Animal Writes
From 17 August 2003 Issue

Animal Rights 2003 West
By Greg Lawson - [email protected]

Animal Rights 2003, a conference presented by the Farm Animal Reform Movement, took place in Los Angeles between August 1 and 6. Alex Hershaft and his staff did a great job of running this event. Steve Best and I were two of the more than one hundred speakers. Also in attendance were three other friends from El Paso. We were referred to as the delegation from Texas. We met several other vegans and activists from the lone star state. Texas was well represented.

It was a wonderful week of workshops, speeches and vegan food during which we shared our experiences with newcomers to the movement, learned from others, made new friendships, renewed old ones, recharged our batteries and gained a few pounds. When it's an all you can eat vegan buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you tend to go back for seconds.

Every day, from 9am until 5pm, we had to select which workshops we wanted to attend of four different ones presented every hour. After dinner, the evening speeches went until 10pm, then there was a party with a band and the late night all you could eat free buffet. It's a good thing I dieted for a couple of weeks before this conference.

I was really impressed by a workshop in which Carol Adams discussed some concepts from her book Living Among Meat Eaters, which I highly recommend. One of the basic ideas from the book, which she shared with the workshop attendees, is that meat eaters are just blocked vegetarians. Once you realize that, it becomes much easier to deal with the teasing we vegans and vegetarians often face. Blocked vegetarians are operating from a sense of guilt, and joking about our eating habits is a way for them to avoid dealing with the fact that they eat animals. If you are provoked by meat eaters, read Carol's book, it has many insights.

Steve Best gave a very good evening talk. Several people told me what a great speaker he was and someone specifically quoted to me the best lines from that speech: "What we owe to the animals is this....that we restore their habitat and then leave them the (expletive deleted) alone." It was obvious from the audience's applause and cheering that they agreed with him.

I was fortunate to give four talks, two about the annual slaughter of the bison of Yellowstone, and how, as a National Park Service Ranger, I am very concerned about this issue. One of my talks was about the Vegetarian Society of El Paso in a workshop called Running a Local Group. My fourth talk was about Animal Rights Online, my work as a journalist for ARO, and the program ACT Radio, Animal Concerns of Texas that Steve Best and I do. That workshop also featured Bob Linden who has been doing Go Vegan Radio in Los Angeles for the last two and a half years.

Three of the most enjoyed speakers were Bill Maher of Politically Incorrect and Real Time on HBO, actress Linda Blair, and the first vegan democratic candidate for President of the United States, Dennis Kucinich. It is said that Dennis is the only vegan member of congress. It's difficult to believe that there is only one vegan member of congress. Dennis delivered a fiery speech and was granted more than two standing ovations. It was an incredible experience for all who attended. It is a thrilling idea that such a progressive thinker (and a vegan) is so close to becoming the leader of our country. I am also sure that it was an incredible experience for Dennis, to be so enthusiastically received by a roomful of hundreds of people who share his concern for animals and so overwhelmingly support him.

It's hard to describe the depth of emotions I felt, being with 700 other vegans, vegetarians and animal advocates for a week. It was something I will remember forever, sharing the stage with leaders of the animal rights movement. I laughed a lot, I smiled most of the time.

I only cried three times, once for joy at arriving there, once during a slide show of the bile extraction from black bears in China for Chinese medicine, and once again, when it was over, when I landed at the El Paso airport.
I wanted to share a bit of Dennis Kucinich's speech with you which I transcribed from a tape. You can learn more about Dennis at Dennis Kucinich for President Campaign, 2004 - Official Website 

From his speech at Animal Rights 2003 West...

"We recognize that we are in a world which truly needs compassion, that we need to extend compassion to one another and to everything living. And that our cause can truly be to lift up this world from a condition of suffering and cruelty to all the creatures of this planet, and through elevating the cause of every creature, we elevate our own humanity.

We lift up the cause of humanity by reaching out and connecting with all things living. It is our sense of interconnection with all living things that brings us to respect the rights of animals, that we understand that animals are not to be lower than, that animals should not have less of a claim to existence, less of a claim to the possibility of survival, less of a claim to dignity.

And your commitment translates into specific action, in raising the questions that must be raised about the use of animals in research, in raising the questions that must be raised about the use of animals in testing, in looking at the conditions in which animals are placed on farms, in challenging a corporate ethic which sees animals as things to be exploited and not beings which in and of themselves have some basic rights.

Your presence here serves as a reminder to this country that our presence on this planet has a higher calling. That we can through our activism, make light in this world, that we can through our activism, lift up the cause of the humblest beings, that we can through our activism, open up not only our own hearts, but the hearts of people everywhere so that our society can become more compassionate, so that our society can be more loving, so that our society can create policies which are caring for animals.

Everyone of us knows a story of animal cruelty, everyone of us knows how in one way or another official policies have sanctioned cruelty to animals. I will work with you, to put compassion into action in our policies with respect to animals in this country and I will work with you to have America set a higher standard, not only for this country, but for the world, to make sure that all of God's creatures, that all animals are given a chance to have dignity in our society and are given a chance to experience the appreciation they should have as living beings."

Go on to Tiger Fleet
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