Animal Rights 2012 Recap Part 1

No post for the last week! I have just had the most wonderful week away from my computer. It started out by flying into Baltimore. My sister Lucy picked me up from the airport early Tuesday morning. We spent all day Tuesday, Wednesday and some of Thursday hanging out and it was a blast. We spent Wednesday afternoon looking for an interview outfit for her. She had an interview on Thursday for a new job and has a second interview this week. Wish her luck! We ate lots of delicious food–too many things to name, I’m afraid, with Lucy’s girlfriend, Caitlin, and did a fair amount of coloring. I found this amazing coloring book for adults–it’s an A-Z animals coloring book with the most stunning pictures of animals. It was so fun to hang with them and their two cats, who really act more like dogs. We went on a beautiful walk through a nearby park and stopped at the the farmers market where we gots lots of tomatoes and made gazpacho!

On Thursday, I met up with Tish who is in DC for the month doing research at the National Archives on her brilliant dissertation. We had a nice vegan vegetable bento box and then I headed out to Alexandria on my own to the Animal Rights 2012 Conference. I spent Thursday evening, Friday and Saturday morning at the conference and then went into DC to spend the day and night with Tish at her place. We spent the day together eating. Our eats included the most delicious vegan soul food–candied yams, collard greens, cabbage, and cornbread–and a trip to Sticky Fingers bakery (of Cupcake Wars fame) for a cupcake and mini cheesecake. Tish also made us an awesome breakfast the next morning of breakfast tacos with vegan chorizo, potatoes and corn tortillas. Yum! Sunday was back to the conference until Lucy picked me up in the afternoon. Now I’m on the plane home, thinking about all the fun I had, all the amazing thought-provoking sessions I attended, and all the extraordinarily compassionate people I met.

Conference Highlights from Thursday and Friday
The conference began on Thursday night with a beautiful opening plenary. First, they lit three candles in the large conference hall. The first candle was for all of the animals in the world who are oppressed. The second candle was for all the activists and people working to the make the world better for animals who couldn’t be with us. And the third candle was lit for the oppressors in the hopes that they would find their way to compassion.

In the opening plenary, the speakers introduced the conference, saying that the purpose of the conference was to network, discuss tactics and recharge our batteries. We were reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And to quote Elie Wiesel, “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentors, never the tormented.” 

Norm Phelps gave a great history of the animal rights movement and closed his historical outline by saying, “We encounter a lot that can break our hearts. There is also a lot to feel good about, and a lot to look forward to. Being at the conference made me hopeful—hopeful that so many other people are working to make the world better for animals; hopeful that there are many ways to make change; and hopeful that real change will happen.

The full conference program can be viewed here. There were so many wonderful sessions, including a number of plenary sessions in the morning and evening each day. I wish I could have gone to all of the sessions, but I went to as many as I could, and I attended all of the plenary sessions. These are the individual sessions I attended (if you’re interested you can read more about them in the conference program). On Friday, I went to Working for the Movement; Individual Activism; Understanding the Meat Mindset, which became Speaking Truth to Power; Fundraising; and Agriculture Campaign Reports.

Friday evening, there was a lively session on activist repression with Odette Wilkins, Dara Lovitz, Will Potter and Heidi Boghosian. The general consensus in this session was that state repression is actually a sign that what the movement is doing is working. Furthermore, repression tends to sow seeds for revolution, so it actually may grow the movement. Will Potter explained that what we’re seeing is repression through state mechanisms, which is actually corporate repression at the source. Corporations are influencing the state to pass more repressive legislation like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and state Ag-Gag laws. Further, corporate and state repression relies heavily on division and infighting in the animal rights movement. We are urged to stop the infighting in the movement, stop being critical of one another and work together. Vegans often can be involved in a ‘fetishizing quest for purity’ and can be hard on one another. We need to stop this and realize that animal rights vegans work for the movement in many different ways and that these are all important.  

This great panel was followed by a debate on tactics, called “Paths to Animal Liberation” with Jenny Brown, Nick Cooney, Karen Davis, Norm Phelps, and Peter Young. This debate was really interesting. Nick Cooney (of Farm Sanctuary) and Karen Davis (of United Poultry Concerns) presented different sides of the welfare reforms debate, thinking through the question of whether incremental welfare reforms help or hinder the movement. Norm Phelps (author of many books, including The Longest Struggle) and Peter Young (of the Animal Liberation Frontline) debated the role of direct action. Phelps argued that much of direct action was violent and that violence cannot be justified. We must fight this war for animals with compassion. 

Peter Young began with a story about liberating three chickens from a slaughterhouse in south Seattle. It took less than an hour for him to enter the building and rescue the three birds who had been overlooked by slaughterhouse workers. He said something that really resonated with me: “It was a small action, but it wasn’t small for those birds.” This, I think, is at the heart of direct action—making small actions that often might not have an effect on the larger system, but that are everything to the animals whose lives they affect.  

On Saturday, I went to the Newcomer Orientation II before I headed into DC. On Sunday, I went to Engaging Young People; Applying Direct Action; Lunch with Movement Publishers; and Commonality of Oppression. I’ll post a continuation of the recap in a second installment and tell you about some of the great work various groups are doing. But for now, a list of a few book recommendations I received throughout the week…

New on my to read list:
Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change by Nick Cooney

Animal Impact: Secrets Proven to Achieve Results and Move the World by Caryn Ginsberg

Aftershock by pattrice jones

Speaking up for Animals by Lisa Kemmerer

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky

Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life by Zoe Weil

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