On the steps of the Canadian Parliament, the streets of New Delhi, India, and – thanks to the Penn State Vegetarian club – in a packed auditorium on the Penn State campus this past Wednesday night, president and cofounder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Ingrid Newkirk, spoke for those who don’t have a voice.
Among celebrities like Natalie Portman and Paul McCartney as well as young people like you, the overwhelming interest in animal welfare is a concern that is striking a cord internationally. Stemming from the continued mistreatment of animals and livestock in entertainment, food production, and breeding, there is a new awareness in regards to the rights of our non-human co-habitants – namely that these rights aren’t just being denied, but are rather being ignored outright.
“If you’re against discrimination, if you’re against injustice, if you’re against needless cruelty or needless violence, then you have to be for animal rights,” Newkirk said of PETA’s grounding principals. “The exploitation of animals and cruelty inflicted on animals is just because of prejudice.”
To illustrate the atrocities that continue to be inflicted upon animals, we need only look to our modern-day mass-slaughter of livestock and cultivation of wild animals for entertainment purposes. Newkirk argued that animals are our equivalent – our fellow citizens – and that “maybe we can expand on our compassion.”
Penn State grad student and Vegetarian Club president Laura Morse says she became a vegan after learning about the conditions of factory-farmed animals at the age of thirteen. “PETA provided me with the skills I needed to become an effective animal rights activist,” Morse said.
When it comes to getting the word out about the harsh conditions that drive many people to seek out a vegetarian lifestyle, PETA is known for its radical tactics. But during the Q&A after the presentation, Newkirk responded to the criticism by encouraging those present to ignore the tactics and consider the cause – “Does it resonate with you?” Newkirk asked.
The purpose of organizations like PETA and Penn State Vegetarians is to promote a message and start a chain reaction. Newkirk’s tagline throughout the evening was “Never Be Silent,” and in the case of witnessing animal cruelty – something to which we often unknowingly contribute on a regular basis – our responsibility is “not to be silent, but to say something.”
According to Newkirk’s representative Kenneth Montville, Newkirk’s visit is helpful in “pulling back the curtain” on animal rights and our consumer system.
“College students are going out on their own for the first time and are making decisions about what they want to eat and what products they want to buy,” said Montville, pointing to both Newkirk’s presentation and PETA’s resources as valuable commodities for making informed consumer decisions.
Montville’s advice to students who want to get involved with the cause is to join a club on campus like Penn State Vegetarians. “Through outreach, education and social events, we act as catalysts in the veg movement,” said Morse of the group.
As individuals, we are not helpless in the face of our rapidly changing environment, for as Newkirk reminds us, “The best part is that we can help ourselves and help others to make a gentle world.”
Want to take a stand against animal cruelty? Join the Penn State Vegetarians on Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. in 270 Willard for food, fun, and discussion, or visit their website.
Photo by Ashley Zucker