Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where I Begin

Growing up in my family, community service was a requirement. I never really connected it with any sense of personal pride, nor did I feel particularly inconvenienced by it. It was simply something that we were expected to do. It was a responsibility. I largely still agree with this mentality. Giving an hour or two a week to lend a hand in your community shouldn't be a rarity nor a pride boosting experience nor an act of repentance. Being a responsible member of your community should be like being a responsible member of your family: when you can help out, you should, recognizing that only when we all work together to make our communities strong and prosperous can we create an environment where all can thrive.

In my more recent experiences in the animal rights community, I have become more critical of the community service experiences of my youth. You see, within this large group of people all giving there time for the same general cause, there are divisions. Some of these divisions lie along ethical lines, some along questions of strategy, and still other divisions arise when we question if it is harmful to the movement to criticize other ethics and tactics within the movement or if constructive criticism within the movement is the best way to strengthen it. It is through observing these lines that I found I have different opinions than most of the animal rights organizations (and most of the activists) I have encountered, and it has made me question if I am being true to myself when I give my time to an activist group whose tactics I believe are imperfect at best, and counterproductive at worst. And certainly when an animal rights organization begins to show signs of racism, classism, and sexism, I see the vital importance of removing myself from their ranks and finding my own path as an animal rights activist.

As a child, the community service I participated in was blind. Of the hundreds of hours I gave, I can only connect a few activities to a particular cause and organization: I painted wooden animals to raise funds for "Heifer", I sorted and packaged school supplies for "Operation Back to School", and I asked for donations and stuffed envelopes for "Christmas Unlimited". I wasn't critical of the organizations, and I rarely knew which organization I was assisting. It just didn't seem important at the time; I had faith that all community service was good and all community service organization represented the needs of the community.

My experiences with animal rights groups have taught me differently.

I begin this journal with a new quest: to find a volunteer organization that has a strategy that I find productive, inviting, and progressive, doesn't further its aims through the strategic use of exploitation or oppression of any kind, treats root causes rather than symptomatic problems (the closer to the root the better), has an aim that I can feel passionate about, and allows me to use my current strengths while encouraging me to develop new skills and broaden my perspective.

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