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For many activists, it just takes one thing — one event, one conversation, one documentary, one something — to put them on a life-changing course. For Camille Labchuk, it was seeing the annual seal hunt on television in her native Canada. She was nine years old. “It was one of the first times I truly became aware that society treats animals in cruel and callous ways,” she says. It also made the seal slaughter very real, because it was happening in her own backyard. “I grew up in Prince Edward Island, in the Atlantic region of Canada. I knew about baby harp seals because they would sometimes wash up on the shores of Island beaches, and to know that they were being clubbed and skinned so close to my own home was unbearable.”

Today, Camille is an animal rights lawyer and the executive director of Animal Justice Canada, a national organization focused on animal law, including law reform, litigation, investigations, and education, and the only one of its kind in the country. Camille represents individuals and organizations in animal law cases, defends animal advocates, and seeks out litigation that enhances the interests of animals. Her work includes false advertising complaints against companies making humane claims; exposing suffering on farms; work on trophy hunting, circuses, zoos, aquariums, shark finning, and puppy mills; and, of course, documenting the commercial seal kill on Canada’s East Coast.

I appreciate Camille taking time from her very busy schedule to answer some questions about her work, animal law in Canada, and her advice for anyone arrested for animal activism there.

Can you give me a sense of how difficult your job is? What is the hardest part? And what is the most rewarding?

I truly believe I have the best job in the world. The law is such a powerful tool for social change, and being at the cutting edge of the new field of animal law in Canada is an honor and a privilege. Sure, constantly watching footage of animal cruelty can be difficult, and it’s always crushing to lose a court case or see politicians vote down an important law. But I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t fighting to end animal suffering and bring our legal system in line with Canadian values.

The most rewarding part of my job is reflecting on the progress we’ve already made, and imagining how much further we’ll have shifted the paradigm in another decade or two. Ultimately, animal activists are on the right side of history, and I predict we will win this battle sooner than any of us can imagine right now.

How would you characterize the state of animal law in Canada? Are you seeing improvements in protections for animals?

Canadians think of our country as kind, polite, and progressive, but those attitudes are not reflected in our animal protection laws, which are widely considered among the worst in the western world. Canada is one of very few western democracies without national animal welfare legislation to set standards for animal confinement, use, and slaughter. The few federal animal cruelty laws that do exist haven’t been updated since the 1950s, and the federal government recently blocked an attempt to modernize these protections to ensure sadistic animal abusers do not continue to escape criminal prosecution for their violence.

The vast majority of animals held captive and slaughtered in Canada are farmed animals (more than 771 million in 2016, not including fishes — their lives are measured in tonnes). Yet the federal government doesn’t regulate on-farm conditions for animals, essentially letting the farming industry set its own standards. Canada’s farmed animal transport laws are 40 years old, and a recent government proposal to update the laws would still allow animals to be transported for days at a time without food, water, or rest, and suffer and die from exposure to Canada’s blistering heat and extreme cold.

There is also disturbingly little oversight of animal experimentation in Canada, with only voluntary, non-legal standards for laboratories existing at the national level. The Canadian public has no meaningful access to laboratory records, inspections, and outcomes, and thus no way to oversee what is happening behind closed doors in animal experiments.

Canada still subsidizes the commercial seal slaughter, the largest mass slaughter of marine mammals on the planet, done for seal fur. Encouragingly, the number of seals killed is dropping dramatically as countries around the world close their borders to commercial seal products.

The laws that do protect animals in Canada are chronically under-enforced. Canada largely leaves enforcing animal protection laws to private SPCAs and humane societies — charities that must raise money to cover their operation and enforcement costs.

Yet there are glimmers of hope. Undercover investigations over the last five years have helped expose hidden abuse in the farming industry, in laboratories, and in zoos and aquariums. There is a bill before Parliament that would ban keeping whales and dolphins in captivity; the province of Ontario recently banned orca whale captivity; and the Vancouver Parks Board recently stopped the Vancouver Aquarium from continuing to confine cetaceans. There are also federal bills that would outlaw cosmetic tests performed on animals and ban shark fin imports into Canada.

Animal lawyers are also starting to advocate on behalf of animals in courtrooms, such as in the Supreme Court case of R. v. D.L.W., a disturbing case about the sexual abuse of animals. The Court accepted the argument of intervener Animal Justice and ruled that protecting animals is a fundamental societal value — the strongest-ever statement on animal protection from the country’s top court and an incredible precedent. And in a case involving an elephant named Lucy, imprisoned by herself at the Edmonton Zoo, the chief justice of the Alberta Court of Appeal wrote an incredibly dissenting judgment recognizing the interests of nonhuman animals.

Animal law issues are constantly in the news in Canada and are becoming a real part of the national conversation.

How important do you think it is for animal cases like these to get exposure in the media?

Getting media attention for animal law cases can sometimes be just as important as the outcome of the case. For instance, Canadian activist Anita Krajnc was recently charged with criminal mischief for giving water to thirsty, dehydrated pigs on their way into a slaughterhouse. The charges were laid at the behest of the meat industry, but their tactic backfired: the intense media exposure and international interest in the case educated millions of people about the horrific cruelty suffered by animals in the food system. Anita Krajnc was acquitted following a trial, but the real victory of the case is that she succeeded in putting the meat industry on trial for unimaginable animal abuse.

Media attention can also influence the outcome of a case. In one recent Canadian case, a compassionate police officer was charged with misconduct after rescuing a kitten from a bad situation in drug den. Why? Because the kitten was property, removed without the owner’s consent. Animal Justice filed an application to intervene, and we helped turn the case into a major media story. When we showed up to argue our case, the prosecution agreed to settle, confirming that police have an obligation to rescue animals as part of the general police duty to preserve life. This helped ensure there won’t be a chill effect on animal rescue.

Does the law reflect the way society views animals?

I’m a firm believer that society leads the law — not the other way around. In other words, politicians and judges will only create new legal standards that reflect attitudes the public already holds. In the case of animal protection, there has been a massive shift in public consciousness over the last few decades about the way society should be treating animals. People know more than every before about the horrific suffering endured by animals used for food, fashion, experiments, and entertainment, and they want this to end. The law hasn’t yet caught up to societal attitudes about animals, but animal advocates and animal lawyers are beginning to make progress. Our job is to enshrine these values into court judgments and legislation.

What advice do you have for activists who would like to practice animal law in Canada?

Animal law in Canada is still a very new field of practice, and would-be animal lawyers must be bold in charting their own courses and seeking out opportunities. My own path led me to practice criminal law for several years before starting up my own animal law practice. I volunteered part-time with non-profit animal law organization Animal Justice at the same time, and helped build the organization up from a small team of volunteers into a larger, national organization. This eventually led to full-time employment in animal law.

There are still very few paid animal law positions in Canada, so I recommend having a back-up plan in the early stages. Find an area of legal practice that pays the bills, and volunteer your spare time by doing pro bono legal work for animal protection organizations. I made a point of volunteering for as many animal protection organizations as possible before, during, and after law school, and it was these contacts that helped me get enough work to pay the bills while I had my own animal law practice. If you can make the jump to full-time animal law practice or working for a non-profit, go for it!

You’ve also represented animal rights activists. Do you have any advice for people who find themselves arrested for engaging in activism in Canada?

First, don’t talk to the police — I meant it, not a word! Second, call Animal Justice. We vigorously defend the rights of animal advocates; without people to speak up on their behalves, animals won’t have a voice in our political and legal systems. Activism is essential to animal protection. We help connect activists with top-notch criminal lawyers who can help defend against activism-related prosecutions.

Lastly, do you have any advice for animal lovers who want to lobby their legislators on animal issues?

Lobbying our political representatives is essential to helping animals. Politicians are under immense pressure from the billion-dollar industries that harm animals, and unless politicians hear loudly and clearly from constituents who care about animals, nothing will ever change.

Meet with your legislators often — that’s federal, provincial, and municipal — and bring as many friends or family members from the community as you can. Come armed with facts and a specific ask, such as supporting or introducing a piece of legislation. Make sure your legislators know they won’t get your vote unless they support animal protection issues. After a meeting, a phone call is your second best option, followed by sending an email. Political staff track the number of phone calls and emails they receive on an issue, and most politicians pay close attention to the mood of their constituents. And don’t do this just once: make a point of reaching out regularly to legislators.

During elections, it’s important to find and support animal-friendly candidates — volunteer to knock on doors, make phone calls, and donate! Legislators remember the people that help them get elected, and you can use this goodwill to ensure they do the right thing once in office.

 

To follow Camille’s work, please give the Animal Justice Canada Facebook page a like!

 

Anita giving water to thirsty pigs. Photo by Elli Garlin

Last week, a judge in Canada dismissed charges against activist Anita Krajnc, who was arrested in 2015 after giving water to a thirsty pig bound for slaughter in Ontario. She faced up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Her arrest and trial received international attention, and the group she started in 2010, Toronto Pig Save, has inspired similar groups within the animal “save” movement around the world. Anita was kind enough to chat with me about her trial and her activism and offer a few words of advice to other activists.

Congratulations on being acquitted of criminal mischief. Are you at all surprised by the verdict?

It’s an issue that really resonated with the public—that compassion is not a crime … that giving water to pigs is not a crime. I was actually hoping for a lot more, maybe some legal precedents, but that didn’t happen.

If you had been found guilty, would you have paid the fine?

I probably would not have paid it. I would have said, “It’s not right.”

Was there anything about the trial that surprised you?

Yes. I was impressed by Judge Harris, because he accepted all my lawyers’ defense as exhibits. Like, when they presented VR [virtual reality] headsets showing iAnimal from Animal Equality, he accepted that as evidence of how pigs are treated informed the work we do, including giving water to pigs. He accepted the 12-minute video, which was shown in court and shows pigs being electrically prodded into a gas chamber and shows one of the pigs trying to jump over the enclosure and the worker putting the prod in his ear. It was really gruesome evidence of how they’re treated.

He accepted another video, which showed pigs at Richard Hoyle’s Pig Preserve. I had shot a video where Richard talked about how pigs have 30 different vocalizations; they have 120 or more ways to communicate, when they combine a vocalization with a body posture or facial expression, like showing their tusks. He talked about how they formed groups, that they’re matriarchal, that they forage in the forest for berries and squash, that they like some types of grass.

So we’d gone over who pigs are in a more natural setting with their friends and family, and also how they’re treated.

The charges were dismissed, but it was because I did not interfere with property—the “property” being the pigs. I didn’t stop the truck. I didn’t prevent those pigs from being slaughtered. So the judge said I’m not guilty.

Will your activism change at all as a result of this trial?

It didn’t change our forms of activism at all, even after I was charged. I have since given water. Other people have given water to thirsty pigs. The trial has taken almost two years, and during that time we’ve continued to give water to thirsty pigs on hot days. But I was surprised the trial didn’t intimidate other people in our group. The first vigil we held after I was charged, people got right in front of me and started giving water. I thought, “OK, obviously it has not impacted people.” And, our movement has really grown a lot. At the beginning of 2016 there were about 50 groups, by the end of the year there’s 100, and there’s almost 150 now. So it’s growing exponentially. And it’s growing in interesting places. Like, there’s a Hong Kong Pig Save, and at their first vigil they gave water to pigs. There are two groups in Sweden, and they give water to pigs. There are four groups in South America now. One of the groups is called Save Movement Lima; at their first vigil a few weeks ago, they gave water to cows. There are almost 40 groups in the United Kingdom. So this idea of giving water to thirsty animals going to slaughter is an international phenomenon.

[In addition to the vigils, Anita explained they started doing vigils right in front of the slaughterhouse, where they unload the pigs.]

We were bearing witness to the poor pigs, who the workers were unloading with electric prods and paddles. We had two sites and doing three vigils a week, so it was a very intensive grassroots campaign, and it’s site specific, targeting one slaughterhouse.

When you look at the groups around the world, sometimes they use that strategy of bearing witness, and sometimes they use what they call a city vigil. It’s in the city, at an intersection, where the slaughterhouse trucks pass. They might not be able to get near a slaughterhouse, but they are at a busy intersection and they are raising public awareness about slaughterhouses in their communities.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Both of your attorneys, James Silver and Gary Grill, are vegan. Do you think that was important to your defense?

Yes. Both of them are vegan for 20 years or more, and they fought a very inclusive defense. They could have fought it in a very narrow way and just said, you know, I’m not guilty; I didn’t interfere. But instead they invited expert witnesses to talk about the environmental and health consequences of animal agriculture. They brought in Dr. Lori Marino, as well, to talk about the sentience and feelings and personhood of pigs. She said that the definition of a person is someone who is autonomous, self-aware, has complex emotions, and is sentient. She said that under that definition, pigs are persons, not property. Scientifically, and of course ethically, we know pigs are not property or objects—they are persons or beings. But in Harris’ judgment, which was presented in a very black-and-white way, he said they are property. It’s very sad. He had an opportunity to move the law, and basically he took a very conservative, procedural approach.

Their main defense was that I was acting in the public good. I was a good Samaritan doing what is right. But the judge dismissed that justification. Turns out the judge is a farmer—I just found this out. He came from a farming community. But he was still open-minded.

Do you think the media coverage impacted the public’s opinion of your activism?

I think it definitely increased support for what we’re doing. First of all, it increased awareness—people didn’t know. With the media coverage, the public actually got to look inside the trucks. The media was looping that incident of June 22nd [which prompted Anita’s arrest], which we fortunately videotaped. I said the pigs were dying of thirst, and the media would show a video clip of the poor pigs in that truck with open mouths, panting and foaming at the mouth. Clearly they were really, really thirsty.

Then the media would link to our videos. Water for Poor Angel Victims was one of the first videos we did in 2013, and the media linked to it and the views went up by 150,000. So there was way more support because they were spreading knowledge and information about what we do. For the first time, images of these pigs were getting out. So the images that you and I know so well began to infiltrate the mainstream. It’s been incredibly positive. And more people are getting involved, which has always been our objective. We don’t just want people to change their diet; we want them to become activists.

Speaking of activists, do you have any advice for people who are facing prosecution for compassionate actions like yours?

I think one should always follow their conscience. 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. Historically, a lot of social movements have fought battles in the legal realm. You think of desegregation legal victories, pro choice legal victories. The law is one place, but what is clear is that what is ethical and what is legal is often very different. So it’s important to always be focused on what is ethical.

On the other hand, in terms of creating public awareness, our group was around since 2010, and we’ve been doing weekly vigils since July 2011. So we’ve done more than a thousand vigils just in the Toronto area. We got a little bit of media coverage here and there. When the trial happened, it was unbelievable. In the pre-trial stage, it became a national media story. From the standpoint of any activist who does this, we look at [the bearing witness vigils] and say, “Oh my God, if only the whole world could just see what we see. Look at these animals in the truck. If people just saw this, they would not participate in harming these animals.” But something like a trial is very easy for the media to cover. They are pressed by their advertisers to not cover our vigils. It’s harder for them. But when there’s a trial, it’s very easy for the mainstream media to cover it. I believe there’s good people in the media. By and large, the media coverage was really, really positive and supportive. Also, this case was a simple story: somebody is charged for an act of compassion. Not all cases will be this simple.

Was there anyone or anything that gave you strength or inspired you?

Definitely Leo Tolstoy. Throughout the trial I was reading him a lot. Particularly that point about one should just follow their conscience. Who you are is determined by your actions, not by what other people say. Whatever the outside environment is—whether it’s adverse or supportive—what matters is what you do. That’s the basic principle Tolstoy advanced, and I lived it. I was charged, but I wasn’t worried, because I did the right thing, no matter what the consequences were. And I will continue to do the right thing. I always said, I’m going to follow the Golden Rule, no matter what the court decides.

 

Photo by J. D. Ebberly via Flickr

Dolphins are truly remarkable animals. Early cultures so highly regarded dolphins that they featured them in their mythology and artwork. The ancient Greeks, for instance, often depicted Poseidon and Aphrodite accompanied by dolphins, and Indigenous peoples in Brazil have long venerated the Amazon river dolphin as sacred, considering it bad luck to kill or eat one.

Scientists believe dolphins are the second most intelligent beings on Earth (after humans) and have argued that they should be treated as nonhuman persons.

In some ways, we’ve loved these animals to death. We want to be close to them – so close that we’ve learned how to capture dolphins through violent hunts in places like Taiji, keep them in tiny tanks, breed them, and “train” them to perform tricks for our amusement. The gentle curve of their mouths give them the appearance of always smiling, even as they are suffering at human hands.

Captivity, recreational boating, commercial fishing (as “bycatch”), and habitat loss through coastal development are just a few of the threats dolphins face. In honor of National Dolphin Day, here are seven things we can do to help them:

1. Protect the oceans. Dolphins live there, after all. We can start by not consuming marine life and minimizing our individual use of plastic, which often ends up in the ocean.

2. Never patronize businesses that keep dolphins (or other animals) in captivity – this includes places that let you “swim with dolphins.”

3. Speak out against the Taiji dolphin hunts. The notorious annual dolphin hunts take place near Taiji, Japan, from about September 1 until at least March. Every year, fishermen locate pods of migrating dolphins out at sea and herd them into Hatagiri Bay with boats, nets, and long metal rods that crew members dip below the surface and pound to create an acoustical wall that disorients the dolphins’ sonar. The fishermen leave the animals overnight in a narrow cove and return at dawn armed with the knives and spears that will gradually turn the blue tide scarlet. While many dolphins are killed for meat, others are sold to zoos and marine parks worldwide, making the drives an incredibly lucrative business.

Contact authorities in Taiji, as well as the Japanese Embassy, US Embassy to Japan, US and Japanese Ambassadors to the UN, and the US Senate members of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Call or send them a polite message expressing your feelings about the dolphin hunts and ask them to do everything in their power to help put an end to the misery.

Prime Minister of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Cabinet Office, Government of Japan 1-6-1 Nagata-cho Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. 100-8914 JAPAN +81-3-5253-2111

Website: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/index-e.html Online comment form #1: https://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment_ssl.html Online comment form #2: https://form.cao.go.jp/kokusai/en_opinion-0001.html

Japanese Embassies Worldwide: Websites of Japanese Embassies, Consulates and Permanent Missions

List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan: List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan

United States UN Representative: Samantha Power – US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s Twitter United States Mission to the United Nations Contact Form

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

International Whaling Commission (IWC) The Red House, 135 Station Road, Impington, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB24 9NP, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1223 233 971 Fax: +44 (0) 1223 232 87 Email: secretariat@iwcoffice.org

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) / Convention on Migratory Species (CMP) UNEP/CMS Secretariat Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1 53113 Bonn, Germany Tel: (+49 228) 815 2401 Fax: (+49 228) 815 2449 Email: secretariat@cms.int

(The position of US Ambassador to Japan is currently vacant; I’ll update this post once it is filled.)

4. Join volunteers in Taiji. You can also volunteer with Sea Shepherd or The Dolphin Project on site in Taiji. Those who are interested in volunteering as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian should email groundcrew@seashepherd.org. (Please note that volunteer applicants must be able to commit to participating in the campaign for a minimum of one week.) To sign up to join Ric O’Barry and his Dolphin Project team as a Project Cove Monitor, please click here.

5. Contact travel companies and travel agents. It was great news when Thomas Cook and TripAdvisor recently stopped offering or promoting travel to attractions that exploit dolphins and other animals. But plenty of travel companies and travel agents still feature attractions and hotels that keep cetaceans in captivity. When you see a company promoting dolphin captivity, ask them to reconsider. If they don’t respond, send an email to coveguardians@seashepherduk.org.

6. Support groups working on behalf of dolphins. Such groups include The Dolphin Project, Sea Shepherd, and Blue Voice.

7. Know how to respond if you find a live dolphin stranded on the beach. Click here.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a truly dolphin-safe can of tuna, try this one – or make a great-tasting tuna-like salad using chickpeas!

Please share this post with family and friends and ask them to get involved.

 

Tilikum (c. November 1981 – January 6, 2017)

Tilikum (c. November 1981 – January 6, 2017)

Tilikum is dead. The orca made famous in the 2013 documentary Blackfish was two years old when he was seized in the open waters off Iceland in 1983 and had lived in small tanks ever since. He died today at SeaWorld Orlando, where he’d been held in captivity for the final 24 years of his life. It was last March that SeaWorld announced the orca had a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection, though the official cause of death has yet to be announced.

I researched Tilikum for my 2013 book Bleating Hearts, and in doing so I learned much about orcas. I discovered that in the wild they can live to be 100 years old or more. (Tilikum was 36 when he died.) Highly social animals, orcas are especially vulnerable when restricted to tiny spaces like aquarium tanks and pools. These are some of the largest predators on Earth, reaching up to 32 feet in length. They travel as far as 100 miles in a single day and have been known to suffer depression when deprived of their family and the stimulation of life at sea.

A clue to the toll confinement takes on killer whales can be easily seen in their dorsal fins. In nature, these sleek, black fins stand straight and high, while in captivity, the dorsal fin of all adult males and many adult females collapses, or droops over to one side—a byproduct of the orca spending a lifetime near the water’s surface, though scientists are unsure why this phenomenon occurs.

blackfish-posterIn 2010, Tilikum killed his “trainer” at SeaWorld Orlando, Dawn Brancheau. Dawn was not the first human death Tilikum was responsible for (he’d killed a part-time trainer while being held at Sealand of the Pacific in 1991, and then a visitor who’d slipped into the pool after hours at SeaWorld Orlando in 1999), and SeaWorld should have recognized both the psychological stress Tili was under and the danger of allowing park employees to be in the water with him.

Dawn’s death eventually led to the documentary Blackfish, which focuses on Tilikum. The film was shown on CNN and Netflix, resulting in a public outcry against captivity that SeaWorld could not ignore. Attendance at the park plummeted—along with revenue—and the company was forced to make changes. Clearly, were it not for Tilikum and Blackfish, today it would be business as usual at SeaWorld. Instead, the company has agreed to phase out its orca performances and halt its orca breeding program.

There are scores of orcas in captivity worldwide, and we can do better for them than simply waiting for them to die.

What You Can Do:

Never visit a marine park or the other enterprise that keeps marine mammals (or other animals, for that matter) in captivity. Ask family and friends not to visit, either.

Join the efforts of activists who campaign against animal captivity. Groups such as CompassionWorks International and the Captive Animals’ Protection Society focus their work on animals in captivity and assist others doing the same.

Support efforts to “retire” orcas from parks like SeaWorld and Miami Seaquarium and release them into seaside sanctuaries. Click here for more information.

Sign the petition to make the results of Tilikum’s autopsy public. Doing so will help ensure SeaWorld is transparent about how and why Tilikum died.

Help the Southern Resident killer whale population. These endangered orcas are suffering from a lack of salmon to feed on thanks to hydro-electric dams on the Snake River in Idaho. Click here for actions you can take.

Learn more about Tilikum and other orcas in captivity. Watch Blackfish, which is available on Netflix, or purchase a copy of the film on DVD. Hold a screening for your family and friends.

I also recommend you follow advocates actively working on behalf of orcas in captivity, including Dr. Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center; former SeaWorld trainers Samantha Berg, Carol Ray, and Jeffrey Ventre; Paige Nelson; Dr. Ingrid Visser; and the Orca Project.

 

Clearly, 2016 was a mixed bag. We had some exciting wins for the first 10 months or so, and things were looking good. Then, around November 9, there was an unmistakable pivot in the national mood. The world seemed a little darker.

As a sit down to reflect on the last 12 months of victories for animals, my feelings are tempered by the knowledge that 2017 could be a very different year not only for nonhuman animals, but for many vulnerable groups and the environment. Perhaps that makes this entry all the more poignant. I can’t say what the future holds, but I can recognize some of the stories in which animals won and animal activists have reason to celebrate. In that spirit, here are a dozen stories I loved, and I think you will, too.

1. SeaWorld agrees to end captive breeding of killer whales (March)

orca-and-calfThis is spectacular news, not just for animals, but for animal advocates. It clearly shows the impact that activists can have when they use a variety of methods to campaign for animals. (One sour note to this news is that the orcas in captivity at SeaWorld locations will remain in captivity—at least for now.) SeaWorld also promised to end orca shows at all its entertainment parks by 2019.

My profound thanks to everyone who has agitated on behalf of orcas, even long before the release of Blackfish kicked this campaign into high gear. The struggle is far from over, but it’s important we acknowledge how far we’ve come.

2. Armani goes fur free (March)

After years of campaigning by animal rights groups, fashion designer Georgio Armani pledged to go 100 percent fur-free across all his labels from the autumn/winter 2016 collection onwards.

“I am pleased to announce that the Armani Group has made a firm commitment to abolish the use of animal fur in its collections,” said Giorgio Armani. “Technological progress made over the years allows us to have valid alternatives at our disposition that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary as regards animals. Pursuing the positive process undertaken long ago, my company is now taking a major step ahead, reflecting our attention to the critical issues of protecting and caring for the environment and animals.”

Most fur used in the fashion industry comes from fur farms, where wild animals are kept in small cages and killed by cruel methods that preserve the pelts—such as gassing and anal electrocution. Moreover, fur production has high environmental costs and health risks due to its chemical-heavy production process.

By committing to a fur-free policy, Armani joins other luxury brands, including Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Stella McCartney.

3. Iran bans animal acts in circuses (March)

This year Iran joined a growing number of countries—including Austria, Bolivia, Colombia, Greece, Mexico, and Singapore—that have banned circuses that use wild animals. The law led to the immediate closure of at least 13 circuses across the country and follows the successful No to Circus! campaign launched by Animal Rights Watch in September 2014 and supported by Animal Defenders International.

4. Octopus escapes from NZ aquarium and back out to sea (April)

Inky

Inky

When Inky the octopus slipped out of a tank in New Zealand’s National Aquarium, crawled across the floor, squeezed his football-sized body into a six-inch-wide drain pipe, and escaped into the Pacific Ocean, he literally became a breakout star. By liberating himself, he also symbolized the will of animals in captivity. Animal activists tirelessly campaign against circuses, zoos, marine parks, and other enterprises that confine animals, and this story illustrated that octopuses are not only smart, but resourceful.

Inky had been inside the aquarium since 2014, when he’d been inadvertently caught in a crayfish pot and given to the aquarium. (Going after one species and catching another—called “bycatch” in the fishing industry—is all too common.)

5. Ringling Bros. “retires” its elephants 2 years ahead of schedule (May)

For decades, animal activists and animal rights groups have been urging circuses to stop using animals. Last year, the biggest target of their campaigning, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, finally agreed to stop using elephants. Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, had originally planned to retire the elephants in 2018, but moved up the timeline in the face of constant criticism from activists and an increasing number of local laws aimed at restricting their animal shows.

The elephants will now settle into the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, just a few miles from Disney World and tucked behind cattle ranches and orange groves. Unfortunately, controversy still surrounds this so-called retirement, as some of the elephants will be used for cancer research.

6. National Aquarium will retire all its dolphins to a sea sanctuary (June)

Dolphin sanctuary rendering

Dolphin sanctuary rendering

Another longtime target of protests against animal captivity, the National Aquarium in Baltimore has kept dolphins for 25 years. They finally stopped forcing the dolphins to perform in 2012 but continued to “display” them to the public. In June, the aquarium announced the dolphins would be released into an oceanside sanctuary by 2020.

The National Aquarium is exploring seaside sites in Florida and the Caribbean to create a new home for its eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, seven of whom were born in captivity and have never swum in the ocean. Officials say this will be a first-of-its-kind protected, seaside habitat where the dolphins would still be cared for by humans.

7. Egg producers say they will eliminate killing of male chicks by 2020 (June)

One of the most insidious—and little-known—practices of the egg industry has long been the killing of male chicks. Since male chickens don’t lay eggs and are considered worthless to egg producers, some 200 million male chicks a year in the United States are killed shortly after hatching. These babies are either ground up while still alive or thrown into garbage bags to suffocate.

But with technology now able to determine the gender of a chick inside a fertilized egg just a few days into the 21-day incubation period, egg producers in the US and elsewhere have pledged to stop the cruel killing of male chicks by 2020.

None of this excuses the misery chickens endure in the egg industry (and 2020 is still a long way off), but it’s a step in the right direction.

8. Australia bans cosmetic animal testing (June)

The banning of animal testing and products that use such testing has become a growing trend. Now Australia joins the European Union, India, Israel, Norway, and Turkey, all of whom have passed similar measures to cut down on animal testing.

Australia’s ban goes into effect in July.

9. Sales of cow’s milk sour while sales of plant-based milk increase (July)

almond-milkAccording to a report by the market-research firm Nielsen, “Almond milk is now America’s favorite milk substitute, boasting sales growth of 250 percent over the past five years.” The dairy milk industry has been campaigning against milk alternatives, no doubt because while the popularity of almond milk grows, as the Nielsen report noted, “the total milk market shrunk by more than $1 billion.”

Meanwhile, a separate survey from this year reveals that half of omnivores are consuming plant-based beverages for health, taste, and ethical reasons.

Another concern for the animal ag industry: More and more dairy farmers are getting out of the business. In California, which happens to be both the #1 producer of almonds and dairy milk in the nation, dairy farmers are converting their farms into almond orchards.

10. California bans SeaWorld’s killer whale shows and breeding program (September)

Although SeaWorld announced it would cease breeding orcas and phase out orca shows earlier in the year, that wasn’t enough for California. Home to SeaWorld San Diego, the state formally banned both practices when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Orca Protection and Safety Act. The law goes into effect next June, after which the orcas can only be used for “educational purposes.” SeaWorld currently keeps 28 orcas in captivity in the US, 11 of whom are in California.

The bill’s sponsors say the legislation was important to make sure that SeaWorld can’t change its mind, and that no other California park can breed or do non-educational orca shows in the future.

Here’s hoping all orcas in captivity—as well as dolphins and other marine mammals—will eventually be placed in seaside sanctuaries.

11. India bans cruel Draize irritation tests on rabbits (November)

Named for the FDA toxicologist who developed it in 1944, the infamous Draize test is intended to evaluate the safety of cosmetics and other products using live animals. It’s most commonly used on rabbits, who are locked into restraining stocks so they cannot struggle or clean their eyes. A test chemical is then applied to one eye or to a shaved area of skin on their backs and they are monitored for 2 to 3 weeks, without any pain relief, for signs of permanent damage. This may include swelling, bleeding, ulceration, and blindness. A number of validated and internationally recognized non-animal alternatives, including reconstructed human skin and corneal tissues, have been available for years.

Thank you, India, for banning this horrific practice, and thanks to the animal advocates who campaigned to end it.

12. Massachusetts votes to ban extreme confinement of farmed animals (November)

One bright spot from the US’s November election was the passage of Question 3 in Massachusetts. Like California’s Proposition 2 in the 2008 election, this new law will prohibit Massachusetts farmers from confining egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and calves raised for veal in spaces that prevent the animals from “lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely”—and the sale of meat and eggs resulting from these practices outside Massachusetts.

The new law will take effect in 2022 (presumably to give farmers time to reconfigure their facilities into compliance). The state attorney general will be required to issue regulations and enforce it, including a $1,000 fine for each violation.

 

Other stories of the year worth noting:

Warsaw, Poland, Bans Circuses That Use Animals (January)

Indian Health Ministry to End Repeat Animal Testing for Drugs (March)

India Bans Cosmetics Testing on Animals (April)

Bull Spearing Outlawed by Spanish Regional Government (May)

After 140 Years, Buenos Aires Zoo Closed Because “Captivity Is Degrading” (June)

Florida’s Bear Hunt Cancelled for the Year (June)

Rhode Island Becomes First State to Ban Elephant Bullhooks (July)

California Becomes Second State to Ban Bullhooks (August)

Norway Bans Elephants in Circuses (September)

After Uproar, US Government Says It Does Not Plan to Kill Wild Horses (September)

Gov. Brown Signs Bill Allowing People to Break Into Cars to Rescue Animals from Heat (September)

TripAdvisor to Stop Selling Tickets to Many Animal Attractions (October)

Last Fur Farm in Japan Closes (November)

Argentina Bans Greyhound Racing (November)

SeaWorld Cutting 320 Jobs in Restructuring after Attendance, Revenue Have Suffered in Face of Animal-Rights Campaign (December)

No More Wild Animals in Circuses in India (December)

 

 

Last weekend I had the privilege* of attending the People of Color: Animal Rights, Advocacy and Food Justice Conference atcovac the California State University‒Northridge (CSUN) campus in Los Angeles. The event’s organizer, Coalition of Vegan Activists of Color (COVAC), billed this as a first-of-its-kind conference in Southern California, and considering how white-centric most vegan and animal rights events are, this is both sad and encouraging.

One of the aspects of the conference I really appreciated was that all the presentations were consecutive, so attendees weren’t left having to decide between two or three speakers they really wanted to hear.

Every speaker was a person of color, and the issues they addressed ranged from food as a tool to social change to the very language we use in our activism. The day was long and the presentations in-depth, so I won’t go into a deep dive here, but I will offer a brief summary of this important activism event.

David Carter discusses veganism, activism, and health.

David Carter discusses veganism, activism, and health.

The day kicked off with a panel of three vegan athletes—former NFL defensive-end-turned-activist David Carter, professional bodybuilder Torre Washington, and triathlete Dominick Thompson—all of whom debunked many of the health myths surrounding veganism and spoke about the role compassion plays in their lives.

Sarah Woodcock, founder of The Advocacy of Veganism Society, followed with an examination of what veganism means, and she discussed intersectionality, suggesting that one way to support the Black Lives Matter movement is to stop saying “All lives matter,” however well-intentioned you may be. Not surprisingly, this got an enthusiastic response from attendees.

Next up was a presentation by lauren Ornelas (full disclosure: my partner), who founded Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) nine years ago in part to bring together many of the issues discussed at the conference: animal rights, human rights, veganism, and the environment. lauren spoke about access to healthy foods in communities of color and low-income communities. She often reminds people that just because something is vegan, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cruelty-free, and she drove this point home, saying, “We can’t say we have a compassionate diet if we know humans are suffering for what we eat.”shameonsafeway

She also discussed F.E.P.’s new campaign against Safeway, a company that often blocks other grocery stores from moving into their former locations when they move out of a building, thus limiting a community’s access to healthy foods. (See more details and sign the petition here.)

A presentation by Chema Hernández Gil of San Francisco Rising followed. Chema addressed how colonization has worsened the diet of Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America. He explained, for example, that corn tortillas are a heritage food for Meso-Americans, and that because of how tortillas were traditionally created by hand with limewater, they have been the main source of calcium. With tortilla production now industrialized, however, and corn coming from the U.S., this food is no longer as nutritious.

Linda Alvarez, assistant professor in the Central American Studies Department at CSUN and a co-organizer of the conference, talked about her interviews with Central American workers in the U.S. food system. This was a deeply moving presentation, as many of the people she’s spoken with work in slaughterhouses. None of them enjoy this work, she said; they are only there because the violent conditions in their home countries forced them to flee to the United States. They are doing work few will do just so they can support their families. Linda characterized these people as refugees who left home in fear for their lives.

I really enjoyed the next segment, presented by Brenda Sanders, executive director of Better Health, Better Life. Brenda—who is also the co-creator of Vegan SoulFest, an annual celebration of culture and the vegan lifestyle in Baltimore City—spoke about how white activists can be better allies to activists of color. One of the mistakes some activists make, she said, is to take their activism into a new community and try to tell members of that community what they should or should not be doing. You’re more likely to have success in your own community, she said, where you are known and trusted.

Brenda Sanders gives a shout-out to Aph Ko and Black Vegans Rock.

Brenda Sanders gives a shout-out to Aph Ko and Black Vegans Rock.

She also stressed the importance of only using delicious food in your outreach. Brenda brought a lot of humor to her talk, which everyone appreciated.

Next was a short documentary, Vegan Noir: Black Vegans in Los Angeles, which focuses on different perspectives of veganism via several Black vegans who live in Southern California. The film was followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker, Toni Bell, and Liz Ross, who appears in the film and is founder of COVAC and co-organizer of the event.

AshEL Seasunz Eldridge, founder of The Urban Farmacy and coordinator at Hip Hop Green Dinners – the 10th Element of Hip Hop in Oakland, brought his usual charm to the event. Hip hop performing artist, writer, emcee, music producer, teacher, and entrepreneur, AshEL is a multi-talented activist who began his presentation by chanting a beautiful Shinto purification prayer called Amatsu Norigoto.

He talked about Kujichagulia (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-ah), which is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa and celebrates African heritage. It’s about self-determination, he explained, and it creates a focus on creating solutions rather than complaining about what doesn’t work. “When we focus more on solutions than the problems, we are less distracted and frustrated and more confident and on path with our purpose,” he says.

He also talked about the Hip Hop Green Dinners he helps organize, which blend entertainment with free vegan meals, and he showed his music video Food Fight, which attendees loved.

The final presentation, called The Hood Food Movement, featured Eugene Cooke, veganic urban farmer and founder of Grow Where You Are. He gave a truly inspiring talk about the power of food and reconnecting with the environment. The soles on our shoes insulate us from the earth, he said, suggesting that we take the time to occasionally feel the grass under our feet and the resulting vibrations through our bodies. With photos from the Standing Rock pipeline protest behind him, he asked, “Why is Standing Rock so important? Because we aren’t doing it. They are. If we don’t value the land, we can forget about any movement we think we have.” Eugene said, “I got my mind blown and my heart washed” by all the amazing folks who came together at the event.

Liz and Linda then took to the podium to say that each conference will recognize a leader in the activist community and honor them with an award. The inaugural honoree of this Leadership Award was lauren Ornelas, who in her thank-you speech spoke about the foundations of Food Empowerment Project and the importance of supporting grassroots groups.

David Carter wrapped up the day with a very brief keynote, and then Linda and Liz ended the conference by saying they will be organizing another one—after a well-deserved rest.

It is beyond the scope of this modest blog to give this event the full attention it deserves. I merely wanted to give it some additional visibility and let potential attendees know what future conferences from COVAC might look like. The atmosphere was very welcoming, the presentations excellent, and the messages more relevant than ever. Moreover, as a white activist with a lot to learn, I found this to be a great experience toward building more solidarity in our movement. If you have a chance to be part of their next conference, do try to make it.

Speakers gather on stage at the end of the day for one last photo op.

Speakers gather on stage at the end of the day for one last photo op.

*I mean this in every sense of the word. It was a privilege to be there, and I recognize what a genuine privilege it is to be able to travel and have free time for events like this one.

 

 

bop-3For vegans serving time in federal prison, among the biggest challenges has long been access to plant-based foods. It’s especially hard on animal activists and ethical vegans, for whom consuming even small amounts of dairy products or egg whites is anathema.

Well, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will be quietly rolling out its new menu on October 2, and I am pleased to tell you that every day, every meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – will offer a vegan option  for its main entrée.*

“The Bureau of Prisons’ National Menu is reviewed at least annually to assess responsiveness to inmate eating preferences, operational impact, product pricing, and nutritional content,” Justin Long, spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, told me. “The Bureau seeks to provide a variety of options, including vegan options, which also support religious dietary accommodations.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that this dramatic menu change only impacts the 102 federal prisons in the United States, not the inmates serving time in the 1,719 state prisons, where veg options vary by location.

This change is the direct result of inmates and their advocates speaking up and demanding that the Federal Bureau of Prisons offer vegan food. Now let’s try to do the same state by state.

Note: I am well aware that our country’s prison industrial complex is corrupt and rife with problems, including racist policies (as I discuss in A Vegan Ethic), and I am not suggesting that we give them a big pat on the back here; I am merely passing along some good news for vegans.

*I cannot vouch for how strict the food preparation will be, however.

LaunchDayI have been a vegan since 2001, and a social justice activist for about a decade longer, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to understand how systems of oppression interact with one another. Shortly after going vegan, I threw much of my energy and time into the animal rights movement, and like many activists, I held a narrow view of how we should agitate against speciesism.

After reading The Sexual Politics of Meat—Carol J. Adams’ pioneering book exploring the link between the (literal) consumption of animals and the (visual) consumption of women—I had to consider our movement’s approach to activism. I began to recognize that all the “isms”—sexism, ableism, racism, heterosexism, ageism, anti-Semitism, classism, sizeism, etc.—are inexorably tied to speciesism.

My understanding of this has been augmented over the years by the work of Lori Gruen, Breeze Harper, pattrice jones, Marti Kheel, lauren Ornelas, and many others. Their efforts are sometimes referred to as “intersectionality,” a term coined in 1989 by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to illustrate how feminist issues and Black issues overlap. (Today the term is also used rather broadly to express how multiple forms of discrimination and oppression are experienced.)

It was the work of these activists that inspired me to write A Vegan Ethic: Embracing A Life Of Compassion Toward All, which was officially published today by Changemakers Books (they also published my two previous books). A Vegan Ethic serves as a concise introduction to animal rights and veganism, but with that as a foundation, it examines how other devalued groups are oppressed, and how their oppression is linked to nonhuman-animal exploitation. I devote an entire chapter to the environment, and another chapter to answering some of the questions vegans are commonly confronted with.

I also produced a short trailer for the book, which you can view on YouTube.

Woven throughout A Vegan Ethic is my acknowledgement of privilege, and I give full credit to the many activists who have influenced me. I hope you’ll give this book a read and, if you like it, a review on Amazon, Goodreads, iTunes, etc. And, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, I hope you’ll come to Herbivore Clothing in Portland, Oregon, on August 27 for the official launch of A Vegan Ethic. All proceeds from book sales will benefit one of my favorite nonprofits, Food Empowerment Project. Click here for details about the launch party.

Finally, I did a short interview with The Huffington Post this month, and it provides more details about the book.

Thank you.

James DeAlto and friends

James DeAlto and friends

Like many of us, animal activist James DeAlto always wanted to do something more. So he recently began chalking simple vegan and animal rights messages on public pathways and other prominent spots around his home in Raleigh, NC. The positive response from people on his “chalktivism” led James to launch the #VeganChalkChallenge, inspiring others to spread messages of compassion, peace, and hope. “This is not about creating a masterpiece,” James says, “it’s about fostering a sense of empowerment for activists who, like myself, are still apprehensive about wearing a vegan t-shirt for fear of ridicule or rejection.”

I caught up with James between chalkings to ask him about this unique form of activism—and how others can get involved.

What is the Vegan Chalk Challenge?

The Vegan Chalk Challenge is an idea that sprang out of the many positive experiences I had after I began writing vegan chalk messages in my own neighborhood and along nature paths in Raleigh. I decided to see if I could use social media to challenge others to do the same in their own community. So, I created a Facebook event with the goal of getting 100 other people to sign up. To my surprise, nearly 1,200 signed up. The overwhelming response has led me to wonder just how far we can take this as a movement.

What inspired you to use chalk in your activism?

For a long time, I had mostly been a student of the vegan/animal rights movement. I spent most of my time reading books, James6scouring websites, desperately trying to convince friends and family to go vegan, having fruitless debates online, and not actually doing much real-world activism. I felt guilty for not doing more, so I started to think about ways that I could incorporate simple, effective activism into my everyday life.

I walk my dogs every day on a paved greenway where there’s quite a few walkers, runners and bikers. I figured it would be simple enough to write a vegan message on the pavement. So, I bought a box of chalk and did just that. I began posting pictures on Facebook and the response I got was amazing. People absolutely loved what I was doing.

I was motivated to keep going with my “chalktivism” largely because my messages seem to offer a sense of validation in a world where the word “vegan” often carries a stigma. Putting my chalk messages out there gives me a sense of empowerment. It allows me to stand up for animals in a way that minimizes the emotional risk, while still giving me the satisfaction of knowing that what I’m doing is effective.

What kinds of responses are you getting from people who see these messages?

My neighbors and people I meet tell me they love what I’m doing. I’m sure there are some who aren’t thrilled with it, but I’ve only had one person ever tell me they didn’t like my messages. She was rather curmudgeonly and could only answer, “I like meat” when I asked what she didn’t like about it.

My next-door neighbor is a Trump supporter and a rabid meat-eater. He loves it. He always asks me when I’m going to do my next one. That tells me this works. Other people I regularly see on my walks tell me they take pictures and love the positive, creative messages I leave.

Why do you think this form of activism works?

James-FEPI’ve weighed out the costs/benefits of so many forms of activism and I find that chalking works for so many reasons.

First, it’s simple. It requires so little time. I can literally write a message like “Vegan Is Love” in 15 seconds inside a busy parking deck and it will be seen by hundreds of people.

Second, it’s unexpected. Just seeing the word “vegan” in a public space, written as a personal, artistic expression of one’s beliefs, is unexpected and makes people curious. When people see these messages in nature, especially in parks or greenways, they’re in a headspace to actually contemplate the message, to discuss its merits with their walking partner or to reflect on a time when they may have previously been vegetarian or vegan. In parks and on greenways, the distractions are much fewer and because my messages are appearing in spaces where political expression is unexpected, the messages are memorable.

Third, it’s emotional. People who read my messages intuitively understand there’s an emotional element that inspired me to take action. People are interested in not only the message, but in the person behind the message. The mystery for those who haven’t yet figured out it’s me has become a very interesting aspect of this story which keeps people’s attention and leaves them interested to see what I’m going to write next.

Fourth, since it’s not an in-person solicitation, viewers are less likely to be defensive. Chalk is usually associated with childhood and people are naturally curious. My neighbors, when they find out it’s been me leaving the messages, have often told me they thought it was a little girl! Because I’m usually absent when people read the message, the focus is squarely on the words themselves, removing any negative bias the recipient may have otherwise had based on my appearance or body language.

Fifth, chalk messages lead to conversations. People have told me they’re thinking more about their food choices because of my actions. Knowing my audience is already concerned with health and environmental issues, I like to leave messages that will encourage them to talk about these particular issues. I’ll often use statistics from Cowspiracy with the message “Watch Cowspiracy on Netflix.” Or, I’ll write something health-related and write “Watch Forks Over Knives on Netflix.” If I can get people to watch these movies over a span of an hour and a half, I feel that’s a great payoff for taking a few minutes to write a chalk message.

Sixth, effective activism strengthens the vegan community. Public chalk messages offer other vegans a sense of validation. I have a vegan therapist who runs on the greenway where I leave my messages. She told me that the first time she saw one, she threw her arms up in the air and yelled, “Yes!” What we’re doing provokes a sense of excitement in “closet vegans,” offering the assurance there are others out there like themselves. This can go a long way toward normalizing veganism, which I think is one of our main tasks as a movement.

Seventh, the afterlife of a chalk message is much longer than what we leave on the pavement. When people post their pictures Facebook, the love and appreciation that pours out in the comments fuels my desire to go out and do more. When others post pictures of their own chalk messages and share their personal experiences, it makes my entire day. What’s most exciting is the growing community of activists who are starting to see the potential in what we’re doing. The Vegan Chalk Challenge has become an unfolding story, which makes it very exciting for me personally.

What other types of activism are you engaged in?

I’m a professional videographer and amateur photographer, so I sometimes lend my skills to our local animal sanctuaries, James1Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge, and Triangle Chance for All.

I also do a lot of online activism, helping new vegans find their footing and sharing valuable resources. I’ve found a good deal of success planting seeds with people who are already interested in things like environmental protection, compassion and concern for animals.

This year I founded a new group in Raleigh called “Vegans for Peace.” Our focus is on bringing people into the vegan community through the use of low-cost advertising like chalking, highway signs (like the ones you so often see for queen-sized mattresses) and leaflets. We’re finding new ways to get the vegan message out there via simple means we’ve not capitalized upon in the past.

I’ve started doing some community organizing as well. On February 13th, I’m organizing a “Vegan Moral March on Raleigh” as part of the much larger 10th-annual “Mass Moral March on Raleigh.” We’ll be marching alongside thousands of other progressives, bringing attention to the plight of nonhuman animals and the devastating human and environmental impacts of animal agriculture.

Do you see this form of activism catching on within the animal rights/vegan movement?

I see a lot of potential for this simple, creative form of resistance. If we were to do engage in this type of action with regularity and in big enough numbers, I believe there’s a lot we could accomplish.

I’m very drawn to the concept of collective action that will get these critical issues on the table as quickly as possible. I admire groups like Collectively Free who are building communities based on public disruptions of speciesism. We need collective actions that are newsworthy. In this sense, I believe collective chalking is very much worth considering. “Chalk-bombing” public spaces with positive vegan messages of hope, empathy, peace, and love could potentially get the media talking if we do it in big enough numbers. Like the ice-bucket challenge, it’s so innocuous and fun that we can likely get vegan celebrities to join us.

Another major advantage I see with chalking is that non-active vegans are more likely to join in. As opposed to other forms of activism, when I ask people to come out chalking with me, there’s rarely any hesitation. This is a simple, fun, unthreatening form of disruption that is very unexpected in public spaces. Entire families can come and have a good time doing it. There’s no need to organize or to discuss strategy or tactics. There’s nearly zero risk of getting into trouble. I think it’s a great look for our movement.

I feel confident this approach will, at the very least, get the issue on the pavement. With enough people doing it, I believe we could easily get the issue into mainstream discussion in a way that would be very interesting and inviting.

What advice do you have for other animal advocates who might like to use chalk messages in their activism?

James-ChalkChallengeFirst, I would say don’t worry about messing up or if you don’t consider yourself a great artist. I’ve been told I have nice handwriting, but I’m hardly an artist. If you mess up, it doesn’t matter. The animals don’t care too much about penmanship or spelling. They just want us to speak out for them as loudly, as effectively and as often as possible.

Second, I would recommend writing messages centered around empathy, compassion, kindness, love, mercy, hope, peace, etc. Non-vegans tell me they find my messages interesting and approachable even if they’re challenging. Also, parents are far more likely to complain if their kids are confronted with messages that imply meat-eaters are murderers, rapists, slave-owners, or Nazis.

Third, if you’re interested in trying this, work on ways to integrate it into your daily routine. It’s easy to forget and it does require developing a new habit. You might try keeping a box of chalk in your car and a Post-it note on your dashboard reminding you to write messages. If you’re a student, you might consider keeping a few pieces of chalk in a plastic baggy inside your backpack. If you’re a runner or a biker, it’s easy enough to carry some chalk with you when you hit the trails.

Fourth, figure out what you want to say ahead of time. This makes it easier and less stressful when you find the perfect spot to leave your message. If you’re not sure what to say, a simple message like “Vegan Is Love” is perfect.

Fifth, consider leaving a web link like www.freefromharm.com, which offers people a call to action. Many times, I’ll just write, “Watch Cowspiracy on Netflix” since Netflix is something people are already familiar with. This lends more credibility to the message. I’ve cultivated a list of messages that I feel are effective. I have them posted on our Vegan Chalk Challenge Facebook page for anyone interested.

Sixth, take pictures and video and share them on social media! This is perhaps as valuable as the messages themselves. The traction I get from posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram is what inspires others to go out and do the same. Images of people walking by and engaging with the message are especially effective. Videos of people expressing positive reactions are incredibly valuable.  When taking pictures, try to take them from an angle that gives a good sense of the surroundings. For example, try to get a shot of the message along with the long empty pathway in the background.

Seventh, smooth pavement is much easier to write on.

Eighth, consider organizing a vegan chalk party as part of your local activist group’s regular activities. Going out with friends to do this is an effective way of strengthening community. You can all get out into nature together and help animals at the same time.

Ninth, don’t overthink it! The animals really don’t give a damn whether or not our chalk messages are museum-worthy. As with anything, practice and you’ll get better quickly. Unleash your creativity for animals! Be proud to take a bold stance!

Tenth, just have fun and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing your messages are making a difference!

 

Do check out James’ Vegan Chalk Challenge Facebook page for more information and inspiring photos.

 

 

As I reflect on 2015, I am reminded of many wins for animals. Countries banning animal testing. Cities prohibiting bullhooks. Airlines pledging to not transport animal trophies. Activists liberating animals. Is it just me, or do these victories seem to be happening more and more often? Yes, we still have a long way to go, but let’s take time to celebrate some of the many positive changes animal advocates were able to enact.

  1. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announces it will phase out the show’s iconic elephants from its performances by 2018 (March)

This is one of my very favorite stories of the year, not just because it’s great news for elephants, but because it demonstrates Ringling-elephantsthe power of activism. Animal advocates have been staring down circuses that use animals for decades, and this year, the biggest circus in the world blinked. In the wake of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which exposes the plight of orcas in captivity, and ongoing outreach by activists, public sentiment has gradually been turning in favor of animals, and Ringling Bros. no doubt saw the writing on the wall. Alana Feld, the show’s producer, admitted as much, telling the AP that “a lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”

The move was also prompted by municipalities across the United States—including Austin, Los Angeles, and Oakland—banning the use of bullhooks, which circuses, zoos, and other animal exploiters use to punish and control elephants.

  1. San Francisco becomes largest U.S. city to ban animal performances (April)

The ordinance, which took effect on May 21, is designed to “protect wild and exotic animals from cruel and inhumane treatment and to protect the public from the danger posed by the use of wild and exotic animals for entertainment.” It bars any public showing, carnival, fair, parade, petting zoo, ride, race, film shoot, or other undertaking in which wild or exotic animals “are required to perform tricks, fight or participate as accompaniments for the entertainment, amusement or benefit of an audience.”

The Motion Picture Association of America argued that the ordinance would prevent animals from working in movies filmed in San Francisco, even if the shows had proper permits and animal handlers approved by the federal government. Supervisor Katy Tang, who proposed the ordinance, said film and TV productions were not exempted because “we don’t want to undermine the underlying message of our legislation that animal abuse is not going to be tolerated.”

  1. Activists liberate 9 lobsters from restaurant in Dublin, Ireland (May)

Dublin-lobstersIt was as quick as it was brazen. Just before 8:00 pm on Friday, May 8, a group of activists walked into Ka Shing Chinese restaurant in Dublin, Ireland, and while some of the activists distracted employees, several others reached into a large fish tank and removed nine lobsters, placing them into plastic bags. As recorded on video, the activists later released the crustaceans into the sea at Clontarf.  Laura Broxson, spokesperson for the group, told news media, “For us it was an act of compassion, and we are willing to face any legal consequences brought to us because now these lobsters have a chance of living instead of being boiled alive and eaten.”

While this may not have been the biggest news of the year for animals, I appreciate the courage of the activists and how the story helped raise awareness about the suffering of crustaceans.

  1. India’s High Court rules birds have a fundamental right to freedom and dignity (May)

It began with a complaint filed by the Indian nonprofit People for Animals (PFA) against a pet shop owner in 2014 and ended with Justice Manmohan Singh declaring, “Birds have fundamental rights, including the right to live with dignity, and they cannot be subjected to cruelty by anyone. Therefore, I am clear in mind that all the birds have fundamental rights to fly in the sky and all human beings have no right to keep them in small cages for the purposes of their business or otherwise.”

PFA said the pet shop owner was selling the birds in tiny cages without enough food or water. But a trial court released the birds back into his custody on the grounds they were his “pets.” Appealing to a higher court, PFA demonstrated that the owner was selling the birds for profit and neglecting them. “This court is of the view that running the trade of birds is in violation of the rights of the birds,” said Justice Singh. “They deserve sympathy.”

You may recall that in 2013, India banned dolphin shows, saying that because dolphins are by nature “highly intelligent and sensitive,” they ought to be seen as “nonhuman persons” and should have “their own specific rights.” Now the country seems to be on the verge of banning elephant rides.

  1. For the first time, China agrees to phase out its ivory industry to combat elephant poaching (May)

In 2014, we reached a tragic tipping point: There are now more elephants being killed than being born. At this rate, conservationists say, we could lose these animals entirely within 20 years. Driving this slaughter is ivory, which is seen around the world as a luxury item. Many consumers don’t realize the toll this product takes on the lives of elephants and other animals, such as hippos and walruses (whose teeth are also used). China represents one of the world’s largest markets for ivory, so their announcement that they will be banning all sales and manufacture of ivory products is good news indeed. What remains to be seen is exactly how and when they will do this.

  1. New Zealand amends law to recognize animals as ‘sentient’ beings, bans animal testing on cosmetics (May)

It’s been a good year for animals in New Zealand. The government proposed a ban on the use of animals in testing cosmetics in March, and then enacted that ban in May by amending its 1999 Animal Welfare Act to formally recognize animals as “sentient beings that can experience pain and distress.” This is the first time this shift in perception and policy has been extended to all animals, not just chimpanzeesorangutans, or dolphins. The decision to ban animal testing comes after the Green Party and animal rights advocates lobbied for a year to criminalize cosmetics testing on guinea pigs and rabbits.

On the downside, this new law does not include a ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics imported into the country.

  1. Federal judge rules Idaho ag-gag law unconstitutional (August)

Photographic and video images are some of the most powerful tools in the animal activist’s toolkit. Undercover videos of animal agriculture workers violently abusing animals and images of farmed animals living in deplorable conditions are as heartbreaking as they are horrifying, yet they serve an important role in educating the average consumer about where their food comes from. But as more ag companies are being caught on camera and called out for their cruelties, they have teamed up with legislators to make capturing unauthorized photos and videos on farms a crime in many states.

One such state to attempt to enact a so-called “ag-gag” law was Idaho. In February 2014, the state’s governor signed the “Agricultural Security Act” into law, which imposed fines and jail time on activists who secretly film abuse on Idaho’s commercial farms. (This was in response to a video taken by Mercy For Animals that depicted animal abuse by workers on Bettencourt Dairy farms, including the sexual abuse of cows.) On August 3 of this year, a U.S. District Court struck down the Act as unconstitutional.

  1. Airlines ban hunters’ big-game ‘trophies’ (August)

In the wake of the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, major air carriers including American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas, and United Airlines pledged they would no longer transport buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, or rhino “trophies.” In other words, a well-heeled hunter who travels overseas to kill an animal will have no stuffed carcass or head to display on his or her wall at home. This should remove at least some of the incentive to shoot these remarkable beings.

Not surprisingly, Safari Club International is doing its best to get these bans reversed.

  1. Whole Foods Market ends sales of rabbit meat (September)

GoodNewsRegular readers of this blog know I have a huge soft spot for rabbits. But what I especially love about this story is it demonstrates the power of activism. (Read more about this in a previous blog.) Kudos to everyone who stood outside their local Whole Foods Market to leaflet and educate consumers, who let store managers know how they felt, who signed petitions, and who reminded others that advocating on behalf of rabbits didn’t mean we felt they were more deserving of protection than cows, chickens, pigs, fish, or other species—only that the last thing Whole Foods needs is another animal to exploit and kill. Moreover, we knew that as a retail trendsetter, if Whole Foods succeeded in creating a market for rabbits, other store chains would follow.

  1. EU Parliament takes last step to ensure WTO compliance of seal products ban (September)

After years of legal challenges by Canada and Norway, the European Parliament voted to strengthen the EU ban on trade in commercial seal products. The ban was introduced in 2009 amid public outrage at the cruelty involved in seal “hunts.” International observers have witnessed seals as young as three months old drowning with gunshot wounds and being bludgeoned to death. But seal hunt nations Canada and Norway had attempted to overturn the ban ever since in a series of legal challenges.

The vote deleted the so-called “Marine Resources Management” exception—extending the ban to products resulting from hunts to protect fishing stocks—and made minor modifications to the Indigenous Communities exception. It brings the EU embargo into line with World Trade Organization rules, and campaigners say it will protect millions of seals from commercial slaughter.

  1. Vietnam pledges to end use of bear bile within 5 years (September)

Although the use of bear bile for traditional medicines in Vietnam is now technically illegal, bear-bile farmers take advantage of loopholes, and authorities lack resources to enforce the law, so the practice continues. According to the nonprofit Animals Asia, there are now some 1,245 Asiatic black bears being held in Vietnam, down from about 4,000 in 2014, as more medicine practitioners make use of non-animal alternatives for their curative powders, ointments, and pills.

Yet the bears who remain in captivity suffer unimaginable pain and stress. According to Animals Asia, bears either undergo a crude surgery every three months to remove the bile from their bladders―usually dying from infection after the fourth operation―or they are restrained and repeatedly jabbed with long hypodermic needles until the gallbladder is located. A pump is then attached to the needle and bile is drawn into a large glass bottle. Though the surgical method is no longer widely practiced, the latter procedure is as terribly unhygienic, and bears often suffer a lingering, agonizing death from peritonitis (abdominal inflammation).

Now, thanks to negotiations with Animals Asia, Vietnam’s Traditional Medicine Association has promised to completely end the use of bears by 2020. This won’t completely end the bear-bile industry—other cultures have a long tradition of using bears—but this is certainly a huge step forward.

  1. 2 years after retiring most of its chimps used for research, the NIH is ceasing its chimp program altogether (November)

I love how author and publisher Martin Rowe summed up this news on his Facebook page, so I am just going to reprint it here: chimp-NIH

“This is how social change happens: not with a bang but a whimper. The government is effectively saying that any medical advances that may be achieved by using apes are irrelevant; the scientists are effectively saying that using apes is not worth the trouble; and society is heaving a big shrug and assuming this was all figured out a long time ago. Only the activists who worked for decades on this issue—who were vilified as anti-science, anti-human, and unrealistic—know how hard it was to move us to this point. It is to them, and not the government or the scientists or society as a whole, that I offer the deepest of bows. All of us are in your debt.”

 

Finally, I had every intention of listing the news from July that Nepal will no longer sacrifice animals at its massive Gadhimai festival—a victory activists have been working hard on for years—but there are conflicting stories about the status of the ban, as you can read here. The next festival will be held in 2019, so let’s hope we get confirmation the ban is indeed in place well ahead of that.

 

Other stories of the year worth noting:

Luxembourg bans fox hunting (January)

For a few hours, two chimpanzees were recognized as legal persons in New York (April)

Argentina proposes animal testing bill (June)

Turkey ends animal testing for cosmetics (July)

Mexico’s ban on wild animals in circuses goes into effect (July)

The Netherlands’ ban on wild animals in circuses goes into effect (September)

Hawaii likely will become the first U.S. state to ban the use of elephants, bears and other exotic wild animals for entertainment purposes (November)

Guinness to go vegan (November)

The Netherlands’ ban on fur farming has been upheld by the appeal court in The Hague (November)

Colombia’s Senate approves bill that defines animals as “sentient beings” (December)

 


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