The election is finally over, and...WE WON!
Tuesday, November 4th saw two major victories for animals: the passage of Proposition 2 (the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act) in California, and the election of President Barack Obama, both of which garnered a wide margin of voter support.
I sit now in my personal power spot, atop a hill in Golden Gate Park from which I try to survey on high the brand new world that formed overnight while I slept, still carrying a hangover from election celebrations—as well as the psychic battering of the last eight years. Our long national nightmare of Bush-rule is coming to a close, but we will be reeling from the repercussions for a long time to come. Thankfully, the historic landslide sweep of “transcendent” multi-racial President-elect Obama is a significant sign that the United States of America has repudiated un-Constitutional unilateral arrogance, as well as hateful prejudices, and renewed its sacred promise to freedom and liberty for all—including, in my view, our animal kin.
The fact that Prop 2 passed at the same time that Obama won the Presidency seems in itself momentous, showing unparalleled growth in the public’s awareness of and concern for farm animals. California is now the first state to ban battery cages for egg-laying hens (along with gestation crates for pregnant pigs and veal crates for calves). It’s a really big deal, and is being hailed as the the most significant advance in the history of the animal protection movement, at least as far as the number of animals affected is concerned.
Today I called my friend Paul Shapiro, the Director of Factory Farm Campaigns over at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), to congratulate him on Prop 2’s passage. The initiative was co-sponsored by HSUS and Farm Sanctuary (my employer), so for us and the multitude of others who worked on the initiative, as paid staff or volunteers, this has been a day to take pride in our collective accomplishment. After more than a year and a half of work, our movement’s efforts came to sweet fruition.
Paul and I shared our mutual excitement over the win, and talked some about what it might mean not only in California, but for the nation as well. “Seeing the largest agricultural state in the country ban battery cages is a dream come true for me, and for animal activists everywhere, because it will help more animals than any other voter decision in history,” Paul told me. “There’s never been anything like this, which shows just how far the farm animal protection movement has come in just a few short years. And my greatest delight today comes from knowing that we finally won a decisive victory for chickens.”
As Paul says, egg-laying hens are arguably the most cruelly-abused and long-suffering creatures on the planet. Chickens represent about 90% of the farm animals slaughtered for food every year, so of the 10 billion or so killed in the U.S. on an annual basis, about 9 billion are chickens. Most of these are “broilers” specifically raised for meat, but this number also includes “spent” hens who spend their entire lives packed with five or six others in battery cages where there isn’t even enough room for them to lift their wings. Prop 2 will require farmers to provide the nearly 20 million egg-laying hens raised in California every year with enough space to stand up, lie down, turn around, and spread their wings: which will probably necessitate a gradual transition to cage-free husbandry methods.
Paul says he's confident that California is just the beginning, and that other states are going to follow suit in the near future. “The opposition, funded mainly by the factory farms themselves, spent $9 million trying to defeat Prop 2, which was much more than the industry has spent to fight any other reform initiative targeting farm animals. This failure is going to force the industry to face the undeniable fact that they can’t win these battles against public opinion on animal abuse—no matter how much they spend. Maybe the next time we introduce a state ballot initiative, the industry will invest their money in helping farmers transition to cage-free systems instead of wasting it on misleading and unconvincing propaganda.”
President Barack Obama!
Over the last two months, I posted blog entries examining Obama's and John McCain's records on animal and environmental issues, and concluded, based on the compiled evidence, that an Obama Administration would be the better choice on both fronts. From farm animals to endangered species, Obama is likely to take a far different and more sensitive approach to these important issues than we have seen during Bush's two terms (the second of which is still 76 days away from ending).
Obviously, animal protection is not at the top of Obama's agenda right now, as he plans his transition into the White House—nor should it be. Our country faces devastatingly serious problems at the moment, mostly centered on the failing economy and an expensive war, that need urgent attention, and Obama must prioritize some affairs of state above others in order to be an effective leader. Nevertheless, I see good things happening for animals in the next four years.
I say this because Obama is a progressive politician who is clearly committed to tackling serious environmental issues and creating a greener culture and economy. For one, we will have a leader who takes the global warming threat seriously, so we will see new policies on climate change that represent a clean break with Bush era stalling and denial. Obama also has a vision for achieving energy independence through the development of alternative fuels that will be less harmful to us and the planet than burning petroleum. Plus, he wants to foster initiatives that will bring millions of green jobs to the United States, and make us the world leader in this emerging industry.
The kind of responsible environmental stewardship Obama proposes is essential to protecting animals whose habitats have been under constant siege by blatantly destructive mining, building and farming practices for far too long. This exploitive approach is designed to generate maximum profits for giant corporations and a wealthy few at the expense of the environment and animals' lives. While this insatiably omnivorous system is likely to remain functionally intact for many years to come, at least the extreme business-first rules of the Bush years will be tempered by much-needed reforms and regulations under an Obama Administration.
Universal healthcare is another important goal that Obama will pursue as President. As a candidate, Obama made statements about the need to make fresh fruits and vegetables more easily available to children in school cafeterias, showing he is aware of the close connection between a plant-based diet and healthy living. Central to his position on healthcare is personal responsibility and preventive care, so we may see an accelerated emphasis on eating better (i.e., less meat and dairy) as his program evolves.
What we eat (especially the type of food made available to us) is closely related to the issue of farm subsidies. Historically and currently, an overwhelming amount of the agricultural subsidies handed out to farmers has been intended to effectively offset the costs of raising animals for food to keep meat, dairy and eggs artificially cheap. Government support also favors large agribusiness corporations over smaller family farms, creating an uneven playing field that has all but obliterated traditional rural culture. Obama's stated stance on subsidies is that they should go to the farmers that need them the most; specifically, independent entrepreneurs pioneering innovative ways of producing food in the most economical, ecological ways. Of course, it goes without saying that the energy conversion ratio of growing food for people is much more sustainable, in terms of the amount of resources used and pollution created, than feeding animals so we can eat their flesh; whether Obama will acknowledge and act on this principle remains to be seen.
And finally (but not incidentally), Obama quipped during his exhilarating acceptance speech that his two young daughters were smiling because now that the election is over, they can finally adopt a puppy. I'm so glad that Malia Ann and Natasha’s wish for a dog will be granted not only because they (and the rescued dog) deserve it, but also for the great example it sets for other families. Obama's mention—in the crowning speech of his political career—of a puppy for his daughters shows that he cares deeply about their happiness and respects the special emotional bonds that often develop between children and animal companions.
I have not come across any mention in my researches of whether Obama has ever had animal companions, either growing up or as an adult, but now he will be welcoming a member of another species into his family. If he has never had the opportunity to experience canine friendship, Obama will now be able to see how much joy a dog brings his girls and perhaps come to more deeply understand and appreciate the intelligence of this furry friend—and, by extension, other non-humans as a whole.
I say that because Obama just seems like the kind of guy who's open to new experiences and seeing the world from different perspectives. This is the main reason I believe our new President will be a potentially transformative ally for the animal protection movement. If we do our job right by clearly communicating our concerns and worldview in a way that interconnects animal interests with his call for change, Obama is likely to incorporate this knowledge into his vision for a renewed America and form policies that reflect this.
Am I being too idealistic here? Am I just so overwhelmed by exhausted elation, sudden relief and irrational exuberance that my perceptions are rosily distorted? Maybe, but what's the harm in that? We should all savor this moment by letting our imaginations soar to new heights while keeping our feet firmly planted in the ground of a rapidly-shifting reality. And anyway, I don't think my expectations are unrealistic. A new day is dawning, and with it the chance to see with eyes wide open what possibilities the sprawling future may hold.
Electoral Funtime! Check out these humorous video clips:
The Simpsons - Treehouse of Horror XIX: Homer's voting machine nightmare
The Colbert Report - Threatdown: Prop 2
The Daily Show - Road to the Dog House: Obama's victory promise to daughters