Shari Black Velvet: What did you have in mind when you began writing Striking At The Roots? What did you want it to include? What was the purpose for the book?
Mark Hawthorne: Basically, I wanted to show people that getting active for animals is easy, it is important and it can be fun. All the topics I wanted to include are in there – everything from how to leaflet and write letters to working at a sanctuary and going undercover. I also have an entire chapter devoted to the emotional conflicts advocates face. Activists speak out for billions of animals who suffer needlessly every year, so I hope this book empowers people to get active for the voiceless.
SBV: How long did it take you to write the book and how did you feel upon its completion?
MH: I spent five months writing Striking at the Roots. It was pretty much like having a second full-time job. I’d come home from eight hours at my day job and work for eight hours on the book. It was a great feeling of accomplishment having finished it, and I knew it would be a valuable resource for activists everywhere.
SBV: How did you find O Books to publish the book and why did you go to them?
MH: Actually, they found me. An acquisitions editor from O Books contacted me and said he’d read some of my magazine work, and he asked if I would be interested in writing an animal rights book for them. At first I said no – I told him there were so many outstanding books already on the market – but then I remembered how difficult it was for me when I first got into activism, trying to learn how to do it, and I thought a how-to guide would make a great book. I pitched the idea to O Books, which is based in England, and 30 minutes later they sent me a contract.
SBV: Were you pleased with the reaction to the book?
MH: The response has been better than I ever could have imagined. The reviews have been very positive, and I hear from readers all the time who tell me the book has motivated them to get active for animals. Even seasoned activists have told me they learned something new. This kind of feedback makes all the work worth it.
SBV: What other books do you recommend as reading material?
MH: I think it’s important that everyone know what’s going on behind the closed doors of factory farms, biomedical labs, fur farms, puppy mills, circuses – anywhere animals are exploited. So read books that expose the truth. I highly recommend Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, Why Animals Matter by Erin Williams and Margo DeMello, Empty Cages by Tom Regan and Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur. I also advise advocates to read the literature by animal exploiters. Visit animal agriculture websites, for example, and learn what they’re doing.
SBV: You’ve written for Satya magazine, had articles printed in VegNews, OpEd News, California Chronicle and more and write your own online blog too. What do you most like about writing and do you remember the first piece you ever wrote for a publication?
MH: The first article I ever had published in a real magazine was Disney News back in 1987, I think. It was an interview with actress Virginia Davis, Walt Disney’s first star from the 1920s. (She starred in the “Alice in Cartoonland” series of silent shorts.) I did a number of articles for Disney, then went on to focus my writing on social justice issues after spending two years traveling in Europe and Asia. Writing keeps my brain engaged in animal activism; it consumes me. There is not a waking hour in which I’m not thinking about how I can use words to help animals. Even when I’m out running, I keep pen and paper with me to jot down ideas. I don’t think there are many things I do well, but I can write a bit, so I like the fact that I can use my writing skills to educate others about animal exploitation.
SBV: You gave up meat after an encounter with a cow in 1992. Can you tell us more about that?
MH: My travels in the ‘90s took me to India, and I was living with a Buddhist family in the Himalayas. For two months, almost everything I ate was from their vegetable garden, and I felt better than I had in my life, both physically and spiritually. One day a cow came into the garden. It was the first time I had really considered a cow, and I was absolutely captivated by her. I looked into her eyes for a long time, and it dawned on me that she was born with the same desire – and right – to live that we all are, and I realized there was no reason for me to eat meat. I dedicated the book to her.
SBV: Some people become vegan very soon after going vegetarian. You became vegan a decade after becoming vegetarian. Was there a reason it took a while?
MH: I would have to say it was ignorance on my part. It feels ridiculous to say this now, but I simply wasn’t aware of the immense suffering endured by cows in the dairy industry and chickens in the egg industry. When I learned about such abuses as 200 million male chicks a year being ground up alive simply because they are of no use to US egg producers and of the male calves born into the dairy industry being sold for veal, I was ashamed I hadn’t gone vegan long ago. The same goes for wool, leather, silk and honey. Once I explored the cruelties behind these industries, it was easy for me to stop using them. Most people abhor animal abuse, so when they’re confronted with these cruelties, they’re likely to reexamine their behaviors.
SBV: You know a lot about animal rights and animal issues. How did that knowledge develop?
MH: At first, I educated myself through reading books like Diet for a New America by John Robbins and the websites of animal rights organizations. I also attended a few small animal rights conferences and started volunteering with grassroots groups, which taught me a lot. As I began writing for Satya and VegNews, I had access to the people making a difference for animals. Spending time with people like Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States or Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns gave me insights not only into the suffering of animals, but into what it means to be an effective advocate for non-human animals.
SBV: You write for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which uses the legal system to advance the interests of animals. Can you tell me about that? How did you get to write for the Animal Legal Defense Fund and what does it involve?
MH: ALDF has helped put the field of animal law on the map. They are an incredibly dedicated group of attorneys and other professionals who push for more humane treatment of animals and stronger enforcement of anti-cruelty laws. They’ve also been instrumental in getting animal law courses introduced at universities throughout the US. I had known about ALDF for some time, and then a few years ago I discovered their office was literally down the road from me. So I contacted Lisa Franzetta, the communications director, and asked if I could do anything for them. Pretty soon I found myself writing their quarterly newsletter and meeting all these amazing people who use the courts to fight for animals. Each newsletter covers at least one case of animal abuse that ALDF is working on. These can be truly tragic cases, but they sometimes have happy endings. For example, there was the recent groundbreaking case of Max the kitten, who was abused by his guardian’s boyfriend. The guy also beat on his girlfriend, and she broke up with him. But after they reconciled and she moved back in with her abusive boyfriend, the judge would not allow Max to go back into a situation where domestic violence could harm him. Here a judge recognized that an animal has his own interests. That’s remarkable. He probably saved Max’s life. You can see the newsletters online at aldf.org.
SBV: How do you see the animal rights movement developing? Do you think it’s going to get bigger and more powerful – or are new laws that are coming into place to stop certain acts of protest going to make things harder for people who want to help animals?
MH: First of all, I don’t think the anti-terrorism acts passed in the UK and the US will have much of an impact on animal activism. We’re still allowed to protest and engage in outreach, so nothing will change for above-ground activists. And the activists who choose to liberate animals or perform other illegal acts certainly are not going to stop. In fact, I wrote a blog post back in January about how crackdowns are not deterring animal activists but actually seem to be encouraging more activism. The open rescue model, for example, is now being embraced by activists in Spain and the Czech Republic. So, I definitely believe the movement is growing, though it’s still an uphill battle struggling against the sense of entitlement most people have about animals, whether it’s corporate hegemony or consumer behavior.
SBV: What’s the most shocking/saddest thing you’ve seen or heard about while you’ve been writing and a believer of animal rights?
MH: That’s a tough one to answer; it’s hard to pick just one. I’ve never seen an undercover video taken in a factory farm or slaughterhouse that wasn’t horrifying. And I’ve rescued hens from battery cages and have been so upset by their debeaked faces, their feces-encrusted bodies and the filth they’ve had to live in that it made me cry. I’ve had to research and write about some of the worst animal-cruelty cases imaginable: animals who are tortured and killed by abusive husbands and boyfriends wanting to exert control or get revenge on their wives and girlfriends, people who produce “crush” videos in which small animals are pinned down and stomped on by women in high heels just for entertainment, researchers who experiment on live animals ― the list goes on. It’s very easy to look at this cruelty and become overwhelmed by it, but we must do what we can to keep going, because no matter how horrible it may be for us to watch a documentary or read about abuse, our pain is nothing compared to what the animals endure ― they are the ones suffering the torture. We owe it to the animals to tell their stories and continue fighting for them.
SBV: What things related to animal rights have brought you joy or elation?
MH: Rescue work is extremely rewarding – getting animals out of abusive situations and into loving homes. Also, I volunteer at Animal Place, a sanctuary for farmed animals here in California, and it is the best tonic I know of. Whenever I speak to activists, I always tell them: Get some face time with the faces you’re working so hard to protect. Fortunately, there are sanctuaries around the world. Hillside Animal Sanctuary, for example, does wonderful work in England.
SBV: Finally, where do YOU go from here? Do you think you’ll write another book in the future?
MH: Yes, I’m writing a book about animal cruelty. I’ve been working on it for about two years, and I hope to complete it in 2010. In the meantime, I engage in all the activism I can, from protesting circuses and leafleting to writing my blog and having one-on-one talks with people at the grocery store. Every single thing we can do for animals is important – you never know what will make someone see how their choices affect the suffering of others.
Visit www.strikingattheroots.com for more info.