Animal Rights National Conference
The Animal Rights National Conference has been organized since 2000 by the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM).
FARM was also responsible for an earlier series of annual conferences, named Action For Life, between 1981 and 1987, as well as two special conferences in 1991 and 1997. Between 1988 and 1996, the annual animal conferences were organized by the former National Alliance for Animal Rights.
In August 1975, Dr. Alex Hershaft became involved in the vegetarian movement after attending the World Vegetarian Congress in Orono, ME, and meeting Jay Dinshah. A year later, he founded the Vegetarian Information Service (VIS) to distribute information on the benefits of a vegetarian diet.
VIS also organized several conferences in DC and Pennsylvania on strategies for promoting vegetarianism. Some conference participants, influenced by Peter Singer’s 1975 treatise Animal Liberation, argued that the scope of these conferences should be expanded to include animal rights.
Accordingly, in the summer of 1981, Hershaft organized Action For Life, a national conference at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA, that effectively launched the U.S. animal rights movement, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Farm Animal Reform Movement, and the since defunct Trans-Species Unlimited and Mobilization For Animals. Participants included such animal rights pioneers as Cleveland Amory, Ingrid Newkirk, Alex Pacheco, Peter Singer, Henry Spira, Gretchen Wyler, as well as radio host Thom Hartmann.
These conferences continued for seven more years in San Francisco (1982), Montclair, NJ (1983), Washington (1984), Los Angeles (1985), Chicago (1986), and Cambridge, MA (1987). In 1991, FARM organized A Decade of the Animals conference in Washington, DC, to commemorate the 1981 launch.
Between 1988 and 1996, the annual conferences were taken over by Peter Link and the National Alliance for Animal Rights. In 1990, his March on Washington attracted 25,000 participants. In 1996, a similar effort led to a much smaller turnout of 3,000. The disappointment at the small turnout and allegations of financial mismanagement sent Link into exile from the animal rights movement, and he was never heard from again.
In 1997, FARM jumped in to organize a national conference in Washington to lift the disappointment of the preceding year and to signal that the animal rights movement was alive and well. With no other group stepping forward for the next two years, FARM arranged another conference in the 2000 "Millennium Madness" year. The 2001 and 2002 conferences followed, all in Washington DC.
By then, West Coast animal rights activists began clamoring for moving the conference to Los Angeles. Unsure of whether the West Coast could support a conference and wary of losing the continuing interest of the Washington area, FARM organized two conferences in the summer of 2003, in both Washington and Los Angeles. The success of the latter ensured that, beginning in 2004, the annual animal right rights national conference alternated between the two cities.
Mission & Program
The annual animal rights national conference is dedicated to the vision of a world where animals are free from all forms of human exploitation. Yet, it recognizes that there are multiple paths, missions, strategies, and tactics for advancing that vision.
Thus, a key mission of each conference is to provide a forum where relative merits of these paths, missions, strategies, and tactics may be discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Other key missions include:
- Documenting animal abuses for food, research, amusement, and more
- Training attendees in personal growth and organizing
- Offering opportunities to network and “recharge batteries”
- Providing exposure to potential new movement leaders
A typical conference involves a thousand attendees, 90 presenters from 60 organizations, a hundred sessions, screening of new video documentaries, 90 exhibits, and 15 co-sponsors. The program is structured along several parallel tracks, dealing with issues, organizing, advocacy, campaign reports, and discussions. Social highlights include evening receptions, Awards Banquet, and the closing party.
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Beginning in 2000, animal rights conference presenters have inducted national leaders, authors, or other key agents of change to the U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame. In 2015, members were Carol J. Adams, Cleveland Amory, Josh Balk, Matt Ball, Gene Baur, Jon Camp, Joseph Connelly, Rod Coronado, Karen Davis, Bruce Friedrich, Alex Hershaft, Steve Hindi, Colleen Holland, Lorri Houston, Kevin Kjonaas, Elliot Katz, James LaVeck & Jenny Stein, Howard Lyman, Jim Mason, Shirley McGreal, Erica Meier, Laura Moretti, Ingrid Newkirk, Jack Norris, Alex Pacheco, Nathan Runkle, Paul Shapiro, Peter Singer, Henry Spira, Paul Watson, Ben White, Zoe Weil, and Gretchen Wyler.
Other recognitions presented at the conference include the Henry Spira Grass Roots Animal Activist Award, the Young Animal Activist Award, and the Vegan Celebrity Award.
FARM’s 1981 Action for Life conference provided the springboard for formation of the U.S. animal rights movement. The animal rights conferences that followed still offer the only national networking opportunity for movement leaders and activists. In fact, a number of animal rights movement leaders got their start here:
- A young couple was inspired by the 1985 Los Angeles Action For Life conference to launch Farm Sanctuary the following year.
- Peter Link, organizer of the 1990 March for Animal Rights and several national animal rights conferences, drove all night and slept on someone’s floor to attend the 1986 Chicago conference.
- A 13-year-old Nathan Runkle was inspired at the 1997 animal rights conference to launch Mercy For Animals.
- At the same event, a young couple with a video camera met a Brooklyn sheet metal worker and produced the award-winning “The Witness.”
- The national VegNews magazine was introduced at the 2000 conference.
- At her first ever animal rights conference in 2003, Kristal Parks was moved to devote the rest of her life to running an elephant sanctuary in Kenya and protecting elephants from ivory poachers.
- At the 2006 conference, Odette Wilkens was moved to devote her life to repeal of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
- "The Brains Behind the Great American Meatout" VegNews. Retrieved 2014-3-17.
- "Holocaust survivor heads animal rights group Alex Hershaft throws himself into cause" Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-3-17.
- Lawrence & Susan Finsen. The Animal Rights Movement in America. Twayne Publishers, 1994; p. 75
- Norm Phelps. The Longest Struggle. Lantern Books, 2004; pp. 190, 222.
- "24 Carrot Award" Vegetarians in Paradise. Retrieved 2014-3-17.
- Lawrence & Susan Finsen. The Animal Rights Movement in America. Twayne Publishers, 1994; p. 121.
- Norm Phelps. The Longest Struggle. Lantern Books, 2004; pp. 190, 226.
- "1983 Mobilization for Animals" Primate Research. Retrieved 2014-3-17.
- Lawrence Finsen and Susan Finsen. The Animal Rights Movement in America: From Compassion to Respect. Twayne Publishers, 1994; pp. 75-76.
- Norm Phelps. The Longest Struggle. Lantern Books, 2007; p. 222.
- Norm Phelps. The Longest Struggle. Lantern Books, 2007; p. 274.
- (August 17, 2008) “Animal Advocate Envisions a Vegetarian World” The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-3-17.
- Lawrence Finsen and Susan Finsen. The Animal Rights Movement in America: From Compassion to Respect. Twayne Publishers, 1994; p. 72.
- Norm Phelps. The Longest Struggle. Lantern Books, 2007; p. 249.
- Norm Phelps. The Longest Struggle. Lantern Books, 2007; p. 281.