This year was my fourth year going to the AR conference, and I approached it differently than I had in the past. Instead of going to as many sessions as I could, almost all of which I have been to at least once by now, I decided to focus on the social aspect, the networking, seeing what kind of interesting and unplanned conversations I’d stumble into.
I was pleasantly surprised that this worked out well for me.
I did go to some sessions, and I’ll list those first, hopefully will be able to do short targeted recaps of those:
Applying Direct Action
Animal Rights vs Free Trade (slide show)
I’m Vegan (video screening)
Eco-Eating (slide show)
Author Event (lunch session)
Producing Effective Events
Which path to Animal Liberation? (rap session moderated by Eric Prescott)
Global Issues Affecting Animals
Commonality of Oppression
Current Activist Repression
Status of Imprisoned Activists
I went to at least part of the plenaries Thursday – Saturday also.
I worked a full day on Thursday and then caught a plane to LA, so I didn’t get to the hotel until about 9pm. The Opening Plenary was running late (surprise!) so after I checked in, I snuck in for the last bit of the talks.
Greg Lawson was speaking about wildlife issues. I don’t remember him from previous years, but I liked his talk. I think Stephanie might have convinced him to do a guest post for her, so stay tuned for that. Then there was a vegan vet, Armaiti May, who talked about various companion animal issues, and then Peter Muller. I was exhausted, so I snuck right back out after Peter’s talk.
Eating some breakfast in the lobby on Friday morning, pattrice joined me for a few minutes as she walked by. We talked about the sanctuary, and how the chickens are doing up in their new home in Vermont. We talked about her upcoming move to Minneapolis, and about feral chickens. We talked about the splitting up of cat and dog families that are done as a matter of course even among rescuers. We talked about the implications of that, and about her feral chickens that rewilded themselves. As is often the case when talking to pattrice, she gets me thinking about connections I hadn’t quite made yet, or takes something to a further level. Pattrice is one of those speakers who I can hear on the same topic year after year, because she’s always making new connections, and you will hear it in her talks.
Since it was only 9am and the first talk I was interested in attending was at 11am, I wandered the exhibit hall. I ended up talking to a Food Not Bombs tabler, who has a project going on where he cooks bread in a solar oven every day outside of the White House to promote world peace. He started this on July 4, and is doing this every day until I’m not sure when. He is going to try to do it through the winter. I want to get down and help out once in a while. The problem, as ever, is time. But it is the kind of fascinating and creative action that I want to support. He hands out a lot of leaflets at the same time, as you can imagine. The cooking of the bread isn’t the action so much as the conversation starter.
The first talk I went to was Applying Direct Action. Darius Fullmer was the first speaker. He, as many of you know, was one of the SHAC7 defendants. He served a year and a day, and I found it very interesting to listen to him talk. I am new to this movement, and the first year I went to the AR conference was the first year the SHAC7 folks were not there, from what I understand. So though I’ve written to several of the SHAC7 (though I’ve completely lost touch with all of the prisoners I was writing to in the past year), I know them only through letters. I remember Josh Harper telling me once that the reason they were targeted is because they spoke their message so well. They were dangerous, not because of what they did (and they were convicted of running a website, not of doing anything illegal), but because they spoke well and were able to make headway in the hearts and minds of people with regards to HLS. Reading words on paper is not the same as hearing someone talk, and I got a glimmer of this from Darius. He was dynamic, and he didn’t mince words. One of the things he said that I found interesting was that we should never apologize for our rage. That it is an honest and natural reaction to an obscene situation.
That’s an interesting one to think about. Rage is energy, and fuels passion for our causes. In fact, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, I think that rage might be the spark that pushes us to try to make changes. Whatever form our activism takes, we wouldn’t be making the effort if we didn’t feel strongly about it, and somehow I don’t think that the strong feelings come from a neutrality with regards to what is happening to the animals and to the earth and to all the inhabitants on it.
So no, Darius wasn’t saying to be angry vegans that run around randomly throwing rocks at buildings.
Peter Hammarstedt talked next. He’s one of the Sea Shepherd crew, and he had interesting thoughts with regards to Direct Action, which seemed to build on Darius thought. “Direct Action,” Peter said, “is the ultimate act of empathy. [...] Direct Action is a logical extension of what we think is right.”
His example was a common one. If we saw a dog being beaten in front of us, we would stop that beating. We would put our bodies in the way of the person doing the beating. We wouldn’t (most likely) think about that action, we would simply act to stop that abuse, to protect the one who needed protection. I think we’ve all heard that, and I don’t think anyone disagrees with it. But a spontaneous action to stop an injustice happening in front of us is not a situation that we are typically running across, and so while this example is compelling, it ultimately doesn’t seem to apply to my life. It is meant more as a way to get us to think about what direct action is, and what it means, in any case. Many people think that direct action is the burning of buildings, nothing less nothing more. And that’s not accurate.
One of the most interesting things that Peter said, in my opinion, was that Direct Action allows you to tell a story to the media. He used a lot of Sea Shepherd examples, which are themselves unique on many levels, yet they are great examples of the story telling ability of direct action. He also pointed out that the news media is what shapes most people’s reality, it is the only way they are getting information on the world around them. That whether or not the media is telling people what to think, it is telling them what to think about.
Bottom line? Direct Action alone won’t bring a message home. The story has to be told.
Camille Hankins from Win Animal Rights was up next. Her main theme was that Direct Action can be an every day thing. She mentioned that there was recently a golf tournament on national television (I don’t know which tournament) that was stopped because there was a ladybug on the ball and the golfer refused to hit the ball until the ladybug was relocated. That’s a powerful message being sent, and a basic example of how Direct Action can be that personal and that simple. And, obviously, perfectly legal.
After that talk, I was back wandering the exhibit hall. I talked to a local group, CAT, for a few minutes. They had a fantastic booklet on why animal research is not necessary. I glanced through it, and picked up a copy. I talked to the person tabling for a few minutes, and was interested to see that though her knowledge of the issue was essentially through this booklet, and mine was from reading “Sacred Cows, Golden Geese“, we both were on the same page with regards to the basics. Like the fact that animal testing is NOT required by law. (No, really.) But that it is effectively required because of the FDA giving almost no approvals for human trials to meds that have not been tested on animals, and so almost all meds are tested on animals simply because they all want the best possible chance of getting FDA approval even though the animal testing itself is worthless. AIDS medicine, pennicilin, and many other meds are great examples of drugs that were proven effective on humans and THEN tested on animals (cycling through as many species as needed to find the one that would have the same reaction as humans, thus validating the results already found to be true for humans) to appease the general public and insurance companies. So, I thought it was good news that she had all that information packed into her brain as well, and from reading a short booklet. It is good news because it will be a lot easier to get this information out to more people if they only have to read six pages to get up to speed.
There were so many groups in the exhibit hall and I probably talked to most of them at some point. The people tabling for GRIN, which is an international greyhound rescue support group (their focus seems to be Spain), a couple groups there from Singapore (they tried to convince me to go to their AR conference in January, but the 17 hour flight from LA is daunting), a vegan vet, Cosmos, Herbivore, Sea Shepherd (picked up a copy of season 1 of Whale Wars, so I’ll someday watch that), Let Live (they are trying to get the talks available online, and I hope they do!), Vega, Organic Athlete…many many others.
Later that afternoon I went to a talk on Nurturing Activism. Another repeat, another that is important as a refresher, a reminder. Self-care is commonly quite difficult for activists to do well. It was the same set of panelists as last year – Robert Cheeke, from the Vegan Body Builders, Dallas Rising from Animal Rights Coalition (in Minneapolis), and pattrice Jones of Eastern Shore Chicken Education Center and Sanctuary (which has recently moved up to Vermont).
Robert’s words were similar to last year, and though I remembered them, I still benefited from hearing them again. His message is simple: “find your passion, lead by example.” Fitness and body building are important to him, and so he channels that focus of his passion into a rather unique type of advocacy, in my opinion. He has gotten vegan fitness into muscle magazines and other fitness media. I meant to ask him some questions about that when I saw him later in the conference, but I never remembered to afterwards. Still, just knowing that muscle magazines have some info on vegan nutrition and have Robert Cheeke as a visible example that yes, you can be into body building and be vegan all at the same time…well, that’s one argument I’ve heard people make that I don’t have to work hard to address anymore, because Robert has taken care of that for us.
Dallas talked about immediate self-care when having a stressful day. This can be simple – taking a walk, breathing, getting water. Allowing ourselves to ask “what is it I need right now?” And then giving it to ourselves.
pattrice talked about authenticity, being real. She reposted an article on nurturing activism on her blog, but she had some great quotables that I have to share. “Don’t be one of those twinkie vegans. Or if you are, take a multi vitamin.” I found that hilarious! (And good advice.) She also talked about the “Nap Club.” If you’re in the Nap Club, you have to admit that you were taking a nap if someone calls and wakes you up. (You know how we usually try to pretend we weren’t? Just admit it, no shame in taking care of yourself by catching up on some sleep!) And if you wake someone up and they admit that they were napping, you have to say “that’s great that you were napping! I’m so happy to hear that you were listening to your body and taking care of yourself!”
That evening after a feast from Whole Foods, where we were stunned by the many displays with vegan prominently displayed on them it was time for the plenary. The first half was great information on “Confronting Activist Repression“. First up was Bob Bloom, who has spent most of his career as a lawyer working on social justice cases. He got started when he defended one of the Black Panthers, I believe Geronimo Pratt. It was clear that the people and the causes really mattered to him. He’s now defending one of the AETA4. And he mentioned that he’s been affected by the cause, and he is on his way to going vegan.
Heidi Boghosian (of the National Lawyers Guild), Darius Fullmer (SHAC7), Anthony Marr (HOPE-CARE Foundation), and Will Potter (Green Is The New Red) all spoke, but somehow I can’t remember the details. We also saw a video from Dennis Kucinich, which is always pleasing, because it is such a novelty to have a politician who is vegan and who gets and supports animal rights.
The second half was a series of points of view of “Paths to Animal Liberation“. Lori Houston of Animal Acres was the moderator, and it started with Dean Kuipers, the LA Times reporter who recently wrote “Operation Bite Back” about Rod Coronado’s direct actions against the mink farmers in the early 90s. Looks to be a fascinating book, and coming from a mainstream reporter outside the movement, I am looking forward to reading it. That’s one of the questions that comes up, after all, is how direct action affects perception.
The next speaker was Dallas Rising, and she did a great job of presenting the abolitionist side of things. She used specific examples from her own life, opportunities she thought were lost when a clear “go vegan” message could have been used instead of a “bigger cages” message. I can’t remember details of any of these talks by now, I just remember thinking that Dallas managed to say things strongly and clearly, and respectfully.
The next speaker was Brian Pease of the Animal Protection and Rescue League, and to be honest I can’t remember anything specific about his talk. Karen Dawn was up next, and she talked about the impact of welfare measures, and though she was a dynamic speaker, I don’t think she made any points that hadn’t been made in the past. The “helping animals now” argument works for direct action, in my opinion, but not for welfare reforms that *might* actually get put into place in 10 years, if the handy Free Trade Agreements aren’t put into good use by the industry, and the farming itself isn’t shipped to places where there are less regulation. And so I get annoyed when I see that argument being used. It glosses over too much, assumes too much, and seems to ignore the impact that NAFTA has in making things like Prop 2 moot. (More on that in a later post.)
The final speaker was Camille Hawkins of W.A.R., describing incidents of the tangible impact direct action campaigns like SHAC have had on the industries they are focused on.
I know that these conversations might be important, but I’m definitely suffering from abolition-welfare-argument fatigue. Enough already, really. No one will ever agree, and everyone will keep on doing exactly what they’ve been doing all along. So what is the point of the argument?
Luckily the night ended up on an up note, hanging out with old and new friends, talking about the wide range of topics that come up when we manage to be people, not just activists. I bailed around midnight. Sleep is good.
–> to Saturday –>
–> to Sunday –>