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May 2004
How to be an Activist: What It Means to be a Radical
By Lawrence Carter-Long


August 1996
August 1996

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 ones.

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 we seek.

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 momentum.
Put on your seatbelts folks. I have a feeling that the best is yet to come…

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” series.




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