The founder of Ireland’s Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN), John Carmody works on campaigns as varied as the Canadian seal slaughter, blood sports, greyhound racing, live export, vivisection, circus suffering and fur farming. The group also works with local welfare organizations to find permanent homes for rescued animals. Though he has an unending passion about activism, John describes himself as an average “Joe Soap,” born and bred in Limerick city. He slowed down long enough to talk about his approach to animal activism.
What inspired you to become an animal activist, John?
Seeing the front page of The Irish Daily Mirror newspaper, with pictures of hundreds of baby seals killed in Canada, their heads smashed in and their lovely bodies skinned ― I felt that I needed to do something, so I formed Animal Rights Action Network, which is now Ireland’s largest national grassroots animal rights group without doubt.
When did you form ARAN?
I think it was 1999 … around that time; it’s about 10 years now, I think.
How many people help you with ARAN? How many members do you have?
We have about 25 volunteers who do all sorts of different things, so I get to oversee all this stuff and give them projects to work on, but it’s only a drop in the ocean to the huge amount of cruelty out there. But even one person does make a difference!
Animal Rights Action Network membership is growing. We have about 3,500 on our mailing list, but we also have another big mailing list for the UK and the USA, where much of our support also comes from.
What role does veganism play in being an activist?
I think as a campaigner for animal rights we must try and level ourselves when we are advocating for animals to the average member of the public and put ourselves in their shoes and try to relate to them so that they can better understand us plus so that they feel as if we are not out of the ordinary ― but vegan is very important as it shows you are practicing what you preach, as they say!
What do you think are the most effective strategies for advocating for animals?
Being polite, professional and understanding!
Can you tell me about any successful campaigns you’re especially proud of?
I think we are successful at many things, especially generating positive press coverage for our campaigns ― whatever we touch we get press; educating people on the street, in college, in schools and in the marketplace; staging eye-catching events and getting people active for animals!
Congratulations on getting Brown Thomas to give up fur. How did you accomplish that?
It was a campaign Animal Rights Action Network and other Irish animal rights groups took part in. For ARAN’s part, we organized really exciting demos outside and also inside the store. We have people “die” in coffins outside of their flagship store in Dublin. We also had nude activists outside their store in Galway and we had activists wearing real full-length donated fur coats covered in blood in their store in Cork. We also organized regular demos, press campaigns, public education and consumer pressure, which also works. We also took over their flagship store last year and blockaded the main entrance showing pictures of the Canadian seal hunt. Anyone who buys or wears real fur can share the blame, that’s what I say!
You mentioned ARAN getting a lot of press. How do you do that?
I think the days of telling the story exactly how it is are long gone. The media these days want something in the way of sound bites with catchy headings and a tempting description of what is happening and why. For instance, protesting a fur store. Explain to the media about those large posters activists will be holding of a skinned fox with that tag line “Fur: No Skin off Your Back” ― tell the press what other members will be doing, like handing out leaflets to that curious passerby, et cetera. Always keep the press release really sharp, and put it in a way the press will want to come out and cover the event. Why? Because we need to keep them curious! Remember, at the end of the day, the people in the press are only human, so even they will be interested to see what’s going on!
What keeps you busy outside of activism?
I know this might sound strange, but advocating for animal rights is my life. When I am not working, I am advocating either online or on the streets helping to make Animal Rights Action Network the best voice for animals we can be!
Is there nothing you do to relax?
Let me see, I suppose I like to do some light reading and I love walking and hanging out with friends.
What do you do to keep from burning out?
I can’t sleep at night knowing cruelty is existing right now. I won’t ever lie down until this suffering stops. I am in this right up until my last breath on this planet.
For more about ARAN, please visit http://www.aran.ie/