A Voice for the Voiceless

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Meet David! In this eight interview, I was excited to sit down with David, whom I’d met through a friend at the Farm Sanctuary walk in Seattle, and because I knew David  has done work with Peta and is very active in being a voice for the voiceless. I hope you’ll be as inspired as I was after reading this interview.
 

Beginnings

Tell me a little about the work you’re involved in. You work with homeless adults. How long have you been doing that? About fifteen years. You’re a social worker then? Yes, I’ve been primarily working with homeless adult men for, well, I guess my entire career. May I ask what inspired that? My family is from PoulsboSo are you Scandinavian? [David laughs!] No. So I ended up here and I was commuting from Poulsbo to the U.W. and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I liked reading a lot, so I’m a comparative literature major, but I was passing the same homeless guys every day on the street, so I started smiling at them and started saying “Hi” to them and then I started stopping to talk to them. Pretty soon I was making myself late for classes and I was no longer interested in what I was studying, but more interested in talking to these interesting guys who were the complete opposite of the ivory tower, the protected  place  I was in at school – and I thought, “god, I wish I could get paid to talk to homeless guys all day, so I switched my major to social work and I ended up interning and getting a job in a transitional program for homeless men. I did that for five or six years and then I went to Guatemala for five months to study Spanish and travel around. There I met some really poor people. Then I came home and went to grad school for social work and worked downtown with severely mentally ill people. The ones you see talking to themselves and walking the streets. Those were my clients! Then I worked there for two years and then I went and worked as a media spokesperson for PETA over on the East Coast. I learned a whole lot there. Where on the East Coast? Norfolk. Let’s backtrack a little bit.

How did you get involved with PETA? After I got done with grad school…I think I was calling myself 85% veganWhat inspired that? I think it was just over the years, I just started hearing more and more things. For example, I learned that Americans eat way more meat than any other country. How many years ago was that? Oh, that I went vegan? Yes, I want to know the beginnings of all of this! OK, just as a timeframe, I went vegan seven years ago. Back when I was 21 when I was in undergraduate for social studies I had this vegan girlfriend and I tried to talk her into at least eating fish because I was convinced that being vegan was unhealthy, but she would say, “I will not eat anything that has a face!” And I’d go, “But look, have you ever looked into the eyes of a fish? There’s nothing in there.” [We laugh.] I was also lifting weights a lot so I thought you had to eat a lot of meat.

The Inconvenience of Meat

Like I said, I started reading that Americans ate more meat than most other places and that we don’t need to eat that much meat. Also just the inconvenience of meat, like you have to go buy it at the store and then worry about how long it sits in your fridge before it gets bad and then when you cook it – if you cook it too long – it gets really dry and gross and if you don’t cook it enough you can get little bugs that get in you and make you sick. That’s kind of weird to basically have to watch this toxic substance or this substance that could become toxic at some point. Also me being a cheapskate having eggs in my fridge that, “Oh, they’re probably fine. I can’t remember when I bought them and then I might get sick. That’s really ridiculous!” I’m not going to get trichinosis from eating rice that I’ve had for too long. There’s just something wrong with that, so I just found that it was cheaper to not buy meat when I went to the store and I started realizing, when I was going out to restaurants and they asked, “Do you want beef, chicken or tofu?” That it’s so easy just to say “Tofu!” But then the kicker was when I watched the video “Meet Your Meat“, which was a collection of undercover footage and I think that video alone is probably responsible for more vegans than any other single thing out there.

A Conversion Experience

I had always known intellectually that meat was animals, but when I saw that – and I think that is true for a lot of people – you have this breakthrough moment, especially for activists, the way they describe the moment sounds like a conversion experience. Do you want to go into that? It’s like it changes everything and their life takes on a new direction. Would you compare it to a religious experience or is that too far out there? No, I think the result is kind of the same in that the people I’ve talked to tell me that it was painful but their perspective on everything shifted. For me, I had this moment and I suddenly stopped seeing animals as being “other” . The difference of being touched – the difference between when you touch your own arm and someone else’s arm. You know, if you had your eyes closed and that person’s arm was mixed with a bunch of other arms under sheets you wouldn’t necessarily know the difference, but you know when it’s your arm and I think that was true for me and I know its been true for other people as well, it’s usually some poignant experience where they empathize with some single individual or animal. For me it was this moment where someone in the video was torturing a pig and I…I haven’t really talked about this in such detail before… [we both almost tear up and David’s voice changes] …the way the pig was screaming and the facial expression, I understood what he was feeling and when you truly understand – that’s true empathy. When you more or less zap into that individuals body and you’re looking out of their eyes, when you’re feeling that person torturing you – that’s really painful, but then you suddenly zap back and you realize, I’m not that pig…I’m that man! I’m the torturer doing that! That’s a really powerful realization! 

Sergio Bustamante – Colección / Esculturas / Bronce

After this realization, I said, “I can’t be apart of that. I can’t continue participating in this really horrifying thing and I think that’s what a lot, especially activists, they feel this moment of horror. They are horrified to find that they’ve been participating in this thing. I can’t remember which movie it was. It took place in Africa and they were trying to turn these little boys into soldiers and they were trying to get them used to killing, so they’d put these blindfolds on  the kid and make him point in a certain direction and pull the trigger. Then they’d pull the blindfold off and the kid sees that he’s shot another kid who was tied up against the wall and I think for a lot of people who go vegan that becomes their moment when the blindfolds are taken off and they realize to their horror, what they thought was just pulling a switch was in and of itself harmless – they realize that the switch was a trigger and they just participated in this horrific act that they now no longer want to have any part of. I know I feel that way myself, like my blindfolds came off! I’ve been truly horrified since then, wondering why didnt make this connection before – how was I so blind to these horrors that were happening? Even when my Dad had mentioned a little when I was a child. I wish he’d told me more about the horrors that were happening, so I would have known some of what I know now. I didn’t make the connection. I didn’t either. 

I honestly think that there are stages of change and I think that where I was, what they call the “pre-contemplation stage”,  and I look back and wish that the girlfriend I had, who was vegan, when I was 21, I wish that she had made me watch a video, but it’s possible that if things had been presented to me in a different way that I would have made the change then, but then I think that we all really want to compress all that time and make it have happened earlier, but maybe from 21 to 30, maybe I was being prepared for the change. I wish that I’d made that change in high school! I look at people like Paul Shapiro (activist and the Humane Society’s senior director of it’s factory farming campaign). I mean, he started that in high school . Where was my head at? I wasn’t thinking about yet. This reminds me of a child that I know, who is only in second grade. One day she came to me and said, without knowing that I am a vegan, “I’m going vegan!” I said, “Cool! That’s what I am.” Then I asked, “What has made you decide to do that?” And she said, “Because killing and eating animals is just wrong!” WOW! I thought, why couldn’t I have have gotten that when I was in second grade? Recently I asked her, so are you still vegan and she said, “No, my mom doesn’t want me to.” Then I asked her, “Well, how do you feel about that?” And she said, “Well, it’s just wrong!” Well, I think that’s what happen to a lot of people maybe they just start to think about it, but then someone else, maybe an adult or their peer – and they stop it. Maybe I was just ready when it came around, ready to take that leap. Well, better late than never, right! Right! 

David with other passionate activists in Seattle

Activist in the Making

Tell me about the activism. How did you get started? At first I tried to tell my parents about it. How did they react? They were like, “Yea, meat is made from animals.” They didn’t get it, so I think that my frustration with that made me realize that I had to make this bigger. I can’t just be satisfied with telling my parents and sometimes I think that if I had told my family and they had all gone vegan, maybe I would have just been like “Sweet!” but I think because they didn’t get it I realized that I can’t stop here. I think that other people have a right to know the pain and suffering that is behind this, so I think that pretty soon I was googling and looking around for animals rights groups. I got involved with NARN (Northwest Animal Rights Network) and started just doing everything that they were doing and then I get elected to their board and then we started a Foie Gras campaign. I was at those every week leading the chants and yelling at restaurants. Meanwhile I also got involved with PETA, because they needed someone periodically to paint themselves like a fish and lie down on the ground. Are they here in the area then? No, their main offices are in Norfolk, D.C. and L.A. These campaigners will fly in and then pretty soon I became their go-to guy. They’d tell me we are doing this campaign and talking with this news station and they want someone local to talk to on camera. I was like, “Ok, I will go do that!” Pretty soon I started doing media interviews, leading demonstrations and stuff.

Boise, Idaho in November. David & his companions got snowed on!

Then they asked me if I’d work for them and I was just so involved with animal rights stuff at that point that I really wanted to go do it full time. Plus I knew I’d learn a ton if I went to work for PETA being a campaigner – I would get media training, travel around and meet a lot of people. And I just wanted to see how the professionals do it because we were just doing it on a grass roots level, kind of didn’t know which way the right way to do it. Just kind of figuring it out just based on our common sense, but if you take it seriously. If you take activism seriously then you want to find out the best way you can do it. It’s kind of like being a parent, you don’t just go, “I guess, I’ll just do it. Most parents want to do it right.” Yes, they’ll study the right ways to do things. Yes, so I went to work for them. Went to Norfolk, traveled around through Canada, went to Trinidad. I was doing media interviews (newspaper, radio, TV) in each city that I went to and I’d go to a different city every day and it would be a week of that and then a week back in the office, so it was a lot of flying, a lot of driving and a lot of hurrying around. How long did you do that for? I did that for half a year.

David & the PeTA crew

It’s a pretty intense job and I was ready to come home. I missed Seattle. I missed my home. I missed my nieces and stuff. Yes, basically I had to give up everything to go out there. My family, the mountains, and my nieces. So I came home and got another job working as a social worker, working with mentally ill folks with addictions and then meanwhile I was just making myself available to all the groups  to do whatever they needed, so if Mercy for Animals or HSU or HSUS or Farm Sanctuary needed something done in Seattle than I’d do that. Then also at the same time I was doing my own stuff. At the time, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to start my own group. I was doing a lot of things trying to develop that. I was getting Veg funds to go out and give out free stuff, like Tofurky sausages at events. I was a doing a bunch of stuff like that and then periodically if PETA needed me to drive up to Canada I’d do some wacky thing, like the seal slaughter.

Initiative 1130 ~ Washington Farm Animal Cruel Prevention

Then the Initiative 1130 came to town and HSUS, which would ban cages for egg laying hens in Washington State, and as soon as that came to town I just dropped everything and focused exclusively on that! It’s similar to Prop 2 in California (Proposition 2 created a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The law is set to go into full effect on January 1, 2015.) and there’s really nothing I could have been doing with my time that would have effected more animals than being out there gathering signatures, which wasn’t the funnest thing, but we gathered enough. We made a deal with United Egg Producers, where they agreed to eliminate all barren battery cages from the United States if we would drop ours. That was a big deal because it essentially means that after that goes into effect, when it’s finally faced in there will no longer be those battery cages that you see in all the pictures – those will all be nonexistent in this country. On the other hand, I was also really looking forward to having all eggs in Washington be caged free. When will that go into effect? They are still working on the bill. It’s still going forward in D.C. – let me look it up to give you the exact date. That’s pretty recent then? Yes, that ended a little over a year ago. That happened the first week of July last year. Since then it’s just been if PeTA needed me to go paint myself like a fish to lie on the street in Seattle, Portland or Vancouver, I would just go do that. I would just take vacation time off work to go do that or if HSUS asked me to come be at a table or Farm Sanctuary needed me. Initiative 1130 made me realize just how “small potato” doing the sausage give-away was and how truly this was  “history changing” this thing was that I was involved in with them, making me give up my own idea of starting my own group. Well, that must feel really rewarding to know that you’ve been taking part in this history changing event. I’m impressed! All this stuff that you’ve been doing. That’s amazing!

The Chickens & I Thank you! Please do not support this insanity! 

I have to admit that after the 1130 thing, I thought, I could get hit by a train and I think I will never before or after do something as important as that. That’s the one for the chickens. What about the larger animals? I guess what I mean is that if I was to quantify the amount of good that I can do with each action. Being part of and collecting signatures was the most effective thing that I’ve ever been involved in directly helping animals and bringing about laws. There are no laws that protect chickens right now. Which is awful! Yea, chickens are the most abused animal. I don’t know what the exact numbers are. People eat way more chickens than any other animal, whereas if you eat a whole cow in one year…so if we’re just talking about lives. That’s interesting that you should say that because Kathy Freston, in her book “Veganist”, says that if you’re going to give up one animal at a time before going vegetarian or vegan, that you should give up the birds, especially the chickens first because they are given the most hormones and antibiotics in order to survive the awful and inhumane conditions they have to endure.  Yea, right now there are 230 million chickens stuffed into these battery cages. Those numbers are hard to fathom and then when you watch one of those films, these so called “free range” chickens they were on this big floor and had not much room to move on. They can call them free range with a small piece of grass outside, but the chickens will never go out there because they have spent most of their life inside and then they have a window of two weeks, I think it is, to go outside, which they don’t. Yet the people selling their eggs are allowed to call & sell them as “free range”. What a joke that is!

Supporting Farm Sanctuary too – A Much Worthy Cause!

Anything else you’d like to share before we end? If you’re going to support a cause with money, Mercy for Animals is one that I would recommend. They come out with new footage all the time and I think they are just run very well or the Farm Animal Protection Campaign of the Humane Society of the United States because those guys are really achieving victory after victory. The people who run that are really smart and really egoless. They keep getting these big restaurant chains to stop using gestation crates, to stop using battery caged eggs. It’s really incredible the kind of victories they have made over just the last year even. I would say those two: Mercy for Animals and HSUS Farm Animal Protection Group. I really appreciate that you’re sharing that tip! There are so many groups out there and it’s difficult to choose what group needs the money the most and where it would be put to the most effective use. 

by Nick Cooney

I would also recommend, “The Animal Rights Handbook” to anyone thinking of doing activism and immediately thereafter they should read Nick Cooney’s book “Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change” because both of those books help focus you on how to effectively help animals. Often times when we find out how abused animals are we go vegan but then we don’t know how to change or spread that around. Should we be forceful about it or should we show people gruesome images or should we show them fluffy images? And in Nick Cooney’s book he uses actual research about this stuff about which is most effective, so we don’t have to sit around and have different opinions about it – there’s actual answers to this. Could you give us a hint to this? Yes. I do think that the true images of how animals are treated are important. Another thing that vegans argue about is saying, “Go vegan right now” as opposed to, “Try giving up meat once a week, like meatless Mondays”. The research shows, not just in vegetarianism, but in other types of behaviorism, that if you can get someone to give up meat once a week, they are way more likely to end up giving it all up, rather than if you had insisted all or nothing right at the beginning. So if we really take our own opinions or our own naive sense of human psychology out of it  and we are truly dispassionate and want to know what is the most efficient way to get people to treat animals better then we need to follow what the research shows, because then why else are we doing what we are doing? Either we are doing what we’ve always done or because we have some kind of personal pride invested in it. I think you’re absolutely right about that, David.

Thank you so much to David for all his the awesome work he is doing on behalf of the animals! Your passion and involvement is truly inspiring! I appreciate all that you do! The world needs more passionate and caring humans like you!

 

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About urbanveganchic

I'm an urban chic woman, who is passionate about educating others about the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet, cancer prevention & survival, as well as art & life. I love adventures and travel. As an artist and a teacher, I care deeply about healthy living, being a conscious steward of our planet, and being kind & respectful towards animals. Learning about a vegan plant-based diet has been like discovering a new country and falling in love with it, so if I sound like I'm enamored you now know why! As a world traveler, I truly wish I had discovered this beautiful new country twenty years ago! Better late than never, as they say, cause there's no going back now! Born and raised in Scandinavia. Proud owner of a tripod cat & a foxy little pup. Speak four languages...some better than others. Working on the fifth one. We are all either part of the problem or the solution! Health & Happiness to you! ~UrbanVeganChic

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  1. Pingback: Two Years of Plant-based Interviews | urbanveganchic

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