Activist Profile: Brianne Donaldson
January 9, 2010
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I’m from the mitten-shaped state of Michigan, where the annual 4-H fair taught me the few things I knew about farm animals as a teenager. Many of my classmates raised and sold farm animals in order to pay for college and there were numerous Amish communities nearby. So I was surrounded by that unspoken and unquestioned foundation accepting animal use so prevalent in rural, farming communities. The farming landscape, however, is beginning to change there, as with all places, as factory farming edges in. Thankfully, there is a concerted effort throughout Michigan to resist this encroachment and that has led to a more robust discussion on issues and policy, if not always personal eating habits. I moved to southern California, just outside LA, a year and a half ago.
What are your favorite things to do outside of leafleting?
I’m working on my PhD, so I spend a lot of time reading, writing, and trying to keep my imagination flying around. My beagle and I love to camp and hike and I play guitar, cycle and go contra dancing fairly regularly when I need to rest my mind. I’m a sucker for French films and Czech surrealist cinema, and love to curl up in a dark corner of a theatre for an afternoon escape. I put in my first full-fledged California garden this winter, so I have my fingers crossed for some good homegrown veggies to cook, another activity that nourishes me.
How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested?
I began volunteering at a local animal control shelter about 15 years ago when I was in high school. It took me a few years to make the connection between dogs, cats, and the animals that I ate. I decided to try a vegetarian diet when I was 20 years old and moved toward veganism five years later while encountering startling information about the treatment of cows, calves, hens and chicks in milk and egg production during my MA research for my thesis on animal ethics in nonviolent communities. My ongoing research explores the neurobiology of the human/animal bond, posthuman animal ethics, process philosophy and Jainism.
What made you decide to start leafleting?
One night soon after I moved to California, I was looking for volunteer opportunities online and went to the VO site. I had carried VO’s literature for several years in my office back in Michigan. But it was really the image of Casey Constable with the bubble over his head on the Adopt-a-College page, which read, “Volunteers Needed in Every State!” and “No School Has Been Saturated Yet!” I sent an inquiry by email and was put in touch with the five-armed wonder Stewart Solomon, who took me under one of his extra elbows during the summer concert season. Snoop Dogg was our first show and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What was your most positive leafleting experience and why?
I have a “most positive experience” nearly every time I leaflet. Truth be told, leafleting has renewed my hope in humans and our longing for inspiring visions. I wouldn’t have expected that, but the sincerity and curiosity I witness among students on college campuses or death metal concertgoers reminds me that personal transformation is not a passing fad and the space between who we have been and what we might be is rich with compassionate possibilities that have a seemingly infinite reach.
My favorite experiences are when a group of students or a pair of friends pass by, some take a leaflet, some don’t, but the conversation gets started among them, a disruption that leads to unexpected synthesis, fissures, and exploration of differences. Also, when someone passes once, twice, three times and finally comes up to take a leaflet, it helps me to remember that everyone I see is changing moment by moment and we can never write someone off entirely. Lastly, when someone is uncertain about their ability to go veg, it is always satisfying to represent the spaciousness of VO’s philosophy to encourage others to take a next step, to reduce the number of chickens and fish one eats, to choose a few meals each week…to go for a sustained commitment, rather than a crash and burn attempt at vegan “purity.”
What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?
Practically I’d say, go out with an experienced leafleter your first time. Four hands are better than two as you’re working out your jitters, discovering how easy it is and how receptive people already are to animals.
Secondly, don’t judge yourself against a nonexistent standard of what is “enough.” The amount of time you can give, the locations you are drawn to, are all okay. Remember that you’ll reach more people in ten minutes at a busy campus or concert – with a message that many are ready to hear and interested in learning about – than you likely ever will over your family’s dinner table.
Because we don’t need to have all the answers nor are we trying to convince others of the impossible, we can offer the literature without expectation or apprehension, trusting that if others are ready to consider this issue, they will take the information. If not, maybe next time. When we let animals speak for themselves through the literature, we do engage in an act of subversion, but not of coercion. VO’s philosophy respects the freedom of human decision as well as the freedom of animal lives.