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August 2005
Editorial: R-E-S-P-E-C-T
By Catherine Clyne

 

Having just attended two major animal rights conferences, back to back, AR2005 in Los Angeles then Taking Action for Animals in Washington, DC, I am glad to report that I learned some, met a lot of wonderful people, reconnected with great folks, and walked away feeling the animal rights movement is not in need of triage—just yet.

After attending both conferences, I was struck by two very simple ways to create change.

First, at an AR2005 rap session entitled, “What Rights? Which Animals?” facilitated by Dr. Theo Capaldo and Barbara Stagno of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), Barbara observed that in order to make a real connection to animals, people need help making the necessary leap from love to respect. For example, Barbara noted that many men love their wives, but beat them and don’t understand or acknowledge they have the inherent right not to be abused. She added the example of parents who love their children yet abuse them.

I have been stewing over this idea for a few weeks and think I am now more inclined to utilize the word respect rather than compassion when it comes to animals. At bottom, it doesn’t really concern me if meat-eaters or vegans “love” animals. What matters is that we respect them and acknowledge their inherent right to live free of molestation by humans. That’s a pretty obvious concept. Love is not enough.

Secondly, at Taking Action for Animals, Michelle Thew, CEO of the Animal Protection Institute, a Brit and former head of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, gave an analysis of how the UK animal rights movement had achieved change for animals. Most of her ideas will make you think Duh! But since American activists have so far failed to get it, I offer Michelle’s most relevant points:

Movement coordination and issue definition
• Developing detailed expertise
• Agreeing on areas of activity
• Sharing resources and ideas

Imagine that! Animal groups and activists actually working together, coordinating strategically, honing in to define key target issues, agreeing on specific campaigns and working together toward specific goals. Making sure activists have done all their homework and becoming authorities in their area of expertise—really knowing what they’re talking about and not just regurgitating a bunch of talking points.

Thew had criticism of the UK movement as well. Although many American activists think otherwise, Michelle stressed that the UK is not a more enlightened place to be for animals. Maybe it’s just one with a slightly better approach.

Drawing on her experiences, Thew has a recipe for animal activists: “Working together globally—what next for the movement?” she asks. Her answer:
• International coordination on key issues
• Communication and information exchange
• Sharing success and opportunities
• Standing together

As many of us know, this “do unto others” approach is not quite as easy as it seems. Animal activists have a detrimental habit of cannibalizing each other. They claim to “love” animals, yet, habitually put their egos before everyone else, most importantly, those they are attempting to protect. Rather than working together to achieve certain goals, animal activists are notoriously bad team players, prone to bickering over purity litmus tests and full control over agendas. The animals have enough adversaries—they don’t need us to be so self-involved that we can’t get our act together enough and work together for them.

That said, a representative from the UK-based Compassion in World Farming helped me find a more positive perspective. “There’s so much energy here,” she enthused. She was excited to see all the different and creative things American activists are doing. Maybe we’re not quite as together as our fellow activists across the puddle, but this is a much larger country. By sheer numbers, more animals are suffering here, there are more meat-eaters we have to get through to, but there are more of us, too. There is incredible energy and creativity here. And the bi-coastal gatherings of activists were a testament to this.

So, people, we have our work cut out for us. Here are two ways of looking at things that can help us become bigger than ourselves and work together successfully for change. Respect each other; help people learn to respect animals; and try very hard to work together.

It may be difficult to recognize from within our own microcosm but bears remembering: the animals don’t necessarily need us to “love” them. They need us to respect them enough to put our egos aside, get unified, and get serious and smarter about the ways we work to bring about change. They are counting on us.

Many thanks to Michelle Thew for providing the bullet points from her Taking Action for Animals presentation.

 


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