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From 23 May 2004 Issue

Animal Rights 2004 Conference
By Greg Lawson - ParkStranger@aol.com

When I say that the annual Animal Rights conference presented by the Farm Animal Reform Movement is an unforgettable experience, you can take my word for it. I have trouble recalling what I did at work last week, I can't remember what I watched on television last night, but I will never forget the three AR conferences I have been privileged to be a part of. The memories I have of the people I met and the things I learned are as vivid as if they happened only moments ago.

Animal Rights 2002 was the first time I had ever been invited to speak at such a major AR conference, and it was due to my journalistic efforts for this newsletter, and a whisper into the ear of FARM's Alex Hershaft, by EnglandGal. Thanks, Susan.

On the first night, when I arrived at the opening reception in 2002, I met longtime online friend Karen Dawn of DawnWatch. After Karen and I had embraced and expressed how good it was to finally meet, she turned to the man she had been having a conversation with and said, "Peter, I'd like you to meet Greg. Greg, this is Peter." I was stunned to see that his name tag read Peter Singer. His book, Animal Liberation, had been one of the first books to influence me to go vegetarian in 1978. Then, amazingly enough, Karen said to the father of the Animal Rights movement, "Greg is a terrific writer with Animal Rights Online." Good Grief. I was unable to sleep that night, playing that moment over and over.

The next morning at 9 A.M., after a vegan breakfast buffet, the workshops began. Every hour on the hour four different workshops were offered and we had to decide which ones to attend. The decision was often very difficult as so many interesting topics were covered from staging an effective protest 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 1 P.M. we broke for a vegan lunch buffet at the hotel's restaurant, then it was on to more afternoon workshops. After a vegan dinner buffet, the evening sessions featured talks by some of the famous names 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. When the evening talks were over, we had a party with a band and a vegan late night snack buffet. It seems I have spent a lot of time during the last two years dieting in-between these conferences.

Every day there was so much to see and hear, including a huge area 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, candy, vegan jerky and other snacks for nibbling on between those all you could eat vegan buffets.

Last year, there were two AR2003 conferences, the usual one just outside Washington, DC, and a Los Angeles conference. I attended both, got together with several old friends and reestablished friendships. It was incredible to be surrounded by hundreds of vegan animal rights activists for those two weeks during the year. So many people were so very excited to be participating. The future plan is for the conference to alternate between the East and West coasts, being in Washington, DC, in even years and Los Angeles in odd years.

The Farm Animal Reform Movement's annual conference, Animal Rights 2004, will take place July 8-12, in Vienna, Virginia, and will feature close to 100 speakers and I am proud to be one of them. Imagine hearing close to 100 speakers, leaders in the Animal Rights and Vegan movements (and me). Imagine spending the week in the company of 1000 vegetarians, vegans, AR advocates and animal rescue workers. Imagine the parties at the end of the day. Imagine, at the end of the day, hearing Captain Paul Watson doing his George Carlin routine in the hotel bar. Imagine all you can eat vegan buffets three or four times a day for a week. Imagine how you will be dieting when it ends. It's an incredible experience that you will remember forever.

The schedule packs ten plenary sessions, 63 workshops and rap and campaign report sessions, and hundreds of videos and exhibits between July 8 and 12. Intensive seminars, demonstration, and lobbying are planned for the Monday after the conference.

Nearly 90 speakers have signed up including Steve Best, Lawrence Carter-Long, Karen Davis, Michael Fox, Michael Greger, Tippi Hedren, Alex Hershaft, Steve Hindi, Kevin Jonas, Elliot Katz, Greg Lawson, Howard Lyman, Jim Mason, Lauren Ornelas, Tom Regan, Jerry Vlasak, Paul Watson, and Zoe Weil. (For a complete listing, visit www.AR2004.org/program.html ).

The conference will be held on July 8-12 at the Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Vienna, VA, just outside the Washington Beltway. The hotel offers a fabulous $75 room rate, $10-12 vegan buffets, and free dog beds. The $140 conference registration includes access to all sessions and exhibits, as well as morning and evening snacks. Low-income discounts and staff positions are still available.

Go to www.AR2004.org for more information. The schedule is now posted at....
http://www.ar2004.org/schedule2004.html 

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