Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hub SoMa Launch Party – Thurs. May 27

New downtown SF coworking space a major activist resource

Would you like to be part of an exciting community that is committed to social change? Are you seeking support and resources for a project you're involved in, or an organization you'd like to form? Are you an activist looking to connect with entrepreneurs, artists, fundraisers, community leaders, and other professionals working on different progressive issues in a friendly office environment? 

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, then the Hub is just what you need.

The Hub is a creative coworking space with 25 branches on five continents where
thousands of members connect and collaborate around the work they are doing in various
“change sectors,” from environmental sustainability and community development to
human rights and international investment. It is a place where people from diverse backgrounds meet to help each other reach their world-changing goals, whether it's starting a socially-conscious business or optimizing their non-profit's vast potential. As an actual workspace, the Hub offers all the amenities of an office—from “hot desks” and conference rooms to Wi-Fi and printers—as well as support services provided by mentors and consultants.

While a Berkeley Hub has been operating out of the David Brower Center for some time, a new 8,600-square-foot San Francisco location recently opened in the SF Chronicle Building at Mission and 5th Streets (one block from the Powell BART station) that's three times larger than the Berkeley Hub. They are holding their Launch Party on Thursday, May 27 from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m., and tickets are $10 each. This grand opening event gives animal activists a great opportunity to learn about the Hub, meet some of their members, and start taking advantage of this unique resource.

How can the Hub help animal activists? I recently spoke with Berkeley Hub “Host and longtime vegan Meredith Walters to find out.

AR: What is your job as a Hub “Host”?

MW: Basically, getting to know members personally and understanding what they're working on so I can connect them with people who can help. This includes everything from making individual introductions to encouraging people to attend our group events.

What are some of the Hub's specific support resources, and how can they benefit animal activists in particular?

We offer a range of programs that enable people from different social change sectors to share their skills, ideas and resources. For example, in the evenings and on weekends, we have panel discussions and speaker presentations on topics like branding, marketing, fundraising, and social networking, as well as other events such as reading groups and film screenings. All of these activities offer people opportunities to learn from and network with one another. I would encourage animal activists who become members to both attend events and organize their own, as well.

Our Peer-to-Peer mentoring groups are a great way for people who are starting projects to bounce ideas off each other, share resources and hold one other accountable to their own goals. We currently have groups in food justice, environmental sustainability and international development—all of which are directly related to animal issues. A lot of innovation happens when activists dialogue with people who have different perspectives, so working within a group allows animal advocates to both learn from and influence non-vegetarians, as well as test their messaging out on them to see whether it resonates.  

Hub members also have access to some very practical resources, like legal and marketing consults for social enterprise development, which is useful to anyone starting or managing a vegan business or animal protection non-profit. They can also use our private conference rooms for meetings, and rent our event space for larger groups.

But the most important resource the Hub offers its members is a shared workspace where they can meet and collaborate with each other. It's the hot-desking aspect that really gets people to connect with others, and where the most profound changes take place. Everyone at the Hub is doing something to find solutions to the world's problems, and that is at its core inspiring. Working for social change is challenging, so we are here to help people stay strong and avoid burnout by transforming their deepest values into action.

How many Hub members are vegans, vegetarians, or animal activists?

Right now, there are numerous vegan and vegetarian members who care about animal issues, but we don't have a large animal rights contingent, so I would love to see more animal activists get involved. In my experience, Hub members are more respectful toward vegans than most people, partly because they're generally open-minded, but also because they're already somewhat aware of the reasons people are vegan. And while not everyone is going to be vegan, Hub members all have their own passions and thrive on hearing about other people's passions, so there are many opportunities for mutual education.

It seems like many Hub Events involve eating. Are vegan options offered?

Food is a central gathering point at the Hub, and when we have potlucks, Brown Bag lunch discussions, Sexy Salad (every Wednesday, when everyone brings in a salad ingredient), and other shared meals, a lot of it is vegan. When I bring food, I always label it as vegan with a “help yourself” sign next to it. As a result, my diet comes up often in conversation, giving me the chance to tell people about the reasons I don't eat animals. And a few people have told me they're going vegan because of conversations we've had: they get excited about it and want to connect with a vegan who can guide them through the transition.

To learn more about the SoMa Hub:

- Attend the Launch Celebration on Thursday, May 27 from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

- Come to an open house between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., Monday through Friday

- Arrange a tour during business hours (9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday) by emailing or calling 415-624-5881

- Check out the Bay Area Hub events calendar 

- Join the Hub (membership starts at just $25 a month)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TV’s “Dog Whisperer” Probes Puppy Mills

Watch the episode online and send it to dog-loving family & friends

An estimated 11 million Americans tune in to watch The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel every week—making host Cesar Millan arguably the world’s most famous canine behaviorist. And this week, he teamed up with undercover investigators from Last Chance for Animals (LCA) to give viewers a hidden-camera glimpse inside the dark and disturbing world of puppy mills:

Of course, Millan is certainly not without his critics, who variously charge that his training methods are overly-simplistic, unscientific, inhumane, domineering, and basically better for his ratings than for damaged dogs. As an animal rights advocate, I’ll admit to being rankled that he kept referring in the episode to individual dogs as “it” (instead of “he” or “she”)—which suggests that he thinks of them (on some level at least) as impersonal objects rather than autonomous subjects. And ultimately, with all that’s edited out of each episode, for all we know The Dog Whisperer could be about as “real” as, say, Survivor, The Bachelorette, or any other so-called reality show on television.

Despite whatever controversy Millan unleashes, I do think that he genuinely cares about dogs, and I’m glad that he used his show to educate people about puppy mills. I’d love to see him do similar expos√© episodes about dog fighting rings*, the dog meat trade, and other issues affecting canines.   

Write a quick email to Cesar Millan and one to NatGeo thanking each of them for helping expose puppy mills on The Dog Whisperer.  

* Millan did guest star in an episode of the hit Fox Network drama Bones in which he helped real-life vegan actress Emily Deschanel shut down a dog fighting ring. Also, another NatGeo reality show, DogTown, produced a two-hour season premiere episode entitled “Saving the Michael Vick Dogs” that explored the violence behind dog fighting. However, as far as I can tell, The Dog Whisperer has not yet substantially addressed the dog fighting issue.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Will Obama Suspend the Commercial Whaling Ban?

Administration clashes with conservationists over controversial compromise

For centuries, whaling vessels relentlessly chased aquatic leviathans across the world’s oceans, hurling harpoons into the giants’ flesh so their corpses could be processed and sold for
meat, oil and perfume. Unchecked whale warfare ultimately pushed cetaceans to the brink of extinction, but they were pulled back by a global moratorium on commercial whale hunting declared in 1986.

While this international treaty is far from perfect (having since allowed the killing of 35,000 whales for “scientific” purposes), it did set an important precedent that recognized humanity’s ethical obligation to protect endangered species from the excesses of industrial exploitation. But now, the commercial whaling ban is in danger of being overturned in the name of saving whales from eventual obliteration—and it is the U.S. government that today stands at the helm directing this controversial course of action:  


U.S. Leads New Bid to Phase Out Whale Hunting

By JOHN M. BRODER, April 14, 2010

WASHINGTON — The United States is leading an effort by a handful of antiwhaling nations to broker an agreement that would limit and ultimately end whale hunting by Japan, Norway and Iceland, according to people involved with the negotiations.

The compromise deal, which has generated intense controversy within the 88-nation International Whaling Commission and among antiwhaling activists, would allow the three whaling countries to continue hunting whales for the next 10 years, although in reduced numbers. Read Full Story

Many whale species remain endangered, but President Obama apparently believes that the best way to save them in the long run is to legalize commercial whaling for a decade, and he will advocate for this agenda at the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting in June. Unfortunately, neither the New York Times nor the Administration* explains exactly how this plan will realistically protect whales now and in the future. The proposal’s proponents claim that compromising the moratorium will end up saving thousands of whales from slaughter through enhanced enforcement mechanisms and buying negotiators time to secure a permanent hunting ban down the road, but they offer no guarantees that whaling nations will be forced to stop whaling after the decade is up.

Given the information vacuum trailing in the Administration’s wake, Obama’s plan seems more than a bit fishy to me, and leaves them vulnerable to valid criticism from concerned citizens who feel they’ve been shut out of the discussion. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), for instance, calls the government’s proposal “a whaler’s wish list” that would open the Antarctic Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and North Pacific to Japanese whalers, and allow Norwegian and Icelandic whalers to continue violating scientifically-based conservation policies. IFAW also pointedly asserts that Obama’s proposal directly contradicts the promise he made during his candidacy to strengthen the international commercial whaling ban—not suspend it.

Will We Never Learn?

From shipping collisions and pollution to climate change and Navy sonar experiments, whale populations face graver threats today than ever before, and yet world leaders still refuse to take a strong stand for their preservation. If not now, then when will the international community forcefully confront whaling nations by shouting “enough already”? It’s the 21st century—and we should have stopped coddling this cruelly destructive industry decades ago.

Only a miniscule number of people actually work as whalers or consume whale meat, and yet somehow, society as a whole enables this tiny minority to decide whether or not whales will survive. Hunters obviously don’t care about the suffering of individual whales, or whether they eradicate any number of majestic and irreplaceable species, as long as they keep profiting from their deadly trade. Their bottom-line mentality is that they will continue slaughtering whales as long as there are whales left to slaughter—morality, sustainability and sanity be damned.

But is this attitude really so different from that held by the vast majority of Americans who refuse to stop eating meat, despite the suffering and death it brings to billions of animals a year and its role as the primary driver of global warming? No, not really. It is the same indifferent, shortsighted belief system rationalizing human domination over other species that is at the root of both behaviors—and will someday lead to our own annihilation if not reversed.

1) Call or email the White House and tell President Obama to reinforce rather than compromise the moratorium on commercial whaling.

2) Congress is currently considering a bill called the International Whale Conservation and Protection Act that would maintain and strengthen the commercial whaling ban and promote other worldwide cetacean protection efforts. Urge your elected officials in the House and Senate to co-sponsor and support this important bill.

* The White House website contains no mention of Obama’s position vis-√†-vis commercial whaling, and their press agents have failed to return my phone and email inquiries as promised. This is the second time the White House has ignored my requests for information about their handling of animal protection issues: last month, a press officer personally assured me that someone would call me back the following day regarding the President’s position on shark finning for a post I was writing, but three weeks have now passed, and no one has responded.