Brittany Michelson’s Voices for Animal Liberation is a collection of 25 inspirational essays by animal advocates, mostly from the U.S. The 2020 book has been my bedtime reading recently and absolutely moved me with each story. People who lent their voices to this include filmmakers, founders of farm sanctuaries, those who head formal organizations and those who make casual YouTube videos or even practice civil disobedience, risking their own freedom to rescue abused animals.
The essays are about humans as much as the birds, bears, pigs, rats, elephants, and all creatures they’ve fought for. You get to see the unique backstories and moments of change that led each person to open their hearts and hands to helping nonhumans—and our species too, as many of the authors promote human rights causes they are equally passionate about. Fascinated newbies and long-time animal allies can both eat up this “veggie soup for the soul.”
Here are 3 of the activists I “met” in Voices for Animal Liberation, whose words especially touched me. Each overcame some major personal challenges to become a force for compassion.
Through Empathetic Eyes: A Survivor’s Story
by Jasmine Afshar, army vet
I enjoyed Jasmine Afshar’s writing style, weaving difficult scenes from her life with descriptions of our interconnectedness. Her essay powerfully illustrates how a person can tie their own pain to the pains of a victimized group, and be driven to stand up for them.
Jasmine experienced childhood abuse amid a split family. During her tough time in the military, she had unexplained body pains. It was dismissed as hypochondria, but later doctors realized she had endometriosis. Since then, she has undergone many surgeries and dealt with chronic pain.
“I can smile each day because I know whenever a knife is taken to my body it will be with anesthesia and medication, and, most importantly, I will—most likely—survive.”
In animal agriculture, chickens are de-beaked, pigs are tail-docked and ear-notched, bovines are branded and de-horned. Don’t forget castration—and all this usually without painkiller. These standard practices are for farmers’ convenience and so the animals can’t attack each other due to the overcrowded stress of a factory farm.
“I can smile because I know my value within this society is not strictly dependent on my bodily systems. I can smile because I have the luxury of human privilege.”
Jasmine laments how an animal’s body is treated as a machine for growing products. Their role depends on their sexed anatomy, which is their only reason for being kept alive until slaughter. Jasmine imagines that if she were a nonhuman version of herself, such as a hen in the egg industry, or a sow abused for pork, she would be dead already. Her reproductive organs don’t work, so she would be considered useless and immediately disposable.
She compares every trauma and relief she has been through to the terror and hope that exist for abused animals. “When I think about why I am compelled to take direct action and speak unapologetically on behalf of the animals, I realize that no deep philosophy is needed. The answer is simple—they are me, and I am them.”
From Addiction to Healing to Activism: An Olympic Medalist’s Journey
by Dotsie Bausch, cyclist who founded Switch4Good
Dotsie Bausch has had at least 3 major rebirths in life:
- In college, she had an eating disorder and exercised compulsively. Over a couple years of therapy, she recovered.
- Encouraged to workout just for the joy of it, she fell in love with cycling and became a professional.
- While gunning for the 2012 Olympics, she saw undercover footage of farm abuse. It motivated her to go vegan, but people were skeptical of this change.
“I told my coaches, ‘I don’t care if I fade away on this diet…. These are lives we are talking about. Living, breathing creatures who feel love and pain and sadness, and I will not idly stand by and eat the flesh of animals because I think it will make me strong for a sporting event.’”
It brings me almost to tears to hear of someone who struggled so much to perfect their body—first in an unhealthy way, then as a star athlete with enviable potential—be willing to give up this lifelong pursuit of physical excellence out of respect for animals’ lives. Dotsie’s conviction, in spite of peer pressure, is something to which I will always aspire.
But instead of “wasting away” on a plant-based diet, Dotsie’s performance soared. At 40 years old, she became the oldest ever Olympic competitor in her discipline of team pursuit cycling. Later, when the dairy industry placed an ad about Olympians who drank milk, Dotsie was determined to respond on the cows’ behalf. She networked with other dairy-free Olympic athletes, and together they launched a Switch4Good ad during the 2018 Games.
Giving My Struggle Purpose: Overcoming Depression through Animal Advocacy
by Matthew Braun, former undercover worker at farms and slaughterhouses
Matthew Braun began battling depression as a teen, like me. I couldn’t help but see myself in the author’s desperate desire for personal progress. To know his life was doing more good than harm.
He had gone vegan on a bet, but he ended up discovering a lifelong mission. The new identity opened him up to being more social. It initially relieved the depression. Awareness of animals’ plight gave new dimension to his sorrow, but he found meaning in boycotting their mistreatment.
With on-and-off depression though, it can be a single thought that triggers it to come back. Matthew realized that living vegan was merely about what he did not do (buy animal products, for example), rather than anything additive or proactive that he was doing to help. The feelings of worthlessness returned.
Fortunately, it can also be a single new course of action that lets us feel purposeful again. Matthew started volunteering for animal groups. Eventually, this led to his work as an undercover investigator.
“Perhaps it’s because I was preoccupied with the work, but as stressful and horrific as the farm and slaughterhouse jobs were, I never felt hopeless. It was hard to imagine seeing the end of animal exploitation, but I was trying to be a catalyst for that change, and it was enough to keep my head above water.”
In Voices for Animal Liberation, you meet over two dozen inspiring people who never stop yearning for positive impact. Reading their stories encourages me on in my activism journey. While the worthlessness we sometimes feel about ourselves is untrue, Matthew’s essay reminds me to turn such unwanted feelings into positive action. Because truthfully, every being is beautiful and worthy of a satisfying existence, free from harm. I want my precious moments on Earth to affirm that and to help make that happen. Thanks Brittany, Jasmine, Dotsie and the rest for a wonderful book.
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Photo: Sky Horse Publishing