2006 Major media coverage, including article in New York Times, cements Whole Foods' reputation as an "animal compassionate" meat retailer with a "vegan" CEO, and the role of animal advocacy organizations in promoting "humane" labeling schemes.
2006 HSUS's affiliate, Humane Society International, announces "Humane Choice" program, offering products from animals who "basically live their lives as they would have done on Old McDonald's farm."
How corporatized advocacy groups stifle online dialogue
1. Single out and shut down
When leaders associated with corporatized advocacy groups find their actions being questioned by knowledgeable activists in a public forum -- for example, on an email discussion list or on Facebook -- they will often ask those raising the issue to speak with them individually by phone or via private email. This immediately de-energizes the public debate. It also creates a context where various persuasive techniques can be used to convince activists that their concerns are invalid, or that raising them publicly hurts the animals and/or the movement.
Some activists are flattered by the attention of leadership figures, and some are intimidated. Still others allow themselves to be manipulated by specious arguments that would never hold water in a public forum.
Counter-measure: Don't take the bait. Insist that matters of public concern be discussed in a public forum. A lack of public scrutiny and accountability is one of the root causes of the problems facing today's US animal rights movement. Refuse to give in to pressure to stop discussing a topic or to remove posts or links.
2. Poison the well
Representatives and allies of corporatized advocacy groups often derail online dialogues by interjecting numerous lengthy posts that raise spurious, distracting questions and by endlessly repeating PR talking points. They also sometimes express disdain, outrage, or emotional hurt, call into question the motivations of others, and otherwise behave in ways that create a negative atmosphere that inhibits the free exchange of ideas and drives people away from the discussion. This makes it easier for them to bully or manipulate the smaller number of people who remain.
Counter-measure: Directly confront people using bullying or distraction techniques. If necessary, ask others to join you in the intervention process or in ignoring/excluding bullies if they persist. If an online bully is on the staff of a corporatized group, point out to others their affiliation and the fact that it is inappropriate for paid professional staff members to be interfering in a public debate. Call or send an email to the organization asking them to instruct their staff people to back off. Consider writing up your experience and publishing it to a relevant email list or other public online venue. Ask other activists for help and advice if you need it. Don't let healthy dialogue be shut down or pulled off center by agressive tactics.
3. Malign the messenger
When critical thinking questions are raised that corporatized groups simply can't answer without revealing contradictions or hidden agendas, they often resort to the time-tested method of besmirching the reputation of the person or persons raising the issue. Many times the attempts at character assassination are so outrageous they can drive a normally centered person to lash out in self-defense. The trick is that by shifting the discussion to the alleged flaws of the messenger, the real issues at hand are largely forgotten. The use of such cynical methods is a sign that the topic being discussed threatens the agenda of a corporatized group.
Counter-measure: Don't get bogged down in responding in detail to deliberate provocations and personal attacks. Insist that the discussion come back to the core issues. Point out that attacks of this sort are a tried and true PR industry technique used by those who don't have a persuasive argument to support their position. If the behavior persists, document the details and consider sending a letter of complaint to the board of the organization the person works for. Team up with other activists for support and to confront the use of this destructive tactic.
4. Change the channel
When new information comes to light exposing advocacy-industry collaboration, conflict of interest, dishonesty with the public, abuse of activist trust, or other unethical conduct by corporate animal advocacy groups, the people representing them sometimes attempt to "change the channel." This is achieved by quickly concocting and publishing a provocative "exposé" about those bringing forth the new information. Often included are intentionally provocative statements that appear to be substantive responses to what has been published, but are actually clever avoidances of the core issues being raised. A typical ploy would be to accuse someone who is drawing attention to industry collaboration of being "divisive," when in reality nothing could be more inherently divisive than advocates partnering with an industry that exploits those whom they claim to protect.
Those representing the corporate group(s) in question will sometimes publish these documents on blogs or the web sites of smaller organizations. This helps create the illusion that these manufactured concerns are somehow more substantial than they really are, or that they are coming from a third party with an objective perspective. However, if one digs a little, it is often revealed that the author, or the group that publishes this document, has direct ties back to the larger organization in question.
Once the provocative and often misleading response document is in place, those carrying out this sort of disinformation campaign often use their large organizational network of contacts to flood the internet and dominate both online and private dialogues about the initial issue that was raised. In attempting to "change the channel" their aim is to get people talking about this new document instead of the one that calls their own actions into question. If you pay close attention, you will notice representatives of corporatized organizations consistently sidestepping direct public debate of their collaborative relationship with the industry and the misleading nature of many of their campaigns.
Counter-measure: When someone else changes the channel, change it back! These manipulative tactics only work when most people don't recognize them for what they are. Without a deeper awareness of what is happening and why, it's easy to get pulled into unproductive argumentation about side issues. By simply pointing out that the core questions are being avoided through distraction and misdirection, and by insisting that substantive concerns be addressed in a public forum, a far greater level of accountability is possible.
Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates Ideas too dangerous for corporatized animal advocacy?
By James LaVeck and Jenny Stein
August 15, 2012
To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.--Voltaire
Two weeks ago, events transpired at a conference hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, that many observers felt marked the end of an era for the US animal rights movement. People and organizations that controlled the agenda for this year's national Animal Rights Conference (also known as AR 2012) engaged in active suppression of an alternative seminar that Tribe of Heart helped organize in collaboration with other experienced activists, titled Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates. Actions were taken by AR 2012 organizers, both publicly and behind the scenes, that served to protect the interests of those openly collaborating with the animal exploitation and killing industry.
As with many such efforts to censor a message of conscience, the effect was mixed. As the suppressors intended, far fewer people gained access to an alternative viewpoint. However, those who did needed no convincing that something has gone terribly wrong with the US animal rights movement. They were able to see the mindset and methods of corporatized advocacy playing out right in front of their eyes -- co-option of the cause of justice, stifling of dissent, and manipulation of well-meaning educators and activists. The end result was a practical exercise in grassroots resistance to corporate domination and control. For those of us who had worked together to offer the alternative seminar, and for most who were there to witness and learn, our resolve was only strengthened. We emerged from the experience determined to help bring the animal rights movement back to its core values of integrity, truthfulness, authentic community, and respect for the individual.
The events that precipitated the need for the Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates seminar represented a new low point in a growing trend of wealthy corporate advocacy organizations commingling their affairs and interests with those who profit from the use and killing of animals. This disturbing trend of self-described "vegans" participating in the exploitation of animals was set in motion in 2005, when a handful of animal advocacy "leadership figures" met behind closed doors and made the decision to partner with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey on the development and promotion of "humane" and "compassionate" animal products. Then, as now, the meat industry managed to aggressively insert itself into the affairs of the animal rights movement, with truly devastating effects.
This 12-minute video sheds light on how the agenda of large corporate animal charities
and that of one of the largest meat retailers in America merged, ushering in the "happy meat" era
during which self-described vegans began developing and promoting "new and improved" animal products
Pigs raised "like children"
How serious has this problem of corporatized advocacy and industry co-option and collaboration become? In 2011, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) hired as its new director of rural outreach Joe Maxwell, a 4th generation farmer actively involved in raising and selling animals to be slaughtered. Mr. Maxwell, whose HSUS salary is paid for by people who think their donations are helping animals, is in fact responsible for the death of thousands of sentient individuals each year, most of them pigs whom he claims on his web site are "raised like children."
Joe Maxwell, along with publicly representing HSUS, is also a supplier of animal products to Whole Foods Market, one of the largest meat retailers in the US. Whole Foods' CEO, John Mackey, sits on the HSUS Board of Directors. In a very tangible way, Mr. Mackey is responsible for the exploitation and death of millions of animals each year, and now with HSUS's help and financial support, a new market is being created for high-priced animal products that will boost profits at Mr. Mackey's grocery chain, and along the way enrich Joe Maxwell and others in the animal exploitation business. This basic fact was underscored in a recent address to the Nebraska Farmers Union given by Mr. Maxwell, who revealed that HSUS's efforts are the reason his pig exploitation/killing business and that of many other pig farmers are still viable, and that, thanks to HSUS and Whole Foods, he is now making "$30 a head premium over market price."
This 6-minute speech to Nebraska animal farmers by HSUS executive and pig farmer Joe Maxwell
reveals how corporatized advocacy groups are now putting donor dollars into actively creating a new market
for "humane" meat, increasing profits for those who use and kill animals
One hand washes the other, over and over again
It would seem that systematic engagement in conflict of interest is no longer viewed as a betrayal of public trust, but rather, as the secret to success in the world of corporatized advocacy.
In fact, the CEOs of Whole Foods and HSUS sit on more than one board together. HSUS's CEO, Wayne Pacelle, is also on the Board of Directors of Whole Foods' Global Animal Partnership (GAP), which exists to develop new and improved methods of using and killing animals. GAP also expands the market for the "products" that result from this "partnership." Also on the GAP board sits the CEO of the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the US Director for Compassion in World Farming, both major, multi-national "animal protection" organizations.
But this disturbing intermingling of affairs among seemingly adversarial players does not end there. Mr. Mackey also sits on the Board of Directors of Farm Forward, a non-profit entity that serves to promote "humane" animal agriculture. Bruce Friedrich, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives for Farm Sanctuary, the nation's largest farm animal rescue organization, was also sitting on the Farm Forward board last June when the group directed $151,000 toward expanding the "humane" turkey farm operation of a fellow Farm Forward board member, Frank Reese.
It's hard to imagine how there could be any more conflicts of interest folded into this one transaction. But there are. Add to the equation that the ASPCA, yet another wealthy corporate animal charity that solicits donations for the purpose of helping animals, was the source of the funds for this grant. And where will the pricey flesh that comes from turkeys killed on Frank Reese's farm end up? In the meat case at Whole Foods Market. (Interestingly, Farm Sanctuary VP Bruce Friedrich's name was removed from the list of board members on the Farm Forward web site following public complaints by animal advocates that his participation represented a conflict of interest. More details about this controversy can be found here).
Is it any wonder that animal activists, much less the general public, can hardly tell the difference between animal advocacy "leaders" and their counterparts in the animal exploitation industry?
This 9-minute video demonstrates how the reputation of formerly respected animal advocates,
along with the credibility of large animal protection charities, are being put in service of developing
and promoting dishonest "humane" labeling schemes which serve to increase profits
for animal-exploiting mega-corporations like Whole Foods
A controversial conference comes to be
In this climate of industry collaboration and widespread conflicts of interest, an animal advocacy group called FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) organized what came to be a most controversial US Animal Rights Conference (AR 2012). It was a shock to many activists to learn, for example, that Paul Shapiro, Vice President in charge of HSUS's farm animal division, and one of the key orchestrators of industry-advocacy collaboration, had not only been invited to speak at AR 2012, but was one of just three individuals chosen for a panel discussion on "the future of animal rights."
To comprehend the severity of the contradiction this creates, consider this: What would it mean for the planners of a human rights conference to put on the podium the vice president of an organization that had on its payroll someone profiting from the imprisonment and death of thousands of innocent people? Or a top executive from an organization with a board member responsible for the death of millions? It is hard to imagine anything more offensive and damaging to the very concept of human rights. Yet, in today's US animal rights movement, such disturbing developments appear to have become so commonplace that most animal rights activists now accept them as normal.
Case in point: When Mr. Shapiro took to the microphone to deliver his comments, was he interrupted by an overwhelming barrage of protests on the part of animal activists standing up for the thousands of individuals whose very lives are being stolen by Mr. Shapiro's colleague, Joe Maxwell? Did even one conference attendee stand up to advocate for the rights of those ill-fated beings, or the millions of others ordered into existence and controlled and killed by Whole Foods, whose CEO sits on the board of the organization Mr. Shapiro represents, one that openly admits to creating a new market for animal flesh that profits Whole Foods?
The answer is no. Instead, Mr. Shapiro received applause from an auditorium full of animal advocates.
Herein lies the problem, and a partial explanation for why a group of us sought to offer Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates at the same hotel as the animal rights national conference. By including in the program HSUS, and other corporatized groups under HSUS's influence if not direct control, FARM was normalizing the appearance of non-animal rights organizations under the "animal rights" banner and giving undeserved credibility to those who are methodically undermining the advancement of justice for animals. Such actions confuse newcomers to the cause, which a substantial percentage of this conference's attendees are. They also create a level of structural conflict between grassroots justice advocates and corporatized "animal protection" groups that becomes impossible to reconcile, which conveniently serves the agenda of the animal-exploiting industry. After all, a movement that does not even respect the basic meaning of its own name cannot have any kind of meaningful future.
The perverse nature of this scenario helps explain the aggressive efforts made to suppress our alternative seminar, which was to consist of a mixture of film screenings, lectures, workshops, and group discussions. This is a case when ideas and information were rightly perceived to be dangerous -- not to anyone's safety or to the cause, but to the interests of those benefiting from the process of co-option and the hidden control of public discourse. With even a modest level of scrutiny and analysis, it becomes clear to almost anyone paying attention that what is going on in today's US animal advocacy movement is counter-productive, not to mention unethical in the extreme. The melding of the interests of wealthy charities with those of large-scale meat producers and retailers does nothing to serve the cause of justice. Personal and organizational agendas are displacing publicly stated commitments and goals, and large numbers of dedicated justice activists are being marginalized, demoralized, and disenfranchised. Therefore, it's not surprising that such a priority was placed on preventing conference attendees -- most of whom want their hard work and their financial support to advance justice for animals -- from being exposed to a critical analysis of these developments in our movement.
Both the founder of FARM and FARM's program director have made much of the fact that each of them, more than once, invited one of us (James) to speak at the conference. As we explained to FARM's founder in person, many weeks before the conference, we and many other long-time educators and activists feel that the event has become so seriously compromised that non-participation has become a matter of conscience. This problem is compounded by the fact that accepting an invitation to speak means agreeing to FARM's requirement not to criticize any other organization by name -- even when that organization is not an animal rights organization and may, in fact, like HSUS, be taking actions that directly undermine the goals of the animal rights movement and enrich industries that exploit and kill animals.
Even so, our decision not to participate in the conference was not made lightly. When we first became involved in the US animal advocacy movement, one of the defining moments for us was attending the 1997 Animal Rights conference. Ironically, it was at this event, which was also run by FARM, that we learned from speakers like Dr. Tom Regan the very principles we and many others are now seeking to defend. The AR '97 conference was where we met Eddie Lama, the subject of our first film, The Witness, who was among those working to carry out the Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates seminar. The concerns of former farmer and educator Harold Brown about the direction that AR 2012 had taken, also played a key role in our deciding to hold an alternative event. For Harold, Eddie, and other committed activists, the conversion of the animal rights conference into yet another vehicle for corporatized advocacy serving HSUS's polarizing agenda was a matter of personal grief.
Freedom of speech is not free
In the weeks leading up to the AR 2012 conference, it became known to us that behind the scenes, senior staff members at FARM were engaged in a persistent effort to control the content of a presentation to be given by long-time activist Jamie Cohen. Ms. Cohen had been in touch with us because her chosen topic was related to our 2006 essay titled Invasion of the Movement Snatchers, originally published in Satya magazine. The essay focuses on the methods used by industry to derail grassroots justice movements by partnering with wealthy corporate charities to create largely symbolic public "victories." These "victories" are in turn heavily publicized and serve to create the false impression that a problem has been solved, when in fact, it is being more deeply entrenched.
This presentation by Ms. Cohen was to be her first ever at the national animal rights conference. The panel discussion she would be part of with two other speakers was titled "War on Animal Activism: Repression of social activism by government and corporate interests." When she shared with us the ongoing efforts by the conference organizers at FARM to constrain the content of her talk, our concerns about the state of the conference deepened.
It was strongly suggested to Ms. Cohen that while she could criticize so-called "humane meat" initiatives by animal groups, she had best avoid criticizing animal welfare initiatives as this might alienate her fellow panelists and others attending the talk. Furthermore, it was made it clear that it would be best if she not mention the legislation some animal advocates refer to as the "Rotten Egg Bill" that HSUS is currently attempting to get passed. In other communications from FARM, Ms. Cohen was told that her fellow panelists were unhappy with her chosen topic and were worried she would "divide the movement."
The level of pressure exerted by conference organizers over what was to be a 12-minute presentation by a first-time speaker was the opposite of what would be expected in an open forum for the free exchange of ideas about, ironically, the repression of activism.
The slope gets more slippery
This type of situation demonstrates the insidious nature of co-option and industry collaboration. HSUS and the organizations in its sphere of influence value their relationships with major animal exploiters such as John Mackey of Whole Foods. Such relationships are critical to their ability to regularly produce the "victories" upon which their corporatized advocacy enterprise depends, maintaining the flow of new members and donation dollars. Together, these collaborators are developing a new market for "humane" animal products that will enrich them both. In turn, smaller organizations like FARM clearly value their relationship with the leaders of a large advocacy conglomerate such as HSUS, who control access to greater levels of funding, publicity and political influence. Just as HSUS must severely warp the meaning of "animal protection" to maintain access to the benefits of its collaborative relationship with John Mackey and Whole Foods, so must FARM warp the meaning of "animal rights" to maintain access to the benefits of its relationship with HSUS. In both cases, the best interests of the animals, justice advocates, and even the general public get lost in the shuffle.
This was symbolized by FARM's acceptance of snacks donated by Whole Foods, which were distributed to AR conference attendees in bags emblazoned with the Whole Foods logo. Inside these bags, along with the snacks, was literature promoting Whole Foods' 5-step "Animal Welfare" program for using and killing animals in new and "improved" ways. The well-meaning volunteer who coordinates food donations for the conference later issued a public statement profusely apologizing for failing to check the food bags for Whole Foods' "sick and twisted message," but this compensatory gesture entirely missed the point. When one decides to do business with those whose message one considers to be twisted and sick -- a message completely at odds with the purpose of one's conference -- mishaps like these are merely symptoms of a much deeper problem.
In addition to choosing which vendors, like Whole Foods, could promote their products to conference attendees, FARM, as the conference host and organizer, was responsible for deciding which organizations would have access to the podium. FARM was also responsible for setting the terms of public debate, and ultimately, for ensuring that a gathering publicly described as an "animal rights" conference was in fact upholding the basic principles of animal rights. At a minimum, these principles should have included refusing to participate in the exploitation and killing of animals, and refusing to co-operate with those engaging in such acts.
Many advocates were taken aback when, just a few weeks before AR 2012, FARM abruptly reversed its position on the highly controversial "Rotten Egg Bill," coming out in support of it. For some, this was as shocking as HSUS hiring pig farmer Joe Maxwell. In both cases, it is not hard to see the same dynamics at play.
This 2.5-minute video promo for the "Rotten Egg Bill," Featuring the CEO of HSUS
and the President of the United Egg Producers, highlights how increasingly commingled
the agendas of corporatized animal advocacy groupsand major animal exploiters have become.
Indeed, the very title of the video is "HSUS/UEP Partnership."
Ms. Cohen's proposed topic of presentation clearly threatened the interests of HSUS. Behind the scenes, an effort was being made to protect their controversial egg bill from being discussed in the context of movement co-option, even though this bill represents one of the most extensive industry/advocacy collaborations to date, and has been the subject of constant debate among animal advocates. The intensity with which FARM was now inhibiting dialogue about this divisive bill was only contributing to the impression that they had fallen under the influence of HSUS.
It became clear to us, and to over a dozen other colleagues and experienced activists, that an intervention was needed to help more people understand that something damaging and problematic was happening at the heart of the US animal rights movement. We wanted to make clear that the path to achieving justice for animals certainly does not include collaborating with the very industry creating that injustice, or as FARM appeared to be doing, taking actions that protect those engaged in such collaborations from public scrutiny.
So with the conference coming in just a couple of weeks, we contacted the hotel in Alexandria and negotiated the rental of a meeting room down the hall from AR 2012. There, we planned to show our new film, Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, and to offer lectures and interactive sessions for activists that encouraged critical thinking. We signed a contract with the hotel for our meeting space, they charged our credit card for the rental, and we busied ourselves preparing to offer a three-day event that was intended to inform and inspire both experienced and new animal rights activists.
Killing Justice for Animals
The week of the AR conference, those of us involved in planning the Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates seminar sent a group email to conference organizers at FARM, giving them advance notice of what we were planning to do (see program here). The following day, the hotel, with almost no notice before our event, informed us we would be blocked from using the room we had paid for and had a contractual right to use. The explanations for why this was legal or even ethical kept shifting, starting with FARM invoking a "non-compete" clause in their contract. In the hours that followed, the story changed, and we were told that FARM had allegedly rented the whole floor of the hotel and needed the room we had rented for their program.
As we tried to come up with every possible workaround to save our event, the behavior of the hotel staff became increasingly hostile, and at times, bizarre. They actively thwarted our efforts to communicate with people who had traveled to the hotel to attend our screenings and sessions, and would not even allow us to put up a sign so confused people would know what had happened. They even went so far as to tell us that security would be called, and that we risked being removed from the hotel, if we were found in the vicinity of the room we had reserved (now locked and unused by FARM), or if we were on the same floor as the AR 2012 conference, or if we were seen speaking to a large number of people in public areas of the hotel. When our guests inquired about our event, the hotel staff told them that we had cancelled it -- a complete fabrication. We may never know exactly what motivated such extreme and inappropriate behavior from a renowned international hotel, but it was clear there was enormous pressure being exerted on the hotel staff behind the scenes.
In the end, all of these details don't matter as much as what they reveal -- an aggressive effort to suppress public analysis of the problem of co-option and corporatized advocacy in the very same environment where these problematic trends were playing out for all to see.
As is often the case with censorship, the harsh tactics and ever-changing explanations for shutting down our event only served to strengthen our resolve. We decided that we would offer our program to as many people as we could fit into a suite we had previously reserved, Room 1212, and that we would rely on word-of-mouth as we did not want to risk even this much smaller gathering from being shut down by the hotel. Little did we know how important this decision would turn out to be.
Over the next three days, something remarkable happened. To the 25-30 people our suite could accommodate, we delivered most of the program we intended to present. Harold Brown inspired us to be more whole human beings, and Eddie Lama gave us courage to tell the truth. Lee Hall opened our eyes to the tremendous toll "humane" agriculture takes on animals living in the wild, the few who are free from direct human control. And Karen Davis helped us see the ways corporate advocacy conglomerates are betraying the interests of billions of animals, whom she believes are routinely "disappeared" from the discussion. We discussed in depth the historical pattern of exploitative industries working to derail and co-opt grassroots justice movements, going all the way back to the British anti-slavery movement (learn more).
We showed Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, and discussed its accompanying web resource, Peaceable Journey. We shared our hope that these new tools for transformation would become a vehicle for people around the world coming to appreciate the animal issue not just as a matter of compassion, but first and foremost as a matter of social justice.
A number of our attendees shared their concern for all the well-meaning activists "downstairs," and especially for all the newcomers to the animal rights movement who were being undervalued and exploited by the dominance of corporatized advocacy. Representatives from three of the sponsoring organizations of the AR2012 conference privately expressed their gratitude for our offering an alternative perspective, and one of them even played a central role in helping people find us in Room 1212. Additionally, several speakers from the AR2012 conference showed up and actively participated in our program. We all acknowledged that most of the disturbing developments in recent years were driven by the actions of a handful of people meeting behind closed doors, and that many talented educators and activists had either left the movement or resigned themselves to going along despite their mixed feelings, uncertain if any alternative were possible.
We discussed as a group what would be needed to make the animal rights movement more healthy, including making deeper connections to other contemporary justice movements and achieving greater ethnic, cultural, and geographic diversity. Both of these long-overdue changes would help develop a more globally-conscious perspective that would transcend what one participant described as a "provincial," US-centric point of view. Another key observation was that the corporatization of farm animal advocacy has caused systematic displacement of other facets of animal rights work, including the need to protect free-living animals and their habitats, to stop vivisection and the fur trade, to prevent the breeding and systematic destruction of "unwanted" companion animals, and to end the use of animals in entertainment and the exotic pet trade. All of these have great importance in their own right and, as a whole, contribute toward a multi-dimensional understanding of our moral obligation to view and treat other animals as individuals worthy of respect.
Many attendees expressed a desire to more rigorously examine the values that guide the work of animal rights advocates with each other, and with the general public, and to set a higher standard of honesty, respect, and public integrity. This would mean rejecting participation in exploitation and conflicts of interest, as well as renouncing tactics that cause harm to others -- not only physically, but also morally and psychologically, including cynical PR industry tactics routinely employed by corporatized advocacy groups.
There was a dawning awareness that our collective act of stepping away from a national conference that had lost its way was not so much an end, but rather, a beginning of something much better. We don't have to be "customers" of an ever more aggressive advocacy conglomerate controlled by a handful of people. Instead, we can reclaim our true heritage, and recognize that we are following in the tradition of the grassroots social justice movements of the past, movements that have changed the lives of millions, and even the course of history.
This 13-minute video, which explores provocative parallels between the
historical British anti-slavery movement and the contemporary US animal rights movement,
offers much to inspire today's justice advocates -- as well as some cautionary tales about industry co-option
And what happened to Jamie Cohen, the first-time conference speaker? Those who sought to control and intimidate her failed. In fact, their tactics only seemed to reinforce her determination and clarity of purpose. Her words to conference attendees were powerful because they revealed a hidden truth and challenged people to think more critically [Listen to audio]. The standing ovation that followed her presentation seemed to indicate that she spoke for many.
A thoughtful student activist who had come from Canada to attend our seminar was one of those disingenuously told by the hotel staff that we had canceled the event. He eventually found out about Room 1212, but crowded elevators presented a barrier to him because of his physical challenges. Yet he did not give up. He eventually made it to Room 1212, and attended the final screening of our film. In talking to him, we felt so inspired by his intelligence, his commitment to the cause, and his quiet integrity. In his determination to get to Room 1212, and to bring the message of the film to justice advocates who are involved in other causes yet unaware of the animal issue, we saw a future for our movement that we can believe in, one that gives us joy.
Finding our way home
At the same time all this was going on, all the way across the planet in Melbourne, Australia, Patty Mark, a pioneer of the open rescue movement, was presenting the Australian premiere of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home. With tickets sold out a day before the screening, the audience would hear an inspiring talk given by Philip Wollen, whose passionate call for justice for animals has recently gone viral on the internet.
All of these things are connected. It was Patty Mark's open rescue work, after all, that was the model for the open rescue work done by Paul Shapiro (now a VP at HSUS working with Joe Maxwell) and Miyun Park (now executive director of Whole Foods' Global Animal Partnership) that rightly propelled them to renown as animal advocates. Sadly, Paul and Miyun would eventually choose the path of corporatized advocacy and industry collaboration. But Patty, all these years later, is still directly confronting the exploitation and killing of animals, still bringing the truth to light. Just a few days before the premiere, she and her team with Animal Liberation Victoria had investigated a so-called "humane" farm, documenting the overwhelming atrocities they found there. When they left, a sick and debilitated individual named Silvia, who could not even walk, was rescued from a truly hellish situation. With some veterinary care and love, Silvia is now moving about with spirit and joy, and looks forward to a long and happy life at a sanctuary.
Albert Einstein famously noted that we cannot solve our problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Corporatized advocacy is based on the same mental models used by the multi-national corporations that are now wreaking havoc on our planet. Concentrating money and power under the control of just a few "leadership figures" with little oversight and accountability does not move our society in the direction of justice. Misleading the public, or each other, serves nothing of value and no one in need. Nor does a willingness to commodify anything -- be it the suffering of animals, the altruism and passion of activists, the public trust -- help create a world where respect for the individual is the norm.
We must not allow ourselves to succumb to these destructive tendencies and trends, and instead, must help each other hold our ground. We must stand together to protect the meaning of the principles that define our work. We must create safe spaces where bullying, denial, dishonesty and other corporate power tactics are not tolerated. We must not let anyone convince us to compromise our vision or our values. And most of all, we must not let what Harold Brown has called the "bright, shiny objects" of money, power, fame and political influence distract our attention from those billions of exploited individuals we have pledged to serve, and from the better future we can create for all beings who walk, wriggle, hop, swim, and soar across our beautiful planet.
Another world is possible, and over three days in Room 1212, we caught a glimpse of it.
In response to overwhelming interest and encouragement from educators and activists, Tribe of Heart will host another Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates seminar at a time and location to be announced. To receive updates on this and other Tribe of Heart events, sign up here:
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More essays, articles and videos on this subject can be found here.
Producer James Laveck and Director Jenny Stein are the founders of Tribe of Heart and creators of the award-winning documentaries The Witness and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home. For the last 12 years, their work has focused on the emerging new ethics of the human-animal relationship and the journey of awakening conscience.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those who helped organize and participated in the Justice for Animals, Respect for Advocates event: Harold Brown, Jamie Cohen, Karen Davis, Trevor DeSane, Lee Hall, Jen Kaden, Eddie Lama, and Pam Page, and to each person who came to Room 1212 and contributed to the dialogue on so many important issues.
Many thanks for the talent and dedication of our editorial team: Trevor DeSane, Eric Huang, Kevin Smith, Leslie Armstrong, Susan Clay, Pam Page, Kate Sharadin and Monica Towle.