Tag: oakland

How the Pandemic Has Made Mourning So Hard

My mother died in a nursing home 3,000 miles from me with a nurse but no family by her side. She was declining by the time the Covid-19 pandemic halted us in our tracks and made it impossible for me to fly from California to New Jersey to be with her in her final days.

 

Grieving is hard. Grieving the death of a parent even harder. Grieving without the usual end-of-life rites and rituals has been impossible. 

 

In my past experiences with death, I learned that aspects of the dying process made the mourning process a little easier — less disorienting, less chaotic. Keeping vigil, sharing memories, watching, waiting, and witnessing all provided an anchor for the grief that was to come. I knew where to go next because I knew where I had been, but not so with the death of my mother. 

 

Getting a phone call in the dead of night is not the same as being able to see her, touch her, say goodbye, watch her go. Calling her friends and family to share the sad news is no substitute for gathering to reminisce and memorialize her life. Walking out my front door and stumbling upon the box that contained her ashes was a blow — not a consolation. 

 

The lack of closure has left a fissure that I’ve come to realize can only be filled with some familiar rites of passage — delayed and altered though they may be. I told a friend that — jarring though it can be to see the notice pop up on my phone — I still haven’t been able to delete the calendar reminder for the weekly video calls I once had with my mother and her nurse’s aide. My friend suggested I keep it for now and create a new weekly ritual of memory and meaning. 

 

And so I have. And so it helps — as did writing her obituary and creating a memorial photo album. But there is more to do. 

 

Before she fell ill, my mother and I talked about what she wanted me to do with her ashes once she was cremated. Ever practical, she argued that she’d be gone and wouldn’t know the difference, so whatever was meaningful for me — the living — should take precedence. 

 

Prior to my mother’s death, my husband and I had already begun making our own final plans, and after much thought and many conversations, we decided on a grave in Oakland’s historic Mountain View Cemetery — a special place we frequented before the pandemic closed it to the public. My mother’s death accelerated our contemplation and finalized our decision. The process has been a long one, but it’s already bringing some much-needed closure.

While my mother didn’t have much to say about where her ashes would eternally reside, she did have some very specific thoughts about her memorial service: she wanted there to be photos and stories, laughter and music, and she wanted a bagpiper to play — among other songs — Danny Boy. Some friends have vowed to join us for the interment — safely distanced and responsibly masked — and never before have I been so eager to fulfill a wish. 

 

With her subsequent service and burial, I’m not looking to “get over” my mother’s death as I am looking to “get over” on the other side of the chasm that has been looming for months. It turns out that we humans — and even some non-humans — create death rites and rituals for a reason — to comfort the living and usher us through the grief process. Without that bridge, mourning just feels like an unhealed wound or an unfallen shoe.

Banning Wild Animals in Entertainment

All around the world, cities, states, and countries are passing laws to make it illegal to use wild and exotic animals for entertainment, in circuses, in any type of performance. This is news to celebrate!⁠ ⁠ In my newest article for LiveKindly (“Oakland Just Banned Exotic Animals in Entertainment”) and in this short video below, I explain: ⁠ ⁠

  • why getting involved in local politics is incredibly effective (more effective than complaining about national politics)⁠
  • shaping compassion for animals in local officials means they’ll carry it with them as they move onto other positions of power⁠
  • how a local municipal ordinance closed down a huge commercial animal enterprise⁠ ⁠

Also, this story is an example of how one person has an impact if we use our skills, passion, and time to speak up, speak out, and act on behalf of compassion and animals. ⁠ ⁠

Read the full article at Live Kindly! Please share it, and comment below, and tell me: ⁠ ⁠

*WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GET INVOLVED LOCALLY WHERE YOU ARE?? ⁠ ⁠ ?⁠ ?⁠ ?⁠ ⁠

Don’t Poison the Animals

FREE EVENT! GET TICKETS HERE

Raccoons, coyotes, and rats, oh my! Whether you’re in the hills or the city, chances are you’ve encountered some of our abundant wildlife. How do we peacefully coexist, keep our pets safe, and keep wild animals wild?

Sadly, many people see wild animals as invaders, intruders, and pests. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Please join the East Bay Animal PAC to learn from Keli Hendricks, Project Coyote’s Ranching with Wildlife Coordinator, about the secret lives of our wild neighbors, their intelligence, resourcefulness, complex social lives, and how they manage to survive in the face of incredible odds. Whether you love them, hate them, or just want to learn more about them, this entertaining and informative talk will shed light on why we should not just coexist, but actually embrace, the wild animals who live amongst us.

When: Thursday, July 25th: 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Where: Temescal Works, 490 43rd St., Oakland, CA

Please spread the word! 

FREE EVENT! GET TICKETS HERE

Zero Waste Shampoo and Conditioner

When I first made the decision to eliminate plastic containers and bags from my life and “go zero waste,” some switches were easy peasy. Some had me in a panic. Like finding zero waste hair care in general and shampoo and conditioner in particular. 

My attachment to my favorite vegan hair care products (sold in plastic bottles) had me wondering if I would just have to make an exception when it came to styling my locks. But with a little time, a lot of research, and an irrational determination to see things through to the end, I made some new discoveries.

I have not yet found a zero waste solution for all of my hair care needs such as styling products (future post coming!). But in the meantime, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned and what I love so you can get started, too.

It took me decades to figure out what my fickle hair needed — in terms of the right style, the right stylist, the right shampoo and conditioner, and the right styling products. 

zero waste hair

Of course for all of these decades the main criteria for choosing hair products have been first and foremost: vegan and cruelty-free. (That is, free of animal products and free of animal-testing). I’ve tried a gazillion products over the years, and the brand that ticks all of my ethical, vegan, and beauty boxes is Aveda. Having used and loved this brand for over a decade, the thought of switching brands was not something I relished. 

Because Aveda primarily sells their products to Aveda-approved salons, for a time I thought that my solution would be to ask my hair stylist if I could just fill up my existing Aveda containers with shampoo and conditioner from the large bottles she would already have open for washing clients’ hair. 

While this would slightly reduce the existence of additional plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles in the world and while I think it’s a brilliant stop-gap (you can steal this idea!), I was open to exploring other solutions that would bring me closer to the zero-waste goals I was trying to achieve. 

And a solution I found!

Let me cut to the chase and tell you about the zero waste hair care products I love so much that they successfully helped wean me off of Aveda. Then I’ll provide some other ideas so you have a bunch to choose from. (Keep reading for your 15% off coupon code!)

Plaine Products

When I heard about a sister-owned company that made cruelty-free, plastic-free, chemical-free, zero waste, biodegradable, vegan shampoo and conditioner, I had to give them a try! (Plus, they have body lotion and body wash!) They were kind enough to send me some products to test, and I was hooked immediately. 

Even so, I wanted to give my hair some time to experience the products before I shared my enthusiasm. Now that time has passed, I’m here to share why my enthusiasm has only increased. I’m hooked.

Plaine Products come in aluminum containers that they refill for customers again and again and again. Here’s how it works:

  1. For your first order, you order the products you want with a pump for each aluminum bottle. 
  2. When you run out of (or are running low on) your products, you order a refill! Then, you say “no” to the pump option (since you already ordered them in your first shipment). Finally, you opt for a return label to be sent with your order.
  3. When your new order arrives, you just switch the pump over to the new bottles! Next, send the old bottles back using the same box and the label (that you don’t pay additionally for). They sanitize the bottles, refill them, and send them to their new home for other customers.

As you learned from the podcast episode called Zero Waste: It Ain’t About Recycling, very little of the plastic we buy gets recycled. And because it lasts for so long, every bit of plastic ever created still exists on this planet. Experts predict that at our current rate of plastic use and disposal, soon there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. That is a depressing thought.

What you also learned is that when it comes to materials, glass is indeed 100% recyclable (though we should re-use it rather than recycle it when it’s perfectly functional). So is aluminum. And in the case of Plaine Products, the aluminum bottles are sterilized and used a number of times before they even get recycled. AND, the recycling process for aluminum requires even less energy than was needed to make the bottles in the first place!

What’s more: the boxes they use to ship (which you can use to send your bottles back) are custom-made to fit their bottles. That eliminates the need for peanuts or packaging! AND they’re made from a mix of 95% post-consumer waste and 5% post-industrial waste. Absolutely NO new materials are used in the manufacturing of their green shipping cartons. They even use plastic-free tape. 

AND…everything comes in two natural scents: Mint + Rosemary or Citrus + Lavender. Both are divine!

Buy Your Plaine Products for 15% Off!

If I haven’t convinced you to give them a try yet, then experience their awesomeness yourself. Use this link anytime you make a purchase, and enter “compassion” as the coupon code to receive 15% off your order! The shipping is a flat $5, which is pretty amazing. 

The Aveda conditioner I was using before cost $44. You might think that’s crazy, but for a fantastic, cruelty-free, toxin-free, vegan, natural conditioner that I loved, I was willing to pay it — especially because I had tried so many others that just didn’t work for my hair. 

The fact that I’m paying 1/3 less now for a zero-waste, sustainable, plastic-free, vegan, toxic-free, biodegradable conditioner (and shampoo, etc.) is the icing on the cake! By the time you factor in your 15% off coupon code using this link, I think you’ll be happy with that, too! 

Other Zero Waste Options

Shampoo Bars – I’ve never tried them, but I’ve heard mixed opinions about shampoo bars. Give them a try yourself, and let me know what you think. 

Refilling from Bulk Section – Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco is the closest store to me that has bulk shampoos and conditioners with which you can fill your own bottles. HOWEVER, the brands they have aren’t vegan or cruelty-free. But look to stores near you with good bulk sections!

DIY – Make your own. Good luck. 🙂

SHOP Summary

REMEMBER TO USE ANY OF THE LINKS BELOW AND USE “compassion” TO RECEIVE 15% OFF YOUR ORDERS 

Spend the Weekend with Me!

Back by popular demand: The Compassion in Action Conference! Register early to receive perks, including:

  • bring a friend for 50% off 
  • videos of all presentations
  • 30-minute conference call with speakers 
  • 20% discount to Millennium Restaurant 

The intention behind Compassion-in-Action is to connect like-minded people with each other and to give you the tools and resources you need to reflect your deepest values in your daily behavior so that we can create the compassionate world we all envision — for all animals, both human and non-human. 

Through lectures, Q&A sessions, and group work, we will address such topics as:

  • Powerful Ways to Advocate for Animals
  • How to Practice Self-Compassion
  • 10 Habits of Highly Effective Advocates
  • From Personal to Professional Advocacy
  • Choosing Unconditional Compassion
  • The Principles of Zero Waste 

By the end of this weekend together, not only will you have connected with dozens of incredible like-minded people and connected with your deepest, most authentic compassion, you will also have tools for living purposefully, boldly, passionately, and compassionately — in a way that is both effective and joyful.

Our presenters are the best, and I’ll be sharing more with you about them. In the meantime, I hope you will begin following Kathryn Kellogg of Going Zero Waste, Stephanie Redcross of Vegan Mainstream, and Ari Nessel of The Pollination Project. Register today!

     

How Zero-Waste Has Changed My Grocery Shopping and Kitchen

 

Before I started this zero-waste journey, I shopped in the bulk section of local grocery stores. I brought my own (plastic) bags to fill up with dried beans, grains, and nutritional yeast, but when I didn’t have my own plastic bags to re-use, I tore one of the gazillion plastic bags off the roll in the bulk section, filled it up, and wrote the bin code on the twisty tie. And repeat.

Before I started this zero-waste journey, I shopped at Trader Joe’s (among other stores) and — as I placed the plastic-wrapped fennel bulbs and the plastic-packaged lettuce into my basket — lamented about how much plastic packaging there was in the produce section. Trader Joe’s isn’t the only store that sells plastic-wrapped produce; in fact, you’ll often find that organic produce is wrapped in plastic where non-organic is not. (More on that in a subsequent post.)

NOTE: When it came to buying flour, I used to buy Trader Joe’s brand flour wrapped in paper. But once I bought Bob’s Red Mill and assumed that surely a company as socially aware as Bob’s Red Mill would use sustainable packaging. NOT SO. They recently changed their packaging for such things as flour to be completely UNsustainable: plastic, non-renewable, non-recyclable. Not. Okay. Just thought you’d like to know.

I can walk to Trader Joe’s from my home, so it’s been a convenient place to shop, especially when in need of frozen blueberries, tofu, or … fennel bulbs, which is often. (I kind of eat fennel every day.) I also didn’t think twice about buying a head of organic cauliflower wrapped in plastic from Whole Foods. 

But all that has changed. Now, instead of complaining about all the plastic wrap on veggies and fruits while I’m in the middle of purchasing them, I just don’t purchase them. (Brilliant, I know.) I simply forego buying a vegetable wrapped in plastic and buy a non-plastic-wrapped vegetable instead or I wait until I’m at the farmer’s market or see a non-plastic version at another grocery store — and it turns out I’ve survived. It’s no different than the choices I make as a 20-year vegan. It’s not that I can’t buy / eat something that’s wrapped in plastic / that’s not vegan. It’s that I don’t want to.

Many habits have remained the same: I shop at our local farmer’s market every week, I stop in the bulk section of grocery stores, and I walk to Trader Joe’s. Then, I turn right — to a little locally owned produce store that has what I need when I’m in a pinch. And guess what? They have fennel bulbs NOT wrapped in plastic!  

The main difference is that I don’t just take my canvas bags with me for the groceries I buy; I take with me my mesh bags for fruits and veggies and my cotton sacks for the finer-sized bulk items like flour. And I love it.

I was a late bloomer when it came to what I used to call the Trader Joe’s cult anyway. When I taught my vegan cooking classes years ago and would recommend where people could buy products, students would invariably ask me if they’re available at Trader Joe’s. “I have no idea. I’ve never been to Trader Joe’s,” I would reply — to the shock of my audience. I would explain that I shopped at (what was at the time) my local (and locally owned) neighborhood grocery stores such as Farmer Joe’s and The Food Mill — both of which are on Macarthur Blvd. in Oakland. (Farmer Joe’s also opened a second larger location on Fruitvale Ave.) 

So, since I started this endeavor, I haven’t really shopped at Trader Joe’s. I get how convenient they are. I get how cheap their products are. I get how many vegan products they have. But I also really get how much plastic is harming wild places and animals — only a small portion of which is getting recycled or even can be recycled at all. (See my post on why recycling is not the answer.)

Just because it’s convenient for me doesn’t mean someone else isn’t inconvenienced. And when it comes to the waste we humans create, we’re inconveniencing millions of non-human individuals. 

As for cost, it’s astronomically more affordable to purchase bulk items. So, just as there’s a myth that eating vegan is more expensive, there’s also a myth that zero-waste is more expensive. 

Because I live in a city, I’m lucky to have a number of grocery stores with bulk sections near(ish) me, including Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl, but as Whole Foods is expensive and Berkeley Bowl is just too far for me (I hate driving), I started thinking about where else I could shop in bulk. So, I started making a list in my head.

  • There are a number of small produce / convenience stores that have bulk bins, but I treat them as such: places of convenience; they’re just too expensive for regular groceries.
  • Sprouts opened on Broadway not too long ago, and their bulk bins are vast, so they’ve become a regular store for me.
  • Farmer Joe’s also has bulk bins and a good variety at that.

But I also started wondering where I would find smaller bulk items, such as unsweetened cocoa powder, baking powder, active yeast for baking bread,  maple syrup, olive oil. 

And then it hit me. I had completely forgotten about a staple in Oakland known for its bulk bins: The Food Mill, which I used to shop at all the time when I lived in that neighborhood. Not only are they even closer to me than any of the stores mentioned above and not only do they have the most affordable bulk items (including organic), but they also have the items I didn’t think I’d be able to get in bulk, namely unsweetened cocoa powder, yeast, baking powder, olive oil, and…maple syrup! (They also carry a huge variety of spices and dried herbs, but I also love my Oaktown Spice Shop for those.)

My husband makes fun of me all the time, because I do get pretty excited about this stuff, but I was giddy with delight filling up my jar with maple syrup and cocoa powder. (I realize other stores have these items in bulk, so this might not be news to some of you, but it just feels good to returning to support a neighborhood store in my beloved city of Oakland.)

 

     

Still, the point is: I have options — and more than I realized or remembered. I understand that I live in a city, so my choices tend to be a little greater than someone who lives in a more suburban or rural area, but even I had forgotten about some stores that are right in my backyard. Perhaps you have, too.

Have you explored stores near you that have bulk bins? What are some near you? What are your favorite bulk finds? 

 

SHOP SUMMARY* 

  • Organic Cotton Mesh Produce Bags (variety of sizes)
  • Organic Cotton Muslin Bags (great for flour and fine bulk items — in a variety of sizes)
  • Cotton Flour Sack Towels (great for wrapping and storing veggies / bread)

*if you buy from Amazon, you can send them an email telling them that you would like a note added to your account that when you place orders, you would like to avoid plastic packaging and avoid extra packaging when possible.

(Near) Zero Waste at the Farmer’s Market

Today was our first trip to the farmers market since starting my zero waste endeavor. As someone who for years has already been bringing a bevy of canvas and cotton bags to the market to avoid getting plastic bags for my produce, I would have thought I wouldn’t have to make any changes in this particular scenario. 

I was wrong. 

In the past, it’s true we would never take a new plastic bag for any of the fruits and veggies we bought, but some lettuce mixes that David preferred already came in plastic bags, my favorite Medjool dates were sold in plastic containers or plastic bags, and I never even thought about the twisty ties and rubber bands that bound many veggie bunches together. Also, this time I brought glass jars with me in case I bought more delicate items (like mushrooms or berries). 

So, in scenario one, David decided to forego getting the braised greens in the plastic bag (he was going out of town anyway so wasn’t going to have time to eat them), and in scenario two: after paying for our edible wares, I politely asked the vendors if I could give them back whatever was holding our bunches together — rubber bands or twisty ties — and they enthusiastically agreed saying they would re-use them. However, I forgot to do so at one stand, so three bunches of kale came home with twisty ties, which I’m thinking I’ll bring back to the same farmer next week. 

And then came scenario three: the true test of how serious I am. David asked if I wanted to get my dates, which I get every week from the same (and only date) vendor that happens to have the plumpest, juiciest Medjool dates. I walked over knowing that they didn’t have open bins for their dates and that the only option they offer are pre-(plastic)packaged bags/containers. 

In my mind, I had already decided that I would forego buying my favorite dates but decided to ask about package-free options anyway just as another couple was approaching the table. Those who know me to be an unabashed, outspoken vegan might not know that I’m actually someone who doesn’t like to call attention to myself, so when I asked if she had any dates not packaged in plastic and she enthusiastically responded with “oh, are you zero waste??” for fear of sounding arrogant or seeming trendy, I quietly said, “well, yeah, just doing the best I can to not buy plastic.” 

She went on to say that she hates how much plastic they use (and said “they use a lot”) and that she’s trying to get the company to use less or even go zero waste and that even though they don’t normally do this, if I wanted to, I could pick out individual dates from their sample box and put them in my own container. I. Was. Thrilled. I whipped out one of my glass jars. 

At the same time, I was self-conscious about the other couple who had just arrived and overheard my conversation. The gentleman was quietly telling the woman he was with that I was asking for dates not wrapped in plastic (I thought he was annoyed I was taking up so much time), and so I looked directly at him in indicate to him that I could hear him, and so began a lovely conversation about how prevalent plastic is in our world, how challenging it is to try and live plastic-free, how there’s evidence that even more plastic is bring produced despite the zero-waste movement — but how it was worth it to try and do our best. 

As he walked away, he said, “We can all certainly do more to reduce,” as if contemplating this endeavor for himself, patted me on the shoulder and said, “keep up the good work.” 

The entire encounter was validating and heartening and left me hopeful about how people are inclined to do the right thing. It just takes us stepping up and asking for what may seem like a small, insignificant thing but what may make all the difference in the world. Our asking for what we need to reflect our values in our behavior — whether it’s vegan versions or plastic-free options — actually has the power to inspire others as well.

I’ve already reached out to the date farmer to tell them what a good experience we had, how much we love their dates, and to encourage them to consider selling their dates in an open bin rather than in pre-packaged bags. I imagine it might change the type of sales permit they have, but I also imagine it will at least prod them in the right direction. 

That’s the best we can all hope for: moving in the right direction and doing the best we can to do our best.

                          ________________________________

SHOP* 

  • Organic Cotton Muslin Produce Bags (variety of sizes)
  • Cotton Flour Sack Towels (great for wrapping and storing veggies / bread)
  • 16-ounce Ball Jars (pack of 12)

*send an email to Amazon that you would like a note added to your account that when you place orders, you would like to avoid plastic packaging and avoid extra packaging when possible.

How Oakland Got Animals Out of Ringling (TWICE)

100 years ago, after learning about the inherent abuses perpetrated against animals forced to perform in circuses, Oakland’s most iconic figure, Jack London — author and social activist — wrote “I have a strong stomach and a hard head, but what turns my head and makes my gorge rise is the cold-blooded, conscious deliberate cruelty and torment that is manifest behind ninety-nine of every hundred trained-animal turns. Cruelty as a fine art, has attained its perfect flower in the trained-animal world.”

London called upon the public to “inform themselves” of the “inevitable and eternal cruelty” inherent in animal acts and urged them to walk out during animal performances. Though he died soon after, his words inspired a Jack London Club comprised of one million members who distributed literature outside of circuses, wrote to the press and circus management, and indeed walked out of the circus during the animal acts.

It worked.

In 1925, Charles Ringling was quoted as saying, “There has been enough criticism by the public of wild-animal acts to warrant us in withdrawing them, as a quite common impression is prevalent that tigers, lions, etc. are taught by very rough methods, and that it is cruel to force them through their stunts.” Ringling announced that it had “discarded” animal acts “for all time.” Sadly, after five years, they resumed the use of animals in their circuses to provide cheap entertainment to the public during the Depression.

100 years later, at the end of 2014, an ordinance to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants was brought before the Oakland City Council. Bullhooks are sharp weapons used to hurt and intimidate elephants to force them to perform unnatural acts for the amusement of humans. Despite the money Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros. Circus, spent to fight this ban, over 100 compassionate citizens showed up to speak on behalf of elephants, and shortly after midnight, the ban passed.

“This is the right thing to do. It’s just that simple,” said Councilmember, then Mayor-Elect (now Mayor) Libby Schaaf.

“I don’t need to have an elephant stand on one leg to see how cute he looks….I don’t learn about the elephants over at the circus while I’m sitting there entertained.” said Councilmember Noel Gallo.

“We’re not going to look the other way when it comes to torturing animals. We shouldn’t be teaching the young folks in our city that it’s okay to harm animals for our enjoyment. That is just unacceptable,” said Councilman Dan Kalb.

And in her last city council meeting as Mayor, Jean Quan presciently stated, “I am certain that the day will come when we will see a ban on elephants being used in circuses altogether.”

Three months later, in March of 2015, Ringling announced it would be removing elephants from their circuses. Without being able to use pain, fear, and intimidation to train elephants, they wouldn’t be able to force large, intelligent, autonomous beings to act in ways that are anathema to their very nature.

As cities and counties across the United States began drafting legislation similar to that which passed in Oakland (and first in Oakland’s inspiration, Los Angeles), Ringling recognized how expensive it would be to fight in local jurisdictions across the nation.

A year later, Ringling announced they were closing — for good, and indeed May 2017 saw their last performance. A victory for compassionate people everywhere, but really…a victory for animals.

This is one very powerful example of how local politics matter. Often, laws passed at the local level inspire similar laws at the state or even federal level, but here they acted as a microcosm reflecting a greater public perspective: that animal abuse is unacceptable even when shrouded in tradition and masked by spectacle.

Of course, years of protests and leafletting by activists outside of circuses contributed to Ringling’s demise and to the public’s growing distaste for circuses with animals. As did undercover footage obtained by organizations to prove with video the abuses that take place behind closed doors. As did education, as did litigation. But in the end, it was the decision of local city council members and the activists working with local legislators that led to the closing of a 150-year animal-abusing institution. That’s the power of local political action.

On the heels of this victory, I’m excited to present the Compassion in Action conference in August: a full day of presentations and workshops focused on framing your compassionate values, communicating your compassionate values, and acting on those values in effective and powerful ways — socially, politically, and personally.

I hope you can join me and dozens of like-minded individuals to help you put your values to work. The animals are waiting for us, and we have many more stories like this one to create and tell.

Are You Writing the Future for Animals?

I recently returned from a dream trip to Rwanda seeing mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, and chimpanzees — all of whom are threatened due to human activity. But still I have hope.

Afterwards, we saw lions, giraffes, impalas, warthogs, ostriches, hippos, zebras, and elephants in Botswana, a country that banned trophy hunting but is still dealing with poaching. But still I have hope. In fact, we were in Botswana when we heard the news that China is banning the legal trade in ivory, which is a thing to celebrate although the work is not done. It never is.

Even as I stood awe-struck looking at the animals characterized as “exotic,” I thought of the animals in my Oakland backyard—the ones considered mundane—the deer, the squirrels, the foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks, crows, and jays. Rather than pay to view them, people pay to eradicate them, but nonetheless, they’re valuable to me, to themselves, to the entire ecosystem.

I thought of our state’s coyotes, mountain lions, and wolves—all of whom are demonized by private ranchers who use public land to graze their livestock, then blame the predators for being who they are.

I thought of our nation’s animals, who will be negatively impacted if the current administration makes good on its promises to support fossil fuels, curtail plans to cut carbon emissions, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, construct oil pipelines, dismantle the Endangered Species Act, and build a wall that will impact the lives and migratory habits of native species.

And still I have hope. While I daily urge our federal congresswomen and congressmen to pass legislation that protects animals and reject legislation that harms them, we have much work to do on a state and local level, both of which can get neglected when our fears are focused on an animal-, environment-, and human-hostile White House.

I have hope because possibility dwells in uncertainty. The darkness that lies before us is not inevitably bleak; it’s just unwritten. And we are its authors. We have a future to write—for the animals near and the animals far. For the human and the non-human animals. And I intend to write it.

Will you join me?

Political Action Guide for Animal Issues

[Tweet “Every minute we spend being outraged is a minute we could have spent being effective.”]

Something Wayne Pacelle (CEO of the Humane Society of the United States) said in a talk I saw him give many years ago stuck with me. And he’s said it many times since. About the political arm of his organization, he said he envisions “a National Rifle Association of the animal rights movement.” Here’s the gist (excerpted from an interview in Satya Magazine):

“The way things work in Washington and in state capitols across the country is that logic and humane sensibilities can only go so far. You need them in order to be effective, but you also need to amass political power and that comes from working the political system in a way that achieves results. There’s no substitute for being able to deliver votes and having an informed constituency.

I find the NRA’s views on hunting and other issues to be really at odds with my own, but I admire the fact that they train thousands of activists across the country to achieve so much working through the system. I do think that is a model for us, because we have the potential to activate many more people than the NRA does. There are a lot of people in this country who care about guns, but I think many more people are passionate about protecting animals. If we organize them, we can achieve enormous gains and victories for animals.”

As an activist myself and a politically engaged citizen, I couldn’t agree more. There is no question that conservatives are much better organizers / organized when it comes to the issues they care about—especially at the grassroots level. Don’t underestimate the ambition of your local representatives who can not only pass effective animal-friendly legislation in your town or county but who may one day be state senator, governor, federal representative, or president. That’s how it works. 

[Tweet “Don’t underestimate the ambition of local reps who may one day be governor or president. That’s how it works. “]

We need to act. Now. We need to organize. Now. We need to be a resounding voice for animals. Now. I recoil from the phrase “now more than ever,” because our voices and votes for animals are needed all the time—not just when we’re in crisis. But I do think Americans are eager, anxious, and desperate to have their voices heard—now more than ever, so let’s do it.

[Tweet “Our voices and votes for animals are needed all the time—not just when we’re in crisis.”]

Here’s how you—we—can get started, stay engaged, make a huge difference, and help our voice for animals be as strong as the NRA’s voice is for guns. 

GENERAL

  1. The Humane Legislative Fund is dedicated to “educating elected officials and the public on animal welfare issues and electing humane candidates to public office.” Get on their mailing list, contact your representatives about the issues they highlight, make a financial contribution to give animals a voice is congress. 
  2. Use their Humane Scorecard to help you decide who to vote for in elections based on their history of animal-friendly or animal-unfriendly legislation. 
  3. Fellow dedicated and engaged activists and I are in the process of forming a political action committee called East Bay Animal PAC that will be dedicated to electing animal-friendly legislators, passing animal-friendly legislation, opposing anti-animal legislation, and educating legislators and the public on local animal issues. Join our mailing list for more, and consider creating something similar in your own city/county!
  4.  Know who your representatives are—on the federal, state, and local level. I’ve provided a guide below to help you find yours. Take a few minutes to add their phone numbers to your phone!
  5. Don’t be afraid to contact your representatives. They represent YOU! They work for YOU
  6. Read Don’t Think of an Elephant to learn how to frame your issue effectively. 
  7. Follow the cues of the Indivisible folks. Former congressional staffers wrote this guide that is meant to empower compassionate people to effectively engage politically. (One of the things they remind us of is that representatives rely on making their constituents happy so they can keep their job; i.e. get reelected. If you don’t think your voice matters, YOU’RE WRONG!)
  8. Stay hopeful. Despair is paralyzing. Cynicism is ugly. One of my favorite take-aways from the book Hope in the Dark is that the darkness doesn’t mean the future is inevitably evil. The darkness means that the future is inscrutable because it’s not yet written. It’s up to us to WRITE THE FUTURE!  

So, go write it!

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LOCAL

  1. Type “find my local city council member” into a search engine. 
  2. Add their phone numbers to your phone and their address to your address book. 
  3. Call them. Write to them. Get to Know Them. Let Them Get to Know YOU. Find out their positions on animal-related legislation and policies. Educate them about issues they’re most likely unaware of. Thank them for passing animal-friendly legislation. 
  4. Show up at city council meetings. 
  5. Visit them at city hall. 
  6. Donate to their campaign when it’s clear they are animal-friendly. Talk to them about animal-unfriendly positions they may have. They might just need information you have! If they stick with animal-harmful positions, tell them that’s why you’re not supporting them. 
  7. Vote for them when it’s clear they are animal-friendly. Tell them why you voted for them. 

STATE

  1. Know who your state legislators are — both in the Senate and the Assembly. Find yours here
  2. Add their phone numbers to your phone and their address to your address book. 
  3. Call them. Write to them. Find out their positions on animal-related legislation and policies. Educate them about issues they’re most likely unaware of. Thank them for passing animal-friendly legislation. 
  4. Make a date to meet with them in their district office or state capitol.  
  5. Show up at the capitol when animal-related legislation is on the agenda. Let your voice for animals be heard. 
  6. Donate to their campaign when it’s clear they are animal-friendly. Talk to them about animal-unfriendly positions they may have. They might just need information you have! If they stick with animal-harmful positions, tell them that’s why you’re not supporting them. 
  7. Vote for them when it’s clear they are animal-friendly. Tell them why you voted for them. 

FEDERAL

  1. Know who your federal members of Congress are — both in the House of Representatives as well as in the Senate. Find yours here
  2. Add their phone numbers to your phone — for both their DC office and district office.
  3. Add their email address and mailing address to your address book. 
  4. The two best ways to contact your reps are to call and write a  postcard—not an email. Buy .34-cent stamps for your postcards.
  5. Tell them what you care about. Encourage them to support animal-friendly legislation and oppose legislation that will harm animals. ASK THEM WHAT THEIR POSITION IS on a particular bill or policy. 

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