This summer, a talented new staff member joined the Nonhuman Rights Project: Amanda Waxman. Amanda is our Digital Coordinator, which means she’s responsible for, among many other things, the creation of much of the digital content you’ll see on our social media channels and beyond. Before joining the NhRP, she worked at The Humane League, a global nonprofit dedicated to ending the abuse of animals raised for food. She’s also worked with grassroots climate activist groups in her city and volunteered at several animal sanctuaries. When she’s not working, she enjoys taking part in races with her local running club and hanging out with her canine companion Archie.
I talked to Amanda about why she’s in this fight, how she thinks about the nonhuman animal rights movement, and more:
LC: Why do you think nonhuman rights are important?
AW: Nonhuman rights are important because nonhuman animals are not so different from us: they have complex inner lives, relationships, feelings, and needs. However, our societal institutions overlook the clear evidence that nonhuman animals are sentient beings in order to justify acts of cruelty, like keeping them in extreme confinement.
I feel aligned with the NhRP’s work to secure nonhuman rights because I believe animals deserve to live free from exploitation and abuse, just like humans do. Securing legal rights for nonhuman animals paves the way for a better, more just future for all beings.
LC: What excites you about this juncture in the fight for nonhuman rights? What gives you hope and keeps you going despite the obstacles we face?
AW: In the past few years, we’ve witnessed so many grassroots movements challenging the current status quo. And, as these movements have grown, more people are waking up to the fact that the current status quo isn’t working for us. It serves a select few powerful interests, but leaves people, our communities, and our planet with a myriad of injustices to deal with.
Right now, zoos, circuses, and research facilities treating animals like objects is simply the status quo. But, as more people learn about beings like Happy, it becomes clear that keeping animals in captivity and stripping them of their freedom is not only wrong—it’s a form of injustice. Despite the obstacles we face, I firmly believe that when people have the opportunity to connect with the stories of other species, they’ll support the idea that nonhuman animals deserve better than the current status quo. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have to advocate for animals—that’s why I’ve gravitated towards communications over the course of my career!
LC: What do you think a future that includes nonhuman rights looks like, and what do you think it will take to get there?
I like to think that nonhuman rights are part of this big patchwork future that all of these different movements—social justice, climate justice, animal protection—are weaving together. It’s a future where living beings, both human and nonhuman, can live with dignity and feel a sense of respect for one another and the planet we live on. I know it will take a tremendous amount of time and effort to get there, but I’ve seen glimpses of what it can look like from being around amazing people who do amazing work with animal sanctuaries, community gardens and farms, mutual aid groups, and environmental protection organizations. When we care about and connect with our communities and environment, we create a more caring, connected future for generations to come.
LC: The fight for human rights is far from over, and climate change is an existential threat to all life on earth. How do you think it helps human beings and the planet to recognize and protect the rights of nonhuman animals?
I mentioned the “status quo” earlier—I see climate change as a result of a status quo where private companies attempt to exploit and extract the maximum amount of profit from the planet. As scientists have warned us time and time again, Earth and all of the beings who call it home are paying the price for these companies’ greed. What’s worse is that marginalized communities, who already face injustices such as systemic poverty and racism, are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Securing rights for nonhuman animals holds private interests accountable for the harm they inflict on living beings and protects nonhuman animals from further exploitation and injustice. I think recognizing and protecting the rights of nonhuman animals would create a bigger cultural shift toward accountability and healing from abuse and injustice, which would benefit all of us and our planet.
How and why did you come to care about nonhuman animals and nonhuman rights?
I always considered myself an “animal lover,” but I didn’t wake up to the systemic injustices that nonhuman animals face until I was in college. I was an Environmental Studies major, and I cared a lot about climate change. I watched a documentary about animal agriculture’s impact on the environment, and it blew my mind. I wanted to run around and shout all the statistics about greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, and see if people got as worked up as I did! I then became vegan and began focusing my studies on the food system and sustainable agriculture.
The summer of my junior year, I chose to do an internship at Farm Sanctuary, working in their visitor program. For so long I was thinking about the food system and factory farming in the abstract, but, then, I actually got the chance to meet animals who had survived the injustice of our food system. I saw each of their unique personalities, how they bond with one another, and how they can learn to trust humans after facing so much hardship. I didn’t look into their eyes and see an object, or a food product, or a mascot—I saw a being with a soul and a story to tell, who deserves love and respect. And, when I assisted with tours of the sanctuary, I was able to see guests have the same realization after meeting these animals for the first time.
This may sound lofty, but the whole experience imbued me with a new sense of purpose. I think we all have the capability to be in right relationship with animals and the planet, even though our current system is built in opposition to that. I want to shine a light on what nonhuman animals experience in our world, and how humans can help them. I’m really grateful to work in the animal rights movement, and to have the chance to do this alongside the amazing team at the Nonhuman Rights Project!
Thanks Amanda for all your amazing work. We’re so glad to have you here!