The Animal Rights Conference is an annual gathering of activists, an assemblage of fresh ideas, engaging discussions, plus workshops and panels. It always encourages us to grow, both individually and collectively, to become more effective in our shared cause. AR2017 was no exception.
This year the conference took place outside of Washington, D.C., but calls L.A. it’s home once every other year. Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) has organized the conference since 1981. According to their website, the Animal Rights National Conference is “the only conference open to all points of view on achieving animal liberation.” The array of educational topics and networking opportunities speak to this mission. But there was one theme that truly resonated for me. This message could not have come at a more crucial time: the need for inclusiveness and unity within our movement.
“Open the Tent”
Republicans, democrats and peanut farmers alike: saving animals should be open to anyone on either side of the aisle, according to Jane Velez-Mitchell during her impassioned and powerful speech as part of the “Animal Rights in the Age of Trump” plenary. Beyond politics, she suggested the power of collaborating with unusual allies to work towards shared goals.
“We’re in pretty strange times, so we’re going to have some pretty strange bedfellows,” laughed Velez-Mitchell, referring to the old adage. For example, the meat and dairy industries have some of most powerful lobbies in Washington. How about plant-based companies joining forces with peanut and soybean farmers to stand against the animal-based giants?
Velez-Mitchell, who is a TV journalist, vegan and animal advocate, suggests we increase the impact of the animal rights movement by ‘opening the tent.’ It was a powerful mantra throughout her nearly 15-minute speech. By approaching non-vegans through different perspectives, we can expose our message to greater numbers of people and gain more allies. In turn, we will get closer to a vegan world. “Open the tent, and they will come.”
From the large non-profit organizations who lead national campaigns to everyday activists that engage in online dialogue, there are degrees of dissension. What approaches should we take? Who should we align ourselves with? Should we save animals or promote veganism? Dissension was palpable during the weekend’s “Saving Animals or Promoting Veganism?” rap session (a rap is an open session where attendees guide the discourse on a specific topic with help of a moderator). At times, there is badmouthing or even outright shaming.
Dr. Melanie Joy, another incredible AR2017 speaker and author who is no stranger to standing ovations, reminds us of the negative effects of this behavior. She has called it “inherently unstrategic” and says that “it turns off non-vegans whose support we need if our movement is to succeed, it disempowers vegans, and it causes a tremendous waste of time and energy that could be directed instead toward effective vegan activism.”
Opinions on all sides are valid, and the discourse is not only valuable but should be encouraged. However, it has the potential to divide our movement. We need to be mindful of our approach and etiquette or it could put our efficacy in jeopardy.
We should celebrate diversity among both our members and our ideas. We should be supportive of each other despite our divergent approaches and distinct attitudes. For example, some activists abhor steps to make factory farming more humane. They believe it only encourages consumers to believe they are eating ‘happy meat.’ Others say it helps people to the connection and see farm animals as individuals capable of feeling and emotion. These two arguments create a disconnect within the movement.
It’s simply unrealistic to assume that audiences will respond the same way to outreach. So it makes sense that we should have a variety of messages and messengers. After all, don’t we strive to impact the greatest number of people we possibly can?
“We’re on the same team,” reiterated Brian Kateman of the Reduceitarian Foundation during his presentation at the session titled “Plant-Based Food Campaigns.” “The only way we are going to fail is if we don’t work together.”
Our enemies are powerful and the obstacles we face are formidable. During the “… Age of Trump” panel, Paul Shapiro of Humane Society of the United States warned us about HR 2887, a bill which would essentially strip states of their right to make laws on animal cruelty, among other things. If passed, the bill could nullify laws we’ve worked so hard to accomplish together. For example, in states that ban wild animals from circuses or outlaw gestation crates. We need a strong, united force to defeat them.
Attending the Animal Rights Conference is always an inspirational experience that leaves me re-energized and armed with new skills and perspectives. This year’s theme of inclusiveness and support within the movement is certainly one that Vegaprocity can stand behind as well. After all, Vegaprocity emerged out of a need for a judgement-free community; one that accepts everyone regardless of where they are in their journey towards cruelty-free living.
Erin Kwiatkowski of Mercy for Animals may have summed it up the best at the Animal Rights Conference. During an audience Q&A after the “Supporting and Retaining Vegans” session she explained her perspective: “There is room for everybody and their positive energy within the movement.” With that in mind, I can’t wait to see the new faces of those who become involved in the year ahead.