This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

I got back from AR2007 late last night, and I’m brimming with thoughts on the conference, animal rights, and activism. I’ll be writing more on this over the next couple days, but I’ll start with my thoughts on the conference.

The Good

The best thing about the conference was meeting people (the “hallway track”). It was really cool to connect a face with all the names. I had some good conversations with Eric Prescott of An Animal Friendly Life. It was also great to meet Erica Meier from Compassion Over Killing and Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals. I also met the inimitable Cass Danger, who has become a top VegGuide.Org contributor in an amazingly short time, and is also doing lots of activist work of her own.

I also enjoyed meeting future star of the silver screen Rick Corbett and his sister Rain. I really hope Rick becomes very famous. He’s a good speaker, and will be a strong voice for animals. He’s also a nice guy, and in the future I can say “I knew him when …”. Rita Anderson, a self-described “61 year-old grandmother”, really embodied the voice of reason. I enjoyed Saurabh Dalal’s talk and its emphasize on taking a systematic approach to planning and evaluating our work. Howard Lyman blew me away with his speaking skills. He’s really a master, and I hope I learned a little from watching him.

I went leafleting twice while I was there with Jon Camp, Jenna Calabrese, and Stuart Solomon, as well as folks from CAA. It was really cool to hang out with some of the top leafleters from Vegan Outreach. It was also fun to do some outreach, since I’ve gravitated into fundraising and admin work over the years here at CAA.

There was a man I talked to very briefly whose name I don’t remember, but I was excited to meet him because he is a police officer from British Columbia. It’s easy to think of law enforcement as our enemies, but we’re trying to build a movement, and that means we want everyone involved. Our cause is one of compassion, and treating anyone as an implacable enemy to be fought is a losing tactic.

I spent a lot of the conference following Unny Nambudiripad around. Unny is another CAA founder and board member, and is also the friendliest person on earth. He’s great at introducing himself to new people, and by following him I got to meet many more people than I could’ve done by myself. I also had a lot of good conversations about activism with him at the conference.

I wish I had gone to more of the “rap sessions”, but unfortunately I didn’t realize that these were group discussions as opposed to presentations. The two I attended were both worthwhile, and more interesting than many of the presentation sessions I attended.

The first rap session I attended was a discussion of what tactics are acceptable for our cause. In our movement, that inevitably means a debate on whether or not so-called “direct action” (lab break-ins, freeing animals, arson, property destruction) are acceptable.

Let me be clear that CAA’s core value of Nonviolence rules out this sort of activity. This sort of direct action is extremely counter-productive, but that’s a topic for its own blog post.

I don’t believe that debating will change the minds of people committed to doing these sorts of actions, but I realized that this debate is valuable for those who are still undecided, or those who simply support these actions by default. If I can convince a few people to embrace core values like ours, I consider that a success.

Another highlight of the conference was the Vegan Toastmasters sessions. I enjoy the whole performance aspect of public speaking, and I loved the “table topics”, where the table topics master asks a question and you give a 1-2 minute response. I loved the challenge of that format, and winning the table topics contest was a nice bonus.

I was happy with how my own presentation on wikis went, though the 12 minutes that I had really wasn’t sufficient for this topic. I wanted to do a quick demo, to make the abstract concepts I covered concrete. But again, I’ll cover this problem in my next post on what I didn’t like about the conference, AR2007 Thoughts – The Bad.

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