Category Archives: Democracy

Food for Thought

The Fourth of July.

imagesThe star span­gled hol­i­day is upon us, the zenith of sum­mer for many Amer­i­cans, a long leisurely day of out­door play and pic­nics, fam­ily and friends. Even those who use the hol­i­day to catch up on yard work or home improve­ments may find them­selves drawn at dusk to the near­est fire­works dis­play, where the rock­ets’ red glare does not sig­nal bom­bard­ment upon our home­land, but instead joins a glo­ri­ous pro­fu­sion of col­ors to peace­fully burst in the air and sprin­kle down­ward like star­dust, remind­ing us of our country’s foun­da­tions and freedoms.

This year, many will reflect upon the expan­sion of free­dom in Amer­ica, decided last week by the Supreme Court. Some rejoice. Oth­ers regret. Still oth­ers resolve to fight. But all must surely rec­og­nize the inevitable onward march toward par­ity, slow as the foot­steps some­times are. On the 4th of July, we com­mem­o­rate the year 1776, when the United States patriotic-pups-pictures0pro­claimed its inde­pen­dence and the found­ing fathers declared that “all men are cre­ated equal.” Well, not so much. It took 89 long years tar­nished by blood­shed and teardrops before every slave in the repub­lic was declared free – but still not equal. Half a decade later, slaves were allowed to vote, cour­tesy of the 15th Amend­ment, which man­dated that “race, color, or pre­vi­ous con­di­tion of servi­tude” could no longer stand as bar­ri­ers to the bal­lot box. But hold on: they were still talk­ing men here. A full half cen­tury later, women long con­sid­ered chat­tel (includ­ing the non-black ones and the ones pre­sum­ably loved by the hus­bands who were writ­ing the laws) finally won the right to vote. To this day, the Equal Rights Amend­ment, first con­sid­ered by Con­gress back in 1923, has not been rat­i­fied. But the cam­paign continues.

Heart­break­ing and hard to believe as it is, the real­ity that human beings could be deemed prop­erty — even saleable goods with­out thoughts or feel­ings wor­thy of con­tem­pla­tion or con­sid­er­a­tion — gives me hope. It gives me hope when I think of the sen­tient beings still suf­fer­ing sim­i­larly today, the think­ing, feel­ing, liv­ing crea­tures treated as prop­erty – saleable mommy and baby goatgoods not wor­thy of con­tem­pla­tion or con­sid­er­a­tion as we throw another chunk of one of them on the grill in cel­e­bra­tion of the 4th. It gives me hope because his­tory tells us that thought­less­ness can be teased into con­scious­ness, com­pas­sion and change – and some­times, it takes time.

So let me reas­sure you right here and now, my car­ni­vore friends, that I love you even though. I trust in time and I hold out hope: that some­day the infants ripped from their moth­ers so that we might eat or dis­pose of norman_1their bod­ies while we ingest the milk meant for them, that some­day the sen­si­tive, intel­li­gent crea­tures forced to endure all man­ner of phys­i­cal tor­ture with­out anes­the­sia or any other means to ease their pain, that some­day the beings dri­ven to insan­ity by their forced con­fine­ment and inabil­ity to so much as turn around or lie down, that some­day our fel­low ani­mals who endure dis­mal lives ended by dread­ful deaths will rise up in our mass con­scious­ness and that com­pas­sion will win the day for their descendants.

And don’t worry. We won’t go hun­gry or feel deprived. Alter­na­tives to ani­mal flesh abound. Want a burger, a “beef” tip, a slab of “chicken” or hot dog to throw on the vegetable-grill-lgbar­be­cue? All of these and more are in the grocer’s freezer. New del­i­ca­cies are cre­ated reg­u­larly, in addi­tion to the vari­ety of fruits, grains, and veg­eta­bles already grac­ing the earth. A vegan diet can be diverse, deli­cious, and is con­sid­ered by many health pro­fes­sion­als to be the best for the human body. Oh, and did I men­tion that by not eat­ing ani­mals we help to save the planet also?

But let me save that for another day so that we can all get back to cel­e­brat­ing. Per­haps you will, how­ever, take just a sec­ond to con­sider whether you’d toss Fido or Fluffy on the grill – and if not them, then why their cousins? If the time is now for you to con­tem­plate these ques­tions, click here for a great start­ing point. We enjoy the free­dom to choose. May we choose wisely, com­pas­sion­ately, and well.

Happy 4th of July!flag-fireworks

 

DEMOCRACY, ADVOCACYAND YOU?

Warn­ing:  I am about to use a word that often car­ries neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions.  A word that makes some peo­ple cringe.  Ready?  Here it is:  lobby.  Not as in the room where you wait, but as in the activ­ity that you do.  As in lobby your leg­is­la­tors.  As in be a lob­by­ist.  These words can con­jure up images of back rooms, money sacks, quiet hand­offs, hand­shakes and secret deals – and evoke aver­sion, even deri­sion.  But I would like you to know that I am a lob­by­ist.  I lobby.  And fur­ther­more, I hope that you do too — or will.

Lob­by­ing is part of our pre­cious demo­c­ra­tic process.  Lob­by­ing can be wholly above board, Gathering en massehon­or­able, out in the open…“in the sun­shine,” as we say here in Florida about our gov­ern­ment and the way we’re sup­posed to run it.  It can be a per­sonal phone call, let­ter or e-mail to your leg­is­la­tor; it can be a peti­tion; it can be an appear­ance en masse with oth­ers on your Capi­tol steps or at your legislator’s door.  It can be on any issue that you care about – you won’t be sur­prised that I am going to address the issue of ani­mal welfare.

Humane Lobby Days are con­ducted around the coun­try under the aus­pices of the Humane Soci­ety Animals don't have a voiceof the United States. It’s a time for those who care about ani­mals to con­verge on their state­houses and give voice to the voice­less.  The other ani­mals don’t get a vote.  It’s up to us humans to find votes for them.

In Tal­la­has­see, where I par­tic­i­pated in Humane Lobby Day, there is a great chance that an ani­mal cru­elty bill will pass both cham­bers this year.  The bill would crack down in sev­eral ways on var­i­ousAnimal Cruelty Bill acts of ani­mal cru­elty and orga­nized crime at staged ani­mal fights. A mea­sure that would require ani­mal shel­ters to put their num­bers out in the sun­shine – how many ani­mals taken in, how many adopted out, how many euth­a­nized – is des­tined for the governor’s desk.  Humane lob­by­ists have sev­eral goals in my state:  end­ing grey­hound rac­ing, endors­ing Trap Neuter Return, pro­tect­ing both dogs and con­sumers from puppy mill sales. And we have rea­son to hope.  We are the peo­ple who col­lected enough sig­na­tures to put ges­ta­tion crates for preg­nant pigs to ref­er­en­dum – and abol­ished them. We showed that when you bring ani­mal cru­elty to light, a major­ity of the cit­i­zenry may choose to end it.

But you need not go out and gather sig­na­tures, travel to the seat of gov­ern­ment, or even leave your seat to help ani­mals.  Click here to learn about pend­ing leg­is­la­tion in your state and here  for bills at the fed­eral level, where many of the issues with the most impact on ani­mals – along with con­sumers and tax­pay­ers – are con­sid­ered. And then there’s your own back­yard, with issues like exotic ani­mals as out­door pets, dog teth­er­ing, free-roaming cats and TNR, back­yard chick­ens:  many ordi­nances affect­ing ani­mals and you are enacted at the local level, in munic­i­pal and county governments.

Won­der­ing whether your voice mat­ters?  It does. Law­mak­ers know that cit­i­zens who care enough to con­tact them are likely cit­i­zens who vote – so they lis­ten. To learn who your rep­re­sen­ta­tives are, visit www.votesmart.org. You can also get on the e-mail lists of ani­mal wel­fare groups who will alert you to Democracy is a privilegeleg­is­la­tion and ask you to con­tact your rep­re­sen­ta­tives. These alerts often make it easy with sum­maries of the issue at hand and sug­gested ver­biage when you write your law­maker.  Your chance to be an advo­cate is just a few clicks away! As a spokesper­son for Grey2K USA — a grey­hound advo­cacy group — reminded us in Tal­la­has­see, “We have the power to do tremen­dous, amaz­ing things.”  We just have to unleash that power.

Democ­racy is a priv­i­lege. Employ­ing its processes is a choice. Using our sys­tem for the bet­ter­ment billboardredo1of oth­ers is what the found­ing fathers intended.  Defin­ing “oth­ers” as all sen­tient crea­tures means embrac­ing a lifestyle of con­scious com­pas­sion. That lifestyle has my vote.

WANDERING CUBA

I’ve just returned from Cuba, a trip endorsed by the U.S. gov­ern­ment as a peo­ple to peo­ple edu­ca­tional exchange. The Cuban gov­ern­ment (“state,” to Cubans) pro­vided our local guide. We saw what the gov­ern­ment wanted us to see. We stayed where the gov­ern­ment wanted us to stay. We vis­ited rural areas, moun­tains, beaches, small towns, the capital.Havana apartment building copy

The first and relent­less impres­sion is that Cuba’s clock stopped tick­ing some­where circa the late 50’s or in many cases, decades ear­lier. Tech­nol­ogy, mod­ern means of pro­duc­tion, and res­i­den­tial com­forts as we know them seem truly for­eign con­cepts here. In nearly every locale, the poverty is soul dead­en­ing. And that is just in look­ing at it, not liv­ing it.

In the coun­try, the peo­ple live in shacks, pri­mar­ily of wood. Holes gape from their sides, not all of them win­dows. We visit two farm­houses which by com­par­i­son are lux­u­ri­ous. They fea­ture sev­eral rooms, glass win­dows, porches. One is the home of a third gen­er­a­tion tobacco farmer and his fam­ily. He is mat­ter of fact with an occa­sional smile. The state allows him to enter­tain tourists because he is a top pro­ducer. He knows that should he slip, the state might take his land. Cur­rently, the state claims 95 per­cent of his crop and pays him what it wishes. As is com­mon across Cuba, the money is not enough to live on. The other farm is open to us as a model of organic farm­ing and Cat eating cucumbereco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity. Its stew­ards appear happy, ener­getic, enthused. Learn­ing of my veg­an­ism at lunch, the wife requests a “momento eco­log­i­cal,” and returns hold­ing Gato, a cat who enthu­si­as­ti­cally crunches cucumber.

In the towns, attached sin­gle story build­ings line the cob­ble­stone streets like dor­mi­to­ries, hous­ing small apart­ments. Doors hang open, grab­bing breaths of air. We can see the inte­ri­ors, win­dow­less multi-function rooms that hold what passes for a kitchen, a table, a sit­ting area, some­times a bed. Some thor­ough­fares blos­som with mod­est stand-alone homes, even patches of lawn and flow­ers. The houses are gen­er­ally uni­form, box after box of the same size and shape.

In the cap­i­tal, 20 per­cent of the island’s pop­u­la­tion crowd together in anti­quated high rises, low rises, dilap­i­dated houses. Build­ings lit­er­ally col­lapse here Havana housing2 copyocca­sion­ally, tak­ing their occu­pants with them. These are called “der­rumbes,” for a giant rum­bling fol­lowed by rub­ble and grief. Even land­mark struc­tures – muse­ums, gov­ern­ment agen­cies, embassies – are bruised and decay­ing, although the state is now under­tak­ing a Havana over­haul in an effort to reha­bil­i­tate the largest tourist attrac­tion in the coun­try. We are dri­ven through the grand­est res­i­den­tial sec­tion, large homes from which we are told the wealth­i­est cit­i­zens fled Fidel. It resem­bles all the rest: the entire coun­try seems to be crum­bling, in need of shoring up or at least a coat of paint. Rot­ting wood and dingy cement glare through splotches of long-faded veneer. Hand-washed laun­dry on lines is part of the scenery from coast to coast, hang­ing from the yards of coun­try hov­els to the win­dows of city apartments.

Machines are relics, from the 1950’s Amer­i­can cars mirac­u­lously main­tained to the Soviet era tobacco farmer’s trac­tor to the diesel oper­ated water pumps that Radio copycould well date back to World War II to this radio, the prop­erty of a potter’s fam­ily. The occa­sional rust­ing air con­di­tioner graces a win­dow. 15 per­cent of the peo­ple, we are told, have access to the inter­net. Pub­lic phones are a pri­mary means of Public phone copycom­mu­ni­ca­tion.

We actu­ally con­verse with very few Cubans, shep­herded through our stops. Our guide, a viva­cious woman in her thir­ties, shares what she says is “her real­ity,” as she has never left the home­land. She is happy with “the tri­umph of the rev­o­lu­tion,” the repet­i­tively uttered term for the 1959 Cas­tro coup – the state pro­vides health care and edu­ca­tion. She claims to be both igno­rant of and not curi­ous about where or how the broth­ers Cas­tro live. She knows only how they travel: in car­a­vans of lux­ury carsOld car copy with ambu­lance and police escorts. But she is openly frus­trated at the sub­sis­tence salaries, the inabil­ity to buy or even find a car, the irony of being per­mit­ted to travel abroad when she doesn’t have the money to do so.

Food rations doled out by the state do not fill the table. Soap, sham­poo, tooth­paste and toi­let paper are all expen­sive extras. Remit­tances — money sent from rel­a­tives and friends in Amer­ica and else­where – prop up the offi­cial econ­omy and fuel the black mar­ket on which Cubans depend. A good job is one that has some­thing you can pil­fer to sell on the black mar­ket in exchange for food, clothes, toi­letries, house­hold needs.

Are peo­ple happy, we ask? They’d bet­ter be, says a Cuban cit­i­zen we meet one morn­ing at break­fast. Because peo­ple still dis­ap­pear, he says. Per­haps they go to prison and then their fam­i­lies hear they died there in an “acci­dent.” They never see the body, he tells us. There is no autopsy report. Nonethe­less, his fam­ily likes it here. He doesn’t. He’s just vis­it­ing. He’s also an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, an ocean borne escapee 21 years ago.

Cathy with street cat copyAnd then there are the ani­mals. Every­where. Oxen plow the fields, planted and har­vested by hand. Goats work as lawn­mow­ers. Cat­tle graze on the brown grass of dry sea­son. Horses do it all: farm chores, fam­ily trans­porta­tion, cart rides for cash. Roost­ers, chick­ens, guinea fowl and turkeys rake yards and fields. Pink piglets frolic on a lawn. A few doors down, a fat­tened adult lies on a plat­form being skinned. I try to take com­fort in the rel­a­tive free­dom many open air “food ani­mals” are given until they meet their grisly ends. (Guns are tightly con­trolled here. Few farm­ers have them. Tools are largely antiques. Your imag­i­na­tion can com­plete the slaugh­ter sce­nar­ios.) Cir­cling vul­tures are ubiquitous.

bullSad­dled Brah­man bulls with ropes pierc­ing their noses offer trans­port and enter­tain tourists. Cocks are bred for fight­ing. Horses and don­keys are whipped with ropes and chain link. Many of their beaten backs are bony, under­fed. A mus­cled man, cig­a­rette in hand, simul­ta­ne­ously spurs and reins in his horse, send­ing it into a tail­spin for the amuse­ment of onlook­ers. Caged birds hang from door­jambs like decorations.

Dog with teats-RecoveredCats and dogs roam both rural and urban areas. Street dogs sur­vive on scraps and hand­outs, grate­ful for the occa­sional ear scratch. CathyScratching dog copyPromi­nent teats and swollen milk sacs attest to hid­den pup­pies. Spay­ing, neu­ter­ing, vac­ci­na­tions – these are rare except for some lucky pets and in Havana, street dogs who are col­lared and claimed by restau­rants as mas­cots. Cats hunt to sur­vive. Tourist stops and table sides are fer­tile grounds. A lucky few make their liv­ing in open door hotels.Cat in restaurant-Recovered

We leave the plight of the land ani­mals to spot birds in the woods: war­blers, hawks, wood­peck­ers, the bee hum­ming­bird – small­est bird in the world – sap suck­ers, the Cuban para­keet. Our hik­ing guide says the para­keet will kill itself if caged; it wants its inde­pen­dence. This is the national bird.

Lunch is an intact pig, his lively brain roasted along with the rest of his body. “It is cruel,” the hik­ing guide con­cedes to me in an aside. “But we need it.” My Amer­i­can com­pan­ions are appar­ently unfazed. They stop for pho­tos. They eat the freshly shred­ded corpse with gusto. I slip away and have a lit­tle cry. For the pig, for all the ani­mals, for the poverty of the peo­ple, for Cuba, for the cru­elty which spans our world from dic­ta­tors to diners.

What does the future hold for Cuba? Who knows? Years more of social­ism? A shot at cap­i­tal­ism? Offi­cial rela­tions with Amer­ica? KFCs and fac­tory farms? The right to openly earn one’s own money? The breeze of change is whis­per­ing. Small pri­vate busi­nesses now dot the land­scape, licensed and taxed by the state. Many cit­i­zens can now travel abroad. Raul has given his pres­i­dency a deadline.

On the day we head home, the wind is whip­ping – toward the north. I am glad to go with it.