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(DV) Salem Vegan Society: An Interview with Lee Hall







Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror:
An Interview with Lee Hall
by Salem Vegan Society
July 25, 2006

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Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror

Written by Lee Hall with Foreword by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
(Nectar Bat Press, July 2006)

ISBN: 097691591X


This month saw the release of a thought-provoking new work by Lee Hall, legal director of Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals (FOA), and a Dissident Voice contributing writer.


Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror defines animal rights, discusses dominant definitions of terrorism, and provides on-point analysis of relevant laws and campaigns.


Hearing that the book takes a look at these timely issues through a decidedly vegan lens, the Salem Vegan Society invited Hall to speak with us about her new work. She graciously provided us with the following interview.


Salem Vegan Society (SVS): Lee, we recently told readers about Dining With Friends, a vegan cookbook you co-authored with Priscilla Feral. How did you go from writing for a vegan cookbook to producing a book on activism and anti-terrorism law just in the past year?


Lee Hall: Actually, although it’s not immediately obvious, the two books do have a common nexus. In Dining With Friends, Priscilla and I discuss the key importance of the way we eat, the health of the planet, as well as our own health. We talk about how vegan living is direct action on behalf of all other life on the planet, and it’s direct action we can participate in every day.


Rather than eat animals from less objectionable farms - and we can assume that “less objectionable” means that the animals be given more space than would be the case at the typical factory farm -- we suggest veganism. Not only does it spare animals a life of being someone’s consumer good, but it also makes sense for nature and the animals who really can have the opportunity to live free lives.


Advocates of free-range farming seem to think that space for purpose-bred chickens, cows, and pigs is infinite. It’s not. Taking up more room for animal commerce makes no sense at all, from an animal-rights perspective. Veganism, in contrast, makes perfect sense.


So I wanted to explain that veganism -- not militancy -- is direct action, and that veganism -- not free-range farming -- respects animals and is the environmentally sound way to live. The Sierra Club won’t say that.


SVS: Have you asked them to?


LH: I have. Veganism simply isn’t being advocated by the wealthy non-profits. Free-range is very big these days, and of course many of these groups’ members can afford to shop for expensive, organic fish, cheese, and flesh foods. On a planet of finite space and resources, that trend isn’t sustainable. And it’s ethical game-playing. Trendy grocers want us to pay a premium to get those “less objectionable” animal products. Even VegNews had a recent article calling eggs from hens in sheds (rather than conventional cages) “egg-cellent news” for hens. What nonsense. This is all about humane advocates promoting very egg-spensive products.


SVS: Why would advocates act in ways detrimental to their cause?


LH: That’s what the whole book is about. The short answer is that a good many of their supporters or potential supporters don't want to upset their lives by going vegan and being part of the work of actually behaving as a true social movement. So rather than scare off such individuals, activists give them what they call a 'soft sell.' Of course, that automatically relegates vegan activism to the margins, and that’s a serious problem. I think the reason goes much deeper, psychologically, than developing the soft sell. I think it has to do with the way activists themselves think about other animals and about themselves. I discussed this with two psychologists when I was researching the book, and I concluded that both violence and the soft sell are detrimental techniques; and, moreover, that they work in tandem.


SVS: Activists unknowingly sabotaging activism?


LH: Yes.


SVS:  Do you offer a way out of these patterns?


LH: Yes, a start. What happens when activists get lost en route to some place? Do they sit there in the road? Do they keep going the wrong way? Or do they turn around and get on the right road?


SVS: Can mainstream groups learn to be supportive of this solution?


LH: Some environmental and civil rights groups have been supportive of serious grassroots activism. The environmental justice movement comes to mind. But with veganism, it’s clear that vegan activism is going to get a foothold only when people who are serious about it begin to promote it and educate people on the issues. Veganism is not about negotiation with industries regarding which kind of confinement we want to pay for. This is why Donald Watson, who co-founded the original Vegan Society in 1944, said veganism is about abolishing whole industries and striving to replace them with entirely with new, life-affirming ones.


SVS: You seem to be finding a trend that’s as much a part of the environmentalist groups as the animal-welfare groups.


LH: Some wildlife-protection groups actually say nothing at all about the connection between animal use and environmental problems. Those that mention animals carefully limit their concerns to factory farming. But all animal farming pollutes terribly and is directly related to the deforestation that’s killing the global biocommunity.


SVS: So the plight of species, as it relates to our farming practices, is essentially being ignored by the nature advocacy community?


LH: Yes, and this can be even more striking. As I describe in the book, and as my co-workers at Friends of Animals -- notably Daniel Hammer -- point out, animal and environmental advocates are now experimenting with chemicals meant to sterilize free-living animals when there’s some conflict between our interests and the interests of other animals in their habitat.


SVS: What do you think of the view that eliminating the use of some animals as production units, but continuing to use their "essence," if you will, their cells, could be to our advantage as humans? The talk about lab-grown meat comes to mind.


LH: When advocates praise the research on lab-grown meat -- putting aside that this research is being done right now through vivisection of goldfish and other animals -- it seems to me they’re abdicating their role as vegan educators. NASA is supporting this research on lab-grown meat.


So where is this all going? The physicist Stephen Hawking says that to survive Earth’s destruction, we must make plans to travel to the moon or to Mars within the next few decades. If scientists think that such a scenario is a real possibility, we can imagine saving agribusiness by preserving a few tissue biopsies so that we can set up lunar meat labs. Magic -- animal agribusiness without animals.  And what’s to become of the free-living animals? Would they be left to die? Perhaps a few would be transported to zoos on Mars?


I think it’s clear that this disposable planet idea, cobbled together in a few decades, is the essence of terror. On the other hand, a few decades of veganism could turn the damage around. If we can’t address the problems we’ve created right here on Earth, it seems preposterous to think that we can create a decent society somewhere else.


SVS: So the idea of living in harmony with nature is a key part of your view of animal-rights theory.


LH: Indeed. And bringing that into the discussion of terrorism, we should note that arson and bombs have never been about harmony with nature. Militancy, this trendy concept that tells activists that it’s time to declare “war” against the “animal-abusing scum” and show no mercy -- it's the same aggressive, competitive, controlling, might-makes-right thinking that's dragged our society into this whole mess. It made us insist, in all sorts of scenarios, that we are Us, and they are Them; that they’re outside our moral community, and we’re superior to them. It moved us to come up with the tools to make us mighty against all the other life, justified in killing off anything and anyone apparently in the way of the progress of mankind, or whatever it's been called for the past 10,000 years since domestication began.


At the core of vegan understanding is the avoidance of dreary patterns of violence, for violence underlies the very trouble that we came here to transcend. A truly vegan animal-rights movement would necessarily be non-violent, and it is no accident that Donald Watson, throughout a rich life that lasted most of a century, never wavered on this point. Watson was a conscientious objector to war. Notably, Watson never said that war could be made humane. Yet that’s exactly what most of society did in the 1940s.


SVS: What is the significance of the churchyard in your book title?


LH: A family-run farm in central England supplied guinea pigs to product-testing companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences. As the farm was located in a small, country village, it seemed a relatively easy target for closure. Over the course of several years, activists became increasingly frustrated with the owners of this farm and their refusal to relent to the pressure of the campaign. Eventually, the entire village became a target. One day, remains were dug up from a nearby gravesite and taken away. The body was that of Gladys Hammond, who was related to the farm owners by marriage. The family’s resolve began to crumble.


SVS:  They closed the farm?


LH: Not exactly. They stopped breeding guinea pigs and resumed full-time dairy farming. And now, as you can imagine, most people in the area take a dim view of the leadership potential of animal advocates. In fact, throughout Britain, animal advocacy is facing a severe backlash, and it’s not limited to there. Animal advocacy, just like animal testing, is global.  So is law enforcement today.


SVS:  What happened to the gravediggers?


LH:  Four people pleaded guilty -- not to grave-digging, but to using the digging as part of a blackmail campaign. Laws in Britain, and here, now allow for serious jail time for conspiracy. That way, the government may avoid having to prove personal culpability for specific illegal acts. As these cases play out, the laws continue to expand government authority.


SVS: Should part of animal-rights law be about defending those accused of violent acts or intimidation?


LH: Defendants need representation when charged under the criminal laws, and our constitutional rights need defending. So lawyers are needed to do such work. I’m not sure, though, why animal-rights lawyers would be specialists in these areas. I think there’s a misconception that cases involving claims of property damage, organized intimidation and so forth are advancing radical positions. Making oneself and others vulnerable to law enforcement is not radical; nor is domineering conduct radical. This point is underscored by today’s economic reality, with prisons connected to private profits and county budgets, and with prison companies now operating as multinationals. When activists go into these places, they become raw materials for yet another industry built on caging living individuals.

In brilliant contrast, veganism makes a truly radical appeal: We can, and we must, reject oppressive methods in order to bring about a society that renounces domination and control of other animals, and enables us to live according to our true potential.  So I set out to show how and why this should guide activism, with regard to any industry in existence, anywhere in the world.

The Salem Vegan Society is a vegan and animal rights educational and news resource based in Salem, Massachusetts. This interview first appeared appeared on the SVS website. Thanks to Priscilla Feral of Friends of Animals. Readers can receive a complimentary Friends of Animals membership by ordering Capers in the Churchyard directly from FOA.

Other Articles by Lee Hall

* Animal Rights, Untamed
* Sustainable, Free-Range Farms and Other Tall Tales
* Chocolate, Unchained
* Animal Advocates Find Religion, as Tots Take Up Arms in Bear Hunt

* Civil Rights Groups To PETA: “You Have Used Us Enough”
* The American Way of Death Casts Its Shadow East
* We the People, You the Rest… and the Sierra Club Part II
* We the People, You the Rest… and the Sierra Club Part I
* Refocus Seal Intervention Where It Belongs: Government Subsidies
Globalizing Homeland Security Part II: Before and After Tuesday

* Globalizing Homeland Security (Part One): Doing Time for the Towers
* Blood on the Campaign Trail
* Bringing Social Justice to the Table
* People for the Exploitative Treatment of Arabs?
* Fit To Be Tamed