The argument of this book is straight forward:
Most of us think that the world would be a better place if we had more activists working for the good of human society and of the environment. By definition here, the good of society grants the most possibilities for a full life to the greatest number of people; the good of the environment is the support and encouragement of the greatest possible diversity of habitat and of animal life as possible, given that people also live in the world.
Many activist are not born that way, but become so after they receive a Big Jolt that shakes them out of their ordinary patterns of living. (Little jolts change people's behaviour too, but far more slowly and over a longer period of time).
If we knew what triggered Big Jolts for individuals, we could perhaps produce more activists.
To find out what does trigger them, we can look at the brief stories of the people turned activist chronicled here. All of these activists were and are thoughtful and idealistic by nature and anxious, from their perspective, to make the world a better place.
In this compendium most items are about people who changed their belief system and became activists because of some external stimulus. This work also includes accounts of people, mostly women in earlier times, who have had Big Jolts which opened their eyes to the possibilities for them personally, as women, of becoming feminists, or doctors, or creators in the arts. It also includes a short chapter on vegetarians.
To gather material for this book, I read the writings of or about hundreds of activists written before the mid-1990s to find out what inspired them to become activists and to address some of society's wrongs. This is merely an idiosyncratic collection of course; there are many thousands of other descriptions that could be used to describe similar sudden changes in peoples' lives. The Big Jolts that galvanized people into action are the heart of this compendium, along with information about what activism was undertaken in the various areas because of the jolts. The contents will, I hope, be updated on this Website over the next few years to include more modern activists. If any reader wants to follow up on the quotes cited in the text, the author can supply page numbers for the books and articles containing the quotes.
This book is arranged by areas of activism, so that the reader can see for each area (see chapter titles) what kind of Big Jolts were effective in creating activists there. The first chapter gives an overview of ways to effect change in general.
Because this book is written for students, I have tried to write from their perspective. In particular, I have focused on what might be called the counter culture of the large group of students - mainly minorities of some sort - who do not see their identities or aspirations reflected in the university courses they take. Even if their views are considered by some readers to be 'far out', no one can understand the modern university without realizing that for many students it is not the universally applauded institution featured in convocation addresses.
Officially, the university worships at the shrine of public debate and intellectual controversy. In the contemporary era much of the debate in the university, as well as outside it, deals with the very role and responsibility of the university itself.
The views here are not those held by right wing conservatives who would like to see a return to the 'liberal education' that they themselves espoused when young. Neither, however, are they confined to an insignificant minority of disgruntled fringe activists. I hope that the reader - student or not - will give the arguments that follow a fair hearing. Not to do so is to repudiate the value of open inquiry and debate championed by defenders of the university status quo.
Universities everywhere are political institutions. Internal politics determines in large part who will be administrators, and who will be hired as professors. It affects what faculties and departments make up a university, what courses are taught in these units, and what information is included in these courses. Politics determines which students feel at home on campus and which students feel marginalized and alienated.
In turn, politics in the society which funds universities directs the way in which universities will function and who will attend them. If money is largely funneled into science and technological research, then arts students will be more or less deprived. If student aid is funded through loans rather than grants, then working class students will be less likely to attend.
Because universities are so political, with political pressure they can be changed. This was demonstrated during the l960s when student activism was at an all-time high. This manual was written to explain the political nature of the university, and enable readers to visualize ways it could be improved for the benefit of students.
The students in the Independent Studies program where I work are unusual in that they have found deficiencies with the highly structured way in which the most parts of the university function.
The episodes which follow may strike you as bizarre, ridiculous, as imagination verging into hallucination. But the events take place in the year 2010. The everyday life of today's world is poor preparation for comprehending the future.
Earnest sovietologists proved completely incapable of predicting the breakup of the Soviet Empire. And what anthropologist would have predicted, fifty years ago, that a Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples would recommend the official recognition of 60 to 80 Aboriginal nations within Canada? Yogi Berra said it best: Prediction is always difficult, especially when it deals with the future.
But these cautions should not stop us from seeing hints of the future all around us. The idea of having Animal Representatives in the Canadian House of Commons is, in a sense, in the nature of things. Jeffrey Masson describes the emotional side of animals so cogently in his book When Elephants Weep that he drastically reduces the perceived gulf between animals and humans.
From another perspective, sociobiologists (or evolutionary psychologists) seek to find explanations for human behaviour in animal dispositions that humans have inherited during their evolution.
As humans and animals have come closer together in these two movements, many would argue that animals should have their interests more directly present in the legislature. After all, as humankind increases its control over nature, one consequence is the extinction of many species of animals and the destruction of habitat for others.
Recently, many humans in the Western world have developed (and none too soon) a special bond with the natural environment which they have come to see as vulnerable to the rapacious actions of other human beings. The advocates of animal representation argue that their absence from the House of Commons is just as harmful to them as the absence of women was for women, or prior to that, the absence of those without property for the poor.
Yes, we admit the Representation of Animals is a greater leap forward than any previous change in representation. For one thing, animals couldn't vote, and obviously they couldn't argue their own case in the House of Commons. These criticisms are countered by the assertion that simply having a number of animals strategically located in the Commons chamber would be a constant reminder to their fellow speaking and voting members that there is a truly "silent majority" of animal Canadians who should enter into their policy calculations.
The movement to have animals represent themselves sprang from a coalition of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. First nations were mindful of the stories their elders told them about their people's empathy with both the animate and inanimate environment. Privately, they also appreciated that this would distinguish them from the majority Canadian society. After all, it was not they (they argued) whose destructive clearcutting of forests, overfishing, and environmental pollution had reduced the animal population. Also, they knew that a heavy price was attached to NOT being represented in the House of Commons; they had only had the vote themselves since 1960.
The non-Aboriginal partners in the movement, motivated as much by a sense of guilt as by empathy with the animal kingdom, contained the usual number of activists - any cause that fed their sense of ethical purity deserved their support. Before long, their organizational skills put them in positions of leadership.
The tactic which would prove to be most fruitful came from the Puppyloves who lived in Alberta. Henrietta Puppylove had for long resented that the suffragettes had achieved their goals before she had a chance to shackle herself to iron railings in Ottawa. One Sunday she had gone to watch and support the Gay Rights Parade in Calgary. She felt a certain queasiness over the display of human flesh flaunted to shock the fundamentalist right, but any symbolic attack on the status quo - words that were for her the very definition of evil - fed her revolutionary fervour. She went home and discussed the parade with her vegetarian daughter, Jennifer, who had spent the day washing her dogs' kennels.
Jennifer had a brilliant idea. "Mummy," she said, "Why don't we have an Animal Pride day with a parade featuring as many animals as want to take part?"
"Why would they want to take part?" asked her mother.
Jennifer was stumped for a minute. "Well,"she said at last, "We could have food arranged for them so they'd want to take part. Of course, that's only because they probably won't understand the bigger picture."
"Wonderful," agreed Henrietta. "You're a chip off the old block. I'll bring the idea up next week at the Friends of Women Politicians meeting. The Archbishop's wife is a member, and that prominent feminist sociologist from the University of Calgary. They both have cats."
Two years later, the first Animal Rights Parade took place in Calgary, widely and favourably reported around the world; it was a welcome change on the television nightly news from disasters and wars in foreign countries. The parade was mostly made up of domestic animals munching and relaxing on glamorous floats, but some wild crows and seagulls and three raccoons who relished food scraps also participated, as did a few well-mannered bears and elephants. Many families lined the main street, their children delighted to see so many animals. Everyone agreed they should do it again.
Two years later, similar parades, all bigger and better than the original, were summer features of all the major cities across Canada except for Hamilton which had a recalcitrant mayor.
However, the growing popularity of the biannual animal parades silenced the dissenters. That the parade animals were being humiliated by their public exposure to gawking eyes was belied by the exuberant joy of the tailwagging dogs, lively piglets, light-hearted sheep, active geese and the few wild animals, usually dancing bears and chipper elephants. To the Puppyloves, it seemed that the animals sensed that their public appearance was an occasion for pride similar to that of Gays and Lesbians in their yearly gala. Animal enthusiasm was of course also stimulated by the rollicking bands of music and lavish portions of their favourite foods. By this time the festivities had so bolstered the cause of animal rights that several politicians, well aware of the many millions of voting Canadian animal lovers, began to speak of non-human animals as fellow Canadians.
Eight years after the first Calgary parade, this identification, which had entered the language of everyday life, led to the proposal that they should be represented in the House of Commons. A minority Liberal government gave Amanda Best, a Member of Parliament for Cougar Falls, Ontario, and an ambitious back-bencher, her opportunity. She was to propose the establishment of an all-party committee to explore the feasibility and desirability of bringing animals into the House. The committee report recommended that a short-term pilot project be set up with six animals, drawn from different parts of the country, present in the House during daily sessions. (A minority suggestion, which recommended their presence on committees, was rejected as premature when the House subsequently voted positively on the committee's proposal.)
Two years after that (and after the Hamilton mayor had been voted out of office), scarcely a capital in the Western world and in India was without its local version of parading, prancing animals, marching school children, and brass bands. Signs proclaimed that full rights to membership in earth's society should no longer be restricted to human beings.
(Although it was not mentioned in the report, the Bloc Quebecois member, Claude Casse-Tout, had informed journalists that an independent Quebec would have ten animals in its House who would also enjoy full membership on all committees. When pressed to explain what he meant by full membership, he begged off, stating that a task force headed by the aging Jack Parizeau was still in the process of developing a constitution for an independent Quebec. "The constitution in the Latin manner," he had smirked, 'will be detailed and comprehensive, as far removed from the unwritten British constitution as can be imagined.')
Bureaucratic details such as how the animals were selected, where they would stay, and who would look after them, were left to a small managerial Animal Representative Committee of the House, chaired by Amanda Best.
When a senator proposed that the Senate should also have animal representation, and represent many more animals than the House of Commons, the press had a field day. The Honourable Senator had declared in apparent seriousness that once a dozen animals were present in the Senate, it could proudly claim to be far more representative of Canadian subjects than the elected House. However, several journalists commented that non-speaking animals would be indistinguishable from the many non-speaking senators. Geordie Truthteller, a columnist for the Ottawa Probe (who liked to imagine that Probe stood for Probity), observed that the animals' attendance record would undoubtedly be superior to the senators'. When some senators began to fear that the presence of animals would result in a lowering of their status and reputation, the proposal was quietly dropped.
Amanda Best, too, showed some ambiguity in her approach. Prior to her involvement in Animal Right issues and becoming chairperson of the management committee, she had displayed all the normal characteristics of speciesism, publicly labelling opponents she despised as "donkeys" or "jackasses." The candidate of the vegetarian party who had run against her she satirically labelled the "chickens' chum" and the "cows' crony", in contrast to her own concern and empathy for real people. Truthteller commented in the newspaper that never before had he seen new principles so quickly and passionately and, he speculated, so insincerely adopted.
"I'll be watching her," he informed his readers.
The committee had soon handled all the practical matters in its terms of reference: animals were selected, transported to Ottawa and given clean bills of health by a veterinarian, a barn was constructed to the right of the House to accommodate them, food specific to each species was ordered where possible in bulk from suppliers, and the animals' daily transport to the House and back had all been arranged by the middle of August, 2010.
In reporting this experiment in animal representation in Canada's parliament we, as is ever the case, have had to make hard choices. Logically, perhaps, we should have provided more of the animals' perspective on what happened. Were they honoured and delighted by the increased sensitivity to their needs and desires? Or possibly simply anthropologically bemused by the antics of the tribe of MPs? Occasional angry thoughts of "too little and too late" possibly flickered through the mind of the first bison member of the House as he recalled the buffalo slaughters of the early contact period. We have left answers to such questions to another day; the acronym FRIN (further research is needed) is appropriate. Accordingly we have applied for funding for a follow-up study. We hope to publish our findings in the next few years.
We have toyed with concentrating on the House of Commons itself. Was it a kinder, gentler House from the animals' perspective? Did a 'we' group emerge in which animals and humans came to think of themselves as 'one'? In other words, was speciesism thrown into the dustbin of discarded prejudices? Were the animals more attracted to one of the parties? Did they think of themselves as being on the radical protest side of the party spectrum and thus with links to Reform, although Reform was now long in the tooth, and had little more allegiance to its founding principles than did the members of the Bloc Quebecois have to theirs. Indeed, several years prior to the arrival of animals in the House, the Bloc had privately indicated - with leaks to the press - that it would not campaign for the 'Yes' forces should the Prime Minister Lucien Parizeau claim that 'winning conditions' were on the horizon. The cynics had a field day at the time, although some of them agreed with the Bloc that six referendum defeats were more than enough. A leaked memo from the Bloc research bureau had suggested more personal motivations with its reputed assertion that Bloc MPs would only campaign for a clean break to independence pure and simple if the party could continue to send MPs to Ottawa - from the nationalist perspective they could be thought of as ambassadors. (An imperfectly blacked out paragraph hinted that MP pension considerations were uppermost in their minds.)
Such considerations convinced us that a focus on how animals and humans adapted to each other in the House might provide material for an Op Ed piece in the press, but could not keep our interest alive for the novella we were hoping to write. In any case, the experiment was too short for any definitive assessment to be made.
Our focus then is on the small group of no more than a dozen key players in this remarkable experiment. We quickly discovered that these leading players were a typical mix of enthusiasts, poseurs, hypocrites, movement groupies, cause-seekers, and hangers-on that willy-nilly emerge when attempts are made to nudge us all - animals included - in new directions.
Our focus on this melange of human actors in all their contradictory diversity and motivations did not leave us with despairing cynicism. Instead, we concluded that few good policies would see the light of day if they were not supported by the half-hearted and the self-seeking as well as by the true believers. Also, we expect public life to provide us with high quality entertainment - to, among other things, feed our voyeurism. We can empathize with every one of the flawed saints and well-intentioned sinners in the following pages. We hope that you can too.