“Cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys . . .
they were calling me.”
UPC’s Projects Manager Hope Bohanec shares inspirational insights as a 27-year veteran activist
in this Interview with Free from Harm
(www.freefromharm.org), an online organization dedicated to farm animal advocacy and education.
The Interview, published Sept. 25, 2016, has been slightly edited for space by UPC.
Q. How and when did you get your start in animal advocacy?
A. From a very young age I had deep empathy and love for animals and a longing to help them. When I was a child I had pictures of animals pinned up all
over my room and when people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say that I was going to work with animals. I didn’t know exactly
what that meant and thought that maybe I was going to study them in some scientific capacity, but through my teens, my rebellious leanings and strong
opinions drew me to activism.
My first activist inspiration came from Greenpeace back in the early 1990s. I was moved by their dangerous and daring actions that I saw on TV and
volunteered with an East Coast Greenpeace chapter immediately out of high school. I heard about the plight of the ancient redwood trees being cut down in
Northern California, and having always wanted to go to California, I packed up my car and headed west.
The radical, hardcore activism of Earth First! was incredibly inspiring to me, and I was soon doing “lock-downs” (blocking the logging roads
with our bodies and various devices that made it hard to move us) and “tree sits,” where we would ascend trees that were in danger of being cut
down with ropes and harnesses and build small wooden platforms to live on 100 feet off the ground. I stayed in one tree-sit that was just a large hammock
tied between four trees for three months. My body ached from being unable to stand up the entire time, and doing my business in a bucket dangling over the
side 80 feet up in the air was something I will never forget. The danger was real and a dear friend of mine fell from a tree sit and died. This selfless
activism in my early twenties with other courageous people was affirming; I would be an activist for life.
During my time with Earth First! I was reading and learning about the suffering of farmed animals. I was already vegan, but the cows, chickens, pigs,
turkeys . . . they were calling me. They seemed the ultimate underdogs, innocent and defenseless, but in more misery and anguish than any other animals on
earth. I moved south to Sonoma County (an hour north of San Francisco) and brought the blockading tactics I had learned from Earth First! to vegan
activism. Finding a small group of gutsy vegans, we blockaded slaughterhouses, shut down production for the day with bike locks around our necks connected
to fences, cement-filled barrels, and activists dangling precariously 20 feet in the air on wooden tripods to make a statement and get media attention.
This type of activism was tough to sustain with numerous arrests and big expense without feeling as effective as other forms of activism that had much less
risk. This eventually evolved into the vegan education and advocacy I do today.
Q. Tell us about your current and future projects. Presentations, books, campaigns, etc.
A. I am United Poultry Concerns’ Projects Manager. I am honored to have Karen Davis, the founder and president of UPC, as well as one of the great
heroes of our movement, as my boss and I have learned so much from her. We have projects throughout the year that I help organize, like our International
Respect for Chickens Day as well as organizing UPC’s west coast outreach tables and offering presentations at conferences around the country. I help
out with everything from organizing UPC events and protests to (occasionally) direct animal rescue.
I am also the Executive Director of Compassionate Living, a non-profit vegan advocacy organization. We sponsor the Sonoma County VegFest, organize video
outreach on college campuses, host speakers, film showings, and more.
One of the main focuses of Compassionate Living is exposing the truth about humane labeling, which is the subject of my book, The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat? In Sonoma County, California, the “happy meat” phenomenon is rampant. Many people are
choosing animal products with labels like free-range, humane, organic, etc. While this is still a small percentage of the animal product market, it’s
growing fast and we need to be prepared to expose it for the fraud it is. In my book, I uncover the truth behind the “humane” labels, both
ethically and environmentally. I found extensive and disturbing evidence that no matter the scale of the farm, animals suffer. There is inherent cruelty in
animal agriculture, no matter the label.
UPC’s 2016 Conscious Eating Conference
staff in Berkeley, California
Left to right: Bill Ferguson, Hope Bohanec,
Karen Davis, Veda Stram, and Liqin Cao.
Q. You organize UPC’s annual Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley. What does it take to organize a complex event like this?
A. Next year will be my 6th year organizing United Poultry Concerns’ Conscious Eating Conference. I have been building the skills of an event planner
for many years planning potlucks and protests, but big events are like grassroots activism on steroids! You pack in education, information, socialization,
and good vegan food, all in one day and for a large audience. It takes someone (or a team) who is meticulous, organized, and can see the big picture even
when dealing with details. The timeline is critical as well. Knowing what to take care of six months out, four months out, five weeks out, and holding to
deadlines. VegFests are popping up everywhere now and there are lots of resources to help someone get started to organize one in their area.
Q. What is your vision for the future as it pertains to veganism and animal liberation?
A. I am very hopeful for the future. The animal liberation movement has a huge advantage; people love animals. The human response to a cute animal is
adoration and affection and the vast majority of people don’t want to see animals suffer. When someone sees an animal in distress on the side of the
road, people will stop traffic and risk their own lives to help them. The deeper, better part of our nature is compassion. Societal perceptions have put
farmed animals in a lower class of animals, and people have convinced themselves that they need to eat animals, but all we must do is remind them of that
love and compassion they innately have and show them that farmed animals are in no less need of rescue from distress.
Q. Can you leave us with some final words or advice for animal advocates?
A. Activism is not just one thing. If you are uncomfortable at a protest, try tabling or leafleting. If you don’t like those activities, try
something else. Maybe you have a talent or skill you can put to work for animals like writing, social media or bookkeeping. For activism to be sustainable,
you have to be at least somewhat comfortable and enjoy it. Do keep in mind that it’s not about you or your social needs; it’s about the
animals, but whatever activism you do needs to be sustainable. The animals need you to continue your work, get better, be stronger, and evolve into a
powerful and effective activist. The animals are counting on all of us to give as much as we can.
– Hope Bohanec