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Last year I had the opportunity to interview Bob and Jenna Torres of Vegan Freak fame. Like most of the activists who gave me suggestions for Striking at the Roots, they offered more input than I was able to fit into the book. But with the advent of this blog, I’m able to post all the advice these authors and podcasters had to share.
What impact do recent media advances like blogging and podcasting have on animal activism?
Bob: The Internet is a wonderful tool, if only because it is radically democratizing. Instead of being rigorously hierarchical, the Internet is more rhizomatic, and it allows for interconnections between people that previously were impossible. This relatively non-hierarchical structure means that we no longer have to be dependent upon large, managed organizations to participate in this movement. We can begin to build something unique, authentic and truly grassroots, rather than the Astro-Turfed populism of the national organizations like PETA or HSUS. The power in using the Internet as an organizing medium to route around the big groups is that we can begin to see truly genuine and unique ideas channeled into activism, rather seeing human creativity forestalled by organizations that call donating money “action.” I also predict that we’ll see increasing empowerment of individuals and more local groups as technologies like podcasts, videocasts and the like become increasingly easy to use. The upsides are tremendous. When we no longer have to rely on “professional” activists and their overpaid CEOs and directors, everyone can be an activist, everyone can be an organizer and everyone can begin to easily work for the abolition of animal exploitation.
Can you share a story that demonstrates how your outreach activities have had an impact on the movement?
Jenna: Bob and I started a vegan podcast (Vegan Freak Radio) and forums in 2005. Being vegan wasn’t enough for us; we wanted to do some activism to share our enthusiasm about veganism. Both the podcast and the forums have been successful beyond what we could have ever imagined in terms of vegan outreach. When we first started our podcast, we envisioned that it would be a support network for people who were already vegan; but as time went on, we realized it was not only that, but also a tool to let people know about the various reasons for going and being vegan. I can’t tell you how many emails we get from listeners to our podcast who have gone vegan after something we said reached them, and for everyone it’s something a little different that resonates.
We started the forums on a whim after publishing our book in 2005. We thought that it would be a simple place to discuss where to get vegan goodies and chat with other vegans. Since we started, we’ve seen the forums grow into a vibrant community of vegans who act as a support structure for each other. Many of the people on the site didn’t know any other vegans when they signed on; the forums give them a place where they don’t feel so alone in their joys and frustrations, and I think many of them are more likely to stay vegan when they realize that there are plenty people out there that are like them. The forums have also been a place where people join together and encourage each other in different types of activism — both virtual and in real life — including letter-writing campaigns, leafleting, cooking classes, art, zines or just acting as a vegan mentor for those around them. The forums have even created real-life community as well. Since we’ve started, there have been meetups all around the world, and we’ve even had two couples who met on the forums get married.
We do both the podcast and the forums on a shoestring budget but have gotten amazing returns in terms of getting people to go and stay vegan and fostering a community that then encourages further creative activism.
What advice would you offer someone who either wants to use your techniques in his/her activism, or wants to do anything at all for animals but doesn’t know how to get started?
Bob: This sounds cheesy, warm and fuzzy and kind of grade-schoolish, but I always say — half jokingly — that each of us is a unique and individual snowflake. Though my term makes fun of the idea, I do truly believe that each person has the ability to leverage their unique talents and ideas for the movement. Everyone has some talent, and my advice is always to use whatever talent you have to support the movement. Many people tell me that they just can’t stomach protesting, leafleting or anything that involves directly confronting people. But that person who doesn’t like to leaflet could maybe serve as a support person by providing warm drinks, a hot meal after the demonstration, rides for folks without cars or even designing some posters. The point is, we all excel at different things, and we just need to find people with whom we can work to leverage all of our individual talents together. Everyone has something they can give, and it may require a little creativity to figure out how to make it fit, but with some effort, you can find something. Ultimately, I don’t believe in just sitting back and letting professional activists do the activism for you. Activism and outreach are wonderful tonics to the occasional aggravation, frustration and helplessness we all feel about the ways animals are treated in our society.
Activism is empowering, and there’s nothing more rewarding than making a changes — however small — in our society. Giving money to groups you support is important, but it shouldn’t be all that you do. Similarly, being vegan is important, but it shouldn’t be all that you do. If you want animal exploitation to end, you have to get out there and fight for it in whatever ways you can. We need as many voices as possible in this fight.
An article on student activism in the September/October issue of Mother Jones won’t surprise many people with this factoid: campus movers and shakers are moving and shaking a lot less than they did a generation ago. Of course, the ‘60s gave us such global concerns as civil rights, the Vietnam War, labor reform, women’s rights and part of the presidency of Richard Nixon. There was a lot to be angry about.
“So where have all the hellraisers gone?” asks the article, titled “Survey Course.” “Many are online. Nearly half of current college students told us that the future of activism is digital. But nearly two-thirds also said the future is on campus. Flesh-and-blood action is far from an anachronism, but it’s becoming unthinkable without social networking tools.”
No surprise there, either.
Though the graphic in the magazine depicts a PETA demonstrator, only 1 percent of students surveyed identified animal rights as an important issue to them. (The number-one issue? Human rights.) While unfortunate, that statistic is aligned with the percentage of people in our society who identify themselves as vegan.
The Internet has revolutionized all kinds of activism, of course, and animal activism seems to be riding the techno wave as high as anyone. Activists are going online to locate factory farms. They’re blogging about veganism and podcasting about animal rights. They’re posting undercover video footage on sites like YouTube. Emailing has become this generation’s phone tree – or at least it was until 5 minutes ago when it was replaced by text messaging, which will soon be replaced by some higher-tech mode of communication, possibly involving the aid of a strange alien life form.
Is all this a good thing? Yes, I think so. Nothing in the animal activist’s toolkit is as powerful as the sight of a biomedical researcher, circus hand, fur farmer, poultry processor or puppy mill owner abusing animals, and with the Internet, we have the ability to put these images online in seconds, lifting the veil for anyone with broadband access.
Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, meanwhile, allow activists to connect like never before to share ideas, organize campaigns and generally engage in cyberactivism.
Animal exploitation is probably just as important to us as any of the issues of the ‘60s were to our parents. Instead of burning draft cards, we can ignite the rage of consumers by showing them – really showing them – how their choices affect the suffering of animals.
After all, we have a lot to be angry about too.
At the recent Animal Rights 2008 conference, pattrice jones distributed a wonderful report titled
“Strategic Analysis of Animal Welfare Legislation: A Guide for the Perplexed,” which is, thankfully, available online. Her report considers the importance of activists working on campaigns for welfare legislation in the animal rights movement. “Animal welfare and animal liberation need not be separate projects,” she writes. “In the case of factory farming, welfare reforms can provide immediate relief of suffering while at the same time contributing toward economic strategies intended to drive these exploitive industries out of business.” Ultimately, according to pattrice, “Welfare reforms that offer substantial relief of suffering while also raising the costs of animal exploitation should be favored, so long as no harms can be demonstrated.”
She contextualizes her position with a bit of background:
“In recent years, a hardline ‘abolitionist’ position in which efforts to improve the well-being of currently existing animals are condemned as ‘welfarist’ impediments to the future liberation of animals has gained momentum within animal advocacy. The absolutist style of discourse favored by the most vocal proponents of this position has had the effect, over time, of obscuring the important distinction between true ‘welfarists’ — such as members of the ‘North Carolina Responsible Animal Owners Alliance,’ who believe that animals are rightly property but who argue that animals ought to be treated humanely — and true animal liberationists who support measures to improve the welfare of animals either as interim measures or as steps in a strategic plan for the liberation of animals. Thus such prominent women in animal liberation as Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (who has argued that any recognition of any animal rights by legislators is a step toward the recognition of full rights) and Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns (who has argued that the interests of individual existing animals ought not be ignored by humans who purport to speak for animals as a group) has been mischaracterized as welfarists, often in quite insulting terms. Such derisive mischaracterization has created a bullying atmosphere in which persons who are less certain of their position in the movement may hesitate to depart from doctrinaire opinions for fear of being similarly smeared. Female activists, in particular, may shy away from expressing concern for the welfare of actual animals for fear of being labeled soft-minded or sentimental. This state of affairs makes it difficult for activists to collectively talk through the nuanced details that always must be discussed when people try to put principles into action in the real world.
“At the same time, some proponents of animal welfare legislation also have engaged in discursive practices that make productive debate difficult. Here, the distinction that has been blurred is the all-important difference between condemning specific inhumane practices and promoting ‘humane’ exploitation of animals. While most animal rights organizations that sponsor or promote animal welfare initiatives are very careful never to cross that line, a few high-profile slip-ups have given an aura of legitimacy to the mistaken equation between the abolition of specific factory farming practices and the promotion of ‘happy meat.’ Gratuitous public insults of imprisoned animal liberation activists by proponents of more moderate tactics amplify the illusion that working for ultimate animal liberation and caring for animals in the here-and-now are necessarily two different projects. The opacity and lack of accountability of the upper echelons of national organizations promoting welfare initiatives has, like the discursive stridency of some abolitionists, made productive dialogue difficult. Disenchanted and angry at powerful organizations that neither explain their actions nor accept responsibility for their impact on the movement, grassroots activists who ought to be helping to think through and implement the coordinated strategies we will need if we are ever to make more than a dent in the production and consumption of animals retreat into alienated silence or join the ranks of the ‘abolitionists’ actively working to undermine efforts to reduce ongoing animal suffering.
“This sorry state of affairs might rightly be called a crisis. Animal advocates represent a rather small minority within the population of the world we hope to change. We cannot afford to be divided against ourselves. Nor can the animals afford for us to indulge in the luxuries of self-satisfaction, unthinking preference for particular tactics, or insular groupthink.”
I encourage all activists to devote some time to carefully reading this well-considered report.
With the number of land animals raised and slaughtered for food worldwide every year now exceeding 50 billion (and still growing), there’s never been a more critical time to speak out for the voiceless. Animal activists around the globe work tirelessly to raise awareness, of course, but events may reach a peak on or around October 2 – World Farm Animals Day. Marking the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, an outspoken advocate of compassion for animals, World Farm Animals Day mobilizes activists in all 50 U.S. states and two dozen other countries. Participants include animal advocacy groups and individual activists; anyone who cares about animals is encouraged to join this global outcry against cruelty. And it’s not too early to begin planning for it.
World Farm Animals Day observances traditionally include vigils, marches, leafleting, tabling and exhibiting. More dramatic events include die-ins, cage-ins and video rigs. Activists encourage governors and mayors to issue special proclamations denouncing cruelty to farmed animals.
Among the activities to take place in North America will be Farm Sanctuary’s annual Walk for Farm Animals. This is actually a series of walking events held throughout Canada and the U.S. in September and October. As Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder, explains, “The Walk for Farm Animals is a critical tool that provides an opportunity for animal advocates to demonstrate their support for animal protection, educate the public about why this is important issue and help raise the funds necessary to continue Farm Sanctuary’s distinctive work to rescue farm animals from abuse, and advocate for farm animal protection across the country through legislative, legal and corporate campaign efforts.”
National Walk participants can register at www.walkforfarmanimals.org, or call 607-583-2225 ext. 229.
Other ways to observe World Farm Animals Day include:
Leafleting: Leafleting is a simple activity, as it requires no permits, no equipment and little planning. Make sure to make the most of your efforts by hitting high-traffic areas like colleges and city streets at the busiest times. Lunch hour and quitting time are optimal times. Request literature from Vegan Outreach or the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM).
Information Tables/Stalls: A simple and easy way to get the message out. Information tables require relatively little planning and allow activists to engage the public in meaningful, one-on-one dialogues. Pick a popular location and busy time of day, get a permit (if necessary), then show up for a few hours with a large table, display materials and handouts. FARM will provide the materials you need; simply register online or call 888-FARM-USA to get your free Action Guide and Event Pack.
Vigils & Memorial Services: Vigils and memorial services are somber events that focus attention on the tragedy of factory farming. They are a time to remember the losses suffered by each of the 50 billion individual land animals murdered by agribusiness each year. These events can be as elaborate as funeral processions or as straightforward as candlelight vigils. Props such as candles, black ribbons, somber music and funeral attire can create a very dramatic effect. Activists can also conduct a fast to increase the media appeal of the event and to bring attention to the millions of people who go hungry as grains are fed to livestock instead.
Video Rigs: Playing a video to expose standard farming and slaughter practices is a sure way to simultaneously grab attention and create awareness.
Exhibits: Exhibits are basically the unstaffed version of an information table or stall. The typical duration of an exhibit ranges from one week to one month. Libraries and student unions are popular locations for exhibits, which tend to be more visual than information tables. Display materials, including books, are usually under protective glass cover, while handouts are available to passersby. FARM can provide the materials you need.
Cage-ins: An excellent way to bring attention to the plight of farmed animals. They are highly effective in conjunction with videos and can attract a media attention.
Protests: A protest is a great way to express outrage toward an establishment’s treatment or policies regarding animals. It can also generate a lot of negative publicity for your target, if well-thought-out. If you are working on a campaign in your area, consider incorporating it into World Farm Animals Day by staging a protest on or around Gandhi’s birthday. Making your campaign part of an international day of action makes it much more newsworthy. When planning your protest, be sure to read up on local ordinances regarding the size, location, timing, and noise levels of protests. Depending on local laws, you may need one or more permits. And don’t forget: stay on public property!
KFC Demo: Kentucky Fried Cruelty demonstrations are a great way to support both World Farm Animals Day and the Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign spearheaded by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Die-Ins: A visually powerful and symbolic form of protest, die-ins have traditionally been used to protest nuclear proliferation and war. World Farm Animals Day die-ins take a stand for animals (whose suffering is invisible and denied). The idea is for a group of activists dressed in black to lie motionless for a set amount of time (usually about 20 to 30 minutes).
Launched in 1983, World Farm Animals Day is an international campaign of FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement), a non-profit public interest organization based just outside of Washington, D.C. FARM works with local volunteers hosting activities, serving as a resource by providing information, guidance, materials, media outreach, and an online Events Directory.
One of the busiest and most well-known activists campaigning for animals today, Paul Shapiro is the senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ Factory Farming Campaign. Before joining HSUS in 2005, Paul founded Compassion Over Killing, where he worked as a farm animal cruelty investigator, primarily documenting conditions on egg and broiler factory farms, livestock auctions and slaughter plants.
Throughout 2008, one of Paul’s biggest priorities is promoting California’s Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. If passed in November, this voter initiative will phase out the confinement of egg-laying hens in battery cages, breeding pigs in gestation crates and calves in veal crates.
“Many HSUS successes against factory farming would not have been achieved but for Paul’s initiative and execution,” says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “He is visionary, relentless, passionate and intelligent, and I thank my lucky stars he works for the organization.”
Paul paused long enough to answer a few questions about his 15 years of activism.
Paul, I know you’ve been involved in animal activism since at least high school. What was the turning point for you? What made you realize animals need activists to speak up for them?
The first time I was exposed to our routine mistreatment of farm animals was in 1993, when a friend showed me some films of animals confined on factory farms and being abused at slaughter plants. I was horrified. Having lived with dogs my whole life – which admittedly was only 14 years long at that point – I looked into the terrified eyes of the animals in the video and saw my family dogs, struggling to free themselves from the cruelty that was obviously inescapable to any viewer. I imagined what I would have done to protect my dogs from such a fate, which of course was pretty much anything. I realized then that I was financing that violence every time I sat down to eat, so I became a vegetarian immediately, and as I learned more in the following few weeks, I became vegan.
What was the reaction from your family when you became vegan and an activist?
My brother was a vegetarian, but not yet vegan – he became vegan a few years later. Neither of my parents was vegetarian, and while they certainly made sure to provide vegan options, they were pretty skeptical at first. As time went on and they realized how mainstream vegan eating was becoming, not to mention how many good reasons there are to do it, they gradually starting eating lower on the food chain themselves. At this point they’re very supportive and far more animal-friendly than the average person.
Can you tell me about some of your early activism? What worked for you starting off – and what didn’t?
I started off as a high school student trying to make a difference in whatever ways I could. Whether it was serving vegan lunch to classmates to show them how easy humane eating really is (sometimes called a “feed-in”), putting on video showings about factory farming and slaughter plants or hosting animal protection speakers, there was no shortage of ways I found to be active for animals. Of course, there were some more confrontational tactics that as a teenager appealed to me, which I now recognize were not particularly effective. That’s not to say confrontation is always ineffective, but my views on animal advocacy – and many other things! – have evolved since I was 14 years old.
You’re one of the busiest animal activists I know. What’s a typical work day like for Paul Shapiro – and what do you do for fun?
That’s kind of you. Some of the folks I work with definitely have more on their plates than I do – their schedules are mind-boggling to me.
Of course, I try to work as hard – and as smart – as I’d want someone working for me if I was the one confined in a factory farm. Advancing the interests of animals is very rewarding work, so it’s not a sacrifice to devote myself fully. Helping animals is my life, not just my job.
A typical work day? Each week is different, especially during something as massive as California’s Prop 2 campaign. Right now, it’s Monday afternoon and I’m on a plane from DC to LA, where I’ll meet with local campaign coordinators tonight; we’re fortunate to have some of the best people working on this campaign. Really, it’s an honor to call them my friends. Tomorrow I’ve got a meeting in LA and then fly to San Francisco for a dinner meeting. Wednesday I’m back in Southern California giving a speech at a veterinary school. Thursday I’ve got both lunch and dinner meetings in Southern California with key campaign endorsers. Friday it’s back to DC for two days until getting on another plane to meet with a major food retailer about improving its animal welfare policies.
My good friend Gene Baur regularly says that being in this field brings you into contact with the worst of human traits (cruelty, greed and selfishness) and the best of human traits (kindness, compassion and devotion to serving the less fortunate). One of the most heartening and rewarding parts of my work is having the privilege of meeting so many people across the country who epitomize the latter.
As far as what I do for fun – keep in mind that I already find what I do to be pretty fun! But I also enjoy reading, politics, weight lifting and playing football. (Wow – that last sentence sounds eerily like a personal ad.)
Speaking of Prop 2 , this California ballot measure is getting attention across the U.S. Why is Prop 2 a national issue?
It’s getting national attention because it’s an epic clash in the nation’s largest agricultural state. The campaign involves a very powerful and well-financed interest (the agribusiness lobby) going head-to-head against the animal protection, environmental and food safety movements. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?
What are some of the lessons you learned from Compassion Over Killing, the organization you founded in 1995, that you are applying to your work at the Humane Society of the United States?
I think one of the things made crystal clear by Compassion Over Killing and the Humane Society of the United States is the power of undercover exposés at factory farms, livestock auctions and slaughter plants. Shining a bright spotlight on the very dark world of animal cruelty and allowing animals to “speak” for themselves can often be more powerful in changing hearts, minds, and policies than anything else.
What parallels can you draw between the animal rights movement and other social justice causes?
The most obvious similarity to me is that both the animal movement and many other social movements aim to lend a hand to those who can’t help themselves – to provide aid to those who are less fortunate and often at the mercy of others who are far more powerful. And of course, the most obvious difference is that the beneficiaries of our movement aren’t able to participate, nor are they even able to tell us what they’d like us to do for them. It’s a huge disadvantage for our work.
Many activists are aware of the debate between activists who work for incremental reform to relieve animal suffering versus strict abolitionists who think such so-called “welfarist” campaigns harm the movement. What’s your take on this debate and the effectiveness of incrementalism as a path to ending animal exploitation?
I think there’s a false dichotomy here and that most people understand that social change usually occurs incrementally.
Could you imagine environmentalists opposing stricter emissions standards for vehicles, saying that they just make people feel better about driving even though they’re still polluting (although less)? Of course not. They recognize that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good; we should applaud steps in the right direction while continuing to move the ball even further down the field.
I don’t anticipate that we’ll reach societal agreement regarding the ethical permissibility (or lack thereof) of exploiting animals in the near future. Such a debate is important and should continue. I certainly come down on the side of those who would like to see an end to our often ruthless exploitation of animals – exploitation that requires animals to be treated as nothing more than mere commodities. At the same time, we have an obligation to immediately move the ball forward on eradicating areas of animal exploitation that most Americans already agree are simply unacceptable.
There’s no excuse for failing to enact policies prohibiting many of the worst abuses animals face, and there are plenty to go around. This would reduce an enormous amount of animal suffering and demonstrate that we are indeed capable of restraining ourselves when it comes to the virtually unlimited power we hold over animals. This type of progress wouldn’t end the discussion as to whether or not we should exploit animals nor would it end all animal cruelty, but it would allow us to move in a direction nearly all of us agree is positive.
As anyone familiar with social change knows, progress tends to beget progress. In other words, it’s pretty hard to go from A to Z without passing by 24 other letters first.
Legendary 19th-century animal campaigner “Humanity Dick” Martin was once asked about the modesty of a bill he was trying to push through the British parliament. He responded that he’d gladly outlaw all cruelty to animals in a heartbeat if he could, “But if I can’t get 100 per cent, why then, I must be satisfied to take 50 or 25 per cent.”
I don’t believe all animal advocates must work on campaigns to ban the most objectionable forms of animal abuse, but I think the animals who will certainly be brought into existence and be exploited in the immediate future are sure glad that some are.
You’ve had many successes in recent years. Are there any you are especially proud of?
Everything I’ve done and continue to do is the result of team effort with so many of my close friends and fellow campaigners. We’re a relentless crew of folks who are adamant about generating concrete results for animals. As the late Henry Spira said, “Activism has to be results-oriented. Raising awareness is not enough.”
Some of the work I’ve had the honor of playing a partial role in that has been particularly useful, in my opinion, includes banning gestation crates in Oregon, banning gestation and veal crates in Arizona and Colorado, ending the use of the “Animal Care Certified” logo on egg cartons, changing corporate policies to prohibit the use of battery eggs and producing HSUS’ Guide to Vegetarian Eating. Of course, the California campaign is likely to be the most important of anything I’ve had a hand in.
What advice do you give to people just starting out in animal activism?
It’s very easy – and common – for people who are just learning about the universe of misery we inflict on animals to become angry and resentful. It’s possible for us to feel so passionately about reducing animal suffering that we let that rage override effective communication with those who aren’t yet where we’re at. Anger and frustration may be understandable, but we need to take care not to let them overwhelm us and overshadow all of the positive steps we can take towards making a difference for animals.
While those may be natural reactions, we shouldn’t just act in a manner that makes us feel good, but rather we should act in a manner that’s actually effective in creating tangible progress for animals.
The vast majority of us weren’t raised as vegans. While we learn more about animal cruelty and move further along the path, it’s often difficult to remember that – just like our family members, friends, colleagues, and co-workers who aren’t vegan – we, too, once ate animals.
Because of this, it’s often helpful to ask ourselves, “Why did I become vegan?” Chances are, we didn’t choose to strive toward cruelty-free living because someone yelled at us in a condemning tone. Likely, we adopted our diet because someone helped us see that choosing compassion over cruelty was a simple way to prevent needless suffering.
We’re in a great position to effect positive change for animals by being their most effective and pragmatic ambassadors.
Congratulations to Paul for being inducted into the U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame at the recent Animal Rights 2008 conference!
Democratic countries around the world recognize human rights as one of the cornerstones of social justice. Among the civil liberties bestowed upon citizens in a democracy are freedom of political expression and freedom of speech. Another is due process, wherein the principle of judicial transparency ensures a detainee is charged or released within a reasonable period of time.
Yet, even democratic nations sometimes suspend these rights when it suits a purpose — a lesson well known to social activists, whose lawful campaigns are sometimes suppressed by their government in an attempt to maintain the status quo.
This abuse of power has been shockingly demonstrated in the case of Dr. Martin Balluch, president of the Association Against Animal Factories, and nine other animal activists in Austria. In the early morning hours of May 21, 2008, heavily armed law-enforcement officers of the elite WEGA squad stormed 21 homes and the offices of six animal rights groups in Austria. The masked police confronted frightened civilians in their beds at gun point. They arrested 10 people, who have been held in custody without a specific charge, though Austrian authorities are claiming the accused acted through their organizations to commit acts of criminal damage to property, duress and menacing threats. (One activist, Christian Moser, was reportedly released just this week due to psychological stress, though he may have to return to jail.) Authorities have also blamed a cabin fire on Martin, calling it arson; the fire was in fact caused by hunters, who freely admitted they are to blame for the accidental blaze.
Amnesty International has questioned the police methods and treatment of detainees, particularly the absence of actionable evidence justifying “strong suspicion” or any “probable cause” for the arrests and that the activists have been denied access to legal counsel. Despite a statement from the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior that “The measures taken by the police were in no way directed against animal welfare or animal welfare organizations,” Amnesty International is also concerned that the seizure of computers, documents and other assets has left the targeted animal rights organizations unable to continue their work.
A number of milestone reforms on behalf of animals have been achieved in Austria in recent years, including bans on fur farms, battery cages for hens and the use of wild animals in circuses. At the time of the police raid, Martin and his colleagues at the Vienna-based Association Against Animal Factories were campaigning to have a 26-year-old chimpanzee named Matthew Hiasl Pan legally declared a person. Matthew was captured as a baby in Sierra Leone in 1982 and smuggled to Austria for use in pharmaceutical experiments. Customs officers intercepted the shipment and turned him over to a shelter, which has since filed for bankruptcy protection. Getting Matthew legally declared a person would help ensure that he and another chimp at the shelter, Rosi, don’t become homeless. The case was still being fought when Austrian police launched their May 21st raid.
From his prison cell Martin wrote in June:
“Yes, animal protection is terribly important to me and I have dedicated my life to it. Yes, I believe that the horrific treatment of animals in laboratories and animal factories is not irrelevant in general or to my life, but is instead comparable to the torture and abuse of people. But this does not make me a criminal. For 25 years now I have been active for animal protection and not once have I ever been convicted of a crime. In this country we have the freedom to express our opinions and the freedom to think as our conscience leads us to. At least that is what I used to believe until very recently. The civil and human rights guaranteed by the Austrian Constitution forbid persecuting, abusing and locking away someone for their beliefs. But indeed, exactly that is what is happening to me….
“This scandal cannot be tolerated. I ask everyone who cares about animal protection and human rights to take action now to prevent this crime. This kind of police arbitrariness against NPOs [non-profit organizations] is something we might recognize in dictatorships, but not in a democracy. Please stand up strong; stand against this outrageous injustice. My life depends on it.”
Activists have held solidarity protests around the world, and supporters are urged to write to the activists still being held: http://www.vgt.at/actionalert/repression/gefangene/index_en.php.
UPDATE, Sept 3, 2008: VGT has announced that all the prisoners have now been released. Thanks to all who voiced their support!
In the the course of researching Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, I interviewed more than 120 activists from around the world. Everyone had something interesting to say about animal activism, and I continue to get input and ideas of my own. Following are five suggestions – and one bonus tip – not included in my book.
1. Don’t make veganism look difficult. It’s no secret that the biggest threat to veganism is the misconception that it’s complicated. Someone might say to you, for example, “Oh, I could be vegan, but I could never give up ice cream.” Well, if you believe that person is genuinely ready to give up meat, eggs and all dairy but ice cream, I’d say that’s an incredible win for animals. So, rather than lecture that person about the horrors of the dairy industry, mentor them. Bring them over from the Dark Side. And then, when they’ve been mostly vegan for a couple of weeks, introduce them to So Delicious or one of the other outstanding non-dairy ice creams out there. If an egg habit is keeping them from making the transition, let them have those eggs – for now. Later, you can show them how easy it is to bake without eggs, and you can make them some tofu scramble. Just remember that no one wants to sign up for something that is going to make their life harder. Being vegan can be a fun, life-altering experience, so let’s treat it that way.
2. Stay healthy. I admit it: I love cupcakes as much as the next guy. Okay, maybe a little more than the next guy. But “vegan” isn’t always synonymous with “nutritious,” and one way we can make veganism and animal rights look appealing is by staying healthy. So eat well, get your vitamin B12 and your omega-3s; in fact, check out www.veganhealth.org.
3. Enhance your knowledge. Although I included a list of resources and discussed a few specific books activists will want to read, I didn’t go into great depth about the many excellent books available. I highly recommend activists familiarize themselves with the issues surrounding animal rights by reading such books as Why Animals Matter by Erin Williams and Margo DeMello, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, Meat Market by Erik Marcus, Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur, Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz, Diet for a New America by John Robbins and Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman. Also, be prepared to answer some of the common questions, such as, “Where do you get your protein?” or “Don’t plants feel pain?” (um, no).
4. You don’t have to be an expert. Having just advised you to learn about the issues, I don’t mean to suggest you have to know it all. As an animal activist, you don’t have to memorize a bunch of statistics, numbers or ratios – such as, it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef … or how much the use of animals in research has increased. Ultimately, all you have to know is that you do not wish to support the suffering of animals. No need to get into long debates. Now, if you’re tabling or doing some other form of outreach, and someone asks you a question for which you do not have an answer, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know, but if you give me your contact information, I’ll find out for you.”
5. Learn to cook and bake great vegan food. Relax: it’s easy. There are plenty of great cookbooks out there, and there are even videos that take you step by step through the process of preparing delicious vegan recipes. Some of my favorites include Vegan Planet; The Joy of Vegan Baking; Eat, Drink & Be Vegan; and anything by Jo Stepaniak. You might also check out a great DVD called “Vegetarian Cooking with Compassionate Cooks.”
Food is our common touchstone, and it’s one of the easiest ways to show others that being vegan is not some strange lifestyle. Just remember that when you share vegan food with those not familiar with it, make sure it’s outstanding vegan food.
Oh, and when you bring a dish to a potluck or family gathering, bring the recipe … especially if it’s a dessert, because anyone who tries your cookies or cake or brownies or whatever is going to want to know how you made this fantastic dessert without eggs or dairy.
Bonus tip: Use special links when posting comments. Many online articles and blogs allow readers to post comments. If you’re asked for a URL or Web site address in addition to your name, consider using a site that relates to the article or your posting. For example, if you’re posting a comment about the meat industry, try www.meat.org. If you’re leaving a comment about going veg, use www.goveg.com or www.tryveg.com. Once you post your comment, your name will be highlighted and become a hotlink to the Web site you listed. Other readers are always interested in who else is posting comments, and this additional link gives them one more connection to the world of animal protection.
Here’s a great example of the power of activism. Earlier this week, Farm Sanctuary, the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), Animal Place and other groups sent out notices that Covidien Electrosurgery was to host a cruel lab on August 7. The lab was to be part of a conference held by the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists in which pigs were to be killed and sacrificed in a “Hands-On Pig Lab” to demonstrate electrosurgical tools.
The call went out to activists everywhere to contact Covidien Electosurgery and ask them to remove live animals from their demonstration.
AAVS has announced today that the lab has been canceled. “Because so many of you voiced your opposition, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists felt enough pressure to cancel that portion of the event,” reads the AAVS statement. “Covidien, the healthcare product company conducting the pig lab, intended to use live pigs in a marketing demonstration of its surgical tools. However, thanks to your phone calls and e-mails, this lab has been canceled and a strong message has been sent to those in the medical field that the public will not tolerate such treatment of animals.”
While this is great news, it’s also important that activists express their thanks to Covidien for making the right decision. Please take a moment to contact Bryan Hanson, president of Covidien Electrosurgery: firstname.lastname@example.org; ph: 303-530-2300; fax: 303-530-6285.
Also, please contact your federal representative and urge him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 2193 – legislation that will amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit the use of animals for marketing medical devices. The sponsors of this bill are Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and if your member of Congress has already become a cosponsor, please thank them!
One of the most active animal-rights groups in the world, New Zealand Open Rescue has carried out rescues and investigations in chicken, egg and pig farms, placing rescued animals in loving homes.
The group formed in 2006 after a number of animal advocates became increasingly frustrated with the New Zealand government’s lack of real action for animals on factory farms. “Twenty years of campaigning against factory farming using legal means such as protesting and lobbying saw little to no changes for animals,” says Deirdre Sims, one of the group’s founders. New Zealand Open Rescue’s aims are to openly rescue animals from places of abuse, to expose hidden suffering and to consistently provide irrefutable evidence why factory farming should be banned.
Deirdre says their long-term goal is to abolish factory farming, but in the meantime, they work to raise awareness. Their investigations and rescues are certainly doing that as they grab headlines and disseminate their own press releases. They also speak to the public.
“We are in the middle of planning investigations and rescues into broiler, pig and hen factory farms to tie in with the up coming New Zealand elections,” Deirdre tells me. “But our most recent action was a rescue of two piglets to tie in with Mother’s Day. We made a pretty cool video about it, placed the two female piglets into an amazing home and got some decent media coverage of the action.”
Click here for an interesting interview with Deirdre.
Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, have promised their daughters that win or lose in November, they are getting a dog.
The Clintons had Socks. The Bushs have Barney. The tradition of a First Dog or First Cat goes all the way back to George Washington, who had more than 30 hounds.
Please contact Barack Obama and urge him to consider adopting a dog from a shelter or breed rescue group.
The Honorable Barack Obama
John C. Kluczynski Federal Office Building, Ste. 3900
230 South Dearborne
Chicago, IL 60604
Update: The Obama family has announced they plan to adopt a dog. Thanks to everyone who contacted the Obamas to voice your support of rescuing an animal from a shelter vs. buying from a pet store.