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I think the best place to start is to define what I’m talking about when I say “animal rights”. I’ve been involved with animal rights for so long that I’m not really sure what a regular person’s opinion is about an animal rights activist, but I have a sense it’s of someone who likes to stand on street corners and yell, is generally disagreeable and does not want anyone to eat meat near them. I don’t know. Is that off?
I actually stood, chanting, on many a street corner in Austin, TX, where I was a member of an amazing animal rights group, Action for Animals. We were told by some of the media that they would not cover us unless we dressed up in costumes and chanted. Friends routinely ask if it’s okay to eat meat near me. I’ve been asked – for real – by more than one person, whether or not rights for animals would mean that animals would start going to school with children and also get to vote. So I guess what I’m picking up on here is there is some perceived distance between regular folks and animal rights people. However, I think we aren’t all that different, and it may be time to separate our caricature of an animal rights activist from the really essential nature of the questions being raised under the umbrella of animal rights.
What sent me traveling around the U.S. and beyond was a search for answers, or at least better ideas than what I could come up with about how to approach the following equation for what is possible when we think about rights for animals:
- Criteria used to decide which animals should get rights (is it because they are “like us” in specific ways, or because we believe they are conscious, or their ability to suffer) and
- The right(s) being pursued (status as a legal “person”, the legal right not to be property, a moral right not to be property)
In addition to those considerations, something clicked for me when I heard that the following two ideas are used to frame most of our thinking about animals, and that most of us tend to go back and forth between these concepts depending on the situation:
- Focus on how animals are treated when we use them
- Focus on whether animals should be used
So, instead of fearing someone may make a caricature out of you for wanting to learn more, I encourage you to forget the labels. I’m guessing many people do reject the use of some animals for some purposes. If that’s you, then I suspect you will find these interviews fascinating and insightful, albeit sometimes vexing. My hope is that these interviews give you a window into the range and depth of what is possible for animal rights, as well as an understanding of why anyone would pursue them. Enjoy!
YOU CAN FIND ALL INTERVIEWS RELATED TO THIS POST HERE. If you would like more information about anyone featured in this post, you can find them on the top navigation under People.