On Friday, John and I were deeply honored to receive Mercy For Animal's activists of the year award. To receive such an honor from an organization I so very much respect was both humbling and incredibly uplifting. To be able to share this night (and honor) with so many compassionate, beautiful people...well, words fail. It was one of those nights that I'll never forget and I was just floating on the love and good vibes all night. Here was the speech I gave (John was generous enough to let me commandeer the microphone) and, as usual, there's so much more to say than time ever allows. I am so grateful to my community of humane, principled and passionate people. There is so much work to be done and I am honored to be doing it shoulder-to-shoulder with such shining examples of humanity.
When I was a young child, as is probably the case I’m sure with so many people in the room, I couldn’t stop asking my parents for a dog. I think that was my first sentence and it soon became one big run-on sentence from about the age of three on: “Can I have a dog, can I have a dog, can I have a dog…?” I was always very clear that I didn’t want a baby brother or sister: I wanted a dog. As I grew up, first there was Duffy, the beagle, then Buffy, the cocker spaniel: I was really in my “-uffy” stage. I loved my dogs and as I grew up, and, unaware even as it was happening, I was morphing into an herbivore. My sophomore year of high school, I was signing up for a school ski trip and out of nowhere, I checked a box on the form requesting vegetarian meals. I had never thought of it before: I just saw that word with the box next to it and I thought to myself, “Oh, that’s what I want to be. Of course!” I checked the box and I never looked back.
Not surprisingly, this was around the same time I opted out of dissection in my high school biology class. I had no great epiphany: it was just that at fifteen, I started to realize that animals weren’t ours to use as we saw fit.
Maybe it was because I was raised with an awareness of the Holocaust, knowing that so many of my extended family was wiped out in Europe simply because of crazy beliefs, and just as the genocide against the Jewish people made no sense to me, the same was true of misogyny and discrimination against people of color. That same seed of disconnection also germinates our belief that because we can do something, that gives us the right to do it. It only makes sense in an integrated worldview that non-human animals are part of the circle of compassion, and that this is a social justice movement as worthy as any other and perhaps more so because of the numbers and the profound degree of suffering. Using our voices to stand up for animals is deeply worthy of our time and dedication.
John and I are always trying to create something where we see a need. And with creating Chicago VeganMania, we were responding to our city’s need to have its own, unique vegan culture celebration. Our vision was always that we would be defined from within, by the abundant creativity, compassion and progressive, independent spirit woven throughout the Chicago vegan community. Too often, the vegan world is defined and thus viewed by what we don’t do. It’s important that people understand these things, of course, but framing it as such defines veganism by a “lack,” by our opposition to the status quo. We need to own our message and that’s what Chicago Vegan Mania was about. Our dream was always to celebrate and showcase this wonderful community as we are to the rest of Chicago and it was deeply gratifying for all of us to see that vision manifest: not only were there long lines out the door that whole chilly day in October, but people were smiling, they were talking and listening, they were engaged. Our local vegan community put on a great show, truly reflecting the diversity and vitality within. What a trickle-down effect an event like this can have on people’s perceptions.
We want to thank the whole Chicago VeganMania team who made this fanciful dream a reality: Chris Capozziello, Karen Maylone, Jessica Harding, Josh Alper, Meagen and Lauren Hugel, Marci Rubin, Mikael Nielsen, Leanne Hilgart, Paz St. John and Blythe Lopez. It was a pleasure to work with such ego-less, talented and dedicated people. And thank you to all the incredible volunteers who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the day a success. And thank you to everyone who promoted this event, who trusted us when we told them that we had this crazy idea for something we wanted to call Chicago VeganMania and who believed us when we said that it was going to have a huge draw. Thank you to my dear friends in the Chicago Vegan Family Network for raising the next generation of compassionate children. Thanks to my son Justice, for letting us schlep him to meeting after meeting. Last, thank you to everyone in this room tonight, to the tremendous Mercy for Animals, for helping to create the sort of world we want to live in, one filled with courage and kindness and critical thinking and integrity and passion.