I’ve been at the Animal Rights 2012 a little over 24 hours now, and it is absolutely incredible. In addition to being a gala of “who’s who” in animal rights – every group from HSUS to PETA to FARM is represented here – hundreds of dedicated animal rights activists (meaning, vegans!) are milling about, showing proof that our passion and fervor is alive and well.
Last night we heard from a wide range of AR activists: Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals quoted MLK, Jr: “The art of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” while Doll Stanley of In Defense of Animals cautioned us in using “pet” versus “companion animal” and “owner” versus “guardian.” Even the slight changes in our speech can make a world of difference in the cause for animal rights.
I saw, and heard, the first vegan forest ranger I’ve ever known of! An inspiring man from El Paso, see Greg Lawson’s speech from 2009 here.
And Gene Baur from Farm Sanctuary had a riveting speech covering all the aspects of that group’s work, as well as showing us progress: corporations are making changes to their food supply system, vegan options abound across the country, and, somehow, the number of land animals slaughtered for food in this country is actually going down! Baur had a USDA slide that documented this, but I have yet to find it (suggestions?).
Today was the first day of breakout sessions, including some very interesting talks by Alex Hershaft, FARM‘s president, on the psychology of “winning hearts and minds” as well as some very heavy “personal development” discussion. Hershaft engaged the audience as we discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and the idea of the most effective activist reaching the top level, that of “self-actualization.”
Also today we heard from Representative Jim Moran, who, for being a politician, definitely seems to “get it” when it comes to animal rights. He covered all the issues and discussed the trials and also successes of what bill he’s been able to co-sponsor and push through on capital hill. Moran introduced the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act in 2011, a bill that if passed would severely limited and restrict many of the cruel circus practices that groups like Ringling and others so routinely sell as “family fun.”
I also heard from Melanie Joy – whom I hope will make carnism a mainstream term – along with Bruce Friederich and Nick Cooney (Farm Sanctuary), and Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach. Each speaker brought something different to the table: their take on the movement, where we’ve come, and how we proceed from here. Many used their time to issue a call to action, thanking us for being here, but asking us to go use the compassion to inspire and reach out to others.
We’re over a day in, and with two more full days of talks, tabling, and vegan food, this conference is a lot to handle! I’m tired, sick (probably due to the chaos leading up to this show last weekend), and a little worried I’ll miss all the good talks (today, Plaza C with Melanie Joy was literally packed to capacity!). But, so what? The energy here is everywhere – it doesn’t matter if I’m up in my room with five other animal rights activists, at the lunch buffet, or hanging out on the shuttle bus with some vegans I’ve never met before. To see hundreds and hundreds of animal rights activists all here, doing their thing, showing that our movement is making a difference and growing so rapidly: that’s what inspires me. As many speakers have said in so many words this weekend: animal rights is the most important social justice issue of our time. Let’s make it happen, by any means necessary!