Shaun Michael Jex

Posted by on Nov 30, 2009 in Inspired by Dan

Regardless of what a lot of people would like to have you think, I believe that people are generally a good lot. Yes, it’s true that humans do lots of bad things. I too watch the news. However, I don’t think violence and vice are unavoidable do to “human nature”. The world is filled with examples of human altruism as well. This to me is more persuasive when analyzing who we are. It takes much more effort to do something good than it does to be cruel. The overwhelming number of people trying to make a difference should be cause for hope. From what I can tell the vices we do have as a group generally stem from ignorance rather than any inherent viciousness. We want to make things better. Sometimes we just don’t know how.

It doesn’t take much to change the world. Imagine if everyone just did a few little things. Combined they would create a title wave of change that couldn’t be stopped. In my experience this is works the best at an individual and grass roots level. With that in mind here are a few ideas to get the wheels turning.

The first step, no matter what your project, is to foster the knowledge that what you are doing will make a difference. Many people I’ve talked to have avoided getting involved because they can’t be Ghandi, Mandela or Wangari Maathai. They underestimate the difference that little things make. They also seem to forget that those movements that have become so monumental in our collective histories started out small. They were common people’s movements.

Once you’ve convinced yourself that you are going to make a difference it is time to start talking to strangers. In fact, the name D.I.Y. (do it yourself) is a bit of a misnomer. Anything worth doing requires teamwork and people coming together. Talking to everyone you meet and learning their stories and ideas is a great way to meet and create a network of like-minded people. It’s also good to keep yourself grounded, knowing the interests and concerns of everyone in your community. Empathy can only improve things for us. This brings to mind another point. There is a disturbing tendency for grass roots and alternative culture movements to become very exclusionary as they grow. This invariably becomes a stumbling block that ruins the effectiveness of the movement. Talk and listening to everyone you can helps to curb this self-defeating elitism. We all want a better world and our differences are generally just cosmetic. Even when they seem one seems completely different from us politically, religiously or otherwise it’s good to keep in mind that everyone wants peace and happiness. Besides, the more hands involved the more you can get done.

Besides just talking to people, another great way to get the word out is to utilize the local and independent media. Find local zines and get out articles about your group and its’ ideas. You can also place ads in them. Pass out flyers at concerts and events or even out on the street. On this note however don’t be too pushy. It will just make people mad and turn them off from anything you have to say. Also, depending on the laws in your area you can post your flyers about on telephone poles, store sides, newspaper dispensers and things like that. If your area happens to have a public access network use it. You can pay for a little time during the week and get your message out on the air. Another key in this stage is to get other groups involved. Contact groups with similar or compatible goals and see if they’re interested in coordinating an event.

Now, we’ve come to the bane of the grass roots movement, money and funding. Assuming that you aren’t hiding in a closet at the thought of those things lets talk about a few ideas. Obviously their necessity will vary depending on your project. You may need a little money for flyers for a food or clothing drive but that’s about it (well, maybe the price of gas it takes for pick up and delivery). You don’t even need money to buy drop boxes. Most grocery stores are only too happy to get rid of their boxes. That’s a great solution because not only does it serve your purpose, it reuses items that would otherwise become trash. Assuming that your project needs cash there are a number of other options. Most of them can be fun to put together. For instance, a benefit party is a great idea. Throwing a party that charges a couple bucks or invites donations for the cause can be surprisingly affective (so long as the guests know about it before arriving). A similar approach can be to organize a benefit concert. A lot of local bands will get into this sort of thing because it gets them exposure and some smaller venues will support it to get people in and buying drinks and such. This makes it a win situation for everyone. If you’re particularly ambitious you can think about starting a co-op. Get some artists and artisans together to create and sell their work. The money can be split between expenses and the bigger project you’re working on. Of course, a co-op is a great project in and of itself. It promotes local art and gives people the chance to do what they love. Another option, though one I’ve personally never had the patience or bureaucratic know how to get into, is to apply for grants from various institutions. The other methods are, in my humble opinion, a lot more fun and fulfilling. That said depending on the project a grant might be the most practical way to go. In that case, more power to you.

If you happen to be one of those many people who want to get involved but don’t have the time to start and guide an entire project there are still a lot of resources for you. There are organizations for just about everything now. Find the one’s that you want to support and then find out what it is that they need. These groups need your support and anything you can do will be greatly appreciated.

Getting involved in any way is surprisingly easy. It makes a difference, never mind the cynics. Remember choose hope, not despair. Things are looking up.

A Few Thoughts on Veganism, Unity, and Peace

“Why are you vegan?”

I lift my head and find one of my co-workers suspiciously eyeing my lunch. Their face is a mixture of confusion and alarm. I have come to expect this. To most people the idea of a meal without a single animal product is anathema. The whole concept is simply alien. I lean back in my chair and try to come up with an eloquent answer.

This is not the first time this question has come up. I get it from family members, friends, co-workers and some people who are practically strangers. It’s gotten to the point where I have a fairly standard answer ready.

“Well,” I say, “it’s really because of three different things. I’m big into the animal rights movement. I don’t want to be a part of anything that causes any kind of suffering. Second is the sustainability issue. The amount of grain it takes to feed cattle in mass production is enormous. If people just cut back on meat there would be enough grain to make a huge dent in world hunger. Instead we’re using a ton of resources for a very small return. Last is the health reason. Veganism decreases risk of heart disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and a number of other diseases.”

This spiel is usually greeted by bemused smiles or blank stares. Not many people think that something as simple as changing the way that you eat can me the world a better place, but it can.

Each of the three reasons that I give people in favor of veganism are important. The first however, is the key concept for me. The idea of animal rights contains within it the other two ideas of long term sustainable living and being health conscious.

I first became vegan after experiencing the horrors of the slaughterhouse second hand in the film Peaceable Kingdom. I was already a vegetarian because of the health and sustainability issues. After viewing the film however, it was impossible not to empathize with their fear and pain. Their cries were almost human.

Animal suffering, specifically in terms of “food” animals, is very real. The horrors of the factory farm and slaughterhouse are chilling. Chickens have their beaks cut off to avoid cannibalism. This risk comes from the fact that they are crammed into cages without room to move about. Cows are forced into continual pregnancy in order to keep up milk production and the calves are often locked into small, lightless cells. These cells are so small that the animal can’t move. This is makes their meat, or veal, tender from lack of muscle use. Pigs, who are intentionally kept obese, often get to the point that they can no longer sustain their own weight. Their legs break beneath them and they live in pain until they are killed. These sorts of examples go on and on and are easy to find. In fact, many slaughterhouses will let you tour their facilities.

Knowing these things I find it impossible to participate in them in any way. This is compounded by the fact that many revolutionary scientists are beginning to reveal the complexities or animal’s intellectual and emotional lives. They are not so different from us and when we realize this we cannot help but identify with their suffering. It’s impossible.

People often wonder why, with all the human suffering in the world, why the concern for animals. Why worry about what you eat and where it comes from? The answer is why I find the animal rights issue central to veganism.

Veganism is, above all else, a moral choice. It is the idea that all life is to be respected and not made to suffer. Because of this it is more than just a diet. It is a way of life.

There is a quote from Ghandi which says, “…nonviolence springs from the fact that the advancement of one promotes the advancement of all, and the fall of one implies the fall of all. We have therefore been enjoined to show compassion to every living being.” This sense of connection, of the interdependence of all living things, seems oddly lacking in our lives. We each, as individuals, countries and as a species have isolated ourselves. The creation of this notion of the “other” is what makes it easy for us to hurt or kill, to go to war. Because of this we’ve become fragmented and manage to hurt ourselves as we’re hurting others.

Those familiar with eastern religions such as Buddhism will a connection here. In Buddhism it is the concept of duality that is perceived as one of the primary causes of suffering. Instead it is believed that all things are one, inextricably linked in cause and effect making each piece key. It is also seen in the Talmudic notion that who ever saves one life saves the entire world.

These are concepts that I believe if put into action would make the world a better place. They are also the ideas that I find central to veganism. Animal Rights. On the surface it sounds like a simple issue but in reality it takes on an added dimension when you consider that all of our fates are intertwined. Is veganism the solution to all of our problems then? Certainly not. It’s a decision that may not be right for everyone for various reasons. There are personal health issues involved and many other factors to consider when this sort of decision is made. However, I do believe that understanding our dependence on all life and our essential likeness is the key. Veganism has simply been one of the best ways I have found to act on this idea in my day-to-day life.