This blog entry is about as overdue as a Democratic president. But alas, here I am, coming out from the rubble of a month full of vague obsessions with Rachel Maddow, birthday mayhem which unfortunately led to a mostly-accidental teenage-like hangover, rescued roosters and road trips, and some pretty big small victories in our country.
Who was it that implied community organizers don't actually do anything? Or was that just a bad, icky, nasally nightmare? Aside from Obama's history of community organizing, this election would not have had the same results if it weren't for tireless volunteers and activists who knocked on doors relentlessly to ensure victory.
Annoyingly, I know more than a handful of people who didn't vote in this election, because of a varying degree of anarchist (and other) principles which made them feel that if the country can't be run in a way that is totally 100% on par with their beliefs, then they should boycott the election entirely. It perplexes me why these leftists can't see one candidate as better, at least, than the other--especially in this election. I like the way it is summed up here, by a self-described "eco-anarcha feminist animal." Regarding the "animals left unprotected in a Palin administration," pattrice jones says:
Me, I don’t believe that my right to symbolic self-expression trumps the interests of those animals. I know that my vote counts, whether or not I choose to cast it. If not casting a vote in any way contributed to the creation of the alternative political structure we need, that would be different. If we had a system where failure to capture a majority of the votes of eligible voters disqualified a candidate, that would be different. But one of those two men surely will win and which one it is surely will matter. Let’s not forget that Bush, who so many Greens falsely claimed was precisely equivalent to Gore in 2000, repealed several hundred environmental regulations enacted by Clinton-Gore. We all live on a different planet as a result. Let’s learn from history rather than repeating it. If only for the polar bears, let’s keep Sarah Palin out of the White House.
Unimportant Aside: I do wonder, now that Obama is packing his bags for the White House, what's going to happen to Tina Fey's career? It must be like how I felt when I played Momma Rose at 15... it's kind of all downhill after the role of a lifetime.
As for me and M, and likely most of the rest of the country, we didn't get much sleep on Nov. 4. What kept us awake, specifically, aside from the presidential election, was following Prop 2 in California. Prop 2 is an initiative that was on the ballot last week--asking residents of California to vote yes to ban three of the most egregiously cruel confinement systems in the entire state, effective 2015. The vote PASSED by a landslide--making this the biggest step forward for farm animals in this country to date.
Earlier in the year, I got to travel around California with the Truth Behind Factory Farming Truck, a multi-media vehicle (literally too) that showed the horrors of battery cages for egg-laying hens, gestation crates for pigs, and veal crates for cows. We leafleted everywhere--from gas stations to churches--to help spread the word about this important initiative. In the coming months, the campaign really took off, even winding up featured on such shows as Oprah and Ellen (the latter of whom is a brand new vegan!).
M and I finally fell asleep around 2:30, when we were pretty sure it was going to pass. At 4, I woke up and checked my email (my computer was beside me in the bed). "We won," I sleepily told her, and we fell back asleep--spooning--knowing full well what this victory meant, not just for the millions of animals affected, but for the future of the animal rights movement in this country.
The next day I brought Cali the Rooster to Farm Sanctuary. A volunteer, Michelle, had found him in a parking lot in Nyack, and another volunteer, Greg, offered to drive him upstate so he could start the rest of his life. Cali--named, obviously, after the California initiative--was beautiful and robust. He was totally quiet and deeply thoughtful, until the sun started going down, landing for a moment in his pretty eyes. He wanted us to know it was time for bed, and boy oh boy does that boy have lungs! (Later that evening, during a dinner with a bunch of Farm Sanctuary colleagues, we all compared chicken-in-a-car stories. You know you're at Farm Sanctuary when...) Chickens are truly the most sensational creatures--they are brave and funny and social and intelligent. And someday soon, in California, they can stretch a little.
What does it mean to stretch a little? To stretch a little means that over 6 million Californians who had possibly never before questioned where their animal-derived "food" had come from, questioned it, saw the injustice, and decided that a modest measure was the least they could do. To stretch a little means that those who felt that voting yes on Prop 2 was too little, challenged themselves to go vegan and stop eating the animals entirely. To stretch a little means that thousands of people throughout the country spent hours of their time doing fund-raisers, leafletings, phone-banking, and writing letters-to-the-editor, in order to spread the word about Prop 2 and factory farming cruelty.
But to stretch a little means that while you are seeing the huge gigantic victory of Prop 2 passing, you also see that this is just a small indication of a larger possibility. And while it is truly victorious that farm animals have been given this attention, this "right," they are still being commodified in ways that are inexplicable and unfathomable, they are still not covered in the Animal Welfare Act or the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, there are still not any laws covering transport, and there are still 286 chickens being killed for food in this country every second. Stretch your mind--think of what that means.
Prop 2 passing is gigantic, but that's because farm animals are treated as the lowest of low--as soulless machines who can be misused for our own pleasure and profit. Prop 2 is historic for this country--yet the entire European Union has already either banned these three confinement systems, or they are currently on the phase-out. Prop 2 is a teeny-tiny, hugely-gigantic, little-big victory.
It is most certainly not time now to go home and twiddle our thumbs and eat our tofu scramble and say "there, we did it." It's okay to say "we did it" (because, holy crap, we did!) but thumb-twiddling is not allowed. It is now time to pick up the paper and the pace and spread the word even wider and further--it's time to enact similar legislation throughout the country, even federally. It's time to advocate veganism as not only a viable but a necessary step toward conquering global hunger and warming, egregious unfathomable cruelty, and commodofication of the many animals--both human and non--who are affected by animal agriculture. Prop 2 is just the beginning. And as my former intern and current friend, Cody, said so eloquently in an email he sent last week--"A lot of work by a lot of people laid the groundwork for this moment, not just in the past year but in the past several decades. However, I believe that when the book is written on how factory farming was finally and permanently dismantled, today will be the first chapter."
Meanwhile, Prop 8 also passed in California, though this was far faaaaaaar from victorious. Now, I'm not a fan of marriage. IMHO, I don't think that straight marriage is something we should want to mirror because it is full of deep dark flaws. That said, I think it's asinine that gay marriage is not legal in this country. My feelings about the entire (gay or straight) institution of marriage aside, it is nauseating that we can't have that opportunity, too, if we wanted it.
I was truly moved to unexpected tears by this commentary by Keith Olbermann. I marched in the Marriage Equality of NY Parade because I think that gay marriage is a modest measure--just like the chickens who can soon turn around. Gay marriage is not the be-all and end-all. But it should damn well be allowed for those who want it.
Last weekend I had the honor of giving a workshop alongside my colleague Matt Rice (if we combined names, my name would be Jasmin Rice) at the SUNY Social Justice Conference in Binghamton, NY. Our workshop was called Whom You Consume: Why Animal Rights is Central to Social Justice. We touched on the inherent subjugation within animal oppression--not just of the animals we eat, but also of the slaughterhouse workers who are victims of racism and extremely dangerous working conditions, the women who are marginalized as "pieces of meat" just as animals are made into pieces of meat--and the list continues. There are concrete connections between dairy and feminism, between AIDS and vivisection, between cockfighting and gay-bashing. Similar justifications have been used throughout time to rationalize othering these groups--and by "these groups" I mean insert-oppressed-group here (gay people, animals, the list goes on and on and on...).
How do we end it? We see the little big victories. We note them as victories and we celebrate those. And then we see them as the stepping stones they are--ways of moving onward and upward toward a more just society. How do we end it? We live consciously and remain aware of our privilege, and try our damnedest to not use our unjust power to continue the horrific cycles that have gone on for thousands of years, because the empty rationalization it's always been done that way is not an excuse; rather, it is a dangerous disconnect that is way too common.
Marriage is between a man and a woman--it has always been this way. We should not redefine marriage, right? Not right, no. As Keith Olbermann reminds us, if marriage had not been redefined, then two black people would not be allowed to marry each other, let alone someone of a different race.
It has always been this way. Humans have always eaten animals--it is part of the natural chain of command. No! Humans were vegetarian until fairly recently, evolutionarily speaking. It has not always been this way. 10 billion land animals have not always been killed in this country for food on a yearly basis.
We are all animals, and we all have the capacity to suffer, no matter what species or sexual preference we are.
While speaking at the conference upstate, I was able to see historian rock star Howard Zinn, give the keynote speech. Zinn--author of my favorite ever history book--spoke to a sold-out crowd about how it's time to redefine terrorism and heroism, and about how socialism needs to make a comeback. At one point, a college kid yelled to Zinn, "RIGHT ON!" and Zinn said "Huh? What?" "Right on!" the guy repeated, to which Zinn replied, "I haven't heard that since 1968. Glad to see things aren't all lost."
Howard Zinn once said: "Americans have been taught that their nation is civilized and humane. But, too often, U.S. actions have been uncivilized and inhumane." He also once said this: "Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world."
Right on, Professor Zinn. Indeed, you are correct--things are not all lost. Every now and again, we stretch, then we stretch some more, and eventually we find new ways of moving.