Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
From  Issue
14 July 2002
ParkStRanger Goes to Washington: A Subjective Report on Animal Rights 2002

By Greg Lawson - [email protected] 

I can only hope that I will have a few more experiences in my life that match the AR2002 conference which was organized by Alex Hershaft and his group FARM,
( FARM (Farm Animal Reform Movement) Home )
which ran from June 29 through July 3. It was vegan heaven to spend a week surrounded by more than a thousand like minded animal advocates while we occupied a Hilton Hotel just outside Washington, D.C. Practically everyone I made eye contact with smiled and said hello. I knew that they were thinking the same thing I was - Here.... I am not alone in a crowd of uncaring carrion eaters. Here, I am finally with my friends.

I arrived late on registration day, received my info packet and joined the reception. While munching down on the hors d'oeuvres, I glanced around at name tags to see if I could spot a familiar name. Michelle Rivera
"Michelle!" We hugged. Although we had worked together for Animal Rights Online for years, we had never met.
"Have you seen Karen Dawn yet?" she asked.
"No, I haven't." Karen and I have been email friends since before she put together her wonderful DawnWatch project. DawnWatch helps activists give feedback to the media about their coverage of animal issues.
DawnWatch - An Animal Rights and Welfare News and Meedia Watch
"She's around here somewhere. Tall, black hair, beautiful."
"I'll keep an eye out."

I scanned the room and before long I saw someone who matched that description. I moved closer, looking at her name tag. She saw me and did the same.
"Greg!" We hugged, the second of many hugs I was to share in the days which followed.
"It's so good to meet you at last," she said. "Greg, I want you to meet Peter. Peter, this is Greg Lawson."
I looked at his name tag as I shook his hand. Peter Singer. OMG. The man who wrote Animal Liberation, the book that made me go vegetarian in the mid seventies. Then Karen made the most absurd statement I could have imagined. "Greg is a terrific writer with Animal Rights Online," she said to the father of the AR movement. Sure. I imagine "ParkStRanger Goes to the Dentist" will be remembered right along with Rattling the Cage and Diet for a New America. Needless to say, I couldn't sleep that night, replaying that moment over and over in my mind.

The next morning, Saturday at 9 A.M., the workshops began. Every hour on the hour four different workshops were offered and we had to decide which one to attend. The decision was often very difficult as so many interesting topics were covered from hardcore AR to companion animal issues, from how to be a better speaker to how animals communicate. One hundred and twenty-two workshops were presented during the week, each one usually featuring three or four speakers.

At one o'clock we took an hour for lunch at the Hilton's restaurant. The staff prepared delicious vegan buffets each day for lunch and dinner. Then it was back to the workshops for the afternoon. After dinner, the evening sessions featured talks by some notable people in the movement: Peter Singer, Tom Regan, Jim Mason, Kim Stallwood, Ingrid Newkirk, Howard Lyman, Karen Davis, Robert Cohen, Paul Watson and so many others including our own ARO journalist, Steve Best.

Saturday at 4 P.M. I gave my first talk in a workshop called Slaughter in the Fields, during which I described the annual slaughter of the bison of Yellowstone and the activist group Buffalo Field Campaign. Buffalo Field Campaign 

After the workshop, a man from the audience approached me and said, "I would like to talk to you more about the bison situation. I want to help."
"Great," I said. "Let's get together later."
"Sure, maybe at dinner or in the bar after the evening sessions."
"Sounds good." I am glad to have met Dean. He does fundraising for animal issues and wants to build a coalition to buy out the cattle ranchers who graze cows on bison migratory land just outside Yellowstone National Park. Cattle grazing in the area is the main reason why the state of Montana is killing the Yellowstone bison. If we can get the ranchers to accept a buy out of their grazing permits we may be able to end the slaughter. I will be working with Dean on this plan in the weeks ahead.

On July 1, I attended two workshops on public speaking. Josephine Bellaccomo spoke at both and she reminded me of some important concepts about giving speeches, things I had forgotten since my college speech classes. She also provided new information I hope to use in the future to improve my presentations. I eagerly await her new work from Lantern Books, "Move the Message: Your Guide to Making a Difference and Changing the World," due out in the fall. I'll make sure ARO does a review of this important book.

The next day I was able to use advice from Josephine in two workshops. Information Programs featured Mary Finelli of Farmed Animal Watch, Karen Dawn of DawnWatch, Kim Stallwood of Animals' Agenda and me of Animal Rights Online, each talking a bit about our organizations and publications. During the workshop Movement Communications I discussed how to shoot and edit digital video for animal causes.

The first couple of days of the conference I found myself repeating the same litany to several people, "Hello, Steve (Hindi of SHARK) or Eddie (Lama of the movie "The Witness") or Kim (Stallwood of Animals' Agenda), I really appreciate the work you do." Somehow, in my infinite modesty, it never crossed my mind that it would happen to me. After my talk about ARO, a girl approached me in the hallway and said, "Hello, Greg, I just wanted to tell you I am a big fan of your articles in Animal Writes." Wow. That really made my day.

There were a multitude of booths and information tables in the Exhibits area with books, t-shirts and other items for sale, free literature, food samples and more. We all spent a lot of time browsing those rooms, learning, tasting, buying and stuffing our AR2002 tote bags with literature. Pangea had a small store set up. a 7-11 for vegans where one could buy items such as shoes, non-leather jackets, lip balm, soap and other personal items, donuts, dog biscuits (the Hilton had bent the rules for us and allowed dogs to attend the conference), candy, vegan jerky and other snacks for nibbling on between those all you could eat vegan buffets. Did I mention the phrase Vegan Heaven? It's time to go back on my diet.

On Sunday, June 30th, I was in the Exhibits area, browsing and tasting and buying and stuffing, when a new friend, Mike Hudak of Public Lands Without Livestock came up to me and said, "Greg, see that guy over there in the tie? That's Don Murphy, editor of Meat Marketing & Technology magazine. He's one of the opposition speakers at this evening's session." Alex Hershaft had come up with the amazing idea of having an evening session with three of our "enemies," a man who writes for a meat industry publication, a scientist who tests on animals and a zoo director. Give them a microphone and put them in a room with a thousand vegans. Chomp, Chomp. Somebody call hotel security, quick!

"Greg, you should go interview him for your newsletter," Mike said.
"Eeww, no. I prefer to stay with my own kind," I reacted. But then I realized that this was a great opportunity to talk to the man, get a good story to share with my readers, perhaps plant a seed in his mind about vegism, show him that some AR activists were likable normal type people - and if all that failed, shove a carrot up his behind.

"Hello, Don, I am Greg Lawson, president of the Vegetarian Society of El Paso (I didn't want to tell him that I was also a journalist planning on writing about this conversation). I just wanted to thank you for joining us at this conference. I know you must feel like Daniel in the lion's den."

"Hello, Greg, good to meet you. I want you to know that I really respect the work some of you people are doing to make improvements in the meat industry. I am here to learn, and I hope that together we can make some progress in animal welfare."

"Don, most of us here don't want bigger cages, we don't want small steps to improve the lives of farmed animals, but we work towards that goal in order to improve the lives of the animals and to get media attention. Let me tell you about the kind of step forward I would like to see. A few weeks ago, NASA scientists were able to grow fish cells in a nutrient solution. It was part of a project to grow food for space flights. The day that we are able to grow meat in the lab without animals - THAT will be an important step forward."

"I hadn't heard about that," he said. "That's very interesting." I begin to wonder how much he is in touch with the real future of the meat industry. I told him that one day, we will have food synthesizers that replicate meat from the basic molecules just like on Star Trek, he seemed to identify with Star Trek, the mind meld was a success.

"I don't expect our movement to convert everyone to veganism, that will happen sometime in the future for economic reasons," I said. "Oh, Don, something else I wanted to ask you, since you are a journalist, perhaps you know. What is the status of the legal case against Tyson foods? Last I read, Tyson was indicted on over 30 counts of smuggling illegal aliens into the U.S. to work in their slaughterhouses. Has anything else developed in that case?"

"That matter is still under investigation. I would be surprised if they were found guilty. It is suspected that INS set them up," he said.
"Don, they had recruitment offices in Mexico and were providing transportation to the U.S. and it is alleged they were making up phony paperwork to get illegals across the border to work at their plants," I said.
"Tyson wouldn't have done that, they wouldn't want the bad P.R. and the fines that would go along with an operation like that."
"It seems to me that the largest meat packer in the world wouldn't mind a few six figure fines if it means that they can continue to get cheap labor from Mexico," I continued. "People who are willing to work at minimum wage with no benefits."
"Greg, the thing you have to remember is that those Mexicans are better off in our country than the poverty they live in. It's the American Dream to move here, get a good job and provide for their families. And it's the same for many people in the meat industry, they are mostly good men just operating a business and trying to provide a good life for their families."
"The same has been said about the plantation owners in the South in the 1800s. The slaves were better off than they were in Africa, we gave them good jobs and provided for their families. Don, I just want you to know the kind of arguments you will face tonight. I appreciate you being here to talk with us and I wanted to warn you that you might face some heavy debate and booing tonight. It was good to talk with you."
"Thanks, Greg, it was good to talk to you too. Let me say again that I appreciate the work people like you are doing to clean up the meat industry."
We shook, and I immediately headed to the restroom to thoroughly wash my hands.

Later that day, Don was a member of a panel of three who spoke at the evening session which also included Lorraine Twerdok of the American Petroleum Institute and Cindy Carroccio, director of the Austin Zoo. Don made a fairly good showing for himself, describing how he has pushed for reforms in welfare in the meat industry. He made one major gaff when he was asked "Would you support environmental enrichment for pigs?" He responded, "What, I don't understand the question. Oh, ok, environment. Yes, we have a major problem with manure. It is polluting the environment and..."

The person who asked that question shouted "That's not the question. Improvement in the environment for hogs. Gestation crates."

"Oh, ok. Blah blah blah." Poor Don. I hope he learned something from his visit with us.

Miss Petroleum was a fish out of water, pardon my speciesist remark. I don't know why she agreed to talk to us. We hated her, all one thousand of us. You could tell that she was nervous, her hands were shaking as she tried to defend her experiments on animals for chemicals for the petroleum industry. She did an opaque slide slow presentation that including a slide that read.....
Without Animal Testing
*we would have no new medicines
*we would have no new cosmetics
She was strongly booed. What an airhead. She said they were looking for alternatives to animal testing. She should read Dr. Ray Greek's book Sacred Cows and Golden Geese. It was good to see Ray at the conference, he is a strong voice for the animals. AFMA - Americans For Medical Advancement

Cindy Carroccio of the Austin Zoo knew how to work the crowd. She said that her job was to make sure that the Austin Zoo went out of business. She said that the Austin Zoo didn't buy, breed or sell animals and that they neutered all the animals that they rescued. Cindy received a well deserved standing ovation.

A few ARAs felt that having the opposition on the stage was compromising the AR movement, that we should be working toward animal liberation not welfare issues and that having a dialogue with people from the opposition was a bad thing. I don't agree with that position.

By drawing attention to the horrible conditions that our animal slaves are forced to live under and by calling for reforms, we are enlightening all the many people who don't even know about the cages. My friend Steve Best, wrote a piece that everyone should read "Dismantling a False Opposition," which examines how AR and AW concerns can work together. Animal Welfare Or Animal Rights? Dismantling a False Opposition By Dr. Steve Best 

After that panel, Ingrid Newkirk gave a wonderful address. She was applauded so often and so strongly that my hands stung for ten minutes. I look forward to hearing it again on tape. There are many photos of the conference posted at this site... Animal Rights 2002 National Conference

The banquet on July 2 featured the most elegant vegan meal I have ever had. Alex Hershaft brought out the chef and his staff and they received even more applause than Ingrid had been given. It was well deserved.

There were a few tense moments during the conference and unfortunate things were said. In any cause important enough to fight for, and Animal Rights is certainly such a cause, there will be infighting. I hope everyone will remember that the animals are too important for us to allow ourselves to be divided. We must continue to work together, despite differing opinions, to improve the lives of the animals and win them the recognition of their rights.

On July third I gave my final talk about the Yellowstone bison at the Wildlife Campaigns workshop. I used what I had learned in the public speaking workshops and felt I did my best presentation at this session. I really hope I am invited back to speak next year and that I will have good news to report on the bison situation. Last Wednesday, I spoke on the phone with D.J. Schubert, an attorney with the Fund for Animals who has been involved in the bison issue. He gave me hope that progress will be made this summer to bring an end to the slaughter. I'll report on developments here in Animal Writes.

It was sad to see the week end and depressing to return to the world of the meat eaters and abusers. I was inspired by the conference and motivated to work harder for the animals. I hope the many wonderful people I met stay in touch and that I run into them again at AR2003.

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