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Our Conferences Shape Our Movement

Conferences have proven to be the most effective vehicle for forming, shaping, and nurturing our movement. They offer documentation of animal abuses, activist training, and lots of inspiration and networking opportunities. They have been a boon to our movement.

How It All Began

The conference that laid the foundation for our movement was actually not about animal rights. It was the World Vegetarian Congress held on August 16-28, 1975 at the University of Maine campus in Orono (ME). Although most presentations dealt with diet and health, some addressed animal abuses. The Congress launched the U.S. vegetarian movement, leading to the formation of 60 local groups. It inspired a number of us to lead a future animal rights movement.

In the wake of the Congress, I launched the Vegetarian Information Service to disseminate information on the benefits of vegetarian eating. I also arranged a couple of small vegetarian conferences. This is where I met folks who had read Peter Singer’s recently published Animal Liberation and were eager to promote animal rights ideology. Although I didn’t fully understand the concept, I was impressed by their enthusiasm and the fact that they also opposed the use of animals for food. Was there a way of combining their small numbers and boundless enthusiasm with the large number of social vegetarians spawned by the World Vegetarian Congress?

There was only one way to find out. In August of 1981, I organized a conference called Action For Life on the campus of Cedar Crest University in Allentown (PA), to determine whether vegetarian and animal rights activists could work together. The conference led to the formation of PeTA, FARM, and several other groups. It became the launching pad of the U.S. animal rights movement.

The Action For Life conferences continued for six more years in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and Montclair (NJ).

The Second Team Enters the Field

One of the organizations formed in the wake of our 1981 conference was The National Alliance for Animal Legislation, offering annual legislative training seminars for animal activists. By 1987, the event had grown in size and scope to become a full-fledged annual conference that eclipsed our Action For Life events. The sponsoring organization had been taken over by past FARM employee Peter Gerard (formerly Peter Linck) and renamed National Alliance for Animals.

On June 10th, 1990, in place of the annual conference, Peter staged the March on Washington, our movement’s largest event, with 25,000 participants and sponsorships by nearly every animal organization. Participants visited displays and listened to some speeches on the Ellipse, adjoining the White House, then marched, chanting slogans, to the West Side of the Capitol for more speeches.

The annual conferences continued through 1995, attracting nearly a thousand participants.

In 1996, Peter attempted to combine the annual conference with a second March on Washington. The estimated attendance of 3,000 was great for a conference, but disappointing for the sponsors who had paid substantial fees and printed special handouts for the expected 25,000 marchers. Peter could not bear the multiple vicious attacks on his character and leadership. In mid-December, he called to inform me that he was dissolving his organization, stopping the conferences, and dropping out of sight – a huge loss for our movement.

The Animal Rights National Conference Is Born

It occurred to me immediately that the disappointing march turnout, followed by cancellation of the national conference, would have a disastrous impact on our movement’s morale. Although I had given up conference organizing ten years earlier, I was also the only movement leader in a position to do one on such short notice. I took up the challenge and organized a 1997 conference in suburban Washington DC, fully expecting that other organizations would step in in 1998 and 1999… But no one did.

Then, Y2K happened. All computers were supposed to stop working at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999. Prophecies ranged from the second coming to impending apocalypse. People were planning all kinds of strange things. But no one had planned to do an animal rights conference. So, I did it again. And kept doing it, until two years ago when, at the ripe age of 84, I turned over the reins to my long-term associate Jen Riley.

Never a Dull Moment…

The AR Conference has led a storied life.

At a 2002 plenary session, the MC referred to a female speaker’s great shape, leading a dozen attendees to mount the stage in protest. In 2003 and several subsequent years, other animal advocates attempted to borrow our attendees for conflicting presentations or outside events. One year, a small group of animal activists actually disrupted a plenary session and damaged some exhibits, because they did not like our program.

Until 2003, all major animal rights conferences had been held in the Washington DC area. We didn’t know whether the West Coast would support such an event and were afraid to lose the proven East Coast attendance in trying. In a 2003 fit of madness, I arranged two conferences one month apart, in Washington and Los Angeles. Both events proved highly successful, leading us to alternate between those two cities in subsequent years.

In 2004, The Humane Society of the U.S. led a permanent exodus by five major sponsors to protest a couple of our more radical speakers. They organized their own biennial conference called Taking Action For Animals, no longer active. PeTA withdrew sponsorship for a decade because attendees criticized their extreme dog and cat policies.

This year’s switch to a COVID-mandated virtual format may become a harbinger of things to come. Our society is becoming increasingly dependent on electronic communication, leading to loss of personal contact and the associated civility. Our movement may well reflect this troublesome social change.

DisclaimerΒ 
“The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the
Farm Animal Rights Movement or the Animal Rights National Conference.”

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42 thoughts on “The Vegan Blog”

  1. We have learned nothing, but I see a glimmer of hope in this next generation. There’s more love and willingness to care… Maybe I’m dreaming; naive; or surrounded by ‘nice’ young people, but it’s heartening. Thank you for everything you have done to keep those souls safe and loved πŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šβœŒοΈπŸ’•
    Alison,
    Co, Antrim
    N. Ireland

  2. Amazing post. Some people are shocked at the comparison between the Holocaust and what humans do to animals, but this is just speciesism. They feel that comparing human and animal suffering somehow discredits or diminishes human suffering, because they believe animals are lower than humans. Thank you Alex Herscaft for making this important point and hopefully the no vegan majority will see the truth soon. Peace and Love
    Emily

    1. I’ve always believed that animals are higher than humans not lower. They seem to be more evolved than we are. Compassionate loving and only by necessity… not for monetary gains or ego. As you all know! I don’t kill bugs either πŸ™‚

  3. Thank you. I often reference the holocaust in my animal activism and now here are your world changing words to back me up. Thank you thank you. Blessings.

  4. Dear Alex,

    I am moved and humbled by your experience as a young child and the journey it has taken you on. I am finding it hard to put in to words my gratitude that you have been able to find a positive trajectory for the suffering, pain and loss of life among your loved ones, not to mention countless others.

    I am only months in to living a more compassionate life. Vegan eating has been an easy conversion for me and my only regret is having not done it sooner. I have often been saddened by peoples’ lack of empathy towards fellow humans and found it hard as a child to understand racism. Little did I know I was implicitly being taught that oppression (in its’ many forms) was ok. I guess it has never sat well with me, but until only recently the connection between eating animals, animal cruelty and our oppression of people, has eluded me.

    Thank you for giving voice to such a big topic and sharing your experience. I look forward to reading more from you.

    Sincerely, Cyntra

  5. I was never in a camp. But I recognized oppression, and resolved to stop eating meat many years ago. Interestingly enough my own mother tried to guilt me about my decision. And she was raised on a farm.
    So thank you. I firmly believe that you cannot say you love animals and continue to eat meat…it’s more appropriate to say you love certain animals and hate the rest.
    And if you eat meat, you are harming the climate. That’s a proven fact. So thank you sir for your convictions. They are entirely correct.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have been a vegetarian since I was a child and a vegan for ten years.
    It is so refreshing to read that others see how this evil, everyday like slaughter, slavery and torture is acceptable if someone else does it for you

  7. Thank you very much for this website, for this clear message.
    I am from Slovakia, and I woul like to make translations of your blog posts, so people, who do not speak English, can read your important thoughts, if it is ok with you.
    I never heard thoughts about our beloved animal toys in our childhood opposing the teaching, that animals are food. I is very strong image of our internal incoherency.
    Thank you. I is honor to read your kind words!

  8. It’s awesome to become acquainted with a four-decade Vegan. I will keenly anticipate your periodic sharing of wisdom and advice

  9. Thank you. Sir for your incredible insight…
    World must start to understand that
    Savagery is. Savagery… no matter the species πŸ™

  10. This Text was verry emotional and show the same Violence to animals in high level how the Violence to jewish people before many years ago. Changes was only the Spezies,the cruelty ist the same and so unnessesary!!! Love all beeings is our learning Prozess! I fight for every Animal!πŸ’ͺπŸ’ͺπŸ’ͺ✌️I’m a vegan.❣️

  11. Thank you very, very much for calling on your family’s tragic experience, and that suffered by so many others, to advocate for fairness and compassion for all sentient beings. When will the world learn? “Peace on Earth, goodwill towards ALL.”

  12. This was the first time I heard of you. I’m already vegan , 3 years only unfortunately.
    I wish you can reach more and more people , your words are so powerful. I wish you health and happiness and that many people will hear you out

  13. Alex, I’m so grateful that you are still so active in fighting for the animals! Keep it up as there is still too much work to do. We are fighting against our own government which subsidizes the animal industry!

  14. What an excellent piece of writing to defend animal farming industry πŸ‘πŸ½πŸ‘πŸ½πŸ‘πŸ½ I’ve just shared it in Facebook

  15. Dear Alex, dear, dear man! I have for many years referred to the killing of these precious beings we share our Earth with as another holocaust! It has always saddened & sickened me. I am forever grateful for the work you do to try and bring awareness, awakening to the human species about what is REALLY going on!!! There are many times I cannot even leave my home for fear of what I might see! I pray and oh I do so hope one day this horrifically heinous treatment of these beloved beings, the innocents indeed will end! …. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for your kind comments.
    Additional information and lessons from the Holocaust about our oppression of animals are available on our website at https://never-again.org.
    The video of a speech I delivered before 2,000 vegan activists in England on August 31st may be viewed on the FARM Facebook page or YouTube channel.

  17. Thank you for the content of this piece, nicely written with lots of great historical information. (I wanted to re post it but I’m an aesthete and cant bring myself to post the cartoon pig logo)

  18. Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just
    wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading through your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?
    Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I am not aware of anything comparable. That’s why I was motivated to start this blog.

  19. Good question. Much of what I write about is material that I have given a lot of thought to or actually written about. Beyond that, when a thought strikes me, I put it down, name the topic, and file it. So, a lot of my writing is more a matter of rescuing these files, organizing the content in some meaningful fashion, and filling in the gaps, rather than generating new ideas.

    1. I hope to eventually, once the blog has become more established and assuming that the author is someone whose expertise and opinion I respect.

  20. This is a great reminder of how far we have come. Sometimes it seems as if we have stalled and that there is no way to reach the 8 billion people on this planet.

    But comparing the progress over the past four decades does reveal a real move forward. I can remember the day when wanting a veggie burger meant boiling lentils or soaking beans to start with!

  21. Thank you for this stunning, informative perspective that most people never consider. After going vegan in July 2014 I had a gut-punch realization that we do not live in a civilized society. The atrocities against nonhuman sentient beings remains hidden, justified with baseless rationalizations, or dismissed. The comparison to the holocaust has been controversial mostly because of this indoctrinated, false belief of human superiority. Equally tragic is the suffering people cause each other.

  22. Hello Alex,

    I feel your recent blog about Grassroots activism leaves out a lot and focuses instead on yours and Farm Animal Reform/Rights Movement’s grassroots history. I do agree, both you and FARM contributed a great deal, is that really all there is to the animal rights history? Perhaps your blog should be title different (FARM’s Grassroots Activism, or My Contributions to Grassroots Activism), and also the intro.

    I also question your assertion that “it [social media] encouraged some activists to waste valuable time posting images of the latest animal atrocities and bashing each other’s activities.” I feel you reduce it down and call many efforts to educate people who would otherwise never see anything about veganism and/or animal rights, much like your letters to the editor which many also question how effective they really are. Also, I’m not sure what you refer to exactly with the bashing each other’s activities, but sometimes being critical and looking within must be good for the movement, right?

    I would also like to add, I do not believe that the Save Movement and DxE are the only two US based grassroots organization, maybe you were thinking the largest? It’s worth nothing that DxE has had multiple confirmed cases of sexual assault from multiple people, some which are even protected by DxE and continue to engage in bad conduct. Also, allegations of not supporting rescued animals in sanctuaries, letting rescued animals die and many other serious issues.

    Thanks for your time and for your blogs.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Will. One of the key functions of our blog is to stimulate reflection and discussion.

      I listed FARM’s two largest grassroots campaigns for a couple of reasons:
      1. I am obviously more familiar with those and
      2. No other organization in our movement has maintained as many grassroots campaigns (the others being Vegan Earth Day and Gentle Thanksgiving) as intensely and for so many years as FARM has.

      My opinion on the impact of social media on grassroots activism in our movement is just that – my opinion. That’s why I used the qualifier “some” in referring to activists who were adversely affected.

      I never suggested that the Save Movement and DxE were the only American-based (Save is Canadian) organizations engaged primarily in grassroots activism. They are just the ones I am somewhat familiar with.

      Finally, I scrupulously refrain from passing judgment on the political correctness of an organization, because I am so familiar with how flimsy, hurtful, and destructive those comments can be.

  23. Hello Alex,

    Our movement of the last few years has had a lot of infighting, dealing mostly with tactic, effectiveness, funding, pc culture and #ARmetoo (or intersectional veganism vs not). I know these are big questions, but I was mostly wondering where you stand in all this.

    Specifically, with the #MeToo and intersectional veganism. Is there room for this in the movement or should everything just be focused on the animals? I feel we are missing goals here and forgetting the animals, but also I am conflicted because I do see how things are connected and that we can’t just look past it. Is it everything and anything for animal liberation, or is it a larger more interconnected fight and where do we start? What if someone is accused of sexual misconduct in the movement? Do we support trans rights? Farm workers? There just seems to be a lot and I’m fairly new to all this.

    I know this is a lot, and maybe a future blog article? But I’m curious your views on this.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Lindsay.

      Indeed, dealing with internal conflict is already on the schedule for a future blog essay. But let me give you a quick preview here.

      At the beginning, internal discord was minimal. We were so happy to find another individual who respected animals and didn’t eat them that we were willing to overlook any ideological or personal flaws. At the turn of the century, the internal conflicts were about strategies: welfare vs. abolitionism and direct action vs peaceful protest. These continue to this day, but with vastly reduced acrimony.

      In the last three years, the hot issues have been much more personal, revolving around sexual harassment and intersectionality. Obviously, sexual or any other form of harassment have no place in our movement, and any instances have been quickly corrected. Since then, we have had some instances of reverse harassment by women using the popularity of the #MeToo handle to harass men they don’t care for.

      Intersectionality goes back to the definition of veganism that I addressed in essay #9. Some of us feel that veganism is defined by what we eat and perhaps opposition to other forms of animal exploitation. Others, including myself, feel that veganism goes beyond to include the principles of Ahimsa and respect for other human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, other social justice organizations may not reciprocate our sentiments because they are so focused on the special worth of their victims and don’t want anyone comparing them with animals. I have dealt with this issue in my essay #13 Why We Oppress?

      The way I have dealt with internal discord and personal attacks is by sticking to my personal priorities: saving animals is #1, growing our movement is #2, and protecting my personal comfort is #3.

      Thank you for reading my essays and keep your comments coming.

      Alex

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