“How many animal abusers does it take to change a lightbulb? None, because they want to keep us in the dark. How many animal activists does it take to change a lightbulb? None, because we’re not changing lightbulbs; we’re changing the world.”
Progress At the 2015 Animal Rights Conference
For many activists, the animal rights movement seems like an uphill battle. It’s not uncommon to feel despair, especially for those of us who lack the emotional support of a local vegan community. Feeling ostracized and alone in many crowds, we can lose sight of the greater picture: a picture that is not only positive and bright, but brimming with vegan inspirations.
This year’s Animal Rights National Conference, sponsored by FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement), was held just outside of Washington, D.C. from July 30 to August 3. This year saw the highest number of attendees to date since its initiation in 1987, and that in itself is an incredible sign of progress.
With the recent inception of all-vegan supermarkets and mainstream fast food entities that promote vegan options, our movement is reaching more and more people in every corner of the world. During a presentation titled The Global Vegan Movement (you can see a snippet of it here) at the Animal Rights National Conference (AR2015), Melanie Joy, Ph.D., Ed.M., author of “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows” offered incredible vegan inspirations on the growth of the international movement:
- Warsaw, Poland has the largest growing market for vegan restaurants.
- India recently banned the keeping of dolphins in captivity, use of animals in entertainment and animal testing on cosmetics. They also held their first ever March for Animal Liberation in May 2015.
- Joy reported “so much positive energy” from Kuwait, a country who launched its very first Vegan Society in 2014.
- In Germany, veganism has grown in popularity so much that the country’s best selling cookbook author is a vegan chef.
- In Belgium, the government gives $160,000 to support vegan organizations within the country.
Undoubtedly, the tide is turning for the animal rights and vegan movements, and we should be inspired. As discussed by many of the event’s exceptional speaker and guests, we have many reasons to be hopeful. U.S. meat consumption is down about 12% in recent years. More people opting for veggie-based meals translates into some 400 million animals being saved from slaughter in 2014, according to Michael Webermann of FARM. That’s nearly half a billion animals saved!
But statistics aren’t the only things that offer inspiration regarding the vegan movement: words can, too. Erica Meier of Compassion Over Killing said that through an analysis of online discussions about meat, 46% were negative in context and linked with words such as ‘bad, negative, or concern.’ The societal connotation of meat has become so damaging that even Taco Bell refers to it as ‘protein’ in their advertisements.
Public opinion is shifting on other animal rights aspects also. “For the first time in history, most of the U.S. opposes animal use [in labs],” said Justin Goodman, Director of PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department during his AR2015 presetation on the topic. 50% are against animal testing, 43% percent support it and the rest are uncertain or undecided. That means the majority is on our side. Goodman stated, “We have won over hearts and minds,” adding, “That’s huge, because any of these people can make changes.”
The Animal Rights Conference isn’t just about how to recruit and change others, but about personal growth and our own vegan inspirations. Meeting rescued farm animals in person can be a powerful factor in one’s decision to go vegan or inspiration to remain such, and Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur gets why: “[Farm animal] sanctuaries are transformative; it is such a beautiful thing to watch animals heal.”
It can be easy to get caught up in the details and nuances of being vegan, but Baur, who recently authored “Living the Farm Sanctuary Life”, reminded the audience at AR2015, “Veganism should not be [based on] an ingredient list, but an aspiration to do less harm.” This is a sentiment that should inspire vegans and omnivores alike.
Dr. Melanie Joy, bestselling author and founder of Beyond Carnism wants to make sure we stay strong and united. “Despair is the ‘Achilles Heel’ of the movement,” she reminded the session’s attendees, before closing with a tear-jerking thought to inspire the entire movement:
“Every one of us is a pioneer. It is challenging to live in a carnist society, where our efforts are invisible at best and often mocked. But the tide of destruction is starting to slow down, and we are the reason it will stop.”
I just want to express my gratitude for this conference. I am from Cheyenne, Wyoming and have never met anyone as passionate about nonhuman animals as I am before, and it is truly inspiring. I will admit that before this conference I had a negative view of animal activism because I never saw it and I honestly thought the cause was hopeless. Even though I’ve never met another serious vegetarian in my town, this conference has persuaded me that activism belongs everywhere and that I have an obligation to bring awareness to the “cowboy culture ” I am surrounded by at home. So thank you to all the amazing speakers and activists and people just like me who have made this conference a success!
Have you been to the Animal Rights National Conference before? What was your impression of the event, who was your favorite speaker, and how did attending it inspire you? We’d love to hear about your experience!
All pictures courtesy of Cara Frye & Tatiana Mende. You can find their amazing work here.