Waking Up

By William J. Furney

“I haven’t eaten meat in 45 years — and I’m in my 80s!” the beaming woman in a pink dress said as we briefly danced before a display of symbolic coffins to mark National Animal Rights Day, an event held around the world last Sunday.

And then, satisfied with her declaration and moment of joy, she was off on her merry way. 

We were there to celebrate but also to commemorate, and organiser Jordi had arranged a DJ, which was the reason for our spontaneous jiving. The annual event is held to draw attention to the plight of so-called lesser animals and the incredible cruelty that humans force many species to endure — mostly for food that’s unnecessary and tourism entertainment that’s also increasingly being viewed as unethical. (As an animal rights campaigner, I was horrified when my friend and fellow activist Iris posted this abhorrent cruelty at a camel riding operation in Lanzarote — abuse that has since been reported to the authorities).

Now, bold and daring groups are standing up all around the globe for what they see as the errors of humankind’s ways — practices that are, according to the science, leading us down a path of planetary destruction that might well see the end of us as a species. 

National Animal Rights Day began in New York in 2011 after activists formed the organisation Our Planet. Theirs Too, which is based on the philosophy that we’re not the only animals on the planet and we should share it and all of us should live in peace and harmony.

“The day will come when no animal will be ‘farmed’ or kept in confinement against their will,” the group says in its mission statement. 

“No animal will be used, abused and killed by human beings, for any purpose, and all animals will be free to live their lives as they see fit, with their families and offspring. 

“Factory farms, slaughterhouses, testing labs, rodeos, circuses, zoos and other places that confine animals today, will be a ‘horror show’ of the past, and will be replaced by animal sanctuaries, which will offer animals care and freedom for the rest of their lives. 

“Planet Earth will start to heal, and its land, air and water will become clean again, free from the abuse and damage caused by animal agriculture and its related industries.”

Acknowledging that for some, this lofty goal might seem like a “utopian dream”, the organisation says change is already happening, with growing numbers of people adopting a plant-based, vegan lifestyle (“vegan” is not only a diet but a way of life).

Since that first event in the United States over a decade ago, National Animal Rights Day has since spread around the world, with simultaneous protests held globally on the same day each year. UK liaison Sasha Jolliffe Yasawi, director of animal rights group We The Free, told me he organised 16 such protests around the UK last Sunday. 

A new era of change is in the air, with brave groups like Just Stop Oil and Animal Rising taking on the norms — and governments — that are leading us to ruination. 

“They’re trying to wake us up,” a man said in comments on a social media post by Animal Rising, the British-based activist group that views animal exploitation — for food and entertainment — as the main culprit of our most pressing problems, including climate change.  

“This cruel suffering is at the heart of our climate and ecological emergencies. Animal farming and fishing threatens our collective future, destroying our land, our forests and our oceans,” the organisation says in its mission statement. 

“The exploitation of animals is directly responsible for global heating, extreme weather events, food insecurity and the mass loss of wildlife and nature. Unless we find a way to repair this broken relationship, we cannot fix either the climate or nature emergencies.”

Just Stop Oil, also British, wants a ban on fossil fuel licensing and production and says the Conservative government of Rishi Sunak is not listening as it keeps issuing permits for drilling of oil and gas — and that the Tories accept millions of pounds in donations from fossil fuel organisations. 


Both groups achieve intense media coverage for stunts involving throwing orange powder at sporting events like rugby matches and slow matches that disrupt traffic; members have been arrested and jailed. Government-supporting, right-wing media like the Daily Mail brand them “eco-clowns” and “eco-zealots”, insisting they should be stopped, but at least the animal rights and environmental activists are getting their urgent message out to the public. 

Commemoration: The writer at a National Animal Rights Day event. 

We started our National Animal Rights Day event by carrying a symbolic coffin down a busy street full of Sunday shoppers and performers, a police escort ahead of us clearing the way. We held photographs of animals bearing the birth and death dates of animals that had needlessly died at the hands of humans. People stopped, looked and clapped in appreciation. At a nearby park, we placed flowers on more coffins as funeral music played. And then I read the Declaration of Animal Rights, which begins:

Since the dawn of humanity, there remains a group so persistently abused and marginalised, that their suffering is ingrained in our everyday lives. If animals could freely talk, their chorus of cries would drown out every other sound in the world. We are all animals. We are all living, breathing beings who share the same Earth. We all feel pain and suffer when we are hurt or deprived of our lives, our families, our freedom. We all have the right to experience kindness, compassion and dignity. We believe in the kinship of all beings, and the possibility for us to coexist in peace and harmony on planet Earth.

  • Photographs by Raquel Diaz.

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