For what looks like a pretty comprehensive (and perhaps growing?) list of other bloggers’ posts/vlogs on AR2009, check out Vegan Soapbox’s list.
This post is continued from AR2009, part 1…
Saturday was much busier, conference-wise. At 9am there was the Animal Rights vs Free Trade slideshow and talk by Adam Weissman, of the group Global Justice for Animals and the Environment. I have stopped at his table every year at the conference, and have always been overwhelmed with the information he is presenting. He’s something of a Free Trade Agreement scholar, in my opinion, though he tells me that there are many others who make him look like his knowledge is the merest drop in a bucket. As far as I can tell he is one of the few, if not the only, in the animal rights movement who is looking at the Free Trade Agreements and tracking how they impact animals. It was eye opening, and it touched on many issues that he talked more about in an early Sunday session, and I’ll provide more details when I describe that talk. In the meantime, please go visit GJAE‘s site and read some of the articles. This is information that you almost guaranteed will not have seen before, and it is incredibly important information.
Immediately after Adam’s slideshow was a preview of Eric Prescott’s “I’m Vegan” documentary. It is actually a series of interviews that will be made available individually, with the intent that they can be used as advocacy tools. He had two interviews ready for “beta viewing” (my term, I’m a software person), and he was looking for feedback on where he’d taken them so far, to use in his editing of the rest of the interviews. I admit I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I am visually oriented, but I’m not a video person, and so I didn’t realize before seeing what Eric has done how powerful these interviews are. I was really impressed. I think I could even say that I was momentarily stunned, because I wasn’t prepared for the impact they would have on me.
As always, we won’t know until later how effective they are for advocacy to others, but as a vegan I simply can’t wait to see the rest, to see what Eric does with them all. And I predict that they will turn out to be great advocacy tools. Part of that is because I think we talk differently about our veganism when we’re talking among ourselves. We accept it as normal, as the baseline of our beliefs with regards to animals, and there is something compelling when people talk about a truth to others who know that same truth. Maybe it is the extra dose of “genuine”, that we likely have a hard time coming by when we’re talking to non-vegans because even when we’re being casual and up front about the issues, we’re looking to gauge the reactions of the person we’re talking to. Or maybe I’m just speaking for me.
Regardless, I’m excited to see the rest of these videos and to work them into my own advocacy.
The next slideshow was on Eco-Eating. Most of the information was not new to me, but the presenter, Hope Bohanec of In Defense of Animals, had some great information that pertains to local eating, comparing the environmental impact of non-local produce to local animal products; bottom line was that eating a whole foods vegan diet mattered significantly more than eating local (though of course eating produce from our own garden is always ideal), and she had some hard numbers to back that up. Unfortunately I didn’t take notes, and the presentation is not currently available online with the specific numbers, though she does have a great post on eco-eating on her blog about this with some sources referenced. She might make the presentation itself available, but for now it is just a teaser – and it does help to know that the information to deal with the locavore argument for eating animal products is out there, and will hopefully someday be available for us to use.
Next I went to a panel on Animal Cognition. I had missed it, but Tony Carr had apparently been big news not too long ago when he quit his job in an animal research lab and went to work for In Defense of Animals. From their website:
Tony Carr worked until recently in OHSU’s Department of Behavioral Neurosciences conducting nicotine and alcohol experiments on rats. He appeared at a news conference with IDA to discuss how he became disillusioned, quit, and is now speaking out against what he calls “wasteful and flawed” experiments on animals that have no relevance to human health concerns.
He did a fairly technical discussion of what sentience means. Sentience used to be defined as “the ability to sense, feel, or to be conscious”, but has shifted to be defined in the scientific community to mostly specifically point toward the ability to feel pain or pleasure. The interesting point to me was that from a scientific standpoint sentience can’t be determined because consciousness is unobservable from a scientific perspective. This applies to humans as well. The scientific signs of sentience than can be determined are anatomical (pain receptors), behavioral (pain avoidance), chemical (endorphins), developmental (within an individual or a species), evolutionary (an explanation for why pain/pleasure receptors would be selected for). There are apparently two ways this can be applied. From the perspective of the precautionary principle (as coming from RH Bradshaw), or from the behaviorist perspective (which has the view that we’re all automated zombies, more or less. The precautionary principle would give a high risk of false positives, which has a low consequence. The behaviorist view would have a high risk of false negatives, which comes with high consequences, as there will be sentient beings who are assumed to be insentient.
Hopefully Tony will do a guest post on Stephanie’s blog someday, and explain it all himself (and thus better than I can). Any mistakes in what I explained above are my mistakes, as this is regurgitated from the notes I scribbled during the talk. It was pretty interesting stuff to me.
Karen Davis, of UPC, talked next. She had a lot of great chicken stories, and through them drew a picture of their preferences, as individuals, and their anticipation of future pleasure, as well as their understanding of the connection between certain events. She mentioned a book by an avian ethologist, Dr Leslie Rogers, “The Development of Brain and Behavior in the Chicken“, in which (once you get past the animal experiments) this scientist determines that birds have cognition equivalent to primates. That was new to me. It is referenced in a recent post on her site, Pain and Suffering in Birds. Karen promises that she’ll have some posts up about the social life of chickens soon, which I think will be valuable illustrations of these points.
I went to the lunctime session Lunch With the Authors. The authors were: Judy Carman (“Veggie Soup Chicken’s Soul), Melanie Joy (“Strategic Action for Animals”), Dean Kuipers (“Operation Bite Back”), Erik Marcus (“The Ultimate Vegan Guide”), Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (“The Vegan Table”), Ruby Roth (“That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals”), Will Tuttle (“World Peace Diet”). I was late getting there due to a comedic series of snafus with the hotel restaurant in getting an extremely mediocre boxed lunch, so I missed Judy Carman, Melanie Joy, and most of Ruby Roth’s talks. There isn’t much to relate, as each author just gave a very brief explanation of their book(s), and what motivated them to write it.
Producing Effective Events was informative, and practical for people who have no experience in putting on events. Debra Ehrenberg of RAN had a handout with lists of things to consider and questions to answer for yourself. Things like “Is there a specific and realistic goal? Do you have an appropriate location?” It all sounds very basic, and it probably is, but it is the kind of basic information I’d need if I were to plan an event. And at the bottom of the handout is a link to a great set of activist resource articles.
Amy Baird of Sea Shepherd spoke next. Her focus was primarily on getting media coverage of events. Generally speaking, you don’t want to tell them too far in advance, because they forget! 2-3 days in advance was her guideline. She also stressed how important images and video are.
Alex Herschaft of FARM also spoke, and he mostly relayed stories of various creative events he’s been involved in over the years. One of them was the Die In almost 3 years ago, which I participated in shortly after I moved to this area.
Then came the rap session, Which Path to Animal Liberation? (are welfare reforms a valid path to animal liberation?) It was moderated by Eric Prescott, and I thought he did a good job. This is, obviously, a contentious topic, but Eric kept us focused on the very specific question, which made it a useful session, in my opinion. 50 minutes, or however much time we have, is not enough to get very far in these conversations, especially when there are one or two people who want to dominate the mic, which is why a good moderator is so important. I was expecting a train wreck, and what I actually got was something very different. It worked because Eric didn’t try to get people to come to a conclusion, he tried to get them to think about their assumptions, and back up their beliefs. There were some oddball comments, like the woman who wanted to know how the end result would be dealt with, having it firm in her mind that the abolitionists have a magic button that will open all the cages at once. (Too bad we’ve lost track of that button, or I’d push the damn thing right now, and figure out the feeding of billions of animals on the fly.) But for the most part I found it useful. It didn’t change my mind in any way, but Eric gave me one more tool to analyze the issue, as he encouraged us to determine whether the path, if the path exists, was thought to be causal or conducive. That is, whether there was a direct cause and effect relationship, or whether the effect was in making the atmosphere more conducive to vegan outreach and other campaigns. And then as the examples that kept coming up were about people campaigning for Prop 2 and the people who went vegan along the way, he encouraged people to think about whether Prop 2 was leverage, and thus somewhat incidental to the vegan outreach, or whether it was Prop 2 itself that got people to go vegan.
Everyone knew Eric’s position, he didn’t try to hide it, but he did make the effort to be a good moderator, and he had a very clear idea of what a moderator needed to do to make the discussion worthwhile. I thought it was effective, and I thought he did a great job of moderating. I got more out of that session than I expected, especially considering my fatigue with the abolitionist-welfare argument.
That night was the banquet dinner, which I attended with Stephanie. It was okay. I’m not a big fan of banquets, but I’d never been before, so I figured I’d give it a try. I’ll probably skip them from now on. There were bunches of awards, there were the celebrities who I’d never heard of but who were fairly entertaining. There was an auction. But I still dwell unpleasantly on one of the people who got an award, and who in his thankfully brief acceptance speech said something along the lines of “it is easy, everyone can quit their job and do advocacy full time.” Uh HUH. Moving on!
Afterward Stephanie and I ended up talking to Greg Lawson for hours. I mentioned him before – he gave a talk in the Opening Plenary on wildlife. He’s from El Paso and is the president of the El Paso Vegetarian Society. (And if any of you spend time on Vegan Represent, you might know him from there, as he said he likes to hang out in that forum.) He had an extremely early flight out, and had to leave the hotel at 3:30am, so he had decided to stay awake. The three of us talked for around 2 hours, I believe, and I blame my hoarse voice this week on that long and interesting conversation. It was more than worth it, and I am already looking forward to chatting with Greg at next year’s conference. I bailed around midnight again, but there were plenty of others around staying up much later than that, so I’m sure he had good company. Rumor has it that there were drunken abolitionist-welfare debates until 4am! Only at an AR conference!