Talk presented by Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, for Animals, People, Environment evening organised by the Australian Association for Humane Research, 19 November 2003, Sydney.
Since the dawn of humanity individuals and groups have campaigned and tried to influence other people on issues of concern to themselves and others. We all have investments in our own models of the world and proliferating our ideals, moral codes and desires to arrange the world in ways we think fit. The philosophies of different people and cultures are by nature different and often contra to each other.
As people we frequently believe that we hold the superior point of view simply because our views are shapes by our experiences and learning; and that invests in us a great emotional attachment to our own particular perspectives. So what is right or wrong is purely a matter of viewpoint for individuals as well as groups. For those people whose ideas are out of line with the masses they may feel a need to campaign and influence others and groups into understanding the point of view at which they themselves have arrived.
Historically we know that campaigning, lobbying, and direct action work on all kinds of issues including human rights, land rights, social issues, environmentalism, and animal rights. The rapid reduction of PCPs from aerosols is helping prevent the rapid growth of the ozone hole and has been successful on a global scale. Replanting of trees has been a great success in the wood production industry where environmentalism has been seen to be in line with profit-making results in working alongside capitalists. The rescue and rehabilitation of bears and other animals from performing circuses has brought to the world community concerns for their welfare through the profit-making media such as newspapers and television.
Worldwide demonstrations against global capitalism outside buildings where international meetings take place for wealthy countries to discuss how to hang on to their wealth has brought to the minds of the masses a questioning of those countries’ ethics. Such direct action also targets multinationals like diamond merchants De Beers, ICI, McDonalds, and many other conglomerates whose annual budgets can be bigger than some countries. What we know is that when profit margins are on the line, what we may consider ethical business practice could be abdicated for the sake of dividends. As we look at ecological and animal rights issues we can see that many of our concerns as campaigners do not register in other cultures where their belief systems may not consider the long-term consequences of their actions upon the future health of flora and fauna.
What is plain to see to all those who step back and look at the bigger picture is that this planet is in trouble. We are rapidly destroying our biodiversity and eradicating many species from its ecosystem. This has mainly come about in an ever-accelerated form over the past two hundred years since the commencement of the industrial revolution. In other words, mass destruction has become efficient in the name of profit. In Australia alone, half the natural species have become extinct since it colonisation by Europeans two hundred years ago.
We as a global society have allowed drug and medical companies to have too much power so that they have become laws unto themselves. They produce new medicines and medical procedures and then justify their safeness by telling us they test on other species and produced no contraindications. It seems as fast as we get rid of traditional kinds of cruelty to animals, corporations test their preparations on the eyes of rabbits, lungs of beagles and subject defenceless animals to unspeakable torture all in the name of science but really in the pursuit of profit. Where canaries can no longer be allowed down coal mines, now rats are used in laboratories.
There will always be those whose motives are driven purely by greed with little thought for the wellbeing of our fellow creatures. Some of us, however, find these issues close to our own hearts and wish to be active participants in change and arrest destruction of our planet and prevent the screams of other defenceless creatures. We feel the need to campaign, lobby, protest and educate on the matter of interspecies cruelty and anti-vivisection.
The effective campaigner is one who comes to see these matters as a consistent life goal and can be involved in campaigns over the long term. They are committed to carrying on the education of other people throughout their life and are not solely restricted to one issue in isolation to the betterment of our planet or fellow creatures. Pacing oneself throughout one’s life to fight for environmentalism and the rights of animals is the best way to persistently and repetitively change things.
We all admire the radical campaigner who gives up all creature comforts to protest on behalf of a cause; but the reality is that in order to retain stamina and resources, a human being also has to consider their own wellbeing and creature comforts. In order to remain in good physical and mental health, one needs to take time out from the causes one is fighting to return to ordinary everyday living. Life, after all, needs to be fun.
Burnout occurs when someone becomes over involved with his or her work or external issues to the detriment of their own wellbeing. When life is divided between work, rest and play a balance is restored to health to give people the ability to think and behave clearly. When you lose momentum you are no use to the campaign you may have dedicated yourself towards.
I have campaigned most of my life for many causes for the past thirty-three years since I was 15 years old. I came from a culture of social reform and my father was trade unionist and local councillor until he was nearly eighty. What I learnt at an early age is that when the loss of money and profit are involved in social reform, corruption, deception and obviscation follow close behind. It is never personal but simply a human trait to defend market share and restore territorial boundaries.
Campaigners are often pigeon-holed and victimised, being cited as troublemakers, unreasonably lone voices or desperate despotic desperadoes who seek nothing but to be unreasonable and proletariats. One can find oneself on secret national registers, having one’s home raided or telephone conversations taped illegally by special government forces. This is not fantasy, but fact as we live in an age where difference is seen as a threat to the state.
Campaigners can find themselves socially, intellectually and financially ostracised, victimised for the ways in which they speak out about what they believe in. This can be lonely at times but it is important to remember that all voices of reason start as one unreasonable protest against the masses. What took me long time to realise is that I never was one of the mainstream in the first place and once I accepted that it gave me permission and reassurance that if I was often in dispute with society over many of the norms, then maybe I was thinking and not simply accepting dogma and propaganda.
Practising a discipline of the mind such as meditation, self-hypnosis, prayer or whatever system of psychological self-maintenance that works for you is a way of restoring the balance to your own life and reasoning processes. You can change what you can and celebrate victories and sometimes steps towards victories that may not come to fruition in your lifetime. One also has to come to terms with losing on some issues, letting go and moving onto the next part of your campaigning life. Persistence and perseverance are, however, the main progressive strategies that will eventually carry the day and win causes, both short and long term.
Another important help to avoid burnout is networking with fellow campaigners – those who have similar causes and goals. You may not always have the exact same goal but a shared workload can help produce more work more efficiently. Remember the motto United we stand, divided we fall. There is strength in numbers that can help heighten a cause’s public profile.
The involvement of some anti-vivisectionist and eco-warriors in illegally raiding laboratories and occupying sites of ecological importance cannot be said to be wholly wrong. The release of people from Auschwitz was the result of one force’s protest against another state’s actions. Peaceful protest, however, can be the only way forward and never physically attacking an individual or doing them physical harm.
There are those people who have gotten criminal records for their political actions or been put in jail for transgressing the law. They believe that what they did was right for them in fighting a cause in which they believed. Each of us must make our own choices and be guided by our own conscience and understanding that our beliefs may often take us into conflict with society.
Lobbying and education is needed in the present and future to stem environmental collapse and cruelty to other creatures. The quest will be an ongoing one for those of us who believe that we as human beings need to curb our action of destructiveness and cruelty. One can anticipate being involved with such moments for the rest of our life in order to push forward the causes in which you believe. It is important not to be over emotionally invested in these causes because that will drain the life and energy from you. What you can do is approach them on a consistent logical basis so that you will have the energy and resources to continue campaigning for a very long time – a lifetime – a life time campaigning for ecological preservation and kindness to animals.
Barry Horne, a British animal liberationist, set out to make a major breakthrough against the institutionalized support of vivisection and he was going to use his own life as the bargaining chip. He undertook three hunger strikes. The first one began in January 1997 and was called off during the last days of the Tory government, after Labour MPs promised action when they came to power, outlined in the ‘New Labour New Life…’ leaflet, promising among other things a Royal Commission to look into vivisection. The second hunger strike ended 35 days after Labour came to power and reneged on their promises. He died Nov 5th 2001 in hospital after going without food since October 21st. He had been sentenced to eighteen years in prison for planting a firebomb in the premises of a company that carried out animal testing and for possessing other firebombs. Despite the prosecution accepting that he had never intended to endanger or harm anyone, the judge handed down the long sentence.
Neil Barnard is an American doctor who runs the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is an organisation of doctors and laypersons working together for compassionate and effective medical practice, research, and health promotion. He has worked tirelessly for years to stop animal testing and prevent medical students having to practice on animals.
Also Americans/Europeans/Japanese For Medical Advancement (AFMA) promote human wellness by exposing the lost opportunities for cures and the life-threatening results of animal-modeled biomedical research. The organisation educates the public, showing how government and charities misspend medical research dollars and place us at grave risk. In his book Sacred Cows, Golden Geese, president and ex-vivisector Ray Greek shows, using the medical profession’s own documents how animal-modeled biomedical research yields results that cannot be safely applied to humans, how it diverts research dollars that should be going to proven methods of curing human disease and how industry introduces and keeps unhealthy and often deadly products in the marketplace through animal experiments.
So in conclusion you are only good to forward your causes when you are healthy enough and resourceful enough to put the kind of effort you need into that task. Stamina is always needed in the face of adversity. It is the strong that win the day not the absent, dead or depleted. Create positive images of yourselves in your own mind as being people who have a cause to forward and who train both physically and mentally to do that. You can be sure that the people who are recklessly destroying our planet and who are perpetuating atrocious cruelties upon defenceless animals are also training, and life is undoubtedly about the survival of the fittest.
Questions and Answers
When I give a talk or presentation of any kind, I like to turn it into a workshop, or at least a response to the paper I have given. Following are some questions that the audience asked in response to my request of what they wanted to take away from the session.
Q. I find it emotionally draining when I take part in animal campaigning because I find many of the things that I encounter, the cruelty to animals, deeply distressing.
A. I agree with you in that many of the things we do encounter as campaigners for the rights of animals, such as vivisection or other cruelty, can, if you allow them, to be emotionally draining. However, it is important in many ways that remember those animals need strong people to help them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be affected by these things, what I am saying is that you need to acknowledge that distress and move on.
What I’d like everyone to do now is sit for a moment with your feet flat on the floor, palms upturned on your lap and eyes closed…I would like to raise your heads, that is raise your chins above the midline so inside your head you are looking up to the right hand side…as you do that, I would like you to install an image inside your mind of you being a soldier…not soldiers that fight with swords or guns…but soldiers who campaign for animal rights with words and deeds…positive constructive deeds…see that image of yourself inside your mind…as tall as you can be, strong, with a smile on your face…a soldier who can positively construct good ways to help animals be free of emotional and physical cruelty…every time you think of yourself as being involved in campaigning for animal rights, I want you to see that image inside your mind, whenever your eyes are open or closed…you are a strong, helpful, balanced human being reaching out and making a difference in a good, positive way…then I want you to bring that image ever in your mind back to your waking life each and every day.
Q. I need to remain impartial when I’m writing. What technique can I use and how can I present myself?
A. I hope in every way that you will never be impartial. What you have been is educated about how cruel the world can be to defenceless animals and how diabolical many humans can be in soiling their environment and using up resources. I hope when you write that you always write with passion and you use the things you’ve learned to make logical cases. Remember, always use your references. Refer to academic and practical work, refer to historical work and refer to present-day situations, as well as leaving your reader with a vision of how you can make a difference and they can make a difference to the future wellbeing of the animals and our planet.
Q. I really want to know how to survive in the long term as a campaigner.
A. I think it’s very important that one paces oneself. There will always be campaigns to help and save animals from cruelty. And the hope that you will be involved throughout the whole of your life in putting the good message forward to treat animals well and to look at the world ecologically. So survive by pacing yourself for the long term. This sometimes may mean taking a step back and not being part of a campaign for a while or it may mean aligning other people to take the frontline. But you can remember, pace yourself so that you are in it as a life decision.
Q. I really get confused sometimes at what stage I need to take a step back.
A. I’m so glad you ask that because it is a common question that people do ask and it’s a very important one. Sometimes people become overwhelmed or worn out during the campaigning process. It’s important that you maintain a sense of wellbeing in yourself physically and mentally, for only then can you campaign to your best possible level. When what you are doing is becoming detrimental to you, that’s the time you step back, review the situation, recharge your batteries, reinvent yourself and rethink your strategies to go forward as a campaigner for animal and ecological rights. It’s a case of self-monitoring.
Q. I want to know how to keep the anger at bay when I become involved, particularly with laboratory experiments and saving animals who are being abused in labs. What do I do with that anger?
A. I can see that’s a real problem for many people and I want to first of all that anger is a genuine human emotion and it’s a response to what we consider unaddressed or something that we fear. I want you to always experience that anger, at least momentarily and then do something constructive with it. Not to experience anger at all or not to allow yourself to be aware that you are angry is very detrimental. In those cases anger goes inside and becomes physically and mentally destructive to you.
So experience the anger and then I want you to close your eyes and go inside. I want you to create a machine inside your mind and feed that anger into the machine – a magic machine. Then I want you to let positive constructive energy come as a force for good out of the other end of the machine, to change things. Although sometimes being angry burnishing a placard and marching up and down and shouting your message outside as a protestor is also a good way to express your anger to carthart it. I hope you will always be angry when people abuse animals and our planet and I hope you can channel that anger into positive constructive energy to change things.
Q. How do I deal with things when they are overwhelming? How do I deal with all the emotions and frustrations I experience when I’m campaigning and looking at videos of animals in laboratories or abbatoirs?
A. I bring you back to the original question – we are the soldiers at the frontline of animal rights in many ways. We set ourselves up to object to the way many members of society treat animals and to give them guidelines to treat them and the environment. So as soldiers, as infantory people, we have to go at the same problems again and again and again and again to get the message across. Remember, whatever you encounter isn’t about you personally, it’s about what human beings do that you would like them to do differently. So go out there and be soldiers.