lab technicians, who may be entirely desensitized to the pain and distress of animal victims. These test lab workers have been known to beat animals, who are routinely left to languish in filthy cages between experiments and denied even the slightest kindness.

Fortunately, a growing number of companies have abandoned animal testing in favor of humane alternatives, and many organizations are campaigning against the use of animals as test subjects.

What You Can Do:

1. Don’t buy products tested on animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo and download the app on your smartphone.

2. Then … Support companies such as The Body Shop, Dr. Bronner’s, and Kiss My Face that sell products not tested on animals. (Here’s a list of vegan makeup brands and here’s one of drug store brands.)

3. Urge your legislators to support the Humane Cosmetics Act (H.R. 2790), which would end the manufacture and sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the U.S. Click here to begin.

4. Contact companies you like and ask if they test on animals or use animal ingredients. If they do, tell them you oppose any animal testing and the use of animal ingredients.

5. Sign and share the global Forever Against Animal Testing petition, which will be presented to the United Nations when 8 million signatures have been collected.

6. Raise awareness. Wear t-shirts, stickers, and buttons that tell people you don’t support animal testing. You’ll find them at sites such as Café Press, Etsy, and Zazzle, as well as from vegan companies like Herbivore and Meaningful Paws.

7. Share this post with your family and friends and ask them to take action, too!

 

 

 

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at an Evening of Kindness event in Melbourne, Australia, organized by Edgar’s Mission. I spoke to a roomful of animal advocates about compassion fatigue and burnout, and I offered some suggestions for self-care.

I’ve spoken on this topic for 10 years or so at various animal advocacy venues, but this time, when I addressed some of the triggers that can lead to burnout, I felt obligated to mention sexual harassment in our movement. After my presentation, the only questions and comments I got were about this topic, and they were all from women, including one who disclosed that she had experienced it. Clearly, the animal rights movement has a sexual harassment problem—and it has for a long time.

Sexual harassment occurs everywhere, but within the animal rights movement it is especially pervasive, in part because there are so many more women than men and in part because of the higher status men often have. Men are hailed as “heroes,” regarded as lending legitimacy to campaigns, and looked upon as natural leaders. Many of these men use their status to manipulate, harass, and even sexually assault female employees, volunteers, and interns within AR organizations. Women are told that if they speak out, they will be hurting the animals. In some cases, the victims are threatened with lawsuits or physical violence if they go public.

Consider for a moment the tragic irony of how sexism and misogyny (coupled with no small amount of male privilege) impact a movement that prides itself on working for liberation. Do the male CEOs, managers, supervisors, and others who treat women like objects and property not see how their attitudes and actions contradict the most fundamental philosophy of animal rights—not to mention how they’re forcing so many talented, hard-working, and compassionate women to leave?

With the growth of the #MeToo campaign, we are beginning to see certain men in power (and men almost always hold the power over women) held accountable for their behavior and crimes within politics and the entertainment and media industries. That rising tide seems to be lifting the animal rights movement, as well. Men are being terminated from their positions within animal protection organizations for harassing women—something I cannot imagine would have happened even a few years ago. Pressure is coming from donors, too. Tofurky, for example, now requires nonprofits that want a donation from the company to show they have a written policy for dealing with sexual harassment and protecting whistleblowers.

If you’re a man (or you identify as a man) in the animal rights movement, and you truly respect women and value them as colleagues, please:

  • Be a strong ally.
  • Believe them when they tell you they’ve been harassed or assaulted.
  • Ask what you can do to support them.
  • Do not tolerate sexist jokes or campaigns.
  • Respect women’s boundaries.
  • Do not normalize the behavior of abusers by making excuses for them or giving them a platform.

Remember, men, that you are fighting injustice; campaigning against one form of domination while participating in or allowing another perpetuates systemic oppression. Women drop out of the movement because of this.

I cannot overstate how serious or pervasive this issue is. Please take some time to read these recent blog posts by longtime animal activists lauren Ornelas, pattrice jones, and Carol J. Adams. These are very illuminating reads.

Finally, if you are a victim of sexual harassment or assault (or you’re not sure if you have been victimized), there’s a new resource called the Coalition Against Nonprofit Harassment and Discrimination that you can turn to for guidance.

You are not alone.

 

When I look back on this year’s wins for animals, what I am most struck by is a genuine sense of accomplishment. Yes, we have a long, long way to go. But from the skyrocketing popularity of veganism to the bans on various forms of animal cruelty, 2017 has been a year of encouraging news. Here’s a look at some of the top stories.

1. Croatia bans fur farms (January)

The year got off to a great start with Croatia’s prohibition on fur farms going into effect on January 1. The ban—which comes 10 years after the introduction of the 2006 Animal Protection Act—applies to the few remaining chinchilla farms and was the result of both activists and the general public speaking out against this cruel industry. Indeed, more and more countries have or are considering legislation to ban fur farming, including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway.

2. Germany bans meat at official functions (January)

Hoping to lead by example, Germany’s Federal Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks banned animal flesh from being consumed at all official government functions. “We want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish,” she said. Animal agriculture has been linked not only to climate change (accounting for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions), but to species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, deforestation, soil degradation, and habitat destruction.

3. Guatemala passes powerful anti-animal-cruelty legislation (March)

In what was hailed as a milestone for animals, Guatemala adopted one of the world’s most comprehensive anti-cruelty laws—legislation includes protections for animals used in research and circuses, wildlife, and companion animals. It also establishes bans on animal testing for cosmetics and on dogfighting and sets penalties for spectators of this blood “sport.”

4. Judge dismisses charges against activist Anita Krajnc, who gave water to thirsty pigs (May)

Anita Krajnc gives water to pigs in Toronto. Photo by Elli Garlin

When activist Anita Krajnc ignored a truck driver’s demand that she cease giving water to the thirsty pigs he was driving to an Ontario slaughterhouse as he was stopped at a red light in June 2015, she was not only charged with criminal mischief, but video of the confrontation was shared around the world. Anita’s case quickly became a flashpoint of debate, with her defense team famously contending that “compassion is not a crime.”

Though the judge did not necessarily agree with the argument that pigs are persons, not property, he cleared Anita of the charges, which carried potential jail time and a hefty fine. “I think one should always follow their conscience,” she told me days after the judge dismissed the case. “You feel good knowing that what you did was right. You can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do. So you have to stand up for what you believe in.” (You’ll find the full interview here.)

5. Ringling Bros. Circus closes (May)

This was one of the biggest stories of the year, and activists had good reason to celebrate. After nearly 150 years of abusing elephants, tigers, lions, horses, and other animals, the self-described “Greatest Show in Earth” finally ended. Officially, Ringling’s owners blamed high operating costs and declining ticket sales. But activists had been campaigning against the company almost since the beginning. (Indeed, in 1918, the Jack London Club, named in honor of the late author and animal advocate, staged walkouts from circus performances, which led to the company eliminating big-cat cage acts in 1925, but Ringling brought them back four years later.)

Unfortunately, Ringling’s demise does not mark the end of circuses with animal acts. To learn what you can do, please visit circusprotest.com.

6. Historic vote bans fur farming in Czech Republic (June)

In a vote of 132 to nine, Czech government officials passed a ban on fur farming this year. “This is a victory which proves that killing animals for fashion’s sake is no longer supported among the Czech politicians,” said Chamber Environment Committee chair Robin Böhnisch. “I hope that our legislators will set an example for their colleagues in other countries where fur farming bans are currently being discussed.”

The ban—which goes into effect January 31, 2019, after passing through the country’s Senate—will require the closing of nine remaining fur farms, which collectively hold some 20,000 foxes and minks captive in small battery cages every year and kill them by anal electrocution or gassing.

7. Activists in China rescue 1,000 dogs and cats from truck headed to slaughterhouses (June)

About 100 Chinese activists took part in this remarkable rescue, stopping a transport truck in Guangzhou, a city known as the largest hub for dog and cat meat consumption in the world. Activists said they were assisted by local police and discovered the truck driver did not have a health certificate for the dogs, which is a legal requirement when transporting animals in China. After a standoff that lasted 10 hours, the animals were released from the tightly packed cages. (While some 10 million dogs are consumed in China every year, let’s remember that billions of cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and other animals are annually raised and killed for their flesh in the United States.)

8. UK’s Advertising Standards says cow’s milk can be called “inhumane” (July)

As the saying goes, the truth hurts. And truth is just what the UK nonprofit Go Vegan World was speaking when they placed a national newspaper advertisement stating that “humane milk is a myth—don’t buy it” (pictured right). The ad continues with text that reads, “I went vegan the day I visited a dairy. The mothers, still bloody from birth, searched and called frantically for their babies. Their daughters, fresh from their mothers’ wombs but separated from them, trembled and cried piteously, drinking milk from rubber teats on the wall instead of their mothers’ nurturing bodies. All because humans take their milk.”

When dairy farmers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ad was inaccurate and misleading, the ASA sided with the vegan campaigners and gave it their approval, saying, “Although the language used to express the claims was emotional and hard-hitting, we understood it was the case that calves were generally separated from their mothers very soon after birth, and we therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to materially mislead readers.”

9. Gucci drops fur (October)

Citing the “deprivation and cruelty suffered by fur-bearing animals,” fashion giant Gucci announced it will end its use of fur, beginning with its spring collection. “Gucci’s decision will radically change the future of fashion,” said Simone Pavesi, manager of animal-free fashion at the Italian animal rights group LAV. “As fashion becomes more and more ethical, supply chains that revolve around animals will be a thing of the past.”

Gucci will join the Fur Free Alliance, an international group of more than 40 organizations that campaigns on animal welfare and promotes alternatives to fur in the fashion industry.

10. California becomes the first state to mandate that dogs, cats, and rabbits sold in pet stores come from shelters (October)

In a move aimed at breaking the puppy mill and kitten factory supply chain, California lawmakers banned pet stores from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits who do not come from animal shelters and rescue organizations. Not only will this help weaken the unscrupulous trade in “pet” breeding, but it will ease overcrowding in shelters throughout the state. The law, which sets an important precedent for the rest of the country, takes effect on January 1, 2019.

11. Ireland bans circuses with “wild” animals (November)

“The use of wild animals for entertainment purposes in circuses can no longer be permitted” in Ireland, said the country’s Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed. “This is the general view of the public at large and a position I am happy to endorse. This is a progressive move, reflective of our commitment to animal welfare.”

Because other EU nations had established bans on animals in circuses, some campaigners feared Ireland would become a “dumping ground” for animal circuses that had been legislated out of other European countries. The ban begins January 1, 2018.

12. Man rescues rabbit from brush fire (December)

It may seem insignificant in terms of lives saved, but when a California motorist left his vehicle to save a rabbit from a raging brush fire, the video captured by a news crew went viral. As you watch the emotional scene, remember that this is a man who is risking his life to rescue not his beloved companion, but an animal he just happened to see on the side of the road. (As of mid-December, there is some controversy about the identity of the bunny rescuer, but that takes nothing away from this heroic deed.)

 

Other stories of the year worth noting:

Plant proteins threatening to overtake animal proteins (February)

90-year-old dairy company switches to making plant-based milk (April)

US Coast Guard ends use of animals in trauma training (April)

Cows who escaped from St. Louis slaughterhouse sent to animal sanctuary (April)

Taiwan bans eating dog and cat meat (April)

Pig escapes during trip to slaughterhouse, begins new life at Wisconsin sanctuary (April)

Germany votes to end fur farming (May)

New York City Council votes to ban wild animal performances from circuses (June)

Sri Lankan Navy saves elephant swept out to sea (July)

Animal activists claim victory after Ontario fair cancels ‘pig scramble’ (July)

Mexico City is first to ban dolphin shows in Mexico (July)

40,000 minks released from Minnesota fur farm by animal rights activists (July)

Guggenheim, bowing to animal-rights activists, pulls works from show (September)

Cow safe at sanctuary after escaping Brooklyn slaughterhouse (October)

Dog shoots hunter (November)

SeaWorld unable to reverse continued attendance slide (November)

Most U.S. adults oppose trophy hunting (November)

Instagram fights animal abuse with new selfie alert system (December)

Meat industry calls ‘assault by demon vegans’ major challenge for 2018 (December)

Nova Scotia becomes first Canadian province to ban cat declawing (December)

Paris vows to ban use of wild animals in circuses (December)

Michael Kors to drop fur in 2018 (December)

British Columbia bans grizzly bear hunting (December)

Scotland bans use of “wild” animals in travelling circuses (December)

Hunted animals fight back, including a boar, deer, elephant, moose, another elephant, lion, and bear (throughout the year)

 


Welcome to the official blog for Striking at the Roots by Mark Hawthorne, your source for interviews, profiles, and advice for more effective animal activism.

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