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When Carl D Scott speaks, people listen. From founding activist groups in New Zealand to spending an entire month in a tiny cage to raise awareness of the plight of battery hens, this former slaughterhouse worker has devoted almost a decade to speaking out, and acting on behalf of enslaved animals.  Having been a driving force in campaigning for animal rights and promoting veganism, he has seen a great deal of change for the better.  However, it is still far from enough – and time is running out. So what can we do about it? Even if you’re not game enough to lock yourself in a cage, or are too shy to put yourself out there on the frontline, Carl says there are many things we can all be doing to speed up our progress in freeing the animals, and ensuring a future for us all.

‘The animal exploitation industries are fighting back hard, and we have to keep working hard too’, says Carl Scott

How long have you been vegan? How much change have you seen within this time?

I went vegan in 2010 and its changed enormously in that time. Back then, you barely ever saw or heard the word ‘vegan’ in mainstream media. If you did, it was often either sceptical or even derogatory. Now it’s all over the mainstream media, all the time, and a lot of it is really positive. In 2010 there were only a handful of cafes, restaurants and other places in the city where I live, where you could get vegan food. Now I’ve honestly lost count. There’s tons more vegan stuff in the supermarkets now too. It’s taken us a long time to get to where we are. 75 years in fact. But it’s just going from strength to strength now, and that’s exciting.

That doesn’t mean we get to cruise, though. The animal exploitation industries see us as a threat now; and they should, because we are. But they are fighting back hard now and we have to keep working hard too. We are winning, but we definitely still need to keep pushing.

Carl on the first day of his month-long cage vigil

Who, or what inspired you to become an activist?                   

I had been vegan a few months when I read a Facebook note entitled ‘Anonymous Memoir of a Battery Caged Chicken’. It was written as though a battery hen was describing her own life in her cage. It was horrible. It absolutely outraged me. I couldn’t stand it. I decided there and then that I had to do something about it. I didn’t know what I would do. But something. In the end I carried out a vigil where I sat in a small metal cage for a month on the side of the main highway, protesting against battery farming. Not exactly your typical animal rights career progression! But my activism grew from there.

Addressing the crowd at the first Official Animal Rights March in Auckland, 2018. (Photo credit Sam Bhaduri Photography)

Last August, you were invited to be a speaker at the first Official Animal Rights March in Auckland, NZ. How did it feel to be a voice for the animals and what did you take away from the experience?     

It’s not the first time I’ve done that sort of thing. I was the key driver of the nationwide series of Stop Factory Farming marches in 2014, for example. But the 2018 March was definitely the biggest event of its type I’ve spoken at so far. I always enjoy any opportunity to get my abolitionist type message out to a wider audience, so it was a great chance to do that.

I think the thing that struck me most, was the sense of empowerment. When you’re a vegan activist you feel kind of alone sometimes. When you’re part of a huge crowd who are all on the same song sheet, and all at the same place at the same time, it really is an amazing feeling. One vegan activist friend who was there said it was the most awesome thing she’s ever done in her entire life. I think a lot of people who attended felt hugely inspired and empowered.

World Vegan Day in Dunedin, NZ

What would you say to people who label vegan activists as extreme?

That’s to be expected from non-vegans. They simply don’t know any better. But it really drives me nuts when the moderate vegans, or the ‘apologist’ vegans accuse the more confrontational activists of being extremists. Perhaps it’s not their fault. Many of them are young. They probably don’t know much about Gandhi’s work, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, or the 1977/78 Bastion Point land occupation, or the 1981 Springbok tour, or any of the other amazing campaigns and actions from history that successfully employed non-violent disruption and civil disobedience.

History has proven again and again and again that the only way to achieve rapid and meaningful change is to push, and to push hard. That means non-violent confrontation, conflict, and disruption. It simply can’t be avoided. There’s no other way. Sure, you can achieve change slowly and gradually without pushing too hard if you want to. But who wants to go slowly? Maybe the moderate vegans are content to go slowly and take their time. But I’m not. And I know plenty of other vegans who aren’t, either. The animals can’t wait. The planet can’t wait either. It’s the golden rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. We must work for the animals as hard as we would want them to work for us, if the roles were reversed. I’m pretty sure if they could speak to us, the animals would be begging us, pleading with us, and imploring us to push as hard as we possibly can.

Protesting against animal testing with members of NZAVS

A lot of people say they are scared to come out of the closet about their beliefs, or use social media to raise awareness of what is happening to the animals and the planet. Many of these people stay within the confines of vegan groups and preach to the converted but get frustrated with not making more change. Do you have any tips on how to overcome their fear of putting themselves out there and be effective in what they post and preach?

It’s OK to be scared. We are all different. We all have different personality types. Some people are bold and courageous. Some are more timid and reserved. And that’s OK. It can be tough standing up for something you believe in, but sometimes you just have to do what’s right, even if it’s not easy. There’s a quote I like: “Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the willingness to be afraid and act anyway.” I think as veganism continues to gain mainstream support, it will become less and less scary to speak out. In fact, I am confident that the day is coming – and it might be sooner than we think – when people won’t be asking us why we’re vegan any more. We’ll be asking them why they aren’t vegan. And I think we are all looking forward to that day!

But in the meantime, knowledge is power. So one piece of advice I’d give people is to do plenty of research. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Just keep working away at growing your knowledge base when you can. Watch all the good documentaries and movies. Find the good websites. Join the good Facebook groups, and follow the good people and groups on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. There are some good blogs out there too. Join the good email lists. Read some good books and magazines. Basically, do your homework. Once you know your stuff, then if people try to challenge you and criticise you, you can come back at them with solid, intelligent answers. That takes a lot of the anxiety and fear out of it. It takes time to get good at it. But it’s time very well spent. That has been the biggest secret to my success anyway.

The other advice I’d give, is if you can, join any real life vegan groups or animal rights groups in your area, and get involved. Go to the vegan get togethers and other vegan and animal rights events in your town. If that doesn’t really work for you, then at the very least, join a Facebook group or two. Especially your local vegan Facebook group. If your town doesn’t have a vegan Facebook group, maybe you can set one up. I think having regular contact with like-minded people, whether that’s in real life or online, is essential.

We can all make a difference in our own way

Fear and dislike of confrontation stops many people from doing more, much as they would like to. What can these people do to help make a difference in their own way?

That’s a great question, and I’m afraid I don’t have a magic answer. I think a lot of people feel this way, and I think that’s OK. I’ve been in the movement for nine years, and I still struggle with this sometimes. I think the things I just mentioned help a lot; getting yourself educated and informed, and getting connected to other vegans. It takes time to build confidence. Don’t be too hard on yourself. But do keep trying. The animals need us to. The planet does too. The people dying from preventable diseases need us to as well. Just keep quietly edging outside of your comfort zone, bit by bit. Start with doing little things, and then as your confidence grows, build up to bigger things.

Not all activism has to be radical and confrontational. Yes, we definitely need as many people as possible to be pushing hard, but we also need lots more people doing the quieter, more public-friendly work. In fact, some of that work is just as valuable – maybe even more valuable – than some of the more radical and controversial work is. You can get involved with things like helping run your local vegan society or vegan group. We also need people to run vegan expos and festivals, and World Vegan Day events. We need people running vegan websites, Facebook groups, and Twitter and Instagram accounts, etc. And that’s just a small sample of the things you can do. There’s all sorts of other valuable ways that people are contributing, large and small. It all counts, and it all adds up.

Abolitionists, such as Carl and James Aspey, believe veganism is a moral obligation

What does it mean to be abolitionist? How do you become one?

An abolitionist believes that in this day and age, veganism should be thought of, not as a personal lifestyle choice, based on compassion, but as a moral obligation (both as individuals and as a society) based on justice. Abolitionists also believe that the best way to achieve animal liberation is not via small, incremental steps, such as welfare reforms. Instead we believe in openly calling for a complete end to all forms of animal exploitation outright.

Earthling Ed, Joey Carbstrong, and James Aspey are all good examples of people who are pretty much abolitionist in their approach. Doing the Anonymous for the Voiceless Cubes of Truth is a good way to get involved with the abolitionist vegan animal rights movement. You don’t have to do anything radical or confrontational to hold the abolitionist viewpoint though.

How do you deal with people who refuse to tolerate any vegan ideas whatsoever, let alone the concept of veganism?

My solution is, for the most part, to simply ignore them. I mean, why waste your time trying to get through to people who aren’t willing or even able to listen? Sure, there are some exceptions to that rule. But they are pretty rare. Instead I prefer to focus my energies on trying to reach people who are open to the message. It’s much easier and more rewarding, and far less frustrating, exhausting, and demoralising. As more and more people go vegan, eventually even the most hardened sceptics will start to feel outnumbered and start questioning their assumptions. So my philosophy is to reach those who are open, and sow seeds in those who are resistant.

Carl with co-founding members of the Dunedin Animal Rights Collective. ‘Regular contact with other like-minded people, whether real life or online, is essential’

What sources can you recommend people look at to better educate themselves and others?

There are some great documentaries online. What The Health, The Big Fat Lie, Cowspiracy, Dominion, Earthlings, Forks Over Knives, and Peaceable Kingdom are some of my favourites. There are others too. Just Google ‘vegan documentaries’ and you’ll find them. Bold Native is quite a good fictional movie about some animal rights activists, and Simon Amstell’s mockumentary ‘Carnage’ is probably my all time favourite movie. There are also some good vegan YouTube channels and Facebook pages. There’s some great content on Instagram and Twitter, too. A good book to get hold of is ‘Vystopia’, by Clare Mann, about the psychological and emotional challenges of being vegan in a non-vegan world. I also really enjoyed ‘The Pig Who Sang to the Moon’ about animal intelligence and emotionality by Jeffrey Masson.

The best thing to do though, in my opinion, is to try and build connections with other vegans, both online and in real life. I can’t stress that enough. It’s been a lifesaver for me, and I know it has for other vegans too. It can be a tough world out there for us vegans at times. It’s good to have some like-minded people for support. The world is changing. We are slowly winning, and that keeps me going. I honestly believe there are young people alive today who will live to see the last slaughterhouse shut down. The last animal farm converted to crops. The last vivisection laboratory. All of it gone. But only if we all do our bit. There is more work to do. Lots more work. But if we all do our part, large or small, we’ll get there.

Check out Carl’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/personinacage/.

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Vegan FTA's Jackie Norman is a freelance writer of more than 20 years, specialising in food, travel, simple living and vegan/environmental issues. An ex-beef and dairy farmer prior to going vegan, Jackie puts her years of experience to good use, by speaking out globally for the animals and opening the eyes of others to the horror and reality of the dairy and beef industries.