My veganism is strictly ethical. The health benefits are great, but I came to this lifestyle purely from an animal rights standpoint. In fact, it was the animal rights movement that gently pushed (okay, more like shoved) me into veganism in the first place. In 2003, I started attending PETA protests in Memphis. There wasn't a local animal rights movement at the time, but PETA made the occasional stop in Memphis for a naked fur demo or a KFC protest. That was at least a year before I gave up eggs and cheese. I was vegetarian then, but not vegan. I went vegan in 2004 because, after a year or so in the AR movement, I knew it was the right thing to do.
I met a nice local vegan couple at a Memphis PETA protest against animal testing. They were interested in starting an AR group in Memphis, and I volunteered to help them organize. We put up flyers around Midtown and held our first meeting with around five people at a Cooper-Young coffeeshop. Soon we were holding our own weekly KFC demos, circus protests, Petco leafletings, and the like.
We called ourselves MAARA (Memphis Area Animal Rights Activists). Our group grew to about 20 people, but over time, many members moved away. Others suffered from activist burnout. Our little AR group morphed into more of a vegetarian social club. We call ourselves Food Awareness now, and my awesome friend Vaughan organizes our monthly vegan lunches and occasional potlucks.
But last week, a representative from PETA sent me a Facebook message asking if I'd be interested in bringing together a crowd for a Ringling Brothers circus protest. The show opened tonight at the FedExForum, and PETA offered to send a box of all-new flyers, comic books, stickers, and posters. I miss protests. I really do. So I said yes. None of my old animal rights buddies were available though, and I was afraid no one would show up.
But thanks to the wonders of social media, our Facebook invite netted 14 people, many of whom I met for the first time! Here's several of us with our signs:
In case you aren't aware, circuses are responsible to some of the most horrific animal abuses. Elephants, who are naturally intelligent, sensitive creatures, are beaten and prodded with sharp metal bull hooks and shocked with electric prods while being trained to do unnatural tricks. When they're not performing, they're chained by the legs in very cramped, filthy storage barns.
PETA sent us DVDs documenting some undercover Ringling abuse footage, and it's heart-wrenching to watch. I couldn't finish the tail end of the video last night because I was crying so hard. However, I feel it's important for animal rights activists to watch this stuff because it gives us the conviction to go on. It'd be so easy to say, "You know, it's really cold outside and I have a lot going on. I think I'll just skip the protest tonight." But when you see how much these majestic elephants suffer at the hands of their heartless trainers, you realize that a few minutes in the cold is nothing compared to what they go through every single day.
Take a minute to watch PETA's Ringling video. Please.