One of The Kinship investigators working undercover has dropped out of sight. When Jude tries to find out what happened, she runs headlong into a bio-pharmaceutical experiment gone awry. And the local farming community is paying a life-threatening price.
It’s always been hard for us to leave our rescue dog Kaley for any length of time. She’s a rather nervous girl and often won’t eat or even chew on her favorite bone when we’re away. And it’s hard for us to leave her with even the most responsible dog sitter. It would always remind me of when my husband dropped off our five-year-old son at Kindergarten for the first time. When my husband assured him that he would do just fine, the little guy clung to his leg and said, “But you don’t understand. No one here loves me.”
That’s our problem leaving Kaley. We know she’ll be fed, taken for walks, and petted. But she won’t be loved. Not the way we love her. SO…
This year, we took her to the Taking Action for Animals Conference in Arlington, VA. Certain she would freak out at the crowds – at getting in an elevator – at walking along a busy city street. And she was a nervous dog, no question. But TAFA is a conference filled with people who appreciate, work for, and love animals. And Kaley was a rock star. She’s coming with us from now on.
Each day that Ammon Bundy and his band of armed militiamen stay holed up at the Malheur Refuge, they make us wonder, in the words of Butch Cassidy, “Who are those guys?” They’re adamant that they will not leave until the federal government gives them back their land so they can graze livestock wherever they want. Yet in actual truth, they do graze their cattle and sheep pretty much wherever they want.
Approximately 230 million acres of federal land out west is allocated for livestock grazing, with the grazing fees less than 10% of what ranchers pay to graze on private lands. Yet even then, most western ranching operations are not economically profitable. And cattle grazed on public land represent less than 3% of the national beef supply. So who are the Bundys and the others who would threaten federal officials with assault rifles to “protect” a nonviable and probably difficult way of life? What do they really want?
I think the answer lies in George Wuerthner’s astute observation that the western ranchers’ identity is tied into entrenched American attitudes about beef, cowboys and the western frontier. Wuerthner is an activist and Projects Director of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, publisher of an eye-opening book called Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West. He points out that many of the early colonists were from northern Europe where meat was primarily available only to the aristocracy. Meat was a symbol of wealth and prosperity – as it now is many underdeveloped nations. And this view was brought to America where cattle grazing land was cheap or free, and land barons amassed huge herds.
Moreover, in this wild west, ranching became the first step in domesticating the landscape and taming the wilderness. Wuerthner writes, “At an even deeper level, the cattle culture is based on a world view that sees nature as requiring control, and those who do the controlling as powerful people.” This notion gave birth to the rodeo – a symbol of the taming of wild animals. The cowboy, with his strength and toughness, rides the wild, bucking bronco and captures the fleeing bull with his lasso. Thus, the idea of preserving wildlands and biodiversity runs entirely counter to the self-image of “real” cowboys like Ammon Bundy.
The image of the cowboy is at the epicenter of the frontier. He is rugged and tough, loyal and ethical. Americans have romanticized the cowboy in movies, music, and art. He is the Marlboro man – a man who won’t back down from a fight.
I dare say, too, he won’t back down from his outrage that the world is changing and the frontier-for-the-taking days are over. In a 2005 study conducted by the Western Economics Forum, both large and small ranchers said that the primary reason for owning a ranch was for the preservation of land ownership, family tradition, culture and values. But along comes the federal government responding to public pressure to preserve a refuge for birds, and on an even broader scale, a world that is opening up to diversity, gender equality, animal rights, veganism. Pull back even farther and we are confronted with a world that must cope with climate change.
Who are those guys? George Wuerthner knows. They are the modern day John Waynes who see themselves as personifying American values of individualism, strength and male competency. They are waging a battle for a lifestyle that must come to an end if we are to forestall environmental destruction and species extinction. Thus attempts to fight the government that is slowly reforming livestock production “will not be successful until the symbolism of ‘meat’ and ‘cowboy’ is carefully deconstructed, and the premise of controlling nature – inherent in the livestock industry – is challenged.” (Wuerthner, Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West)
Last month, I reconnected with Maggie Howell at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY. Maggie had been an invaluable resource for me as I was writing The Trap. She took me back to the wolf enclosure (acres of woodlands) where a few of them waited to greet us. I was so moved by the rare opportunity to be so close to the wolves, I wrote the following piece for Elephant Journal.
I’m always moved by the human/animal connection, especially when the connection gives so much to those who need it. Here is one such story. Dogs and prisoners. Wish we could do this in every prison. The world would be a much better place. Watch the trailer to this important film.
Most fiction writers know that a good story is the key to a memorable book, article or screenplay. But business leaders and marketing specialists have been using the art of storytelling for years as a motivational tool. They realize that stories drive transformational change by putting facts into an emotional context.
In the short, instructive video below, Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, discusses a University of Pennsylvania study on how to best raise money for the Save the Children Foundation. Two versions of a marketing pamphlet were created. The first provided statistics about the magnitude of problems facing children in Africa. The second pamphlet provided the same statistics, but also told the story of Rokia, a little girl from Mali who faced the threat of severe hunger. What the researchers learned surprised them.
As animal advocates, our mission is in large part about persuading people to open their eyes to industrialized animal suffering – and not just be willing to look at it, but also to change how they respond to it, i.e. stop eating meat and dairy, stop buying fur, etc. Making such changes in one’s lifestyle are rarely made by virtue of an intellectual decision.
Whether we are aware of or not, our decisions are driven by emotion. And it’s natural when advocating for ideas to go straight to statistics, facts and convincing arguments. But studies show that by sharing a story, people are more likely to remember the message, be persuaded by it and most importantly, feel personally connected to the message – three good reasons why story should become an important part of any animal advocate’s tool box.
It doesn’t take long to tell a story. Here, in one minute, fifteen seconds, and three characters – a powerful, compelling story about where we are headed. Very emotional, as all stories must be. Watch and learn.
I came across a compelling letter written by Norm Phelps to his fellow Unitarian-Universalists (UU) regarding their long history of being in the vanguard of social progress (see link below). Phelps scolds the leaders of UU for having lost the spirit of “moving the boundaries” of compassion forward to include animals. He points to the religious liberal community’s support of abolition, civil rights, feminism, immigrant rights and LGBTQ rights, but now sees that fight for social justice frozen in time.
The letter prompted regret that I was not aware of the plight of animals in my early days as an actress. As the vocalist on the iconic song “Day by Day” from the musical Godspell (original cast album and film cast album), I had a “platform,” of sorts. I was certainly no rock star when I performed in the show, but there were many opportunities to have brought the notion of moral equality for nonhuman animals to the fore. There were TV and radio talk show appearances, media interviews, and more importantly, a keen interest in Godspell from religious groups. I think of all the fan letters I received from young Christians (which I rarely responded to) and the opportunities (which I could have taken and which would have been welcomed) to speak to youth groups. These lost chances make me sad. I wish I had known.
Forty years later, however, the world has changed. With a burgeoning awareness of animal exploitation, social media, undercover videos, and the work of animal advocates, it is near impossible to avoid confronting inhumane treatment of animals. And the failure in the Christian community – or any community that speaks of compassion and espouses social justice – to enter into the discussion is a travesty. It is not an easy topic, but neither is slavery, racism, or gender prejudice. As Phelps so eloquently writes:
Suffice it to say that animal exploitation is the most universal, most deeply entrenched form of oppression that has ever existed, both in our society and in our individual psyches. Moral equality for animals challenges our pride in ourselves as the crown of creation (or the acme of evolution, if you prefer), in a way that no other social justice movement ever has. It would deny nearly the entire human population pleasures of appetite that are among the most primitive and powerful that we experience. And the animal liberation movement is working to drive out of business an industry that takes in trillions of dollars every year and provides hundreds of thousands of jobs. We all enter the discussion with a strong bias against animal liberation that can only be overcome by drawing upon the deepest wells of our compassion. http://normphelps.org/an-open-letter-to-my-fellow-uus-on-animal-liberation/
So I will continue to “enter into the discussion” in my work as a writer and animal advocate. But from here on, anyone who wants to communicate with me about how uplifting “Day by Day” was for them (and I still get a few on occasion), will get more than a thank you. I missed my chance then, but will not miss it in the future.