Autonomy, or choice, is at the core of any being’s legal rights. Although, in no way perfect, human rights have been developed over the years to protect certain freedoms, this includes expression, torture, access to democracy, and even freedom itself.
But what about the rights of non-human animals? Can they be afforded the same rights…and if so, does our present legislative process offer ways in which we can fight for these rights?
Moreover, is the animal rights movement poised for the job?
Animal lobbyist and founder of DC Voters for Animals (DCVFA), Max Broad, believes we can be.
“It will take a fortified, defined and organized movement in order to drive legislation towards a direction of animal rights protection.”
As a bright-eyed college student, Max traveled to Mexico where he witnessed firsthand how advanced other countries were in their environmental stewardship. Having a strong background in climate advocacy, he was able to recognize the signs of vulnerability experienced by developing countries to the pollution that, historically, comes mostly from the United States.
This would inevitably inspire Max to get his Masters in Environmental Science & Management. He later accepted a position in Washington DC as a contractor for the Department of Energy which further led him to the National Wildlife Federation where he had the honor to advocate amongst the top United Nations’ global climate negotiators.
Back home, Max was raised in a family of omnivores, however, they were not opposed to eating the occasional meat-free meal.
“I was fortunate to not have the typical association with meat and masculinity growing up. Men can be so insecure about their masculinity that any deviation from meat at a meal can feel like an assault on our manliness.”
During Max’s career as an environmental advocate and protector, he was particularly confronted with the significant impacts of beef. After learning the corporations raising cows for food were responsible for almost 2/3 of the world’s deforestation, he made the decision to stop eating red meat.
As Max became more aware of the brokenness of our food system and its major impacts on animals, people, and the environment, he continued to further align his buying power with his values and at 27 became fully vegan.
“Although no one else in my family is vegan, I am exceptionally proud of the progress they have made. Many have cut back and significantly opted out of animal products,” adds Max.
With his new vegan perspective, living in DC and witnessing how much of animal rights legislation was getting stuck in committees, Max decided to put his negotiating skills to greater use and in 2019 launched DC Voters for Animals; his official response to witnessing other cities being able to pass animal rights policies while similar policies end up getting virtually stuck in DC.
“It wasn’t that people in DC didn’t care; we just were not well organized.”
According to Max, important bills were getting introduced but would slowly then deteriorate in committee. When DC Voters for Animals came on the scene, they immediately were able to help pass a bill that had been reintroduced three times because it kept dying in the same manner.
Under Max’s leadership, DC Voters for Animals lifts up the policies and politicians doing the most good for animals in Washington, DC. They work for all animal interests, including companion animals, animals on farms, in labs, as well as wildlife and others.
DCVFA is championing a bill to ban fur sales. If DC can pass this bill and go fur free, it will be an amazing step for the nation’s capital to join the growing number of cities, states, and countries taking steps to end this cruel, destructive, and careless use of fashion.
In addition to its ‘Ban Fur Bill’ DCVFA is currently working on expanding advocacy efforts on behalf of wildlife and migratory birds, promoting healthy plant-based food, and focus on shutting down puppy mills, dog fighting, and more…but there is still so much work to be done.
Politics is the Venue for Systemic Change
In Max’s words, “Big Meat is winning the politics game,” and it is having disastrous impacts for animals and the environment as major corporations consolidate power. Massive conglomerates like Sysco, Tyson, Cargill, JBS and others wield so much power over our government, they even influence research that minimizes the link between animal agriculture and climate change which profoundly impacts climate-related policies and the public’s belief systems.
Their ability to strong-arm the government into doing things that work in their favor such as Ag Laws, subsidies, and keeping the identity of special interest group’s financial support hidden is a testament to their focus and strength.
According to The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), groups like The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Institute, the National Chicken Council, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the American Farm Bureau Federation and its state group collectively have spent over $200 million in lobbying since 2000, lobbying annually on climate-related issues like cap-and-trade, the Clean Air Act, and greenhouse gas regulations.
This is what we, our movement, are up against!
Do we really want to leave votes on the table or be complacent about where our movement needs to focus? This IS the value Max Broad and DCVFA bring to that table. They not only interact with legislators to make sure our side is heard on a daily basis, they also provide information to anyone interested in educating themselves on what bills are up for consideration and which legislators are supporting and seeing them through.
This process simply cannot happen without our participation. Fortunately, the animal advocacy movement is growing both in its enthusiasm as well as its capacity for political advocacy.
“While eating vegan is voting with our dollar; elections are voting with our government’s dollar. And the government has a lot more money than we do.”
So Much More Than Money
During the pandemic, we saw our government make decisions that largely impacted the marginalized, low-income family, and migrant worker. We witnessed the decision to increase slaughterhouse kill speeds, causing more violent deaths for the animals and exposing workers to higher injury risk…and this is not a partisan problem.
Our present administration is trying to overturn the will of California voters’ decision to stop extreme confinement of animals on farms. This mindset and actions demonstrate the animal voter is not yet an important constituent.
As a movement, we are not yet large or defined enough for politicians to know what policies we stand for. Max believes this will change, especially on the local level, where headway is rapidly growing. DCVFA is on the forefront of this transformation.
Max reminds all of us to look at all the cities that have banned fur sales and the amazing measures to prevent confinement, the incredible initiatives to normalize and develop plant-based and animal-product alternatives; and reform is already happening, encouraging institutions to shift toward more plant-centered dining. The incentives all align…eating animals is disastrous to our health, the environment, the animals, and the laborers – and there is certainly momentum as we build power on the political stage.
This progress requires dedication and work. Max, and DCVFA, are hard at it. They develop politician scorecards, host candidate debates, give candidate questionnaires on animal protection, and endorse the right candidates.
DC Voters for Animals also encourages legislative change throughout the country.
And if you believe in systemic change, another group that Max recommends is the Humane Society of the United States; “They have a great program to empower animal advocates to impact policy,” says Max.
Another influential group is the Agriculture Fairness Alliance (AFA). The AFA acknowledges that the animal rights movement is not big or rich enough to shut down animal abuse and slaughter, but we can create pathways for farmers to opt out of animal agriculture.
Many farmers find themselves caught in a debt cycle that keeps them working for big ag conglomerates. AFA is presently working with legislators to set up policies that would help these farmers shift to growing crops that are increasing in demand and give the farmer more independence in their business model.
The Nuts and Bolts
As an Animal Lobbyist; Max works to influence legislation to protect animals. He knows the influence that lobbying can have on animals’ lives, he sees the impact when his organization’s voice is at the table, and they invite other animal advocates to join them in lobbying for animal protection.
Max is a regular in the halls of DC Council. He highlights the ‘side meeting’ as discussed in Julie Lewin’s book Get Political for Animals and Win the Laws They Need. He explains that by simply being in the same building as the legislators and their staff provides opportunity for ad-hoc discussions that are important for keeping initiatives alive and in progress.
Max explains, although most politicians had not had animal issues on their radar pre DC Voters for Animals, they are working hard to change that. He recognizes that fortunately, most if not all politicians have in some way related to animals, be it with a rescue dog, a childhood companion animal, or concern for the environmental impacts of eating meat.
However, Max feels it is very important to make the clear distinctions between political advocacy and most animal activism.
“Politics is about building a movement and coalition. While there are different strategies for doing this, I center positivity and work toward solutions. It is important that all social justice movements have diverse approaches, but calling out and shaming are not part of my political game; I want people to be attracted to animal protection and for them to find their inherent compassion ringing loudly,” Max added.
Engage – November 8th is Approaching
As elections approach Max’s focus turns from policy to campaigning. He wants to get the politicians in office who will do the most for animals, and he wants the candidates to be thinking about animal issues at a time when they are most sensitive to constituent concerns. To this end, as you are reading this, Max and his team are currently endorsing candidates in DC.
When communicating with those that ‘think differently,’ Max suggests asking open-ended questions.
- How do you feel about how the animals are treated in factory farms?
- Are you aware of the impacts animal agriculture has on our health and environment?
- Are you aware of the conditions in factory farms?
Using the Socratic Method, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions, to help others decide what their best answer is, offers the least threatening way to get your point across.
Max instructs us to not let our anger toward the injustice of animal cruelty spill over, and reminds us when we are patient and supportive, we are our best selves. The conversation is not about us and our feelings but what is most effective for stopping the commoditization of sentient beings.
There will always be individuals who align their moral compass with what is legal or illegal. For this reason, legalizing the rights of animals is a vital part of the shift we all aspire to.
The political arena is ripe for change, and we must do our part as individuations of the whole to lift up the politicians who represent our voice; then they may be forthcoming about their personal views and empowered to passionately impact legislation.
Social media is a great way to engage with and endorse pro animal rights politicians. They pay attention to their Twitter feed. Twitter Storms, where multiple accounts tag a targeted politician at the same time as part of a campaign, are really effective.
Ballotpedia is a wonderful resource to track elections, and with a quick search it also helps us to keep up with the bills we are interested in and when they are up for a vote.
To identify and endorse politicians who are pro animal rights, seek out Humane Society Scorecards.
Outside of the DMV area? You can find the elected officials in your area here.