Foundations of a Movement: An Animal Rights Conference

Foundations of a Movement: An Animal Rights Conference

We are pleased to share a brief synopsis of Foundations of a Movement: An Animal Rights Conference which took place in New York City this past weekend. Please visit often; there’s more to come, both here on our site, and in our quarterly magazine, ActionLine.

Jay Tutchton, Pricilla Feral, and Peter Galvin started the conference by discussing the connection between zoos and hunting, focusing on the connection between zoos and canned hunts at Texas hunting ranches.

Jay Tutchton is a lawyer who decided to forgo a career in the world of corporate profit, and who, with a number of energetic law students, is now advocating on behalf of the environment and all those who call it home. Jay facilitates the Environmental Law Clinic at Denver University.

Peter, Priscilla, and Jay discussed the Arctic Refuge and its importance as the key denning site for polar bears, who are also in severe danger from the effects of climate change. Peter Galvin also discussed an initiative to press the government to halt global warming as part of its legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act. The pioneering spirit of cattle ranchers, of course, is a popular image that thwarts animal rights. Panelists noted that the cowboy mystique can and must be addressed in our legal work on the sujects of horse roundups and the protection of habitat for the entire biocommunity. The panel and conference attendees also dicussed the importance of the Endangered Species Act in actual terms of rights.

Peter Galvin is research director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Peter’s car runs on biofuel and an interesting discussion came up between Peter and Loren Lockman about the best vegetable-based fuels. Loren, who spoke of Treading Lightly on the Earth and How Our Decisions Impact Other Animals, is founder and director of the Tanglewood Wellness Center. Loren drives a recycled and extremely handsome two-door Mercedes with non-leather interior, powered on vegetable oil recycled from restaurants.

Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, spoke as an invited guest and speaker with the perspective of an admirable career in both investigative journalism and a dedication to civil justice and overcoming the construction of hate. In the talk Animal Rights and Environmentalism: Crossing the Line Between the Revolutionary and the Reactionary, Mark described trends in animal and environmental activism that parallel the growth of right-wing extremism. Mark spoke of the debilitating effect of specific decisions and rhetoric in drawing people into a movement who appear to the outer world to have little respect for humanity, nonhuman animals, or the environment. Mark also recounted how Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center have recently intervened in the Sierra Club elections to stop “the greening of hate.”

Vicky Crosetti of the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley shared a panel with Christine Dorchak. Vicky talked about the no-kill shelter movement and the problem of overflow into other shelters. Christine Dorchak spoke of the influence of Mary Daly and the role of love in fundamental change. Christine is an attorney whose group GREY2K USA has successfully helped to shut down a number of dog racing tracks and is on a mission to end the peculiar custom of dog racing in North America. Said Christine, “I really appreciated the intelligent and thoughtful approach of each presentation and the respect we all showed for differing thoughts and ideas about our movement. So refreshing!”

Speaking about some of the influences with which we all must grapple, columnist and book author Mickey Z, in Welcome to Spin World: Corporate Propaganda for Vegans, wryly observed:

Only in Spin World, can you have an establishment named Popeye’s Fried Chicken, where the world’s most celebrated spinach eater is associated with the charred flesh of tortured and cancerous birds pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and mass-marketed to the underprivileged.

Only in Spin World does every fridge come with a meat drawer, a butter shelf, and an egg rack. Do you realize there are no vegetarian refrigerators.

Ecofeminist author Brian Luke, together with Daniel Hammer, discussed the importance of appreciating just letting deer passing through our lives and our gardens. Brian Luke’s photographic slide show focused on physical posture, gestures, and gender in scenes from the infamous Hegins pigeon shoot. The arrival and posture of protesters, and KKK, and the police were all examined. The conference participants talked about the idea of masculinity and how people react to vegans or animal rights activists in terms of gender expectations.

Brian also discussed the connection between love and dominance in our culture during a panel about Catharine MacKinnon’s essay Of Mice and Men: A Feminist Fragment on Animal Rights.

What’s the bottom line of our relationship with other animals? “The place to look for this bottom line,” writes Professor MacKinnon, “is the farm, the stockyard, the slaughterhouse.” Nonhuman animals, by the billions, are not only enslaved in our markets, but completely consumed in them. Most people barely notice it; the disrespect has become so ingrained that we do not even see it as domination. A radical change in perspective will enable us to make our stand where such deeply-rooted exploitation could be successfully challenged. It would mean a journey into the psychology that leads to oppression and destruction. As much as any 48 hours can be, our conference was such a journey.

Now, how do we get the word out? Science journalist A.R. Hogan presented a workshop on effective methods of writing commentaries and letters to editors. Richard Twine discussed outreach through web design, illustrating the activism and education inspired by the Ecofeminist Web Ring and web-based journals.

Richard also demonstrated, via a PowerPoint presentation, the value of “upstream dialogue” with scientists who work in the area of biotechnology. Areas discussed were the genetic modification of animals used by agribusiness, the use of biotechnology in medicine, and the increasing overlap between the two. And Richard discussed the difference between British and North American law with regard to patents of processes involving nonhuman animals and on the animals themselves. Finally, Richard explained the connection between agribusiness and the cloning of pets.

Lee Hall, of Friends of Animals, discussed how activists “perform” direct action. Bill Dollinger described Lee’s talk as an interrogation of the process by which activists may divide Us (activists) from Them (public), and the effort to build up the activist’s sense of self-esteem by seeing animal users as “what I am not.” Lee’s talk, said Bill, raised questions about how best to bring new allies into the animal rights movement, about the self-esteem of the movement’s representatives, and about the consequences of these factors for the real animals who cannot hold us accountable for the ways in which we represent their interests.

New York City’s Pure Food and Wine Restaurant and Take-Away presented a non-cooking demonstration. Living foods (fruits and vegetables not cooked over 118 degrees F) are high in life-affirming nutrients and in aesthetic quality, and conference participants watched as chef Matthew Kenney prepared spicy Thai collard wraps with tamarind chili sauce, mango, Napa cabbage, ginger and cashews, and then a delicious chocolate and coconut pudding, before enjoying the results, which were served in style by Joan Cameron and Edita Birnkrant.

Priscilla Feral and Lee Hall signed the Friends of Animals’ all-vegan cookbook Dining With Friends (available through our site). Belveley Russell, Susan Russell, Donna Labati, Jerry Atkins, and Laurel Lundstrom, as well as Friends of Animals VP Dianne Forthman, were on hand to hear suggestions, help with logistics, and recommend the best of New York’s vegetarian dining spots. Everyone at Friends of Animals enjoyed the break and the opportunity to hear the feedback and ideas of activists, one of whom told Lee of a desire to “start changing my life, beginning today.” A big congratulations to anyone else who went vegan this past weekend!

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