for a Hero…
The Satya Interview with Louie Gedo
Louie Gedo. Photo by Kevin
Throughout the years, Satya’s pages have been filled with doers.
People who see the injustices of the world and have decided that their
voice—and actions—must be a catalyst for something better.
In the animal rights world, Satya has spent 13 years covering these doers,
from high profile animal icons like Ingrid Newkirk of PETA, to dedicated
activists whose names have not captured the spotlight, but who have tirelessly
dedicated their energy to creating a more compassionate world.
Chances are, you’ve probably never heard of one such doer, one such unsung
hero—New York City’s Louie Gedo. A long-time animal activist, Louie
has been involved with everything from feral cat rescue to animal rights artwork
to street outreach. Working with Eddie Lama of The Witness documentary and FaunaVision,
Louie was one of the pioneers showing undercover video footage on the streets
of NYC, bringing the hidden plight of food and fur animals directly to the people.
He continues this video activism today in one of the crossroads of the universe,
NYC’s bustling Grand Central Terminal. Each week, Louie begins his trek
miles away in Queens, where he pushes, via handcart, a television monitor, DVD
player, car battery (to power it all), literature, display table and assorted
other props to the subway. From there he carries it all up to the elevated platform,
rides an hour to Grand Central, conducts his outreach for six hours, then turns
around and brings it all home. How’s that for dedication?
Once set up, he and his table are a force to reckon with. Armed with free animal
rights literature and DVDs, Louie and his team of volunteers pull in large crowds
of passersby who are literally stopped in their tracks by what they are seeing.
Undoubtedly, he’s been responsible for many commuters missing their trains
as they stand captivated by the footage of what really happens to animals in
the meat, dairy and fur industries. Not a small feat, especially in a city like
NYC, where everyone is in a rush.
Recently, Satya’s Eric Weiss sat down with Louie
Gedo over a slice of vegan
chocolate cake to talk about his approach to animal advocacy, his newfound hero
status and even what his favorite kind of hero is, as in sandwich.
Your dedication to animals and street activism has made you one of my
I’m wondering if you had an “a-ha!” moment that got you involved
in all of this?
That’s a good question. I wouldn’t call it an “a-ha!” moment.
I was vegan for maybe a year and knew I was doing good for the animals, for the
planet and for myself but it just didn’t seem like enough. One person doing
the right thing didn’t really seem to make a dent. That’s when I
realized I really ought to take what I understand, what I’ve learned, what
I know, to other people.
What was it that led you to go vegan?
Initially it was for selfish reasons. I had been dating somebody [laughter] and
asked her how she had such good skin and hair. She said it was because of vegetarianism.
And at first I dismissed it because I was eating meat and wanted to rationalize
what I was doing. But the more I heard, the more it made sense that it’s
healthier. It soon became apparent I didn’t need to eat meat. The way these
animals were being killed, it just didn’t make any sense anymore to be
complicit in that.
One of the things I think is really remarkable is that your activism
so many facets. You do everything from letter writing to street activism—educational
leafleting, showing videos, animal advocacy artwork… Is there one form
that’s most near and dear to you?
Helping other people understand or see why it’s important to respect animals,
to respect their rights, is what I have the most affinity for. It’s not
to say I don’t find great value in everything else, but seeing other people
enlightened, there’s just something so powerful about that, so rewarding.
To see the faces of people when they get it… I think a lot of people don’t
even know they have the ability to choose another way. We just grow up with these
cultural habits, but once we understand we have a choice, there’s a real
power in that.
It seems like so many people, especially in a city like New York, are
so busy just trying to make ends meet it becomes real easy to live your life
When you’re out on the streets, how do you reach people?
I go out there with the idea of connecting with people—trying to find common
ground. Because once you do, it becomes much easier for people to listen to your
message and take it in. So I try to gear my tabling and activism to finding those
connections with people. In fact, a number of weeks ago there was a large fellow,
obviously a bodybuilder, he came to our table and said “What’s this
about?” And I said, “We’re here to talk about diet, the vegetarian,
vegan diet.” And he said, “My girlfriend’s a vegetarian (but
I think) that stuff’s kind of silly and I’m a bodybuilder (so I need
meat).” And so I showed him some photos I have of vegan and vegetarian
athletes and bodybuilders. And that really piqued his interest and I spent about
15 minutes talking with him, and by the time he left he had purchased some DVDs
and took a bunch of literature. That happens all the time, being able to connect
with people—their interests, their concerns—and finding that common
In a sense you’re almost playing psychologist—figuring out what will
speak to different people. It’s interesting to think that when you’re
tabling, to one person you might talk about the ethics behind it and to another
how you can become a huge bodybuilder.
Right. The bottom line for me is ethics. The ethical issue is why I’m out
there, but if I can make an inroad some other way... I may talk to people about
health issues or environmental issues but the bottom line is making ethical choices.
I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘Can you point me to where I
can get humanely raised meat?’ I don’t go there. I don’t want
to just use any inroad, but I think addressing people’s concerns about
health and fitness and that sort of thing is morally appropriate.
It seems like there’s a lot of frustration in the animal rights movement,
a lot of people really feel disempowered. Some individuals and groups have taken
on the idea that people aren’t ready for vegetarianism yet, so we need
to take smaller steps. We need to work on making cage sizes bigger. You’re
out there in the streets of NYC, a tough town… what’s your take on
that? Are people ready for the ethical vegan message?
I guess the way I see it is some people may never be ready for the message and
I completely understand the arguments you just talked about. But we will never
get what we don’t ask for. If we ask people to consider embracing a vegan
lifestyle or vegan eating habits and do it in a way that is respectful of them,
I think a lot of people will consider that message. Just by the sheer number
of people who stop and ask questions, you see it on their faces, that many are
You were one of the first people to use a lot of video in your activism.
Video is important for a number of reasons, maybe first and foremost because
people are actually seeing what is going on. I think a lot of people are just
kept far from that world for obvious reasons. Most people find it objectionable
and if these industries can keep it from the public’s eye, it helps them
to sell the end product. Secondly, the video doesn’t distract the viewer.
A number of protests I’ve been involved with, the focus was on the activists
themselves. With video, the focus remains on what is happening to the animals.
Video may be the most important tool we have at our disposal as activists.
Is there a particular story of transformation that stands out for you from your
I’m not sure if any one particular story sticks out. Every week people
come by the table and some of them, seeming very antagonistic at first, very
closed off to the idea, who by the time they have watched video and talked to
me have left with a look on their face that clearly says they will be thinking
about this. Some people walk away saying they will never eat animals again. One
of the big things I go on every week is hope. Hope that things will change. And
it gives me a lot of hope to see people’s faces and their responses.
How do you deal with people who come at you antagonistically?
I get flustered. It sometimes takes great restraint to keep my cool. I try to
be mindful of why I’m out there, to share the message. But I don’t
want to convince myself I’m out there to change people. If I can keep that
in mind it really helps me to keep my cool. Also, understanding where people
are at—I’ve been there myself. For 26 years of my life I ate animals
and rationalized it. So I understand all of the antagonistic things people say
to us. For the most part, people are just unaware, and antagonism is basically
their form of rationalization.
This final issue of Satya is about heroes, so I was wondering about some of yours?
That’s a great question. I came a little prepared [pulls out a big sheet
of paper] but I don’t want to mention names because I have too many heroes
to mention specific names. Here’s an abridged idea of who I think are unsung
heroes protecting animals…
Individuals who tirelessly feed, rescue and rehabilitate strays and wild animals.
People who volunteer their time at shelters and sanctuaries. Those who risk their
own liberty to free and liberate animals from captivity in places like testing
labs, fur farms and battery facilities. Those who contribute large donations
to worthy causes that help animals, but remain anonymous because they are not
doing it to get recognized or have their egos massaged. People who anonymously
film and document inside facilities where animals are killed, exploited or mistreated.
And finally, sometimes it’s a family member, close friend, partner or spouse
of a more celebrated person who deserves to be sung about for the invaluable
support they give. Such a person might be Willow Lyman, Howard’s better
half, as he would say. Support for another, no matter what form that might manifest
cannot be underestimated. Personally, the greatest unsung hero has been my mom,
who has supported me in every way possible. She is a tireless activist, at least
as much as I am and one might never know because she doesn’t frequently
come out to protests and you won’t find her name printed in animal protection
magazines and websites.
So, what is your favorite kind of hero, as in sandwich?
Not to boast, because I love other people’s cooking, but I prepare a grilled
sliced Tofurky hero with Vegenaise and it is just unbelievable. I love good food.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I also just want to say to all the readers and certainly all the Satya staff
that I so very much appreciate you selecting me as an unsung hero. It really
is touching to me and I just never would have thought in a thousand years that
I would be the subject. I really appreciate it.
To learn more about Louie’s outreach or artwork, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As marketing manager for Satya, Eric Weiss has taken great pride
in helping to promote the ethically run businesses that have advertised with
us. As Satya comes
to a close, Eric would like to acknowledge them as well as Beth, Cat, Sangu,
Kym and Mo for being constant sources of inspiration.
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