Monday, August 18, 2008
I'm back home from AR2008, and I had a blast! If you've never been to the national animal-rights conference, I highly recommend you go next year. It was incredible to see leaders in our movement (some of which I hadn't heard of before) and to hear them speak.
I took lots of notes and will be writing several posts regarding different aspects of the conference. They may be a bit disjointed, as I only wrote bits and pieces from people's presentations. Also, I'm taking speakers at their word, so feel free to do your own research to find independent sources to support what they've said.
For this post, though, I just want to provide an overview of the conference, specifically for people who haven't been to one before.
The conference began Thursday evening with registration and a reception. At the reception I met a woman named Kathy, who works in D.C. She's not yet vegetarian but wanted to become one -- and I think the dinners helped in that regard. The food (vegan, of course) was delicious! After the reception, we had our first dinner and then the opening plenary, a session attended by everyone.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 9 a.m., conference attendees had their choice of three or four sessions to attend each hour. One track was for people new to the movement, and these sessions discussed different aspects of animal exploitation (ie. for food, for entertainment, for research, etc.) Another track centered on rap sessions, in which participants sat in a circle and were able to discuss issues with each other. Other sessions for more experienced people discussed oppression in other movements, activist repression, media campaigns, corporate campaigns, direct action.
In addition to the sessions, participants could browse the exhibit hall. I bought several AR-themed T-shirts. The one I'm wearing now is from Farm Sanctuary. It has a picture of a pig, a chick and a cow and says, "Be Their Voice ... Go Vegetarian." It's very cute.
At Saturday's plenary Heather Mills received an award, given each year to a celebrity making a difference for animal rights. I sat two tables from her. She got a lot of crap in her divorce from Paul McCartney, but I don't know either of them personally, so I'm not taking sides. We watched a video of Mills' work, and then she spoke as flashbulbs continued to go off.
A bigger thrill for me, though, than seeing Mills was watching Joe Espinosa get an award for his work. He's not a celebrity by any stretch, but I think that makes his work all the more special. He volunteers for Vegan Outreach's Adopt A College program. (I knew of him through the group's newsletter but hadn't met him until that afternoon.) Matt Ball, a co-founder of Vegan Outreach, told the plenary audience that Joe works Saturdays at his full-time, non-AR job so he can leaflet schools during the week. (I already knew this from Vegan Chicago Meetup because Joe, who lives in the same county as I, could never attend get-togethers because they are always on Saturdays.) That's dedication and sacrifice -- all for the animals.
I was also surprised to see two people from The Humane Society of the United States there -- although I didn't recognize Paul Shapiro. (His Facebook picture doesn't look like him.) He also received an award.
I don't know why the two biggest animal-rights organizations (HSUS and PETA) weren't represented at the conference. Yeah, Shapiro was there, but only to receive an award. No one from those organizations spoke, and they didn't have a table in the exhibit hall. I know there are differences in tactics within our movement, but I'd like to see all groups who fight for animals unite at least for one weekend. In the end, we're all fighting for the same thing, and a variety of tactics can be helpful.