Let Live 2009 recap
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Joanne and I went down to Portland this past weekend for the Let Live Animal Rights Conference. If you missed it, here’s a bit of a recap of the weekend. I couldn’t go to all the sessions, unfortunately, but the ones I went to were definitely educational. The only problem is that now I’m constantly re-thinking all of our campaigns and tacticts to try to judge what is effective and what isn’t and what our goals should be.
First off, the people were amazing. Every single person I met is and will be an inspiration to me to keep working for the animals. The organizers really did a great job of putting together a conference that brought a whole spectrum of activists together in one place to share ideas and learn from each other. One of the talks I attended was a talk on “Moving Beyond Our Differences” by Will Potter, but the conference really exemplified this idea.
We hit a bunch of traffic on our drive down (9 hours!) so we missed the beginning of the opening night party (and the soft-serve ice cream). We did make it in time to see Josh Hooten doing some rocking karaoke. I got to see Jason, who flew back from Ottawa where he’s been running a nice little grassroots foie gras campaign. VADL was representing, as well as a number of “unaffiliated” people from Vancouver, including Jonathan Skinner, founder of Vancouver Vegetarian Association.
At one point in the evening I ended up in a conversation about foie gras campaigns with David Shirk from Seattle’s NARN and Gene Baur (founder of Farm Sanctuary). Being in a conversation with Gene Baur was one of the high points of the weekend.
Kim McCoy from Sea Shepherd gave the opening talk. She had some good advice for activists:
- Choose 1 thing and stick with it
- Do something about it & move forward
- Know your rights
- Get over yourself
- Be good to each other
- Be good to yourself
One thing that stuck with me: recognize when what you are doing ceases to be effective; rethink and re-invent.
Peter Spendelow suggested, in his talk “How to reach Environmentalists”, that we not attack environmentalists on their identity as an environmentalist (i.e. “You can’t eat meat and call yourself an environmentalist”) but instead speak to environmental issues without attacking. He gave a nice outline of food chain ecology, then went over the environmental impacts of animal agriculture in a way that was easy to understand. His slides are available on the Northwest Veg website.
Nik Hensey & Matt Rossell lead a session on “Dealing with Confrontation at Outreach Events”. Here’s what I took away from that talk:
- Genuinely listen to people when they are upset and be willing to let our guard down about who and what other people are. Everything can become an opportunity, even anger and conflict.
- Constantly re-asses what is effective and if it’s worth our time.
- If fear of arrest is holding you back from taking part in events, don’t. The chances of getting arrested are slim to none, and you would probably see an arrest coming a mile away. Most arrests happen because activists want to get arrested or are unwilling to back down. Only go as far as you are comfortable going.
In my talk with Pulin Modi from Peta we went over social networking tools and how to use them. It was fun and the audience had some good questions. This is the second year that I’ve done a talk with Pulin. I mostly covered Twitter (follow me on twitter) and some tools to help make managing social networks easier, like tweetdeck, ping.fm, and bit.ly.
I finished out the day with a talk by Jasmin Singer on writing. Jasmin is an awesome bundle of energy who co-writes the Farm Sanctuary activism blog, Making Hay. I think what I took away from this talk was just that if I want to write I should just start writing. Whether it’s letter writing, blogging, magazine articles, a book, whatever, it’s important to start writing, find my voice, and get the information out there. That and knowing when to network (which is apparently all the time). She closed with a variation on a quote by Josh Hooten: “Write like you give a damn.”
A local vegan pub (yes, a vegan pub!), the Bye and Bye, had a fundraising evening for the conference, so everyone finished out the night there. We drove over to the Oregon Humane Society to see some of the remaining dogs from the rescue that Joanne helped with. One of them is 10 years old, not house- or leash-trained, and may never get adopted.
Some of the other people went to a huge (50+ people) foie gras protest at a couple of restaurants.
The Bye and Bye party included a bunch of conversations with the folks from Seattle about foie gras and a chat with Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals about foie gras campaigns and vegan outreach. Nathan is awesome.
I gave my talk on blogging to an intimate group at 10 am. It was good, I think, but we’ll see when they send me the video…
I then (gulp) split a session on tools for activism with Erica Meier, the Executive Director of Compassion over Killing. Boy did I feel outclassed! She covered food outreach, mostly focused on their work reaching out to restaurants to offer more vegan options. One of my favorite stories is about Java Green, which is now one of the best vegan restaurants in the Washington DC area. I finished up with some ideas on internet activism, including social networking and other online actions. We had a nice conversation in the session about website comments: anonymous or real-name and how to deal with arguments and trolls.
After lunch I went to Erica Meier’s talk about “Marketing Our Message: Outreach on a budget” which gave us some ideas about running ads and working on different publicity and marketing strategies.
The final talk of the day was Will Potter talking about “Moving Beyond Our Differences” which was really good. It’s actually valuable that there are activist working across the spectrum of tactics, and it’s important to remember that we really do agree about 90% of the time. Concentrating on what we can accomplish together is more important than concentrating on the small details that separate us. A couple of key points from his handout:
- Remember that it’s usually not our differences, but how we relate to our differences that determines whether our interactions are productive or destructive.
- Social movements have succeeded not in spite of the differences within their ranks, but because of them.
- Acknowledge that there is truth on both sides.
Whew! That’s about it for the conference for me. Josh, Chad, and all the other organizers, as well as the volunteers and speakers, did a fantastic job putting together a totally worthwhile grassroots conference. I can’t wait until next year!