IHE: WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO MANIFEST HUMAN EDUCATION THROUGH THE COMPASSIONATE LIVING PROJECT?
NH: One primary thing I learned from my IHE education is the idea that all forms of oppression are related, regardless of whether that oppression is inflicted upon other people, animals, or the environment. My wife, Annie, and I felt that this idea should be basic to our humane education efforts. When we investigated existing organizations in our area with which we could potentially work, we found that they often had mission statements that were sufficiently narrow to preclude covering all the necessary issues. If we worked for an animal protection organization and spoke about the human suffering during a True Price presentation, it might have been perceived that we were exceeding the mission of that organization. Annie and I felt it would be best to create our own organization, where we would be flexible enough to address various social justice issues.
IHE: TELL US ABOUT CLP’S PROJECTS.
NH: CLP has been fortunate to promote humane education through a variety of means. We have created library displays and entered floats in parades. Our primary programs are our school presentations, a battery cage program, and the production of a cable access television program.
The battery cage program started when some land was donated to an animal rescue organization. The property contained an abandoned egg farm, and we were able to retrieve a number of cages. After cleaning and sanitizing these cages, we have been sending them to educators, activists, and organizations across the country, from Maine to Hawaii and British Columbia. These cages are excellent visual props to teach people about factory farming. They have been used in tabling events, in classrooms, and in art projects. To date we have delivered over 70 cages.
IHE: WHAT KINDS OF PRESENTATIONS DO YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS, AND HOW HAVE STUDENTS AND TEACHERS RESPONDED?
NH: We have provided classroom presentations from fourth grade through college level. Currently our most requested presentation compares historical social justice issues, such as slavery and women’s suffrage, to current social justice issues, such as animal rights and gay marriage. Students present rationalizations that may have been used to perpetuate the historical issues at that time, and a pattern develops showing that the same rationalizations could be used throughout history to oppress different groups. When the current issues are examined, and the students are asked why people oppose gay marriage or why it is acceptable to treat animals the way we do, the same rationalizations come forward.
We also give presentations on the true price of items, interpreting advertisements, the environmental benefits of veganism, and “animal rights 101.” We have also tailored presentations to fit particular curriculums. We are willing to discuss environmental issues and human rights issues, but the vast majority of requests are to discuss the treatment of animals.
The response by teachers and students has been overwhelmingly positive. I think the primary reason for this is that students are genuinely interested in these issues, and that we never tell the students what they should think. We make it clear that it is up to the students to make their own decisions.
IHE: ONE OF CLP’S PROJECTS IS YOUR ANIMAL MATTERS CABLE ACCESS SHOW. TELL US ABOUT THAT AND HOW IT HAS BEEN RECEIVED BY AUDIENCES.
NH: Animal Matters is a 30 minute television program we started about seven years ago with absolutely no experience. We attended training through the cable company and used their equipment until we were ready to progress to our own equipment. The cable company provides this service as part of their license agreement. Our website lists the shows we have created, which have covered a wide range of animal issues, including fur, the circus, factory farming, and the health benefits of a vegan diet. We have also issues that are not directly animal-related, including biodiesel fuel and Love Canal. We have featured speakers from conferences of national organizations such as United Poultry Concerns and Farm Sanctuary, including Zoe Weil (IHE’s President), who spoke at a UPC conference a few years ago. Currently Animal Matters airs throughout half of Connecticut, as well as in selected areas of Ohio, Texas, and Hawaii. We are always interested in expanding our viewing area, if people wish to sponsor the show.
The feedback we have received has been very encouraging. When we started the show, we assumed that most people don’t watch cable access, so we didn’t feel much pressure. But often coworkers, or people in town, stop Annie or me and mention that they saw us on television the other night and found the subject interesting. Even if they come upon the show while channel surfing, they get part of the message.
I think creating television programs offers the unique opportunity for people to investigate these issues within the safety of their own living rooms. We have the potential of reaching hundreds of thousands of people. Having control of the television remote may give them a feeling of security and a willingness to confront issues that may otherwise put them on the defensive in other environments, such as on a street corner or in a captive audience.
IHE: WHAT’S A TYPICAL WEEK LIKE FOR YOU?
NH: Annie and I both work full time. Evenings and weekends are spent editing the latest television program, preparing a presentation, or taking care of the administrative work for the Compassionate Living Project. For the past few years we have been involved in state legislative work, meeting with representatives in support of various animal-related bills. We spend quality time with our two dogs, eight cats and two rabbits (all rescues). I am also on our town’s Conservation Commission. We also make time for exercise, such as running, biking, or martial arts. I’ve been studying karate for about 18 years and hold a 3rd degree black belt. We are fortunate to have my mother-in-law living with us for the past year, and she has been very supportive. So, like most humane educators, there is always something to do.
IHE: WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?
NH: Besides a sustainable, vegan world with no war or pollution? That’s the long term goal. In the short term, we would like to be able to work on the Compassionate Living Project as full-time careers. We would also like to get additional people involved in giving classroom presentations and directing humane education videos. For my Independent Learning Project (one of the requirements for earning my M.Ed. in Humane Education), I created a video, “The True Price of Beef.” I would like to create a series of “True Price” videos.
IHE: HOW IS YOUR WORK BEING FUNDED?
NH: Our work is funded by public donations. We usually have an annual fundraiser. Last year’s fundraiser was a vegan chocolate and vegan wine tasting party, which was great. The fundraisers not only provide funding for our organization, but also allow us to promote local businesses that are vegan-friendly.
IHE: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES?
NH: Our biggest challenge is time. There is so much to do. Figuring out a way to perform humane education full-time while also making a salary that would allow us to continue the level of activism we currently enjoy is also a challenge.
IHE: SHARE A SUCCESS STORY. WHAT HAS HELPED ENCOURAGE YOU?
NH: A vegan gourmet chocolate store opened in Connecticut, and we produced an Animal Matters episode on vegan chocolate and the fact that making compassionate choices doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up something you love. After the show aired the owner told us that she had people coming in for weeks saying they saw her store on television and have been looking for healthier chocolate. Often we engage in our education efforts with the idea that we are making an impact, even if we do not directly see the results. Someone somewhere sees a television show, picks up a vegetarian starter guide we left in an airplane seat pocket or hotel room, decides to make a lifestyle change and eventually pays it forward, the message expanding out like ripples in water. The episode with the chocolate store made us realize that people do get the message and we may have a greater impact than we imagine.
IHE: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE POWER OF EDUCATION TO POSITIVELY TRANSFORM THE WORLD?
NH: I believe most people will choose the compassionate alternative when given the choice. The problem is our culture has been trained not to think about alternatives. We have been taught to simply buy what we need and do what we want, without thinking about the consequences.
Humane education has the ability to help people examine their actions in a nonjudgmental way and find compassionate choices. By giving people the power to discover alternatives and learn that it is not as difficult as they may have thought, people are more willing to accept change.
I am encouraged that schools are contacting us to talk about these issues, which were never discussed when I was in school. The level of discussion has increased significantly in a relatively short time, and I think people’s awareness of the issues are growing exponentially.
IHE: ANY FUTURE PLANS OR PROJECTS?
NH: The Connecticut legislature has been working for the past few years to incorporate human education into the state curriculum. We have been working on becoming more familiar to schools throughout the state, so that when the bill eventually passes, they will look to the Compassionate Living Project for information on human education.
Annie was also elected the State Representative in our district this last election, so we're excited to have a humane educator involved in the Connecticut General Assembly.
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