Animal Activists Forum – Day of Activism

On what was a gloriously sunny day in Melbourne, the pre-forum day of activism was a great way to meet some new faces and catch up with familiar ones, but more importantly come together to raise awareness.

My first port of call was on Bourke Street to join the ‘Tear at the Jacket’ vivisection rally in Bourke Street Mall. It is a subject I am only vaguely informed about so when I was offered the opportunity to wear a monkey mask and hold a banner it seemed the perfect way to avoid any probing questions, while giving me chance to listen and learn.

Vivisection means to cut while living but is used now to describe all forms of animal research, whether it involves cutting or not. It is a form of testing drugs or chemicals on animals that provides no evidence that the product being tested is safe for humans. Each species responds differently to drugs and chemicals and research shows that most animal experiments are not relevant to human health.

I find it hard to believe that we still need to continue testing new cosmetic and hygiene products with or without animal testing.  Surely we have all we need. It seems each new product that comes out is just a new marketing spin on an old formula anyway. But as I learned today, it is common practice to carry out testing on animals so if there is a lawsuit against a manufacturer, they have a report to prove that a product is safe.

Next up was a short stroll through the Mall to take our positions outside Myer and join the March for Horses with The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses and Melbourne Against Horse Drawn Carriages. With The Melbourne Cup Festival soon upon us, horses will be very much in the public eye. To think that we still need this sort of ‘sport’ as entertainment is crazy.

The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses passionately campaign for the welfare and protection of horses that no longer make the grade in horse racing. They manage to generate some really good coverage (I noticed at lease one reporter from the ABC) and while they openly aren’t for a ban on all forms of horse use in racing and other sports, their animal welfare message is a strong one.

There was more visible opposition during the rally than at the vivisection demo, which I guess is to be expected as horse racing is ‘enjoyed’ by so many people –  myself once included – so it is a bit more confronting on a personal level to hear a group campaigning against. I try to empathise and would react very similarly if I turned up to an anti-football rally, but obviously the two aren’t comparable. I guess the best thing is to simply ignore them; they are not going to be convinced and pushing on with the message to the wider community, who as a whole seem quite receptive, is a better use of our energy.

We then began the march to Melbourne Town Hall as part of the Melbourne Against Horse Drawn Carriages leg. The chant, which drew a lot of thumbs up from passers by, was a simple call to make horse-drawn carriages a thing of the past. It is in the public eye more at the moment since a video went viral a couple of weeks ago when a horse in Melbourne collapsed in the street. There’s disagreement as to why the horse collapsed, but how it came about is obvious – just walking around a city that it is no place for animals.

Whether you’re against animal use as a whole (like I am) or not, I think it’s clear that we don’t need horse-drawn carriages. There’s a bigger accident waiting to happen.

As the procession continued I was waiting to pass a horse and carriage, eager to see the reaction, obviously from the business operator but especially from the paying passenger. I don’t look too badly on them – they see it as a perfectly legal and normal way of enjoying their day, most likely as a tourist on a beautiful spring afternoon. To then be faced by a rally in forceful opposition to what they were participating in would probably be a bit of a shock. I suspect I would mostly feel sorry for them, but it reaffirms how, as a vegan, I see the majority of the world – generally good but conditioned to accept the unacceptable as normal and OK because the darker side is hidden whenever possible.

I’ve not been a strict vegan for long (about a year as I write) and only stopped eating meat about three years ago so feel I am in a position to remember the normality and acceptance of animal exploitation and cruelty. It is perhaps the scariest thing, when talking to people about veganism and animal rights, that I might as well be challenging another established norm like that fire is hot and ice is cold.

On a side note, I was pondering what the general etiquette is when on a march. We are all very passionate about the cause and very serious about it too. However, as I marched alongside a very experienced campaigner from Animal Liberation NSW, I suddenly realised I might be smiling and in danger of having a good time.  It was a bit weird really because in a perfect world we wouldn’t need to and therefore choose to spend our time doing it.

I guess when you’re doing something you’re passionate about, there is always going to be satisfaction in that, and therefore some sense of enjoyment whether it be through accomplishment socially or fulfilling a need to participate.

Or am I commoditising the opposition to animal commoditization?

Or am I just over thinking it?

Anyway, after reaching Town Hall and submitting a petition to the mayor, we moved down toward Flinders Street where we set up camp at a prepared area to display our two messages and collect more signatures.

My final activity for the day was meeting with Vegan Outreach outside the University on Swanston Street. I’ve had the pleasure of joining Sam from Vegan outreach once before, leafleting in Sydney.

It is a simple concept of handing out the ‘Your Choice: Why Millions of People Are Choosing A Better Way To Eat” leaflet on mass to students and anyone else passing.  I like this game plan as generally I feel students are more receptive, but also because the front of the leaflet isn’t obviously a Vegan message but instead a health message. It definitely makes it easier to get more leaflets in hands and it’s not until you open the leaflet that you get the animal images.

Leafleting like this generally involves a couple of hours of smiling, repeating yourself over and over and dealing with the occasional ‘smart’ remark like the one (and one in two hours is tolerable) I got today “I like meat”.

What was most interesting during this part of the day was a quick conversation I had with a couple of dudes about Cowspiracy, a documentary everybody should see. One guy was telling his mate about a film he saw on Netflix and how animal agriculture is the leading polluter on and to the planet. I interrupted to ask if they were talking about Cowspiracy. The guy who had seen it agreed, but after establishing that I wasn’t paid for what I was doing asked why bother? After all, “you’ll never get the whole word to stop eating meat”.

That may be true, almost certainly in my lifetime, but the number of people eating meat has to drop and drop quickly for the sake of the environment, for the sake of human health and for the sake of animal welfare in cruel, intensive, factory farming practices.

But I wonder what realistic campaigners expect to be able to achieve? Often other huge human rights violations are used as examples as to how change can come about – slavery, women’s rights (a work in progress admittedly), LGBT rights (again not there yet), to name just three. Is it realistic to expect to be able to achieve such a transformation in the world when it comes to animal rights?

I don’t know. But I do know that even if I just take a purely selfish point of view, I have to fight the fight to be able to live with myself. My next tattoo is going to be a well-known Gandhi quote and one which we have used to tagline this website –  “You must be the change we wish to see in the world”.

I don’t believe the problem is necessarily individuals making the choice to selfishly exploit animals for their own fleeting gain, instead it is the prescription we are fed. The problem is one much cleverer people than me will be able to solve, one involving the “revolutions” John Lennon talked about, the one opposing our corporation led, capitalist government. So for now I can just do what I can and participate in what I know is right and good.

Tomorrow is the first day of The Animal Activist Forum and I am gearing up for information overload. I have a problem with information retention, so perhaps more importantly for me is two days of meeting new people, reaffirming existing networks and gearing up to lend my hand to the cause more and more.

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