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Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc.
38 East Market Street, Rhinebeck, New York 12572 USA -  845-876-2626
Vegetarian - Vegan - Animal Rights - Health - Nutrition - Environment

The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.

Newsletters - Fall 2004 Issue

Members, neighbors abound at AR2004

By Jim Van Alstine

Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society members and other friends from the region were there in great numbers this summer at the Animal Rights 2004 National Conference in Vienna, Virginia. This large annual forum for discussion and networking among animal rights advocates drew several hundred participants. There were also dozens of exhibitors and representatives of numerous national and regional animal rights organizations.

The conference also inevitably draws controversy. This year’s tiff was about the absence of many large AR organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Farm Sanctuary. Officially, participants were left guessing about the motivations for the absences.  Alex Hershaft, conference chair and director of the host organization, the Farm Animal Reform Movement stated, “Those wondering why a group they support is not here this year should ask them directly.”

Unofficial reasons for the boycott ranged from personal frustration with conference organizers to discomfort with sharing forums with some of the more assertive activist groups, such as Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, USA (SHAC) (Huntingdon is a research facility that tests on dogs and other animals) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Even with the absence of several large organizations, the exhibition room floor was full and attendance showed only a slight decline over recent years.

In spite of, or perhaps because of such deep divisions on the topic of appropriate tactics, the most charged, focused and attended session of the conference was that which discussed direct action and its impacts on the animal rights movement as a whole. A Friday evening panel discussion, “Compassion into Action: How Aggressively Should We Pursue Animal Liberation?” featured some of the top minds of the movement.  They discussed the impact of controversial tactics, including open rescues from factory farming facilities, covert liberations, vandalism of the mechanisms of animal abuse industries and intimidation of individuals who are targeted as key participants in animal abuse industries.

Panelists, listed here from conservative to militant, were: Dr. Michael Greger, a leading expert on mad cow disease and all health consequences of meat consumption; Karen Dawn, writer and operator of the respected Dawn Watch list serve; Karen Davis, of United Poultry Concerns; Steven Best, philosophy professor and co-editor of Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals; and Kevin Jonas, of SHAC. Jonas was recently charged as one of the “SHAC 7” under the constitutionally dubious Animal Enterprise Protection Act for posting information on web sites pertaining to SHAC activities.

Greger, a relative conservative on the issue of direct action, argued that liberations may save a few animals, but others are brought in to take their places.  Moreover, he says, aggressive tactics turn public sympathies against animal rights advocates and issues as a whole. Jonas and Best argued that direct action has always been a part of social progress movements including abolition of human slavery and women’s suffrage. They argued that a militant wing is essential to position moderate forces, such as Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), in a position from which progressive measures can be leveraged. Jonas pointed out that while the media, animal abuser industry representatives and some animal rights advocates object to SHAC tactics, “none of the dogs liberated from the hell of Huntingdon complained. Each of them was grateful.”

The plenary session provided a sampling of the essays offered in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters, which was by far the most purchased, carried and discussed book among conference attendees. Although not a title recommended to anyone new to animal rights, the book is a recommendable addition to the library of committed animal advocates interested in the philosophical foundations of direct action tactics. Those looking for a book appropriate for the new, or could-be, animal advocate are better served by Tom Regan’s newest book, Empty Cages. In a slim 200 pages, Regan lays out with simple elegance the foundations for animal rights and the essential similarity and intrinsic association between human rights and animal rights.

Two Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society members were among presenters at the conference. Peter Muller, of the League of Humane Voters (LOHV), was on workshop panels, “Abuse of Animals for Amusement” and “Enacting Protective Laws.” Joan Zacharias, vice president of the Society, presented in the workshop “Engaging Public Interest.” As an involved Sierra Club member, Zacharias has worked to move that group toward improved awareness of animal welfare issues and the environmental impacts of animal agribusiness. Her presentation reviewed the Sierra Club’s spotty history on these topics, including its failure  to call for a vegetarian/vegan diet on environmental grounds and its recent outreach to hunters through the NRA. Zacharias found reason for improvements in the Sierra Club record as it is beginning a national campaign for sustainable consumption that includes a focus on plant-based diets. That campaign is being implemented in part due to the efforts of pioneering vegetarian and animal advocates within the Sierra Club.

Society members Andy Glick, of the Meat Free Zone campaign and Woodstock Animal Rights Movement, and Kathy Stevens, director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary, each hosted tables on the exhibition floor. Society members in attendance included Jenny Brown, who is working to open the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Doug Abel, Melanie Carpenter, Cathy Palmer and others.

We look forward to hearing from you

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