Communicating Animal Liberation–a call for help

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Livid. Enraged. Sorrow. That’s what I felt after leaving a level IV Shambhala meditation class. Throughout the entire weekend, I found myself triggered by the director’s teachings and by comments from the other students.  I felt incredibly sensitive to comments made about animals and jokes made at their expense.  I began to feel disheartened after the teacher indicated that the Shambhala teachings are not necessarily paths of social justice.  Teachings aside, the meditation technique actually helped me to be present and see how I was being triggered.  It also helped me to see how deeply triggered I am when animals are concerned.  After class, at the reception, I was angry by the limited vegan options. I spend a lot of time in non-vegan spaces, so I have conditioned myself not to get triggered every time, but this time I couldn’t help it.  I was raw. You see, I had just received some news that left me aghast.  My father has been missing, or rather unreachable, for almost a year. He seems to have literally disappeared from the face of the Earth.  Since the bill collector can’t reach him, I’m receiving the calls and texts daily. As a consequence, I’ve been unnerved and depressed all week.  In society, we are bombarded with imagery and stories that remind us of the status quo of animal oppression, encouraging us to take heart in exploiting animals and be disaffected by their experience.  So when I encountered this again and again in the Tibetan Buddhist-influenced Shambhala Center, my heart could no longer contain it.

One thing led to another, and I let my rage pour.  And thanks to the meditation technique, I was present with it most of the time, which left me even more unnerved because I’m not used to experiencing sustained rage.  One of my acquaintances at the center tried to entice me to stay with gluten-free blueberry pie. After all, it’s gluten free! In Asheville, veganism is just another alternative healthy food lifestyle. Most of the self-identified vegans I know are driven by health consciousness.  Normally I don’t hate on this at all, but as I mentioned before, I was feeling raw and suffering from sustained rage.

“On second thought, the pie probably has some animals in it,” she said playfully.

“Of course it does,” I responded in a snide tone, “After all, I’m the only person in this building who gives a shit about animals.”

She looked taken aback and wanted to say I was wrong, but she did not say anything.  Instead, she looked away.  Meanwhile, another acquaintance who was there joined the conversation and began to sharehow he was a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian and his reasons for it and how he used to be vegan but dah-dah-dah dah-dah.  I didn’t have to say anything: the look on my face said it all.  He quickly became offended.  I became offended from the offense.  Then began the raging conflict of values about animals, eating animals, and animal rights I try so hard to avoid.  He left upset.  I left upset.  But before I left, he wanted to get me to say that eating animals is right.  He said, “You would not be here today if it weren’t for your ancestors eating animals.”

So often, I find that in these types of conversations, the other person often expects me to see where they are coming from without any effort on their part really to see where I’m coming from.  There is no mutuality, and I don’t know how to demand it without getting worked up.  My acquaintance described my rage as a stormy cloud that most people cannot endure without feeling some degree of devastation.  On the flip side of that, my joy is one of the most uplifting experiences of her life, and others have told me how I inspire them to believe they can accomplish their full potential.  I realize I have this power in interpersonal relationships.  But when it comes to animals overall, I feel incredibly powerless.  No outreach technique, no style of activism, no philosophical grounding have ameliorated this feeling.

So I ask myself, if I feel so powerless when it comes to helping animals, why do I still cling to the idea?

The answer, though not satisfying, is because I must.  I am compelled.  I long for animal liberation from the core of my being.  It is just as important to me as a race-free, class-free society, the uplifting empowerment of black women, gender equality, and queer liberation.  Why is this?  I feel like an anomaly.  I have no animal rights community.  I have been trying to nurture the possibilities and spirit of animal liberation in black and queer of color communities in which I am very active.  I try to include consideration for animals all the time, and I am even mentoring one of my sistas in transitioning to a vegan diet.  To be honest, I wouldn’t say my efforts have been in vain, but they are moving incredibly slow.  Sometimes, I question whether the potentiality is there at all or if I’m just deluding myself to hope that animal liberation can be genuinely included in communities of people aspiring for their own liberation.  When it comes to animal liberation specifically, very few of us, even within the animal rights community, seem to have this longing.  For one, what does it mean?  We don’t have a shared understanding of the term.  Perhaps it’s too big, too esoteric, too philosophical.  Yet, it’s so powerful.  I, for one, can feel some sense of what animal liberation means in my body, in my relationships with other animal bodies.  Why do I long for animal liberation?  The cynical reason is because I am tired of day after day, seeing, hearing, and sometimes even smelling the oppression of animals.  I am utterly exhausted, not enough to give up, but exhausted enough to try all of my options.  I am not content with being a witness.  Unlike the Buddhist lesson I just received today, I do not believe it is enough just to be with the suffering, the tenderness of witnessing someone’s suffering.  I believe doing something is absolutely essential.  It doesn’t have to be marching or leafleting in the streets.  It doesn’t have to be smooching politicians.  It doesn’t have to be exhausting all of my financial resources in rescuing animals from pits.  And it doesn’t have to be writing scholarly articles.  Or it could be all of those things and more.  The action may not be obvious at all.  It may be subtle, unexpected in its potency.  But it is something and it is within my capacity, my motivation, my power to do it.  Now the tricky part for me is being convinced that whatever that something I’m doing is enough.

The uplifting reason is because I want to live in a world where it is the norm, not the exception, for living beings to live in dignity and freedom.  Often, however, when I try to communicate this uplifting vision to people who are not awakened to animals beyond material resources, playthings, and cultural/religious symbols, the message is lost.  Animals are not included and it gets interpreted as a New Age, apolitical thing.  After having this failed communication tonight, I want to explore how I can be a better communicator when it comes to animals.  I want to be able to handle any kind of conversation with an awakened heart, with stability, and with sheer confidence.  So far, I get thrown off my seat every time I talk about animals or anything moderately related to animals (veganism included).  Rather than the topic be an argument of ethics and values about animals, I want to aim every conversation as an opportunity to expand and deepen the possibilities of animal liberation.

Is anyone willing to help me with this challenge?

 

Contemplating Radical Self-Care: Animal Rights as if Life Matters

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Yesterday, I gave a talk at the Neither Man Nor Beast online conference organized by Animal Liberation Ontario. Really great speakers presented and amazing, thought-provoking, sensitive stores were shared. Animal Liberation Ontario recorded the conference, so I recommend, if you can, requesting the audio and video recordings from them.

My talk was titled “Contemplating Radical Self-Care: Animal Rights as if Life Matters.” I’m motivated to share this in text because I want to go deeper and actually start a conversation about this. Since we are communicating primarily via text and since we are often confined to cyberspace when we exchange thoughts, it’s really easy to interpret differently what the author means. I have not blogged for nearly a year because I’ve been finding this medium for communication more and more difficult. As a facilitator, I rely on communication in the flesh–communication in which we are able to clarify and negotiate exactly what we mean in the moment. Much of my work (paid and unpaid) in the last two years has been in this context.

For this blog post, I don’t want to critique. Our animal rights culture is structured in such a way that critique, deconstruction, and exclusion are highly valued, reinforced principles, with little creativity or solution-oriented practices to balance them.  Therefore, it is my challenge for this post and for future posts to attempt communication about animal rights, about animals’ lives, and about the animal rights community that does not rely on deconstruction and exclusion as the major premise of conversation. I want to converse about possibilities, about practices in creating and supporting a life-affirming, diverse animal rights culture. This will definitely be over a series of posts, ranging in scope, issue, and topic, but for this one, I set the preliminary stage. Continue reading

Register for the Sistah Vegan Conference: “Embodied and Critical Perspectives on Veganism by Black Women”

Anastasia:

Check out the first annual Sistah Vegan Conference. I will be presenting on white supremacy and patriarchy concerning the struggle for animal rights, particularly how forces of racism and sexism directly harm animals. Dr. Breeze Harper is still looking for submissions so please visit Sistah Vegan Project for more information.

Originally posted on The Sistah Vegan Project:

(Tentative Presentation and Discussion Line-Up)

Please note that anyone can register as an audience member to learn about the critical and embodied perspectives of women of color vegans. One need not identify as a woman of color

Click on Book to purchase a signed copy

1st Annual Sistah Vegan Conference

“Embodied and Critical Perspectives on Veganism by Black Women and Allies”

September 14, 2013

Location: Web Conference Using Anymeeting.com. This means the location is on the Internet, accessible by computer or telephone. 

Time: 10:00am-6:00pm PST (USA)

Early Bird Registration Fee: $35.00 until August 15, 2013. After August 15, it will be $45.00

Click here to register

——————— 

Introduction: How Veganism is a Critical Entry Point to Discuss Social, Animal, and Environmental Justice Issues for Black Women and Allies.
Speaker: TBD
Length: 10 minutes

In this introduction to kick off the conference, the speaker will introduce how the concept of veganism can shed light on critical issues…

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Recalling the Animal Rights Conference 2013

The Animal Rights Conference 2013.  Like last year, it took me a week to commit my thoughts to print.  While the conference overall was not as lively and tense as last year’s (and many of the people involved in that tension last year were not present this year), the conference still brought with it the burden of racism, marginalization, misogyny/sexism, and homophobia.  This recollection will try to capture my full experience and impressions of the conference, not just the shit that is frustrating and tiring to deal with. Continue reading

Revaluing Community

A few of us began to ask the questions “What does community look like when we’re all equal and respected members working together in self-reliance and dignity?  How can we build communities from the foundations of what exists now to be inherently whole and just?” We looked to public housing as a beginning. The big thing that motivates everyone is access to healthy food and food security.  The efforts around local food production here have been two-fold. From electing a food policy council member to the city council to launching an edible landscape movement, the city is underway to creating a (not so) new culture around food production. Even the public housing communities are part of this movement, though they don’t have nearly the same access to resources or training to sustain their gardens. The white leaders learn this and are initially excited to do something about it, but when they receive funding through their respective nonprofits to address the marginalization, something manages to go not quite as planned and the people are left figuring out what to do on their own save a few independent white allies, meanwhile they continue to experience sabotage and non-cooperation from the Housing Authority for their efforts.

But all in all, everyone is excited about local foods. And they are all pushing in the same direction–for farms to depend just as much on animals as they always have. In this urban local foods culture, chickens and rabbits and goats are the popular ones and a breeding industry has erected here in response to that demand. (One of the public housing communities hasn’t been able to acquire any animals yet because they don’t have the access or the resources.) When it comes to community-building, self-determination, and wholeness, once again, animals aren’t included in that picture except as objects to exploit, and people of color are barely included, but trying as always to be equal in participation with white communities who seem to have the resources, the space, and are determining the direction of the vision and the vision itself. Continue reading

When a social movement doesn’t want to be organized

I have to get this off my chest.

I never thought I would say those words. How can a social movement trying to bring about change actually not want to be organized? Perhaps it’s my fault for using the term “social movement” so freely.  I just assume that everyone is collective-oriented and about the movement as I am.  So I’m baffled when I meet so-called activists who don’t want to cooperate, and I’m even more disturbed when they are the majority. Continue reading

Crying a River for Animal Life

I haven’t been on facebook or any social media for ages. I signed on for the first time in months and perused one of my friends’ walls and saw Mali the Elephant holding her tail.  The tag reads “She’s so lonely. She holds her own tail…”

I didn’t just feel like crying–I cried. I couldn’t help it. I can relate to being lonely. I can feel that deep sadness when all you have is yourself and that’s all you can rely upon because you have no support from the environment in which you live. I so get that, and it pains me. Regardless of whether or not this particular image is propaganda, it speaks the truth, and it touches me bone deep.

Free Mali the Elephant

Often, I feel so helpless in the face of this real suffering. So many of us doing this work feel helpless. I fool my way out of it when I put on my theorist, philosopher, systems thinker hat–which for any of you who follow my blog know that I have a great affinity for philosophical thinking. Continue reading

Recalling the Animal Rights Conference 2012

So much to say about the conference, so many words.  This year’s conference was my first attendance, and it exceeded and confirmed expectations all at once.  The conference contained for me some insight, some inspiration, some passion, some racism.  It took me a full week to recap my experience into words I could share on this blog.  Many others I have since befriended have written on the conference as well.  See Katie’s AR Conference recap for a different perspective.

Voices of the Movement

Not surprising, the dominant voices at the conference came from the large farm animal advocacy organizations.  Probably because the organizers FARM are among these organizations. Probably because major voices in the AR movement have prioritized farm animal advocacy above all others since they are the most regularly and extensively exploited and killed land animals in the US.  Nevertheless, I found Continue reading

Farmed Animal Sanctuary Meets Social Enterprise

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For most folks trying to run a farmed animal sanctuary, they soon learn it is a money sink.  Not everyone is as fortunate, visionary, or aggressive in their fundraising as the founders of Farm Sanctuary.  The founders of Caboodle Ranch and Angel’s Gate Hospice may know that all too well.  It’s expensive to run a rehabilitation center and sanctuary for animals.  Majority of Americans don’t find it to be of value.  Grants aren’t available specifically for sanctuaries.  And earned income from tours and bed and breakfast don’t generate much.  The only sanctuaries that survive and become effective, amazing organizations are those that have either a strong giving program, adopt social enterprise, or have a combination of the two.

But do any farmed animal sanctuaries exist that are social enterprises?

Continue reading

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