Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Anai Rhoads of AnaiRhoads.org about her take on injustices and this is how it went.
S: Please take a moment to tell the readers a little about yourself. How long have you been vegan? What sparked your interest in animal rights?
Anai: I began my veganism in 2000, but before that I was vegetarian for approximately 29 years. I had a strange sense that consuming animals was an odd thing to do, even at the age of two.
My youngest years were spent in Athens, Greece, where I was born. The city had zoos, if you could call them that. Animals roamed within rusty-nailed wooden fences that seemed like they could collapse at any moment. One day, my mother brought me to see the horses there. I had a fascination with horses and at the time, it seemed like a great idea. I watched a horse ram his/her head over and over against a tree. Almost as if he/she was so defeated, that living became pointless. Children laughed and threw things and I remember feeling frozen in deep thought. Although witnessing this at the age of three was difficult, I am thankful to have seen it. It solidified something in me that animals are not ours to use as entertainment, food or otherwise. My path was set.
I have been a social justice activist since 1991, and began AnaiRhoads.org (initially as a portfolio) in 1996. Started small, but it has attracted hundreds of thousands of dedicated readers over the years. The site offers a plethora of topics, so whether you agree with us or not there is always something that appeals to someone.
S: You have written openly against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). How can we, as donors, be assured that our donations are utilized and not kept? Example: HSUS after Katrina, money was unaccounted for and none of it was spent on reuniting companions with their human counterparts.
Anai: HSUS and PeTA, are notorious for hoarding funds, yes. But without them animal rights wouldnt be as prominent as it is now. Their initial effectiveness, however, has been replaced by corporate deals which have essentially given meat-eaters an opportunity to feel better about consuming animals and their by-products. Donating to grassroots organizations is a far better use of your hard-earned money, than donating to celebrity-naked-women-clad orgs. Better yet, donate your time.
S: I've been criticized for not being a big supporter of Single Issue Campaigns (SICs) because I've yet to see one work, for humans or non-humans. Do you agree that drawing attention to one single animal form is counterintuitive to getting the word out that the only way to effectively impact the plight of non-humans is through vegan education?
Anai: I believe all SICs have the opportunity to open dialogue, whether it is positive or negative. Remember, if you eat/promote soy as a protein replacement, you are entertaining a SIC too. Many assume eating soy is fabulous, but it isnt for all of the small animals crushed under the weight of plows. I no longer eat soy, knowing what I know now. So, in the end there may not be a perfect philosophy out there. SIC or otherwise.
S: With regards to SIC and animal rights groups, I've learned you've recently left Friends of Animals (FoA). Would you care to explain what happened, or why you chose to leave?
Anai: The response to my resignation was a little overwhelming to say the least. The phone has been ringing off the hook and my inbox is overflowing, to my surprise. My reasons for leaving were, for the most part, ethical. I really think we didn't fit well. Before joining FoA, I was an independent journalist who encouraged the victories of all non-profits. The conflicts between FoA and most animal rights-based groups (even some enviro groups) were often intense, which left me with nothing to celebrate or write for that matter.
As for SICs, FoA typically took on campaigns as they came, and tackled whatever issue needed to be addressed. Some SIC and some not SIC. There is one that was strikingly SIC however, and that would be the campaign against US Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, who bragged about his love of fur and promised to wear a tuft of Arctic white fox fur on his costume at the Olympics earlier this year.
While I was writing the press release and letter against Weir, I began to have reservations regarding the campaign. There was no mention of the obvious - leather skates. This was something that was shot down, so I went ahead and released the PR and sent it to his costume designer. This sparked an insane amount of press and everyone had their own opinion about it, of course. Abolitionists pointed out the flaw in the campaign SIC. So for FoA, I will admit, that the Weir campaign, along with the March for Mustangs protest against the Bureau of Land Management (March 25th 2010, White House) were SIC. For the protest, it lacked conversation about how our diets play a role in the round-ups of wild horses and burros in the West and the Weir campaign ignored the leather skates, feathers and other animal-derived products.
However, it is my belief that we should encourage any campaign, which aims to assist humans or nonhumans. There is no room, or time for that matter, to bicker about who is right and who is wrong. I got to witness this firsthand between groups and it was disheartening.
Whether campaigns are perceived as SIC or not, their victories need to be appreciated and noted, even FoAs. Weir backed down and didn't wear fur on his costumes at the Olympics. But that wasn't the real victory - because he openly wore fur on camera. The real victory came when millions of people around the world learned how fur is really obtained. So, we can look at it either way. We may lose our audience if we only focused on fulfilling every minute detail in a campaign. SIC campaigns have their purpose, sometimes.
I don't have a single issue that fascinates me; I have a wide-range of interests. However, I respect all of those who have a passion for even the most isolated issue because they are doing something that otherwise may not be met directly by a wide-interest group.
S: You also cover topics regarding human trafficking. What happens to the victims? Are they used in prostitution? Work for slave wages in abattoirs?
Anai: Some human trafficking consists of initial consent; however, the victim doesn't know the true extent of what may happen to them once they have successfully crossed borders. The typical promises made by the traffickers include jobs and freedom from the poverty or oppression they are experiencing at home.
I wrote about a Wisconsin couple that used a Philippine native as a slave (http://www.anairhoads.org/criminaljustice/wislave2009.shtml). This young woman was under the impression that she would be cared for, but instead she, like most, was used as a mere commodity. This is happening, right now, around the globe.
A variety of things happen from being dumped off to forced to work in slave-labor to prostitution. Each case is different. Some make it out okay, while others live in a loop of abuse.
S: You are known to have strong opinions on immigration. What do you see as a solution to the immigration issue?
Anai: The ideal solution would be to dismantle the US-Mexico border, which is harming the environment and leading to the deaths of countless animals, and ignoring the imaginary borders around the world that hold all of us hostage to a country. No human is illegal. The core change in the US needs to come from true immigration reform. Right now there is little we can do. Our hands, as citizens, are tied. We need to revamp policies, which aim to support undocumented workers in order to put an end to this trafficking trend. Once that happens, and once prostitution is legalized traffickers will be out of business.
As it is right now, workers, and those who are brought in for the sole purpose of prostitution, are under the control of someone else who profits from them. Basic civil liberties are lost in the shuffle when it comes to undocumented workers. Instead of finding themselves in a country where they can work and be free like everyone else they are confronted with people who often use them. In my opinion, its not just the traffickers who are at fault every US resident/citizen who takes advantage of an undocumented worker is equally guilty.
S: Back to veganism - as an hourly wage earning vegan, how do I and others like me make the largest change happen?
Anai: Never underestimate the usefulness of a single activist. As you know, veganism is more than how we eat; its also how we treat our fellow human-animals too. Join forces with everyone, even if you don't necessarily agree with their philosophy. There are always opportunities to reach out and open dialogue with people you don't agree with.
Celebrate all victories, whether they appear SIC or not because these victories have benefited a living being in one way or another.
Write letters, make calls, host a protest and keep networking. Respect those who have difference philosophies. I strongly believe that collaborating with groups is essential to our movement.End the fight, and get to work!
S: Thank you very much for your time and thoughtful responses.
Anai: Thank you for the opportunity!