May 24, 2007

Tackling Taking Action for Animals

Posted in abolition, Francione, rant, TAFA, vegan at 4:36 pm by nevavegan

Warning: Rant ahead, mind the curves

Something has been brewing in my mind for a while, and the main side effect of that is to make me horribly depressed… Sigh. Mainly this seemed to be something beyond even my ability to blog. That something is HSUS’s conference taking place in July in Washington, DC, called “Taking Action for Animals.”

As opposed to the “other conference,” Farm’s Animal Rights 2007, taking place this summer on the West Coast, in L.A., “Taking Action for Animals” tosses the concept of rights out the window, by eliminating it from the title. The new title implies participants should be active, and it’s somehow about animals, but the rest is left to our imagination.

HSUS decided to co-opt the annual conferences and start their own, claiming at the time the regular conference was giving a platform to speakers who promoted violence and illegal activity. Rather than continuing to participate in that conference, and therefore give a voice to their ideal of legal, non-violent activity, they pulled up stakes and started their own conference.

Unfortunately another side effect of shutting out those supposedly “violent” voices, was also shutting out voices of anyone who had a new or creative vision, anyone who had an issue with the status quo. HSUS had their own platform now and they could deny admission to anyone they chose. Make no mistake, there are many people in the movement who aren’t invited to TAFA, even though they have never promoted any kind of illegal activity. There are others who will be speaking there, who did promote illegal activity in the past, but are now employed by HSUS and who can be counted on to speak only on the HSUS agenda.

I’m not necessarily opposed to people creating their own conferences for their own specialized agendas, after all, everyone has a right. So the first few years of Taking Action for Animals I merely waited to see how it would go, asked my friends who attended for their opinions, and withheld judgment.

What brings this issue up for me now is that Whole Foods is co-sponsoring the conference this year, and a representative of Whole Foods will be speaking there. I don’t know if Whole Foods has any say in who speaks or what topics will be covered. I’d like to know that, but unfortunately I don’t know because HSUS won’t answer my questions in that regard.

Erica Meier of Compassion Over Killing replied that essentially it’s a great conference, COK is co-sponsoring as well, and she hopes to see me there. That unfortunately didn’t answer my fundamental questions about the role of Whole Foods in shaping conference content.

Another group that I won’t name, which is also speaking at the conference indicated to me that they were not given any restrictions on content based on Whole Foods participation. Which is great, but the questions I have are still ones which really only can be answered by conference organizers, that is HSUS, not by groups that naturally want to attend and promote their ideas.

Why would it bother me that Whole Foods is participating in the conference? Well that really depends on the unanswered questions. Is Whole Foods going to be promoting the “humane meat” they reap insane profits from? Will they be touting organic cow’s milk, and “artisan cheeses?” Or are they simply going to be handing out vegan food samples and recipes? Because things like that actually matter. Because I feel veganism is the fundamental key to helping animals, and I honestly cannot name another person I know in the movement who doesn’t agree with that.

My husband Sean Day, who has spoken at numerous Animal Rights conferences asked TAFA if he could also speak there, to speak about the dangers of promoting humane meat and to emphasize that in his opinion, the movement toward veganism must be our primary focus. He also intended to criticize Whole Foods “compassion certified meat.” He was told that unfortunately all speakers were already set and it was too late for him to participate. After he was told this, more speakers were added to the conference, and one of those new speakers confirmed to me that he had been asked to speak after Sean had already been told there were no more openings for speakers. It doesn’t surprise me. I knew that HSUS wouldn’t let him speak, because to go in and say that veganism is within reach of everyone, and that it is fundamental to our cause is simply too threatening to HSUS. I just wish they could have been honest and come right out and said they didn’t want him there instead of telling an obvious and easily disproved lie.

So Sean will not be speaking at Taking Action for Animals. Pattrice Jones, whose voice I’ve found so inspirational, will not be speaking at Taking Action for Animals. Gary Francione, who inspires some of us and alternately enrages others, but never fails to engage or get people talking, will not be speaking at Taking Action for Animals. Alex Herschaft of FARM won’t be speaking. Lee Hall, who actually wrote an entire book decrying illegal and/or violent/threatening tactics in animal rights, will not be speaking at the conference which claims it was specifically formed to fight those tendencies.

I don’t necessarily agree with every speaker listed above, but I absolutely feel that the way we form thoughtful and considered views is by hearing many opinions and weighing them against our own ethics and experience. In this manner we come to posses the tools (not final answers, not absolute truths) but the tools, intellectual and persuasive, to help us go back out into that wild world and spread veganism. I absolutely believe I got involved in veganism and animal rights, despite my farming roots and hunting family, because I had the ability to step back from things and ask tough questions and listen to all viewpoints. I was able to hear views contrary to my own and not dismiss them out of hand. Back in the beginning I listened to the anti-animal camp as well, you know. I weighed what I heard against my own heart, read a lot of voices, and found the solutions that worked for me, which made sense here and now. I believe our movement will lose something so vital when we shut out the voices of the thinkers and theorists, just because they might go outside the HSUS box.

And lest HSUS claims that the exclusion of these speakers is to avoid controversy, may I point to one of their keynote speakers last year: Rory Freedman, co-author of the book Skinny Bitch. Now, I’m not going to make this long entry longer by doing a book review of Skinny Bitch, but lets just say it’s certainly not uncontroversial. I participate in the Vegan People forum and I can’t tell you how many times eating disordered young women have joined the forum saying that Skinny Bitch has inspired them to use veganism to lose even more weight. Some feminists I know lament the degrading language the book uses to cajole women into veganism out of shame over their bodies. I believe the authors defend the book saying the foul and degrading language is a “joke” and that the severely calorie restricted diets presented there are meant to help the obese lose weight. Personal mileage may vary, but I’m firmly in the camp that believes veganism should be a celebration of life, health for ourselves and all creatures, and a bastion of safety, not another way to kill or sicken young women in the pursuit of an unrealistic body ideal.

So, um, calling women names if they happen to get chubby, that’s fine, no problem there. Letting Gary Francione say that vegans should not advocate minor animal agriculture reform, but should spend their time promoting veganism, hey, watch out, that’s crazy talk!