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Party Political Conference at Vegfest UK Brighton

March 30th, 2015 No comments

The Brighton Vegfest UK held a special Party Political Conference where politicians from the UK’s major political parties presented manifestos on health, environment and food sustainability, and animal welfare. This special conference was held because of the general election to be held on Thursday, May 7. 

Vegfest UK is to be congratulated for not only hosting the conference but also for its success. The speakers included Caroline Allen (Green), Chris Bowers (LibDems) Paul Chandler (LibDems), Vanessa Hudson (Animal Welfare Party), Councillor Mary Mears (Conservative), Kerry McCarthy MP (Labour), Purna Sen (Labour), Henry Smith MP (Conservative), and Keith Taylor MEP (Green). 

These are the introductory remarks that I made at the beginning of the final session of the conference. The focus of which was animal welfare. For more on my views on making animal protection a mainstream political issue, please read my book, Growl, and visit the Animal Rights Challenge pages on this website.

By the way, Vegfest UK announced that 12,000 visitors attended the event over the weekend of March 28-29.

Opening Remarks

Henry Smith speaking with Caroline Allen listening.

Henry Smith speaking with Caroline Allen listening.

Some basic assumptions first based upon 40 years of experience as a full time vegan animal rights campaigner.

Not everyone is going to go vegetarian or vegan.

Not everyone is going to embrace animal rights.

The animal rights movement isn’t going to achieve moral and legal rights for animals.

Which begs the questions: What is the role of the animal rights movement? What is our single greatest challenge?

Our role is to act as a catalyst on society to educate and inspire individual action.

Vanessa Hudson

Vanessa Hudson

Our single greatest challenge is to make animal rights a mainstream political issue.

Because if not everyone is going care as we do, we need laws — progressive and enforced — to protect animals with moral and legal rights.

To achieve this we need to embed the values of animal rights into the ideology of the mainstream political parties.

And this is why this debate is very important.

As someone who was an organiser in the first Putting Animals into Politics campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s, my assessment of our track record in making animal rights a mainstream political issue is mixed.

Kerry McCarthy, Purna Sen and Kim Stallwood.

Kerry McCarthy, Purna Sen and Kim Stallwood.

Mixed in the sense that there is progress to report. A general shift in the direction toward awareness of animal issues and interest in vegan, cruelty-free living. Vegfest is testimony to the progress. But a recent study in the USA showed that of US adults age 17 and over:

2% are current vegetarian/vegan
10% are former vegetarian/vegan
88% have never been vegetarian/vegan

This substantiates my concern about relying upon social justice for animals as an optional, cruelty-free lifestyle choice and, in particular, framing vegan living as a fashionable thing to do. Trends come and go. Public opinion is fickle.

Individual change is good and essential.

But institutional change as well is better and enduring but more difficult to achieve. Enduing because once a law is a law it’s difficult to change it.

From here I improvised on closing remarks underscoring the importance of the conference.

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MAC3 in India

February 17th, 2015 No comments

Minding AnimalsThe mission of Minding Animals International is to advance animal studies worldwide. Every three years we partner with a like-minded organisation or a university to co-produce an international conference for scholars, advocates, policy makers, artists, veterinarians, and others. By ‘we’ I mean me, as volunteer Executive Director, and my colleague Rod Bennison, founder and chair of the board, as well as all the other directors.

The first conference (‘MAC1’) was in Newcastle, Australia in 2009 and attracted 520 delegates from 23 countries. In 2012, MAC2 was produced in partnership with the Univeristy of Utrecht and was attended by 690 delegates from 42 countries.

MAC3 Conference logoMAC3 was held in January and was hosted by the Wildlife Trust of India, in collaboration with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. It attracted more than 320 delegates from 35 countries.

Discussions are already underway for MAC4 in 2018. Details will be announced later this year.

The MAC3 six-day conference program reflected the trans-disciplinary nature of animal studies. The program included special events, plenaries, workshops, and plenty of opportunities to network.

At the Pre-Conference Interfaith Programme and Multi-Faith Prayer Service at Baha’i House of Worship, Lotus Temple, representatives from the Hindu, Christian, Islam, Jain, and Baha’i faiths spoke about their respect for animals. It ended with me making some closing remarks. The irony!

Maneka Gandhi addressing MAC3.

Maneka Gandhi addressing MAC3.

Keynote presentations were made by Government of India Ministers Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development and Shri Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change. I recall when we were at MAC2 in Utrecht, Vivek Menon, WTI’s Founder and CEO, said he wanted to host MAC3 because the will help to put animal studies on the map in India. Vivek’s dream maybe coming true as there was a discussion among the government minister’s of the possibility of federal government funding for an animal studies centre on the JNU campus. Clearly, this major development needs to be carefully monitored to ensure its fruition.

The program was full and diverse thereby reflecting the richness of animal studies. For example, Lori Gruen gave the first Marti Kheel Memorial Lecture. Other speakers included Will Kymlicka, co-author, Zoopolis; Jill Robinson, Animals Asia; Lisa Kemmerer, author, Animals and World Religions; and Clive Phillips, author, The Animal Trade. A particular focus of the conference was on differing aspects of animals in India. For example, Raman Sukumar spoke about ‘Gajatame and Ganesha: the sacred elephant of Asia’ and Norma Alvares and Varda Mehrotra, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations, led a seminar on ‘Building a Movement for Animal Protection: The Experience from India.’ I also presented my paper about Topsy, the ‘elephant we must never forget.’

The Young Scholars Panel at MAC3 book-ended between Rod Bennison and myself from left to right: Upasana Ganguly, Jessica Ison, Kelsi Nagy, Yuan-Chih Lung, and Adam See.

The Young Scholars Panel at MAC3 book-ended between Rod Bennison and myself from left to right: Upasana Ganguly, Jessica Ison, Kelsi Nagy, Yuan-Chih Lung, and Adam See.

One of MAC3’s unexpected successes was an impromptu presentation I had to organise as one of our plenary speakers, Mahesh Rangarajan, was unable to join us at the last minute. Following on from the previous day’s panel which I chaired that was organised by Ken Shapiro, my fellow co-founder of the Animals and Society Institute, which considered the state and future of animal studies and included Lori Gruen, Colin Salter, Joe Lancia, Donald Broom, and Sandra Swart, I commissioned a panel of young animal studies scholars. This panel consisted of Upasana Ganguly, Jessica Ison, Yuan-Chic Lung, Kelsi Nagy, and Adam See. Each one rose to the challenge with 24 hours notice to speak about how they understood animal studies and saw the challenges they face in the field. Rod and I feel strongly that at MAC4 we would like to invite these scholars back as a panel to assess how things have progressed (or not!).

MAC3 was very successful. Among the many highlights was hearing speak for the first time the legendary Maneka Gandhi, who berated Indian governments for not doing enough for animals. It was encouraging to be told by delegates how much they valued the conference. Many spoke about making friends with others coming from different countries who share like-minded interests. I recall one delegate expressing delight at discovering a colleague from their university who was also interested in animal studies. This anecdote truly represents for me the strength and mission of Minding Animals International: to advance animal studies globally.

MAC3 also gave me my first opportunity to visit India—a country I had always wanted to visit. But this was no time for sight-seeing, which had to wait to afterwards. The post-conference tour will be the focus of another post here.

Here are links to what others said about MAC3:

Dr. Siobhan O’Sullivan is Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

My animal studies year got off to the perfect start when I attending Minding Animals 3. Having attended the first conference (which was also the third Australasian Animal Studies Association conference in Newcastle, Australia) and then the second in Utrecht, it was my great pleasure to be at the third.

Dr Fiona Probyn-Rapsey is a member of the Human Animal Research Network (HARN) at the Sydney Environment Institute and a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney.

The conference covered six full days, each with 6 concurrent sessions, keynotes and invited talks. The papers were mostly social science/humanities oriented and the ones that were from the more science-y side were clearly committed to entering into interdisciplinary dialogue. To me, that represents a real maturing of the field – we’re getting more accustomed to having our work heard and discussed by those outside of our disciplinary homes.

Please email with any others to share!

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My Travels in the USA

November 12th, 2014 No comments
Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth edited by Carol Adams and Lori Gruen (Bloomsbury)

Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth edited by Carol Adams and Lori Gruen (Bloomsbury)

Now that I’m at the end of the second week of my three week trip to the USA, it’s time for a further update on my activities. For example, in New York City I:

  • Spoke about animal rights to some 60 students at Pace University in two Ethics in the Work Place classes and one Animal Law class with Professors Len Mitchell and David Cassuto respectively
  • Met with and called ASI supporters and colleagues from the animal rights movement
  • Got together again with Mariann Sullivan and met for the first time Jasmin Singer from Our Hen House, who took me to a fundraising event in support of Mercy for Animals called Art of Compassion
  • Recorded a radio interview with Caryn Hartglass for her radio show, Real Radio
  • Filmed an interview with Nancy Kogel of Reaching Out for Animal Rights for a documentary she is making
  • Met with attorneys David Wolfson and Sarah Griffin from Milbank about Minding Animals International
  • Spoke to a packed room of some 100 people at Bluestockings radical bookstore to launch the new anthology, Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth edited by Carol Adams and Lori Gruen (Bloomsbury) along with Carol and fellow contributors pattrice jones and Sunny Taylor

I left New York City Friday afternoon for Baltimore for the second stage of my six-city, three week itinerary. My next update will focus on my activities in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington DC during this week. On Saturday, I leave Baltimore for the final stage in my itinerary in Portland, ME and Boston, which I will also share with you later.

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Watch My Growl Presentation

September 15th, 2014 No comments

The presentation that I made at the recent International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg is now available to watch. It was called ‘Animal Witness’ at the conference but is given the name ‘Why Animals and Their Well-Being Matter to Us’ on YouTube but more importantly it reflects the essence of what I have to say in Growl.

 

To watch my presentation from the IARC 2013, please click here.

To learn where I will be presenting in the future, please visit Events on this website.

For more information about the IARC, please click here.

 

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Spying on Animal Rights

September 3rd, 2014 1 comment
A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre

A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre

There’s something fascinating about the so-called Cambridge spies: Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby. They all came from the upper middle class and met at Cambridge University in the 1930s. They went onto hold various powerful positions in society while acting as double agents for the U.K. and U.S.S.R. or worked in the Foreign Office or for the Windsors as the Surveyor of the King’s Pictures.

I’m not delusional about the severe damage the Cambridge spies caused to Britain and its security as well as the deaths of many hundreds of people that their espionage resulted in. Nonetheless, I cannot but help find appealing the heroic, romanticised view of the Cambridge spies as they’re presented in, for example, the plays of Alan Bennett (e.g., ‘An Englishman Abroad’ about Burgess and ‘A Question of Attribution’ about Blunt) and in the telly series ‘Cambridge Spies.’ Not quite the same thing but I keep promising myself to read John le Carre’s spy novels but have yet to get round to doing so.

A book I have just finished is A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre (Bloomsbury), a writer and editor on Murdoch’s The Times.

What makes this book different from the many others about Philby is that it’s about his friendships and particularly with Nicholas Elliott, who, like Philby, was a spy in MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service. What’s fascinating is how Philby was able to hide his spying for the Russians from his wives and closest of colleagues and friends who all knew him intimately. There is, of course, a lot more to say about all of this but this briefest of descriptions will have to suffice.

There’s one aspect to the Philby story that stands out above all others, which made me very angry as I read the book. Philby was protected by his class because it couldn’t be possible that ‘one of them’ could be a traitor. This privileged status ensured that for years Philby, while in our employ, spied for the Soviets unchallenged. 

Read more…

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Almost Direct Action Everywhere

August 19th, 2014 1 comment

I was hoping for more from reading The Evolution of Veganism: Is Empowered Activism the Next Stage? by Wayne Hsiung, founding organiser of Direct Action Everywhere (DAE).

His three conclusions are:

  1. The first is that we have to move beyond simply creating an environment that accepts and tolerates vegans.
  2. The second is that a confident and assertive approach — playing offense rather than defense — is key to our movement’s growth.
  3. What we need, if our movement is to grow, is more and stronger activists.

Now, of course, I could quibble with each one of these three points but it’s the absence of a much larger point that I find troubling: the exclusive reliance upon individual action to make institutional change while ignoring the democratic, political process.

Yes, which vegan wouldn’t want to have to campaign for an environment that embraces us?

Yes, haven’t vegans been playing offence since they became, er, vegan?

Yes, of course, we need more and stronger activists.

As I discuss in my book, Growl, I do not believe everyone is going to go vegan, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try; nonetheless, the reality is that not everyone will care about animals as much as we do. Moreover, not everyone will understand animal rights within a progressive agenda of social change.

This is why we need to think beyond animal rights as an optional lifestyle choice. Yes, I agree with DAE about what we do to animals is violence. Nonviolence is one of my four key values in animal rights. We need to challenge the institutions that perpetuate the violence toward animals as the social norm. Yes, their campaign targeting is Chipotle is fine, and I wish them every success in all that they do.

But there will never be enough individual vegans to challenge the thousands if not millions of enterprises like Chipotle across the planet.

Of course, we must try, and that is essentially what animal rights activism is all about: fomenting the same change in others we experienced in ourselves whereby we have a personal transformative moment when animal cruelty is no longer hidden from view, and consequently we boycott products of animal exploitation by going cruelty-free, vegan.

But individual change will only go so far. We need also institutional change.

We can no longer naively believe individual vegans and animal advocacy organisations will change the world.

We have to work within the mainstream politics to embed the values of animal rights within their culture. They are the people and the organisations who we elect to represent us, form governments, and pass laws.

In short, the single greatest challenge we face is making animal rights a mainstream political issue.

Of course, anarchists and those who have written off the political process will disagree with this premise. There’s nothing I can say or do to change their minds. We will just have to agree to disagree.

Take note, however, of how gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people organised not only as a social movement (coincidentally, as disparate as ours) and worked within political parties across the world to achieve significant lifestyle and political change as a legislative issue.

As public sentiment moved to accept those who were previously considered as outsiders, informed and sympathetic public policy makers and elected representatives fought for and won legislation protecting them, thereby bringing together public education and public policy into legislation and its enforcement. While there’s still work to be done, G/L/B/T folks presently enjoy legal protection as never before. Further, individuals who do not respect these laws are liable for prosecution.

A case in point is Britain’s Hunting Act 2004. Now, I know is far from perfect; however, it had the effect of criminalising those who previously enjoyed the protection of the law when they legally chased and killed wild animals for fun, and it reinvented in part the role of hunt saboteurs as hunt monitors to help ensure the law is enforced.

This combined strategy of public/political and individual/institutional is the message that I look for from not only DAE but also the entire social movement for animals. So far, I don’t hear it very much.

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World Day for Laboratory Animals 1984

April 23rd, 2014 No comments
In London's Trafalgar Square on World Day for Laboratory Animals in 1984.

In London’s Trafalgar Square on World Day for Laboratory Animals in 1984.

Thirty years ago in London’s Trafalgar Square, I was the lead organiser of a national demonstration to recognise World Day for Laboratory Animals, when I was Campaigns Officer at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

The protest was at that point in time the world’s largest animal rights demonstration with nine thousand people, with the greatest number ever involved–six hundred–in street theatre.

Under BUAV’s hallmark slogan of ‘Every Six Seconds an Animal Dies in a British Laboratory’, we constructed a large doorway, which was painted to represent an entrance to a vivisection laboratory. We dressed a couple of people as vivisectors, with bloodstained white coats, and stationed them by the doorway. From the plinth at the Square, we announced that for the ninety minutes of speeches and music a tape loop would play the sound of a bell chiming every six seconds. Each time the bell rang, large numbers were turned on the stage to count to six hundred while one of the vivisectors took a protester through the door, ‘killed’ them in front of the plinth, and laid them on the ground as dead animals. Eventually, the area was filled with 600 ‘dead animals’.

At the 1984 World Day for Laboratory Animals demonstration in London's Trafalgar Square, I help Sue Croshaw speak out as a disabled person against animal experimentation by holding the microphone stand.

At the 1984 World Day for Laboratory Animals demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square, I help Sue Croshaw speak out as a disabled person against animal experimentation by holding the microphone stand.

This protest was part of a coalition, the Mobilisation of Animals, which opposed the government’s proposed legislation to replace the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. The coalition consisted of Animal Aid, Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, National Anti-Vivisection Society, and BUAV. We opposed the proposed law because it wouldn’t even ban particularly egregious examples of animal experimentation—such as using animals for testing the negative effects of tobacco and alcohol, and the toxicity of cosmetics, as well as employing animals in research for military and psychological purposes. These experiments had been the focus of the 1979 and 1983 General Election Coordinating Committee for Animal Protection campaigns I helped to lead. We organised a lobby of Parliament, which was attended by seven hundred people, and a rally, emceed by myself, with sympathetic Members of Parliament of all political parties, and others.

Although the government ignored our demands on the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, I believe BUAV and its companion organisations succeeded in highlighting what needed to be done when the new legislation was enforced. For example, the U.K. government subsequently banned the testing of cosmetics on animals in 1997 and the LD50 oral toxicity test in 2001. In 2003, the European Union agreed to a membership-wide ban on cosmetics animal testing by 2013.

The Talon Conspiracy, an online archive preserving the history of protest movements for animal rights and environmentalism, offers an opportunity to read back copies of BUAV’s ‘campaigning newspaper,’ The Liberator, which I co-edited. Here’s the link to the issue which included a report on the Trafalgar Square demonstration.

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IARC 2013

September 15th, 2013 No comments
The IARC 2013 was held at the Kulturfabrik that was originally a slaughterhouse. Here, we look up at the ceiling to see the large hooks that moved the carcasses along the production line.

The IARC 2013 was held at the Kulturfabrik that was originally a slaughterhouse. Here, we look up at the ceiling to see the large hooks that moved the carcasses along the production line.

The International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg is an impressive event. It attracts animal advocates from across the world and produces an impressive program of speakers. It is also well organised and comprehensive and welcoming. Generally, the attendees are younger activists. They are thoughtful and passionate.

The conference is held at the Centre Culturel Kulturfabrik Esch which was formally a slaughterhouse and is now an arts complex with a restaurant, galleries, offices, and studios. I was not aware of this until I arrived and it was pointed out to me. So, attending the conference becomes a bizarre but creepy positive experience in that animal rights was being discussed inside an old slaughterhouse.

I was honoured with making the opening plenary presentation. I decided to present the paper I had written for the academic journal, Relations. This is because the paper, ‘Animal rights: Moral crusade or political movement?’, summarised my critique of the animal rights movement. Other presenters also addressed related issues about the movement’s ideology and strategy.

The conference organisers have opened a page in YouTube where it is possible to watch many if not all of the presentations made. These recordings are a valuable resource into the different views and perspectives made about animal rights and its ideology and strategy.

You can watch my presentation here. Please share with me your thoughts and comments on my thesis that the animal rights movement should be less like a moral crusade and more like a political movement. Thank you!

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Animals in the Public Arena

May 2nd, 2012 1 comment

In March I spoke at a conference organised by Critical Perspectives on Animals in Society at the University of Exeter. I shared the platform with Lee McConnell from Northumbria University School of Law. Here’s a video of the session, which was chaired by author Mark Gold. Click here for a copy of my paper ‘Animal Rights: Moral Crusade or Political Movement?

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In Praise of Undercover Investigations

February 14th, 2012 1 comment

In praise of undercover investigations by animal rights advocates, including the latest by Animal Equality in a pig farm in England this weekend.

One of the strongest characteristics of the animal rights movement is our relentless commitment to expose animal cruelty hidden by the animal industrial complex which profits mightily by its exploitation of animals.

If there’s money to be made, there’s cruelty to be had. As novelist and essayist Brigid Brophy wrote in her article, ‘Unlived Life – a manifesto against factory farming,’

Whenever people say ‘we mustn’t be sentimental,’ you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, ‘we must be realistic,’ they mean they are going to make money out of it.

The more the animal rights movement demonstrates itself as a credible actor witnessing and documenting what happens to animals in circuses, zoos, factory farms, research laboratories and wherever else they are used, the more the animal industrial complex is put on the defensive and held to account.

Further, the more the public, who I believe respond favourably to these exposes and see them as evidence of indefensible actions, brings pressure to bear on the animal industrial complex to change their ways. Consequently, the animal rights movement will earn increasingly support from those who we seek to influence, including persuading them to go vegan.

Over at the Grumpy Vegan I recognise 30 years ago today the British tabloid, the Daily Mirror, and its front page report on a direct action raid on an animal research laboratory. Taking the long-term view, these actions by the Animal Liberation Front and others are being replaced with undercover exposes and what are known as ‘open rescues’ by increasing numbers of organisations throughout the world.

This must be surely a most welcome trend where our witnessing and documenting are recognised for the value they provide to society in what is done in our name. Further, these actions put the animal industrial complex on the defensive. They provide evidence to demonstrate the need for society to become aware of our animal use. Consequently, the need for the implementation and enforcement of effective regulations and legislation making visible our treatment of animals and eventually replacing it with non-animal methods.

Further, if the animal rights movement can frame the case we make for animals as part of a progressive agenda of social change and not as a competition in human interests, the greater the chances in us succeeding in our mission.

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