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Kim Stallwood and Shelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not be intimate?

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

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

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

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

How do you feel about advocates forming political parties?

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

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

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

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

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

Any final thoughts on animal activism or effective strategies?

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

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

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

 

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Kim Stallwood is not only a longtime animal activist and a terrific chef, he is, in my opinion, one of the wisest voices in the movement. His campaigning experience includes working with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Compassion in World Farming, PETA, and the RSPCA. He also co-founded the Animals and Society Institute in 2005 and is their European director. In addition, Kim was the executive editor of The Animals’ Agenda (1993–2002), and he is the editor of Speaking Out for Animals and A Primer on Animal Rights.

GROWLNow, finally, comes Kim’s first book. Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate was just published by Lantern Books. Kim took some time out to answer some of my burning questions.

Growl is such a terrific read, and you have been an activist for many years, I have to wonder, why did it take so long to write your first book?

The simple truth is that I couldn’t have written it until now. I had to accrue from a lifetime of working for animals a deeper understanding of what caring profoundly about them truly meant. I needed to learn that, although we humans are capable of unimaginable malice towards other living beings, we can also be astonishingly kind. It was necessary to gain a comprehension of animal rights—and through that wisdom discover not only the transformative potential of kindness towards animals but how we need to apply that kindness to ourselves—to realise that although animal rights is, of course, about our relationship with nonhuman creatures, it’s also about locating meaning in our lives and finding out who we truly are.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying the premise of Growl hinges on what you call four key values, which must animate our commitment to animal rights. Can you elaborate on this a bit?

I came to the conclusion over a period of time that at the centre of any effort towards implementing social justice—whether for human or nonhuman animals-there are four key values:

Compassion: our motivation for helping animals

Truth: our ethical relations with animals

Nonviolence: our value in the relations we have with animals

Justice: our commitment to all animals

Not only are these principles more powerful in combination than singularly, but they’re ones that most of us have already accepted for other members of our species (although perhaps only recently, and still only partially). These values, therefore, possess a certain strategic value, since they form a quartet that people who may not share our dedication to reducing animal suffering can understand. Growl explores these values in detail.

One of the successes you discuss is the anti-fur campaigning in the 1980s and how your protests and the protests of several others brought a once substantial industry to a halt in the UK. What lessons can activists in other countries take from your campaigns and apply to their own anti-fur activism?

The UK anti-fur campaign was over a prolonged period of time and involved many individuals and organisations and different tactics. Generally, the campaign was successful because it positioned fur as an indefensible and inexcusable product. The secret to its success was the combined strategy of public education and public policy. This approach is the one that I advocate for all animal rights campaigns. Presently, we tend to focus more on public education (lifestyle choice) than public policy. The reality is that if we want laws for animals we have to get involved with the political process.

You once worked in a chicken slaughterhouse. How does that experience inform your activism today?

Kim Stallwood and Shelly

Kim Stallwood and Shelly

When I was a full-time student, I worked one summer in a nearby chicken slaughterhouse, and since it paid well, would only last 10 weeks, and I wanted to buy my first used car, it looked like an attractive option. I cooked and ate chickens without thinking about them, so why not work where they were slaughtered?

I spent 10 weeks that summer on the post-slaughter section of the production line, and I could never bring myself to watch the birds as they were killed. I also couldn’t buy the oven-ready chickens that were offered for sale at a reduced rate as an employee benefit every Friday afternoon. Nonetheless, I continued to eat chicken bought elsewhere—naively believing that, because my plant wasn’t where they were killed, I wasn’t directly responsible for their death.

I was only one of several students who spent the summer of 1973 working inside a chicken slaughterhouse. Because I’ve lost touch with all my workmates I’ve no idea if our shared experience impacted them in the same way that it did me. I recall them as working-class folks and wives of soldiers living nearby in the military barracks. I doubt very much they had the same freedom as I did to walk away from something they’d rather not be doing. For many, working in a slaughterhouse may have been the only employment available in that region and/or for those with few skills or little education—particularly as Britain was undergoing economic retrenchment at the time.

This situation is as true today as it was 40 years ago. Slaughterhouses sometimes provide the only work options in small towns or rural areas around the United States and other parts of the world—particularly for the poor and financially insecure, women and racial minorities among them. Annual job turnover can sometimes be higher than a hundred percent. Sectors of the U.S. animal industrial complex have broken laws by employing undocumented migrant workers who, because they fear deportation, have little recourse to protesting poorly compensated labour and a dangerous working environment.

Any genuine exercise of compassion here would require not only the acknowledgement of the mistreatment of the animals, but also a recognition that the workers inside—whatever their individual feelings regarding animals might be—are also being exploited by a system that dehumanises as well as kills sentient beings.

So, yes, the slaughterhouse experience transformed my sense of social justice and commitment to social justice practice to recognise not only the chickens but also the working-class folks who worked there.

How do you think animal activism has changed since the 1980s?

In some respects, it hasn’t changed, and that’s the problem. Animal rights is still very much framed as an optional lifestyle choice. How we become animal advocates frames how we seek to influence others. If we can change through a moral shock, then so can you. Sadly, not everyone is going to respond favourably to the moral shock of animal cruelty and exploitation. That’s why we need public policy and legislation with tough enforcement. Presently, we focus more on cruelty-free lifestyle choice than anything else. Now, this campaigning work has to continue and, indeed, by and large, it has done so for the four decades that I’ve been involved. But we need to broaden our understanding of where power lies in society as it’s not just with the individual but with the institutions that constitute society. This is why public policy development is so important. The biggest difference in tactics between now and the 1980s is the Internet and all that it has made possible. How I wished we’d had social media much earlier!

What activism advice would 2014 Kim give to 1984 Kim?

In Growl I imagine an exchange between Kim the Chef and Kim the Vegelical-the name I call ‘evangelising vegans,’ of which I am one, although a bit more tempered as I get older. So, my advice would be to the 1984 Kim is to read Growl, as this is the book I wished I could’ve read when I became involved with animal rights. Within Growl’s pages aren’t solutions to every problem; however, it does, I hope, contain wisdom and insight that only experience can bring. Of course, you can lead a young animal activist to Growl but you can’t make them read it. Sometimes, human nature is such that all we can do is learn through our experiences when they cannot be taught for whatever reason.

 

You can learn more about Kim and his work at http://www.kimstallwood.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grumpyvegan

 


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