Carpe Opportunitas

y-042a-1024x335

Our local animal rights group, Animal Rights & Rescue of North Texas, is always looking for opportunities for outreach. At the same time that we were searching for our next event, it became apparent to me that there are opportunities for education all around us, if only we learn to recognize them. The week that school started back in session was a good example of how many opportunties we may miss if we are not actively looking for them.

Back to School

I take my five year old grandson to school. Before the kindergarten teacher arrives, the children are to sit in the hallway until the bell rings and she opens the door.  While waiting with my grandson, the little boy next to him raised his heel to squash a tiny bug that was crawling across the floor. My grandson, ever alert, stopped the little boy in mid-squash as I kindly admonished the potential bug-killer and suggested we escort the bug outside the double glass doors. I carefully scooped up the little guy or gal, took him/her to the other side of the doors, and completed my direct rescue for the morning.  Suddenly, all the kids were at the doors, peering at the bug. “Oh, look, he has wings!” one of the children proclaimed.  They were all engrossed in watching the small insect and every young face was pressed to the glass. I asked my grandson to return to his place on the side of the hallway to wait for the bell when he explained, “I have to protect him. He (the bug-squasher) still wants to squash him!”

The day before, as I waited for the final bell to ring, I sat with another grandparent and discussed the heat spell that has engulfed Texas for much of the summer. I mentioned the horses that were having a rough time with the heat, and he told me about the nine found dead in this part of north Texas — they had been on an automatic watering system while the owner was absent and, with no one checking on them, the well ran dry and the horses perished. I had received a call only last week about another group of horses that a woman was frantically trying to save -she feared one foal was already dead. They were tied with no shelter and no water. The only water on the place was dried over with scum and appeared to be filled with snakes. She had reportedly contacted the police but they said there was nothing they could do. (The animals were removed before our plan could be implemented.) Chatting with this other grandparent was a small opportunity to discuss the importance of respecting all forms of life and the dreadful consequences of not doing so.

Banking on Education

Only last week, as two technicians were working in my garage, one approached me after seeing the sign on my car for our rescue group. His dog had been recently killed by another, aggressive dog who was then returned to his owner. This young man was concerned the dog would kill again, and he wanted to know of an animal-friendly attorney he might contact. I was able to link him to a rescue group that maintained that information and the two workers began discussing how much they care about animals. Like many Texans, they had not yet drawn the connection between what they eat,wear and use, and that concern for others. I ran in the house and came out with some information about animal rights, wrote down the number of the referral, and talked with them for about five or ten minutes about animals and veganism.

Then, only yesterday, I opened up a bank account for ARRNT, and the account executive began asking me about the work that we do. He was interested in veganism for health reasons and was quite receptive to the information I gave, most from my personal experiences. He was hung up on one aspect of animal rights though – rats. He said he did not like rats and could not accept that they had any significance whatsoever. I asked him if he had ever spent any time with rats or been around a pet rat, and we talked about how familiarity sometimes changes our opinions of others. I promised to drop by some information about veganism and he seemed very appreciative.

Bringing Down Defenses

Last week, in preparing for the upcoming ARRNT meeting, I was discussing with a city employee the possibility of our tabling at the local Farmers Market. I had spoken to this woman last year, before our group was started, and she was quite interested, stating she would like to learn more about veganism herself. This year, however, the market is bustling, and she thought maybe we could see if Prairie Paws, our local animal shelter, might give us some  space on their table. She was alarmed at the word “advocate” and seemed to hear “activist,” which she said concerned her – they did not want any trouble. Also, she balked at our name — animal rights — wouldn’t that stir up trouble, too? I assured her that we were all about peace and only wanted to provide educational materials for those that might be interested. “I don’t know; you are against what some of our vendors are selling as they sell meat.”  True, I said, but we would be promoting the produce vendors. She agreed that many folks need to change their dietary habits, but seemed to feel our group might not be a good addition.  We are part of the community, too, I said – only last week it was announced that UNT (University of North Texas) had opened one of their cafeterias as an all-vegan cafeteria, open to the public. And Loving Hut, the international vegan chain, was opened in Arlington, a town next to our town. Things are changing, people are interested and very receptive to the information we have, I said.  She equivocated, and said she would speak to her superior, but she really was not comfortable with our group. (I admit to feeling a flash of frustration – the flesh peddlers are welcome but those providing free services are excluded because the truth must not be told?) She gave me the phone number of the new administrator at Prairie Paws and also the name and number of someone hosting a tasting event where vegan food might be welcome. I thanked her for her time and decided this was an opportunity, too – she mentioned not knowing the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian, so I will follow up with more information for her and write a letter of thanks for her time. As I mentioned earlier, familiarity sometimes brings down defenses.

I have taken to wearing a vegan button when I do not have a vegan message shirt on. The sign on my car sometimes draws people to dialogue, and I now keep literature in my car and in my purse, available to disseminate at the smallest opportunity.  While our young group lacks the funds to participate in many civic events, we can always find little opportunities that may have a larger impact. Witnessing my grandson protecting a small fellow creature, watching how the other children changed their interest (save for one) in the bug towards a positive and engaging one, was inspirational to me. That little boy was unconcerned what any of the other children thought – he was going to protect the bug. It was proof positive that education works, and for me, that is all it takes to encourage me to continue on, one opportunity at a time.

Tom Regan, ARZone, and the Challenge of Diverse Perspectives

Tomcat

As someone relatively new to the Animal Rights movement, I am always trying to absorb as much information as I can. I am fortunate to have access to a wide number of books due to my reviews, but find that some books I wish to read are not as likely to be sent my way. The local libraries are not well stocked with such literature, leaving my options for affordable sourcing rather limited. Online resources are plentiful, and with forums, podcasts, and chats, there is a lot of information free of any charge. Of course, the trick is to find valid information, because there is also a lot of misinformation out there, too.

I remember receiving something in my email last year about an interview with Dan Cudahy on a site called Animal Rights Zone, or ARZone.  This type of site was rather new to me, but I wanted to hear what Dan had to say. I knew he was part of the abolitionist movement, and frequently linked to his articles in my own blog. Following in short order were other interesting folks, including Vincent Guihan and Jo Charlebois, Gary Francione, Roger Yates,  and others with sometimes divergent perspectives.  I was able to ask questions of such noted people as Ric O’Barry of The Cove and Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson. They also profile the occasional grassroots activist, such as my good friend and technical advisor, Jordan Wyatt of Invercargill Vegan Society (and podcast Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals), an end-of-the-world one-man abolitionist incursion.  A few of the guests have been quite controversial, including those with very different viewpoints than my own, such people as Bruce Friedrich of PeTA, Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach, transhumanist David Pearce, or former vivisectionist Colin Blakemore.  Even the administrators have a wide range of views, with the shared commonality of being abolitionist vegans. Transcripts following chats are available for anyone who cares to further the dialogue and often the guests will return to answer questions, too.

The past few weeks on ARZone have been of particular note, with Tom Regan’s interview being published, and a workshop related to that interview taking place on Saturday, May 22, 2011. For any of you who know nothing of him, he is a one-time butcher who became a leading proponent of Animal Rights and has written extensively on the subject. He reports that if he could become an animal rights activist, anyone can. Of course, Tom Regan is far from your garden variety ARA, he has been one of the prominent voices in the movement for decades. His humility and quest for justice have stood the test of time. For further information, check out his interview or read the workshop transcripts on ARZone. If time permits,  read some of his many books on the subject.

Vegan Texan

DSC02129

While some folks may find this surprising, there are over 600 members in the local DFW Vegan101 Meetup! Living in the land of cattle, hunting ranches, and barbecue on every corner, there are nonetheless many people turning to a vegan lifestyle. Perhaps it is the very nature of living in an area rife with animal agriculture that has given genesis to these numbers; some folks mention those childhood visits to slaughter-houses as part of what changed them from mainstream to veganism. Mercy For Animals opened up an office in Dallas last year, and they are spearheading many leafleting and a few vegan sampling events. This is also a state that is home to many animal sanctuaries, since land is relatively cheap and the weather makes it possible, at least most of the year, to provide adequate protection for outdoor beings.  Here in the Mid-Cities area south of the DFW twin cities, we witnessed the largest ever seizure of exotic animals last year when the SPCA in concert with PeTA volunteers helped to close down a frigid warehouse where animals were dying by the dozens each and every day.  What was uncovered there is the stuff of nightmares, with animals liquifying in their own waste, and many piles of animals being unrecognizable when first rescued. The SPCA had no problem finding volunteers to assist in saving as many of the remaining animals as they could, with a massive operation which required setting up a multitude of climates and feeding schedules round the clock.  There are also many animal-conscious people who do not yet make the connection between what they eat, wear and purchase and their concern for animals. This was highlighted for me last year when an animal advocacy group invited me to a benefit at, incredibly, Ye Old Butcher Shoppe. I contacted them about the irony of their event, and they kindly invited me to a future coffee. There is educational work to be done in Texas, and the sooner we can get started, the better.

Increasing Need, Decreasing Resources

As a member of Vegan101, I attended a couple of work days supporting a farm animal sanctuary, but live too far to attend many of the events, most of which are social in nature. Like many sanctuaries and rescues, this sanctuary was in need of ongoing help to keep the animals well groomed, the areas cleaned, and the vet bills paid. Since the recession, the number of animals being abandoned and discarded has increased, while the donations have dwindled. This has left many in the area in need of help, in order to keep helping the severe need they encounter. None of us like to turn our back on a vulnerable animal who is undergoing a stressful time –which is partly how we ended up taking on a couple of young male felines, both declawed and neutered, both in need of a permanent placement, both homeless as a result of a broken home. We have also been asked to help four other animals find a home. These scenarios are also increasing with the increase in financial stress and unemployment, too.  It is also part of the reason that Animal Rights & Rescue of North Texas was started, a vegan abolitionist group that welcomes all to help in the work to make life better for animals here and elsewhere.  Not all of our members are vegan, but all meetups are strictly vegan. Most of our members are already involved in rescue work of one type or another and collaborating with other advocacy groups is part of how we are growing our presence.  We have already partnered with the Metroplex Animal Coalition and have members in a couple of other local advocacy groups, too, including Animal Connection of Texas and DFW Wildlife.  Like all other groups, ours is struggling to pay our bills, so a garage sale benefit was one of our first projects. We are hoping to develop a Speaker’s Bureau to work on humane education and promote veganism within the animal advocacy groups located here, too, as well educate the public about disaster preparation for animals.

Our group decided that vegan sampling events would be a priority, but finding a venue in this area is no simple task.  Many events are restricted due to health laws and many tabling events are prohibitively expensive (hundreds of dollars for a table on Earth Day in Dallas – the non-profit discount rate, too.) We are still in our infancy, and are slowly increasing our membership.  Will Tuttle, author of the #1 Amazon best seller, The World Peace Diet, recently came to the general North Texas area, and our group was fortunate to be able to eat lunch with the Tuttles and as well as to participate in a wonderful workshop they gave in Grapevine. We met many wonderful people at the event and hope to see a few at our next meetup. We are also looking at the upcoming Veggie Fair, run last year in concert with the Dallas State Fair, as a possible venue to help get the word out about our organization and the reasons for adopting a vegan lifestyle. We now have a couple of banners that read, “Animal Rights & Rescue of North Texas – Promoting Peace for All Beings.”  We have the tables and banners, we are getting the literature and handouts, we have the volunteers and the enthusiasm, all we need now is permission to participate in a local event.

The Importance of Planting Veganism

One of the reasons for forming the group was to have a presence for abolitionist veganism in the area, to have an activist presence, and to provide venues easier to access for those of us living outside the Dallas or Fort Worth areas. While there have been many obstacles and challenges, the enthusiasm of a core group of members has kept us all motivated to pursue future goals.  I underestimated the amount of time I would be dedicating to get this grassroots campaign for animals off the ground and did not realize we would start receiving requests to help individual animals so immediately because we have “rescue” in our name.  Some of our members are only interested in rescue, others in promoting veganism. The fact that we are all working well together will hopefully propel us towards the Intersectional Thinking that is so hopeful in this, our twenty-first century.  For anyone in an area that seems devoid of an abolitionist vegan presence, register your desire for such a group online, or better yet – start a group. If you build it, they just might come!

Change of Heart by Nick Cooney

Nick Cooney’s book, Change of Heart, was a recommendation from Bruce Friedrich of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, made during a recent Animal Rights Zone chat. While I find Bruce likable, I often disagree with many of his tactics, as well as those of his parent organization.  I was therefore quite surprised to find the time I spent reading Cooney’s book to be time very well spent.

Looking at Activism From A Psychological Perspective

Tagline for the book is this: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change. It seems an important topic and one that most activists want to better understand. How do people change? What is the most effective way to do outreach for veganism? How do we get resistant people to look at the truth about the destructiveness of animal commodification? How do we help translate awareness into behavioral change? Cooney’s book begins by helping us to look at ourselves first and how our own identity is often tied up with how we perform activism. He highlights how self interest is part of most choices and warns that systemic change most always does more good than caring for individuals in need.

The next section of Change of Heart looks at some of the aspects of human nature that make advocacy difficult, things like empathy avoidance (why those painful videos may not be effective), victim denigration (why people often disparage animals), status quo bias (why it is difficult for people to make changes in light of the norm) and numbers overwhelm (why statistics may make people’s eyes roll back in their heads). After getting this far into the book, it would be easy to become discouraged. Armed with all the destructive aspects of animal commodification, an activist might be ready to throw up their hands in defeat, feeling like human nature just will not allow new information in. In fact, this is covered, too — often people will cling tighter to beliefs that have been proven false. Rationality, it seems, does not always work–which explains a lot about current politics. What’s an activist to do?

Nick Cooney’s Change of Heart Aims to Create Effective Activists

Cooney wrote this book to explain it to you. Tools of Influence, in four parts, lists ways to use psychology to the activist’s benefit. For example, according to research, it appears people are more likely to accept what you say when you present yourself as an expert on a topic, rather than as an advocate for a certain position. It helps if you are tall (I am totally out of luck on this one!). It helps if you are good looking and it helps if you are dressed in similar fashion to those you will be meeting. It helps to be friendly and non-threatening. It helps to understand where your audience is in regard to animal commodification so you can set realistic goals. It also helps if the person accepts something from you, thereby triggering the Rule of Reciprocity — so keep those vegan cookies coming! Cooney also advocates embracing those in our circle who hold different viewpoints, thereby increasing our sphere of influence rather than discounting those in outlying groups.

Finally, Cooney looks at Social Marketing, Transition Matrix, and Game Theory. In the foreward, he reminds us that the research has been done and it is up to us to draw our own conclusions. An example Cooney uses for the Transition Matrix suggests that promoting vegetarianism is more effective than promoting veganism directly; then, once the person is vegetarian, you can go back and promote veganism to those who have already demonstrated a willingness to change This suggestion seems problematic, since Cooney offers no research to support this premise, since many people have gone vegan without becoming vegetarian, and many who have been vegetarian first did so only because they lacked the clear message of why veganism is important. It also seems dishonest and potentially confusing.  However, despite any individual bias that Cooney might display, his book offers an important look into ideas that could benefit most activists. Reading the book carefully and with cautious scrutiny, most any activist would benefit from its focus on understanding the psychology of change and how that impacts our activism.

Abolitionist Vegan Nation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA new vegan abolitionist group started earlier this year,Animal Rights & Rescue of North Texas. It has been instructive, to say the least, as to the energy, time, and money necessary to get a grassroots campaign off the ground. First expenses included meetup fees, business cards, and a few office supplies for members.  Then there was the first Kickoff meeting – with sixteen people expected. It started snowing lightly in the late morning, and despite the number planning to attend, the result was a disappointing zero in attendance. We even had the film,Bold Native, to be shown, with permission from the director. All in all, a big disappointment.

Kickoff Take Two and Beyond

Our Kickoff Take Two had a much better showing, with at least a few people in attendance. The energy was very high; every single one of us had been or continues to be in another form of animal activism, so the experience and vision were a plus.  Our first project was selected — to host a vegan sampling table.  After the meeting, I followed up by contacting the grocers who carry vegan fare, but to no avail. They were not interested in having our volunteers due to liability or for other reasons. We are currently researching other possibilities.

Undeterred, we scheduled support for an animal adoption event and then scheduled another meetup, this time at the new Loving Hut that just opened in Arlington, Texas.  This meeting was very positive, with two new members and lots of great ideas to share, along with the wonderful food.  It was like finding long-lost kin in some ways, so rare are we in these parts. Gratitude was expressed about the formation of the group; at least three members drove quite a distance, with one even taking off work to attend. Such devotion!

Promoting Peace For All Beings

Our next event, a garage sale benefit, will hopefully keep us alive financially for another year, until we can participate in an upcoming event and begin to do vegan outreach.  Our plans to become rescue ready are still on the table, but on the back burner until we increase our membership. Realizing we are in our infancy and still need a more substantial number of members, we nonetheless came up with many ideas for future projects. There is work to be done!

We now have a vinyl banner for tabling events that reads, “Animal Rights & Rescue of North Texas – Promoting Peace For All Beings” and even have a potential venue for tabling. We are part of theFederation of Abolitionist Vegans, a new collective that owes its genesis to Chris Poupart of Canada. This federation will help struggling groups like ours survive by offering support, shared resources, and forums for discussing ideas. One of the challenges for those of us in the DFW metroplex is the distance between cities, making it difficult to remain united and to plan events within a reasonable driving distance for all members. Having an international home like FAV really helps the group to feel part of something larger, to feel supported, and to feel like there are others around the world who are working on similar issues. We know we are not alone. United, we can increase our ability to reach out to our respective communities more effectively.

Vegan Pioneers and a Vegan Abolitionist Nation

A recent article (Hello Donald) by Dr. Roger Yates,  activist and sociologist with years of experience in the field of animal rights, mentioned that we are vegan pioneers.  Out here on the prairie, it can indeed feel like we are in our metaphorical covered wagons (we pull our own, though, and do not use animals), slowly traversing the unknown lands ahead of us.  But with more experienced pioneers such as Dr. Yates to help guide us, and the energy, enthusiasm, and dedication of our members, we are sure to succeed in building an abolitionist vegan nation.

Us & Them

As animal advocates, we can clearly recognize that the world is divided, in the minds of most humans, into two separate categories: us and them.  ”Us” includes all the varieties of human beings, and “Them” includes every insect, aquatic, land, and avian animal. This divide allows the human beings, the name labelers, to distance themselves from them and use and exploit them as they see fit.  It is tempting for those of us working towards a vegan world  to further demarcate humans into still further categories: those who are vegan versus those who are not.

PC or Mac?

Within the human category are more categories still: men and women, young and old, various nation-states, ethnicities, tribes, religious beliefs, color, appearance, height, talent, abilities, ages, languages. Once the Other is categorized, they may become feared or misunderstood, which leads to more labels: Radicals, Terrorists, Communists, Jihadists, Extremists, Fascists, Nazis, Murderers and Thieves. Rather than increasing understanding, the label is only the beginning of an ever- increasing gulf. Current advertisements also use this gulf to promote their products. In the past we were asked: are you part of the Pepsi Generation (or do Things go Better With Coke)? Now we have one campaign that emphasizes this gulf: PC or Mac? The PC is portrayed as older, stodgier, boring, more limited, where the younger Mac is more amiable, more functional, more slender, more appealing, and much more hip.  Guess what game Apple is playing? Group identification and Otherizing. The Apple folks are hoping you will want to identify with the slimmer, hipper Mac and spend your money on their product.

Back to the activists  – we also have our subcategories: welfarists, regulationists, utilitarians, protectionists, conservationists, abolitionists, neo-welfarists. We actually have very different goals from one another, though. Whereas a conservationist group such as Sea Shepherd is focused on a specific subset of animal life (whales, dolphin, fish), a welfarist may enlarge the category to improving the current standard of living for several categories of animals via legislation. Abolitionists believe that working with animal exploiters is always problematic; it is important to work towards shifting attitudes that will stop the demand for animals as commodities, as property, and allow all animals to live their lives as free beings. Regulating horror is unacceptable and not a goal that respects animal lives.

There Is Only “Us”

Looking at this another way, there is really only “Us.” Life on a finite planet emphasizes the interconnectivity of all forms of life, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. As Martin Luther King has said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Catastrophes such as the recent tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes fell equally upon all who were present, and everyone of us is likely to be impacted to greater or lesser degrees by climate instability in the future. Human beings rallied and, for the most part, selflessly helped their fellow man (while a few opportunits preyed upon the vulnerable, just like in the rest of life). As activists, it is important that we realize the power of collectivity while still espousing and working for our own individual goals. I am an abolitionist, and as such am not likely to be distracted into single issue causes, nor will I collaborate with those who exploit animals. I will, however, collaborate and discuss issues with other animal activists where our shared goals intersect and challenge what appears to me to be failed policies where they diverge. We must become and remain part of an ongoing conversation about change in order to understand our world and why people believe and think as they do.  If we are hoping to educate the public that we are all part of the animal kingdom, that there is really only Us, then we need to start right here, in the world of animal activism. This does not require a theoretical shift, but rather an attitudinal shift, as we discover the commonalities we share with all other animals, both human and nonhuman. If we can discover our commonality with fish and foxes, with pigs and parrots, we should be able to find something to keep us at peace with fellow vegans, too.

Limited Vision

eye

How two people with perfect eyesight gave birth to three offspring with bad vision is beyond me, but my parents did just that.  Being one of the lucky recipients of poor vision, I finally was desperate enough to do something about it. For years I had struggled with contact lenses, moving from the old hard lenses, to gas permeable, to soft lenses – yet none worked perfectly. The hard lenses were hardy and allowed the best vision, but could cause blindness if worn too long as they deprive the eye of oxygen. The gas permeable were better, but not much more comfortable. The soft lenses were preferred for comfort, but came out of focus occasionally and were subject to more fanatical cleaning regimes. All of them left my eyes burning, tired, and red.  With more and more difficulty seeing clearly, I finally decided to find out what my options were for improving my vision.

The Myopic and Hyperopic Animal Rights Activist

Having good vision is something many people take for granted – at least until the age-related farsightedness kicks in. But how we see impacts the decisions we make, the activities in which we participate, and the amount of freedom we experience.  It is one of those things that we barely notice until we no longer have it.  So, too, with animal activism — it is easy to become myopic and think the rest of the world is just like our own little corner, that others will react to the vegan message the way we did, or the way our neighbors do.  We may think the only way to legitimately help animals is to do what we have always done, using the same old handouts and the tried-and-true tactics that we developed long ago. If we are myopic, we may only see the short-term things, those things which are right around us, and have difficulty expanding our horizons — we are so used to our limited vision that we accommodate to it. This keeps us grounded, but also truncates what we might achieve. Without the larger vision, we may sell the movement short, not reach out for better ideas and tactics, and not expect too much. We may believe that the world cannot really change.

With farsightedness, hyperopia, we cannot see things nearby, but can see further away – which is why older people always have arms that are too short! The hyperopic activist may miss entirely how he is alienating the people around him, because his vision is focused on the far horizon. He has the vision so necessary for achieving the end goal, knows well the theoretical basis for that vision, and is knowledgeable on the finer points of his beliefs, but may have difficulty with the best approach to reach people and to move us towards the goal. If the hyperopic activist is not careful, he will alienate such a wide array of people that he will make it impossible to awaken the myopic to the very necessary vision he alone can see. As he tries to explain his vision to the myopic activist, he becomes frustrated, explaining what he sees that, unfortunately, the myopic person cannot possibly see for himself. He is totally unaware that he, too, has blind spots and limited vision.

Monovision: Seeing It All, Nothing Clearly

For the past few years, I adapted to monovision, because I had myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, and numerous other visual disturbances. Monovision is what they call using one eye and contact lens for seeing up close and one for distance – somehow your brain learns to deal with it, but you always walk around feeling a little dizzy. You have to compromise when you have eyes as bad as mine, because there is no easy solution. During the years I had contacts, I also had driving glasses, reading glasses, and some kind of strange glasses that allowed me to see near and far but required getting your neck into a contorted position in order to do that. When you have monovision, you can see what the hyperopic activist is seeing, and you can see what the myopic activist is seeing, but you cannot see either one with the same intense devotion that either camp can see with a focused vision. Just like both kinds of activists, you have to adapt to what you have to use.

There do not appear to be many animal activists with perfect vision. Most fall into either the myopic or hyperopic categories and can really go at it with one another. Both are seeing their own realities and failing to see what the other side is seeing. The myopic activist often fails to see the horizon and what is possible, and the hyperopic activist often forgets the importance of things like collaborating, relationship building, and understanding. One activist who had perfect vision was Martin Luther King. He knew he must try to save even the souls of those in the dominant power structure who were oppressing the very people he was trying to free. “If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive,” he said. Ultimately, he did pay that price and removed one stone from the weight of exploitation and moved it towards the weight of justice in the world. In working to end racism in the United States, he liberated people of all races. This needs to be part of the work in activism for animals, too. We need to save the blighted spirits of even those who are oppressing the animals; we need to see our work as liberating them as well as the animals.

Moving Towards a Clearer Vision

Right now I am in the middle of trying to improve my vision.  As with most things, it gets a bit worse before it gets better, which is why vision is on my mind. Just like in my activism, recent events have caused me to experience blurry vision, a lack of clarity, and some alienation from both kinds of vision correction and both kinds of activists. There is a dogmatism in both camps that is so oft-repeated that it numbs my mind. One thing, though, that both sides tend to see as critical: creative vegan education.  Some activists believe in incremental reform, others believe we need a new world order, but both agree that we need to educate people about the importance of veganism. For me, that is a starting point.

When I was younger, I refused to wear glasses; I refused! With an active lifestyle, they seemed to impose an unacceptable limit to me. Some people thought I was conceited, but I was actually quite shy–I just couldn’t see them.  I remember that today as I try to listen to what other people tell me, as I try to remember how I thought just a few years ago, and consider how to best help awaken someone or help them transition. Maybe the person I am working with in my advocacy just cannot see what I now see. Maybe they are accommodating their own limited vision. If anyone should be patient with those with poor vision, it should be someone who has lived with such limitations for years.

A Vision With Animals – Including Human Primates

With just a couple more optical procedures to go, I am expecting to have improved visual acuity very soon. Listening to more and more people in various parts of the animal rights debate, I am hoping my personal vision for advocacy will likewise be enhanced as I absorb and synthesize all the information within my reach.  At their very best, my eyes can never achieve the focus and distance vision of a bird of prey, the night vision of a cat, nor the ability to see on two sides of my head, like a horse.  I will never see all the colors available to the butterfly or bird, nor the amazing mosaic of vision available to some insects.  About the best I can try to achieve is a wider and deeper view of what has been there all along. In the animal rights movement, that means paying attention to the plight of animals and not getting distracted into politics or personalities, but listening and learning from all those who have different experiences, a different viewpoint, or are trying a new approach. It means more than focusing; it means interpreting and scanning, as well. It is an ongoing quest for a clearer vision and a deeper understanding of our world. In the world of animal activism, it means trying to understand what the horse’s world looks like, what the snake sees, what the cat can comprehend, and respecting the unique vision of each. It means respecting other humans too, even if I disagree with their vision for the future.

A Few Hands

hands

Billions upon billions of animals are sacrificed every year in a myriad of ways for one reason only: for profit. Their lives are ended in slaughterhouses, or they are imprisoned, are terrified, are separated and forced into a bleak existence, or are fed inappropriate food that causes great pain and distress: or are forced to perform for someone else’s amusement, all for that  singular  purpose.  The bulk of humanity is fed an unhealthy diet, are fed diets of not only animal products but are fed a constant diet of misinformation and deceit. There are pictures of happy cows chatting with one another in green fields and cartoon images of cows, chickens, and lambs. Our children are fed diets of speciesism in every cartoon, movie, and video game that references a typical diet. The bizarre and destructive practice of consuming animals for food, clothing, sport, entertainment or diversion becomes normalized.

A Few Hands Promote Profits, A Few Hands Promote Peace

Yet it is only a few hands that actually benefit from these deceptions. The rest of us are left with a devastated environment, a warming planet, and a sickened soul. We are left with poor health and chronic illnesses that perpetuate the cycle by the use of more animals for research, for medicine, for human replacement body parts. The mountain of dead bones from so many suffering and sacrificed lives continues to grow even as our future and our spirits shrink.  We have become divorced from the natural world, while an ever increasing anxiety, violence, and desperation grows within us.

Meanwhile, it is only a few hands that are beginning now to reach out to one another to form a network of information. These few hands are working to shine a light in the dark corners of animal commodification. They are the ones who hand out leaflets about ending all animal commodification, who are asking for a new vision; who debate; who moderate forums and read the latest books on animal rights. Who adopt animals who would otherwise lose their one chance at life; who rescue animals destined for the death houses; who protest, who create films and documentaries; who write the books; who build the sanctuaries. They are only a few souls amid the several billions of human beings. But they are the visionaries, the ones who refuse to accept the status quo as inevitable, who dare to believe other humans can change as they have changed, and they are helping to start one of the most significant changes in human history, a movement that says no more exploitation, no more speciesism, no sexism, no racism. A few hands reach out for justice for all beings.

There are only a few hands at either end of the spectrum; one group of hands reaches out for a few pieces of gold, the other offers peace. Which one will you grasp?

Choose Your Own Path

path

Each of us takes a path in life. We usually have some idea of what our goals are, and we set out to achieve them.  For some it is a rather straight line, for others a twisted winding road, and for many it is a rocky, steep, treacherous climb. But whatever path we are on, we are always free to make a u-turn, choose a different path, and keep trying to find the best answer, the best vehicle, the best way to get where we want to go. Even philosophers (and politicians) change their views over their lifetime as they learn, encounter other ideas, and develop as human beings.

Selecting a Path Toward Healing

In grad school, we were taught a variety of different approaches towards healing a wounded soul. Person-Centered therapy supports one’s own internal wisdom by gently encouraging and affirming and emphasizing things that are said. Cognitive therapy helps reframe a person’s experience and move towards instituting healthier patterns in thinking. Family therapy looks at the social context of interactions, helping to make them more positive. Behavioral therapy challenges the dysfunctional behaviors that keep the client from experiencing a fulfilling life. Group therapy works to give the client feedback as too how they are perceived by others and to allow them to receive support and challenges from fellow clients. Adlerian, Bowenian, Object Relations: there are numerous other approaches, but all work towards the same goal: a healthier client.

Not once in grad school did we fight about which path to take. Some of us were eclectic and took elements from one theory or another; some pursued further studies, as I did, in expanding a particular theoretical approach. I was fortunate to attend post-graduate training at The Family Therapy Institute in Santa Barbara, and Art Therapy training at UCSB. At FTI, I met many other up and coming young therapists, witnessed the pros at work behind a one-way glass, and expanded my theoretical toolbox. Art therapy proved to be a way to connect with inner demons for many nonverbal clients and worked beautifully with children. I remember being interested in further psychoanalytical training at one point, but because of time and circumstance, chose another path. Life is often like that.

Paths to Healing in Animal Advocacy

Now that I am working as a vegan advocate, I find that the goal sometimes gets lost. It is almost as if the path is the thing that matters, not the destination at all. It would be like someone attacking me for being a cognitive therapist when they prefer a psychoanalytical approach, forgetting altogether about the client. The contributing factors in determining which path to take are individual, and depend upon the personal experiences and characteristics of the therapist, and the type of clients with which that therapist will ultimately work. No one gets to select which theory anyone else chooses. All we can do is learn and discuss, and let each person make their own choice.  Personally, I would prefer to fly to get to Santa Barbara these days; others might prefer to take the train or go by car. It would depend upon your timeframe, financial situation, and prior experiences. It would be your choice. Metaphorically, I would just hope we would both get to Santa Barbara at some point. (It is a beautiful city along the California Coast near my prior domicile.)

Therapy is not done to the client, it is done with the client, a path we travel together. I can recall once thinking I helped a client make a brilliant connection only to find out the client heard something completely different. One thing they all recalled, though: how it felt to travel together. This is an important point in animal advocacy, where there are widely divergent beliefs about helping animals. Some people think that if you are not on the exact same path using the exact same methods, you are somehow the enemy to the cause. I have witnessed advocates disrespecting other advocates for the type of advocacy, for their preferred way to work towards change, and even for their chosen venue. Yet it appears to be a continual evolution, rather than a button one selects, in learning how best to help effect social change of this magnitude. And it is dependent upon our individual education, experiences and outlook on life — and no one can change that for us.

Do All Paths Lead to Rome?

We were schooled in the phrase, “All Paths Lead to Rome,” meaning there are many routes to health; no one approach is the only way. I call myself an abolitionist but disagree at times with other abolitionists. I disagree with working for welfare reform that only perpetuates the institutional use of animals as things rather than recognizing them as persons, individuals with feelings and a right to life. Advocacy is not something I do to someone, it is something I do with someone, it is a journey we travel together. I cannot possibly travel my journey on anyone else’s path but my own. Like in therapy, I try to respect those with whom I am working and let time and their own internal wisdom do the rest. Part of my training was to honor the process, not just the content, of what was going on. In animal advocacy, that means how I advocate is as important as what I am advocating (or in this case, for whom). If I alienate others, the process dies on the vine.

Find your own path, but please keep moving towards the goal: that animals are sentient beings that deserve the right to their lives, the right to be our traveling companions on earth, and not our transport. Find the path that leads to peace: for the animals, for the earth, for the future.

A Time to Keep Silence

A time to rend , and a time to sew ; a time to keep silence , and a time to speak ~ Ecclesiastes 3:7

Lately I have had nothing to say. I find it quite quizzical because I have long lists of articles and podcasts I want to create but right now, nothing seems to issue from these ideas. It all seems to have been said before, said in better ways or more clever ways than I could. I have come to the conclusion that maybe it is time to just listen for awhile, so I am doing that. I am listening to the outrage at a woman depositing a cat in a trash receptacle on the side of the street, while these same people participate in the global commodification of animals. I am listening to the animal protection organizations as they partner in exploitation with animal agribusiness. I listen to those who find veganism disturbing and challenge it at every turn. I listen to the leaders of abolitionism as they point out the various ways our conflicted mental processes twist us into rationalization after rationalization.

One thing good about listening is that it gives one an opportunity to learn.  I began noticing that there is a difference between meeting someone where they are and actually becoming where they are. For example, there has been a movement in the welfare community to spread vegetarianism rather than veganism because it is more appealing to more people.  While it is very important to acknowledge where someone is with respect to potential for change, it is fundamentally wrong to join them.  In fact, recent Google statistics show that “vegan” is outstripping “vegetarian” in searches, a very healthy sign. If advocates for animals so quickly relinquish the moral baseline of veganism, though, it is doubtful that anyone will move towards it.  And that is unfair to the animals.

Nonsensical, Outrageous and Hopeful

So right now I am listening, listening to the nonsensical (Lady GaGa dressed in a “meat” bikini of dead, tormented flesh), the outrageous (George Monbiot promoting so called “happy meat”), and the hopeful (abolitionist veganism gaining momentum). I see the wonderful videos Eric Prescott has developed (“I am Vegan”) and sadly witnessed the end of another abolitionist vegan podcast (goodbye, Coexisting with Nonhuman Animals) — as usual, joy and grief intermingled with hope and determination. It is all part of being an advocate for nonhuman animals.

Listening is actually a class of study in many schools of psychotherapy; it was in mine. Active listening is tremendously important for vegans and animal rights advocates, because if we chastise people for not being where we are, we might not listen to what they are saying. We need to understand their perceptions and feelings in order to educate them and help them see the truth. Commodification of animal life is culturally normative right now, although there is every evidence that this is changing. We must never demand that those who are speciesist in orientation join us where we are, but we must educate them and invite them in a way they can accept. We must be a voice for the animals. Listening has brought me many lessons this year, some painful, some joyful.  It has helped me find some great bloggers and podcasters; it has forced me to raise the bar on my own self expectations; it has left me disappointed in myself and others.  So right now, it is a time to rend. I should be back to sewing (and speaking) again very soon!