By Any Means Necessary (Reflections on AR 2012)

After 3+ days of a non-stop whirlwind of animal rights activity, I would wager most activists are going home with a paradoxical “tired, but energized” feeling. I know I am – I ended up being sick the entire time (sorry to anyone I may have infected) – I feel a bit overloaded at the now ensuing networking/commenting/e-mailing/upkeep of 100+ new AR friends. But at the same time, if anything has shown me the power of our movement – the movement to end the exploitation of animals for any use – it was this past weekend.

Hundreds and hundreds of animal rights activists attended, from all over the world (mostly US, but a few from Europe, South America, and Asia), each with their own specific cause, group, or passion. Whether it was rescuing primates in the jungles of southeast Asia, protecting feral cats in our nation’s capital, or giving a voice (and face) to farm animals, the sheer volume of animal rights work being done right now is astounding.

Alex Hershaft of FARM – the organizers of the conference – put it well in his closing speech, that year to year, progress seems slow, but with his hindsight of 40 years (he’s been in the AR scene since the 1970s), we have come so incredibly far. Paul Shapiro echoed the comment at Sunday night’s plenary by showing a marked decrease in meat consumption, animals being killed for food (from 2009 on), and of course the vegan options that abound in grocery stores across the country. Seth Tibbot, the founder of Tofurky, was recognized at the talk for his service to vegetarians and vegans worldwide (and I even saw him do some karaoke later!).

Among my insanely long list of “to-dos” from the conference is some research on “conference-going” itself. I’ve been to just a few now, and each time they feel very overwhelming, then comfortable, and then sadness strikes as we leave for home. I’d like to balance those emotions a little more, as well as “plan” to attend less and network/interact more. My plans originally included a whole slew of talks I didn’t make it to, either because of over-crowded rooms, the super awesome exhibit hall were you could hang out for hours and not get bored, or just doing something else. From a “get things done” perspective, it feels like failure to miss many of the talks one planned to see, but it shouldn’t, and I have some great strategies planned for AR 2013.

It was a real highlight to hear people like Peter Hammarstedt of Sea Shepherd and Peter Young discuss direct action so candidly. As Philip Wollen put it, “what is indirect action?” and I challenge you to consider the same thing if you think breaking into buildings to rescue animals that are in pain is somehow unethical. Animals, as we learned, aren’t property: they aren’t pets, they’re companion animals, and we’re not owners, we’re guardians.  If you think that’s silly-vegan-hippie talk, then just consider the power of language as 60 years ago the civil rights movement fought against the word “nigger” instead of black, African-American, or simply, “human.” What we call things, the names we give and the terms we use to describe animals and people do make a powerful difference.

Much like my beloved Vida Vegan Con attendees, people at AR 2012 simply “got it.” They were 99.9% vegan*, they brought their rescue dogs with them (who were all well-behaved), and they sympathized at every story of animal cruelty, be it puppy mills, factory farm torture, or zealous hunters. We bonded over Dandies marshmallows and Tings, and smiled wide as each activist told of what they were doing in their town to promote a vegan lifestyle. I met a vegan forest ranger, a 72-year old vegan woman who was feisty as hell, a TON of vegan straight-edge kids (XVX REPRESENT!), and a lot of people who did a double take when I said I was from luh-a-vull kin-tucky. But we’re everywhere! Vegans from Alaska, from Baton Rouge, from Boston, from California, from New York, and from Hawaii. This isn’t just a group of people who happen to not eat animals: this is a tidal wave of change that will educate, compassion-ate (not a word, yet), and liberate. As it was said so many times, this will all happen, by any means necessary!

See #ar2012 on twitter for thoughts of others attendees. If you wrote a re-cap of the conference, let me know and I’ll link it here!

*I met, I believe, one vegetarian and heard “rumors” of a few others. No judgments! Alex Hershaft’s message to everyone at the beginning of the conference was “leave here a vegan.”