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Highlights from AR2017

By Lauren Choplin

We were delighted to be part of this year’s Animal Rights 2017 National Conference at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Below are highlights from NhRP staff who attended this past weekend’s festivities. If you were there too, we hope you had a productive and inspiring time! Click here to watch a video of NhRP President Steven M. Wise’s Opening Plenary talk on the ethical and legal imperatives of nonhuman rights and click here for a transcription as published on HuffPost. See you at next year’s conference in Los Angeles, we hope!

Lisa Rainwater, Campaigns Director

My first year attending the Animal Rights National Conference introduced me to new faces, new organizations, and new ideas. Sue and I spent a great deal of our time staffing the NhRP booth in the exhibitor’s hall. It was the perfect opportunity to talk with people interested in our work and to learn what inspires them to be active in the animal rights movement. I met a gentleman from Vermont who was there supporting his son’s new vegan restaurant, a woman from California working tirelessly to free Billy the Elephant from the Los Angeles zoo, and a psychotherapist from Virginia who shares her passion for animals with her clients as a form of healing from PTSD. It was through their inspiring stories – “Billy is in my backyard. How can I not work to free him?” the woman asked me – that I returned to New York City after a four-day hiatus with renewed commitment to helping animal rights activists follow their heart and passion for nonhuman animals.

Kevin Schneider and Lisa Rainwater at the NhRP's exhibitor booth at AR2017.
Kevin Schneider and Lisa Rainwater at the NhRP’s exhibitor booth at AR2017.

Sue Lee K. Troutman, Director of Development

As Lisa mentioned, I was with her at our exhibitor’s booth for most of the weekend, where we handed out NhRP literature, answered questions, and had a lot of great conversations with people about their own animal advocacy and what motivates them to support nonhuman rights. Especially for people who have tried in vain to free nonhuman animals from situations that aren’t considered cruel “enough” to violate animal welfare laws, the common denominator seems to be that there is only so much you can do to help nonhuman animals until they have legally recognized rights. The panel discussion I found most interesting, on the abuse of animals in entertainment, underscored this core problem for me. As long as animals are considered legal things, the question of what constitutes abuse largely favors the “owner,” I think. My favorite speaker on this panel was Carrie LeBlanc of CompassionWorks International, who helped shut down Ringling in part by passionately critiquing the idea that circuses treat “their” animals well.

I always enjoy meeting fellow animal advocates and seeing old friends at conferences like this one, but as my colleagues can tell you, I always have an eye out for the best vegan food, too. This year, I especially liked DC Vegan Catering’s BBQ Tempeh wrap, though the Veggemo milk was pretty good, too. 😊

Matthew Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations

As I wrote in my blog post about three unconventional animal advocacy organizations at AR2017 whose work I greatly admire, one of my favorite things about these conferences is meeting hundreds of people and seeing what new tools are being developed to help animals. I also enjoyed learning about the amazing international work that Animal Equality is doing in countries like Mexico, Germany, and Italy. Aside from the amazing vegan food, making new friends, like activist all-star Elizabeth Mourar from Florida, the highlight had to be spending time with Charlotte Phillips, an 11-week old piglet who is an ambassador for her species.

Kevin Schneider, Executive Director

AR2017 gave me the opportunity to see old faces, meet new ones, and spend a lot of quality time engaged in deep conversation about the best way forward to bring rights to nonhuman animals. I left the weekend with a stronger appreciation for the depth and diversity of the animal movement, as well as a deepened resolve to continue pushing for fundamental rights for nonhuman animals. I was proud to watch Steve address the audience at the opening plenary, and honored to represent the NhRP in front of our beautiful new booth, where I interacted with countless conference attendees of all ages and backgrounds. The animal movement has at times been marked by great discord over the best way forward, but after AR2017 I am more convinced than ever that the movement is ready to embrace the push towards fundamental legal rights for animals, and many are excited to begin working with us on passing legislation to do just that. I can’t wait for AR2018!

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