Monday, August 29, 2011

Activism Down Under Part I: The Kiwis

I recently had the opportunity to go to New Zealand to give a talk in Wellington as well as speak at the country’s national animal rights conference in Auckland.

First of all, not only is New Zealand beautiful, but from Air New Zealand to the country’s shops, airports and buses, it is amazing how friendly people are. This is not an ad for New Zealand; however, it was very telling as our flight back was on a U.S.-based airline, and the staff was not nearly as polite. But I digress…

In Wellington we met some wonderful activists – some who had been around for a while and others who were new. The first evening we were there I gave a talk on food justice and the work of Food Empowerment Project.

In preparation for my talks, I had done some research on food security issues in New Zealand to see if the situation was any different from the U.S. Unfortunately, what I found was the same situation: it is primarily the indigenous Maori people who are living in areas where it is difficult to find healthy foods – fresh fruits and vegetables. And they too are lactose intolerant.

As much as I was glad that I was going to be able to speak on an issue that is a big part of the work we do, it was very disheartening to see firsthand that such an injustice goes beyond the United States.

I found that speaking about food justice issues sparked an interest among the activists, just like in the States. Many activists were interested in food security issues as well as wanting to learn more about how to buy chocolate that does not involve any child or forced labor. If you haven’t seen our updated chocolate list, do check it out: http://www.foodispower.org/chocolatelist.htm.

We had one day to play in Wellington and went to a bird sanctuary where we saw some of the most amazing birds. And listening to them? Well, it is times like these where you appreciate sound.

Food, oh yes – vegans love to talk about food – so the major food find in New Zealand was a delicious noodle soup called laksa. Okay, now, don't everyone post that you have known about this dish forever – but instead post that you will send me some!

Okay, back to Auckland! The national animal rights conference in New Zealand was organized by SAFE with input from local activists.

One of the things that amazed me about being there was how for so long my view of global animal rights activism has looked at what has been going on ‘across the pond’ in Europe, and apparently I had lost sight of what has been taking place down under.

When I was there, I learned that New Zealand no longer has wild animals in their circuses and no more marine mammals in entertainment!

On Friday night, the kickoff event was open to the public and was held in Auckland’s beautiful town hall. I spoke about various victories in campaigns I have worked on, from stopping a mega dairy to winning a lawsuit for the animals at the California Supreme Court. On Saturday, I spoke about food justice and was impressed to hear other speakers such as Lyn White from Animals Australia and many of the Kiwi activists.

For all the cruelty and ugliness that Lyn has seen around the world, she is an incredibly kind person. I encourage you to click on the link above and read about her work. She showed a lot of graphic footage of her investigations on live export (enough for the crowd to eventually plead for her not to show anymore), and although watching this footage pains me since I tend to relive these images in my head (unfortunately at night), as someone who has done investigations as well, I felt I should watch them. And I have debated for a few nights about including this link; however, as Lyn said, for anyone who tells you animals don’t feel, have them watch this video about Tommy. However, I really, really don’t encourage you to watch it if you already ‘get it,’ as it is one of the most painful films of exploitation that I have seen. Truly, this video, although not graphic, does need a warning.

A new face in the New Zealand animal rights crowd was Carl Scott. He built a cage near an egg farm and lived in it for one month to not only get exposure for the issue of hens raised in battery cages, but also to have an understanding of what it must feel like for them. Carl is the kind of activist I wish we had more of in the States. He is funny, passionate, thoughtful and humble. He is eager to learn and do more.

Honestly, I didn’t see much of the ‘fanfare’ or glorifying of individuals as I see in the States – for the most part, it seemed like there was an understanding of a lot of work being done together, and the celebrity status was pretty non-existent (at least in comparison to the U.S.). And I had to ask myself if that is because of the humility of the ‘leaders’ or the realistic understanding that activists have, or was it both? Either way, it was certainly refreshing.

Other Kiwi activists that I got to hear speak include Yolanda Soryl of the vegan New Zealand Vegetarian Society – I wish I had had more time to spend with her. We learned about the devastating earthquake in Christchurch from Nichola Kriek of SAFE – she made it all more human for me and helped me recognize the impact the quake had on the veg community.

And our Mark Hawthorne gave a valuable talk to activists around the globe about the importance of recognizing and avoiding burnout. On Sunday I gave one of my favorite talks on how to run campaigns. And I am thrilled that I have already heard from activists there since I have been back! And the lovely Mark Eden (an amazing activist who has been on the NZ scene for decades) led a workshop in which he broke us up into groups to see how we would deal with real issues happening in our backyard while encouraging us to use a variety of allies and tactics.

As New Zealand is so far away, I do worry that I won’t be seeing many of the incredible activists I met anytime soon. But I hope all of you (Mark, Tom, Raquel, Tim, Trudi, Nichola, Amanda Broughton and the rest of you) will keep in touch. Hugs and kisses to Queenie, Sabina, Pierre, Ninja, Bryan & Jack. My thanks to SAFE for asking me to speak and for taking care of the arrangements.

And thanks to everyone for their support of Food Empowerment Project’s work. We are so pleased to know that our work resonates with so many of you and that there is a global niche to fill.

A thumbs up to you all.

Next: Australia….