Report on Animal Rights '97 Conference

Nearly 600 animal rights activists attended "ANIMAL RIGHTS '97", the national convention of the animal rights movement from June 26 to June 30, 1997, in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from downtown Washington D.C. As Alex Her shaft, Ph.D., Convention Chair and director of FARM (Farm Animal Reform Movement), sponsor of the conference, put it: "This conference showed that animal rights activists and groups can get together in a harmonious manner and make plans for continued progress in the 21st century."

This was illustrated by the many animal protection groups that supported and took part in the conference. Cosponsoring groups were the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), In Defense of Animals (IDA), The International Society for Animal Rights, the New England Antivivisection Society (NEAVS), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Additional financialcontributors included: the American Antivivisection Society, Animals' Agenda, Beacon Global Advisors, Best Friends, Coalition for Nonviolent Food, Doris Day Animal League, Pet Savers Foundation, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The conference program was the richest in the animalrights movement's history, with every substantial aspect of animal abuse and animal rights activism covered. It featured over 75 presenters, 12 plenary panels, 12 'rap' sessions, 42 workshops, and 42 videos and slide shows, as well as group exercise workouts,receptions, and entertainment. In addition, approximately 60 exhibits provided literature, merchandise, and background information. During Lobby Day, on the last day of the conference, activists carried the animal rights message to Congressional offices.

With all of the above to choose from, the conference easily met the conference sponsors' goals "to meet the intellectual,organizational, and activist needs of all those who seek to end animal abuse" and to provide animal rights activists and other caring folks "an unparalleled opportunity to learn about our movement's progress and prospects, to acquire new skills, to network with others, and to 'recharge their batteries'".

Many important animal rights activists spoke, including: Don Barnes (National Antivivisection Society), Gene Bauston (Farm Sanctuary), Karen Davis, Ph.D. (United Poultry Concerns), Michael Fox, Ph.D. (HSUS), Alex Her shaft, Ph.D. (FARM), Elliot Katz, D.V.M, (IDA), John Kullberg, Ed.D. (Wildlife Land Trust), Howard Lyman (HSUS, and president of the International Vegetarian Union), Jim Mason, J.D. (Author of "Animal Factories"), Colman McCarthy (columnist), Ingrid Newkirk (PETA),Wayne Pacelle (HSUS), Tom Regan, Ph.D. (Author and director of the "Culture and Animals Foundation"), Kenneth Shapiro, Ph.D. (Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Henry Spira(Coalition for Nonviolent Food), Kim Stallwood (editor, Animals'Agenda), Bernie Unti (animal rights historian), and Debra Wasserman (Vegetarian Resource Group). Unfortunately, Dr. Michael Klaper, one of the movement's outstanding speakers had to cancel due to the severe illness of his mother.

There was a special tribute to Henry Spira for his many years of campaigns to end animal abuse. The tribute featured talks by eight activists who provided interesting anecdotes and other background information about how Spira successfully challenged the establishment to win significant advances for animals.

David Massey, director of "Anonymous", Israel's largest animal rights group, attended the conference, along with Yossi Wolfman, one of the group's leaders. They shared ideas with many American animal rights groups and showed and discussed a video which illustrated the slaughter of cattle in Israel and their group's protest at a slaughterhouse.Nina Natelson, founder and director of CHAI (Concern for Helping Animals in Israel) discussed recent developments in the treatment of animals in Israel. CHAI had an exhibit table, as did the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, with Eva and Israel Mossman, the group's coordinator and editor, presiding at the table.

Many of the sessions were devoted to ways to reach out to various constituencies and other approaches that activists can use. Some participants applied the emphasis on activism to staging demonstrations at a local McDonald's, circus, and fur store during the conference.

I was privileged to be part of panels that discussed (1) the use of computers in helping spread the vegetarian/animal rights messages and (2) discussed approaches to reaching out to religious communities. Among special events at the conference were talks by valiant whale defender, Captain Paul Watson, recently released from a Dutch prison, and a McLibel representative. The latter discussed the previous week's court decision in the celebrated McLibel case, in which the judge indicated that McDonald's engages in cruelty to animals, deceptive advertising, and worker exploitation.

There was a great feeling of optimism and harmony at the conference. Those who attended seemed to feel that the animal rights movement has been making important strides, would continue to make gains, and is finding increasing public support on a number of important issues. This feeling was exemplified by the wide variety of animal rights' messages, literature, books, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other merchandise displayed and by the overflowing attendance at many of the sessions.

However, all the news wasn't good. Several speakers pointed out that the number of animals killed annually in North America for food has been increasing and has reached over 9 billion per year, and that there has been a shift toward more animal-based diets in several countries, including China and India, due to increasing affluence.

Much of the conference can be summed up in the remarks of Howard Lyman, a "fourth generation farmer, rancher, feed lot operator" who has become a key leader of the movement, in his concluding talk,"Visions for the Future - Strategies for the 21st Century." He pointed out that the conference was really about ensuring a positive future for our children and grandchildren. He also stressed that the many crises facing the world today require solutions soon, and that plant-based diets provide an important "window of opportunity" toward these solutions. The many enthusiastic activists at the conference gave Howard Lyman a standing ovation, perhaps a signal that they were ready to increase their efforts to let the world know about this important "window of opportunity."

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