I will be making my presentation ‘Animal Liberation: Moral Crusade or Political Movement?’ The conference celebrates the 40th anniversary publication of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer and explores the issues it raises.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Animal Rights Explained
What does animal rights mean? Is it the same as animal welfare? How different are moral rights and legal rights? Which organisations should I support? Is being a vegan compulsory? Bring your questions, along with your tips on how to be a more effective campaigner, to this interactive workshop.
We want nothing less than a complete reform of the Parliamentary system. It’s about not just removing the unfairness and injustice that the present Government represents, but removing the corrupt system that spawned it and all recent Governments. And it’s about radically changing the composition of Parliament – moving it forward, consigning the failed two-party system to history.
Brian and Save Me’s CEO, Anne Brummer, kindly invited me to write the following article for publication on in the Experts section of the Common Decency website.
Common Decency and Animal Welfare
The common decency is to treat others as you would want them to treat you.
Perhaps this is easier said than done.
Certainly, it’s easier with those with whom we love. Our family and friends are special to us precisely because of our intense relationship with them. A bond that is grounded in love and respect, intimacy and loyalty. We know they will be there for us when we need them to be. As we would be there for them should they need us.
But what about those who are outside of our immediate circle? Other people whom we may know but not well or, if we do, we don’t like. Do we treat them as you would want them to treat you?
Then, there are strangers. People we’ve never met. We know nothing about them. Other than from what we see from looking at them. And then we may not always be correct in our assumptions. People often aren’t what they appear to be. Or how we think they should behave.
I’d like to think that if I saw someone — anyone — who needed help I would do my best to assist them. But I don’t always give change to the homeless people who I walk past. I don’t always think to wait for others when I board a train. I’m distracted. My mind is elsewhere. I’m tired. It’s been a long day. And I want to get home. I think of myself. Nonetheless, despite my failings in living up to the standard I hold in others, I would like to believe that if I ever needed help someone would come to my assistance.
Surely one of the definitions of a civilised society is that people generally help each other. We respect each other even if we don’t know or like them. We may not be perfect but we’re making progress. Within just a few generations, our feelings have changed toward others who we thought were not like us. But there’s still much to do. Clearly, prejudices persist. We don’t always treat others as we would expect them to treat us. Our society has yet to rid itself of racism and all the other prejudices that may appear to make us different. But on further study our differences reveal how we are all remarkably the same. ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?’ asked Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice.’
A kneeling African in chains in a logo designed by Josiah Wedgwood in the 1780s asked, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’ Whereas Black Lives Matter declares a contemporary US-based international movement with the same name. Is this not part of a continuum of struggle for recognition and rights, and compassion and respectful treatment, which speaks not only for those subjugated but also for everyone?
Those campaigning throughout the world for animals and their welfare, protection and rights push the boundaries of common decency further and beyond our own species. They demand nonhuman animals receive the same respectful treatment that we hold (or should hold) for the members of our own species. Animal advocates don’t demand that animals should have the right to vote. But animals are like us. They bleed when they are cut.
It’s time for the golden rule of respectful treatment to be extended to include all species. This is why Common Decency is committed to animal welfare. We see our treatment of animals not only as an important political issue — animals deserve far tougher laws than they have — but also as a reflection of ourselves and our own society.
The 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.
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!
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.’
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!
This has been an extremely busy year for me and my work for animal rights as an advocate for animals who is an author and independent scholar.
The year’s highlight was the publication of Growl by Lantern Books. Part memoir and part manifesto, Growl is the book I wish I could’ve read when I first became a vegetarian, animal rights activist in 1974.
Many of my activities this year were centred around Growl and its publication and promotion, including a three-week, six-city trip to the USA.
To learn more about my year in animal rights please visit this special page. I also reveal my plans for 2015.
It’s important for me to recognise here the many friends and colleagues as well as a significant number of like-minded organisations who I have had the honour to work with throughout 2014 toward our shared mission of ending animal exploitation. In particular, I wish to thank the kind contributors to my Indiegogo campaign whose generosity helped to make possible my animal rights work this year. Thank you!
To keep up to date with me and work for animal rights, please follow me on my social media: