Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mingling and Meandering in Minneapolis (3 of 3)

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: Day Three of Their Lives, Our Voices: The Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference
Where: Hubert H. Humphrey Conference Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
When: June 6–8, 2008
Why: Attend a historic “first” + chance to see a new city

The Scoop: In spite of the late nights for many (see yesterday’s blog entry), most folks were able to rouse themselves Sunday morning in time for HSUS’ Senior Director of Factory Farming Campaign Paul Shapiro’s morning pick-us-up keynote speech, “Advances for Farm Animals: How and Why We Are Winning.” Paul presented a well-documented and timely Power Point presentation detailing almost all of the successes farmed animals have gained in recent history, from statewide ballot victories to slaughterhouse closings to the number of ‘tweens, teens, and college students who now identify as vegetarian. Paul accidentally left out that a certain vegan publication was recently named “Best Lifestyle Magazine” in the country, though he promised to correct this faux pas or eat foie gras.

Next up, Lorri Bauston of Animal Acres educated us on the effort to establish humane enforcement agencies for farmed animals in California—basically an SPCA for cows, pigs, chickens, etc. ACI, or “Animal Cruelty Investigations,” is currently in the process of gaining legal status--a worthy, progressive effort you certainly will be hearing more about. COK’s Executive Director Erica Meier followed Lorri, giving new meaning to the phrase “voice for the voiceless.” Doing her best raspy Demi Moore impersonation (did someone stay out too late last night?), a slightly under-the-weather Erica showed her compassion over illness by gamely delivering her presentation, “Veg Outreach: Marketing Our Message.” Erica showed how we can take a page out of the multi-billion-dollar advertising campaigns of fast-food conglomerates to spread the word about veganism, be it via ads on MTV or “feed-ins” where volunteers give away free veg food. You may gargle now.

Lunch in the VegNews Atrium consisted of approximately 14,835 Chipotle Mexican Grill burritos and fajitas, enough so that each conference attendee got, well, more than one. The ever-hungry Nathan Runkle complained that they were “too small. I’m used to football-sized ones” though they were large enough that the one I snuck on the plane for my flight home certainly caught the eye of the fine folks at Homeland Security. Suffice to say, all you foodies out there, there was no problem finding sustenance at this conference. CAA might consider changing it’s name to Chow for Animal Activists.

While the festivities began to wind down post-lunch, as it was getaway day for many, there were still a few more highlights to be had. A session titled “Lightning Talks” gave anyone in attendance the opportunity to test his or her skills in front of an audience with a five-minute rant on a subject of their choosing. Seeing young people nervously speaking in front of a crowd for possibly the first time certainly gave this seasoned citizen a warm feeling for the future, and truly epitomized the nature of this first Midwest conference. The final plenary followed Lightning Talks, delivered by Mercy for Animals’ Director of Campaigns (and University of Minnesota grad) Freeman Wicklund. Freeman borrowed the title of the conference, “Their Lives, Our Voices” for his talk, which focused on why so many people fight for the dignity of non-human animals. It was the perfect ending to this inspiring conference, and I highly recommend everyone view Freeman’s speech, which I am hoping CAA uploads soon.

The only “negative” part of the weekend was departing Minneapolis. I predict that the Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference will grow in size and stature, becoming one of the “must do” events of the year. I’m glad I was able to be at the first.

Manolos or Manilows? Boyz in the City: Matt "Miranda" Ball of Vegan Outreach, Paul "Samantha" Shapiro of HSUS, VN Publisher Joe "Charlotte" Connelly, and CAA's amazing conference organizer, Gil "Carrie" Schwartz

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