to be an Activist: What It Means to be a Radical
By Lawrence Carter-Long
The following is an excerpt of a speech made by Lawrence
Carter-Long at the March for the Animals, the centerpiece of the 1996
World Animal Awareness Week, in Washington, DC.
Twenty-four years ago at the age of five, I was used as a prop to raise
money which, in part, went to pay for vivisection. As a person with
cerebral palsy, as a poster child for the United Way, I learned the
importance of looking past the surface of what we are led to believe.
Of what they want us to know.
When I’m asked if I would take a cure for cerebral palsy, my response
has always been: “what would I have to give up?” If I would
lose the insight that having CP has afforded me, if I would lose the
empathy that has compelled me to speak out for the oppressed, then their
fabled cure is not worth it.
Is it so important to walk like everyone else? Is it, indeed, important
to walk at all if we are willing to kill innocents to do so? No. The
PR machine that churns for continued animal abuse tells us that: “if
you—the animal activist—had a disability or illness you
would feel differently.” To those who seek to use my voice to
justify animal abuse, listen closely: I am not your tool. Don’t
use me, or my condition, as your excuse. As animal activists we seek
to go beyond our culture’s disturbing fixation with self-interest.
Even if vivisection could cure my condition or others, it is not worth
what we would lose in the process.
At its core, the fight for animal liberation is about education and
responsibility. Whether we realize it or not, these factors are at the
core of all we do. I have spent my adult life dispelling myths, about
both cerebral palsy and animal liberation. It’s time to dispel
a few more:
The animal rights movement I belong to does not have the time, or the
inclination, to criticize the work of others. The animal rights movement
that I belong to understands that working toward our abolitionist goals
in incremental steps is the only way we’ll move ahead. The animal
rights movement that I belong to has no use for labels, it is too busy
taking action. The animal rights movement that I belong to is united
in support of our common goals, rather than squabbling over attention
or money. The animal rights movement that I belong to has no room for
ego or ivory tower activists with personal agendas. It understands the
value of working together.
Some would call us radical. So be it. To be radical means to be rooted—in
an almost spiritual sense—to bringing about core changes in society.
Last year, the live export trade in Britain was almost shut down by
protesters blocking ports, barricading villages through which the trucks
carrying live animals for the continent had to pass, and invading airports.
A profile of these protesters? A middle-aged conservative-voting woman
in her mid-50s. People who had never protested anything, let alone animal
cruelty, felt compelled to go to the streets. Now that’s radical!
What these people experienced was a meta-political urge to change the
quality of their lives to include animals. Many of them didn’t
want to call themselves animal rightists, most weren’t vegetarians.
But what is important for all of us to know is that there was a core
of common decency that mobilized even the most conservative. We should
think of this when we talk to others about factory farming, animals
in entertainment, fur or vivisection.
There is much we can do individually to create a climate whereby people
will naturally take to the streets, as they did in Britain. It will
not be our debates over tactics or ideology which compel people to act
upon common decency—it will be a result of educating people about
our issues and facilitating a sense of responsibility to speak out.
Just as pro-vivisectionists need to realize that animal liberation is
not about what animal experiments can do for humans, animal activists
must work to expand our activism beyond ourselves. We must allow the
uninitiated the room to act out of common decency. None of the progressive
thinking about animals that has occurred in recent years would have
happened if it wasn’t for years of slow persuasion as well as
high publicity direct actions from the Animal Liberation Front and anti-fur
protesters. Everyone is needed. We must not lose sight of this.
Whether you use email, pay an outrageous phone bill or send buckets
of postcards, if you haven’t already, I suggest you take the time
necessary to get involved with the people standing next to you. You
never know where such connections will lead. You—the activists
in the trenches—are the backbone of the modern animal rights movement.
Together with national organizations and people with common decency
that have yet to be tapped, we must make decisions which will move us
forward into the next stage of our animal rights movement. Let us be
brave enough to ask tough questions of ourselves and make what may not
always be the easiest decisions, but which are, in the end, the correct
Ten years ago, who would’ve thought that a posterbrat with cerebral
palsy would be a vegan decrying vivisection? There are simply no excuses
for exploitation. We can ill-afford to be shy about who we are and what
It is still a good thing to oppose violence.
Don’t be deterred by what those who abuse animals say about our
mission. The animal rights movement that we belong to knows better,
and isn’t afraid to act on it. We can’t force people to
become compassionate, but as the demonstrations in Britain and the outrage
against the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s decision to allow a teenager
to kill a Kodiak bear illustrate, our quest for common decency is gaining
Put on your seatbelts folks. I have a feeling that the best is yet to
Lawrence Carter-Long is currently the Northeast
Director for In Defense of Animals and a Satya Consulting
Editor. This article first appeared as part of the “How to Be an Activist”