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Bob and Jenna Torres

Bob and Jenna Torres

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

pattrice jones with Franny the hen and cats Pearl and Pyjama.

pattrice jones with Franny the hen and cats Pearl and Pyjama.

“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.”


In addition to being a long-time activist, pattrice is an author, public speaker, blogger, teacher, sanctuary founder and much more.


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, 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.

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:

Please visit the Association Against Animal Factories (VGT) Web site for more information and ways you can help:


UPDATE, Sept 3, 2008: VGT has announced that all the prisoners have now been released. Thanks to all who voiced their support!

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:; 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!

Deirdre Sims holds one lucky piglet.
Deirdre Sims holds one lucky piglet.

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.

The American Kennel Club is offering to help the Obamas find a dog, but most animal advocates would like to see them rescue a companion animal. “With 3 to 4 million dogs and cats killed in public and private shelters, there are many lives to be saved, and the simple act of giving a home to a dog who might have faced euthanasia would do wonders for the cause of adoption from shelters,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.


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.

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