Unny and Diana

My thoughts on the Animal and Vegan Advocacy (AVA) Summit 2023

I attended the second Animal and Vegan Advocacy (AVA) Summit July 27-30. Here are my notable experiences! I served as advisor to the summit.

Highlights include:

  • It was a delight to meet many of my coworkers at the Better Food Foundation for the first time! I saw them at the summit, and spent another day with them at a staff retreat.
  • My favorite session was Austin Meyer’s and Zoe Novic ‘s workshop on creative advocacy tools. It was such a blast! It’s hard to put into words what happened since it is so experiential, but it included games, story telling, and movement. Connecting in small groups, I laughed, told my life story, and made several spontaneous poses. As we played and connected, the facilitators contextualized our activities and their relevance to leadership in the movement. I got to know a few people better, and felt more ready to connect and share at the summit in the movement. It is an excellent example of the kind of workshop I would like to see more of.
  • Connecting with friends: developing long term, deep, and caring relationships with folks in the animal freedom movement is both powerful and meaningful for me, and the experiences described in this post facilitated that. I even discovered (or was it just re-remembering) that my new coworker John had done animal advocacy with some of the same folks as me in the 1990’s!
  • Dancing and karaoke. I love to sing and dance freely with others and AVA was amazing! I experienced so much joy and freedom.
  • After AVA, I joined the soccer game at a nearby park. It was thoughtfully organized by John Oberg, and it felt great to move my body and play with fellow activists. I am concerned that competitive sports brings out an aggressive side of me, and I think I did relatively well at playing mindfully this time.
  • I shared a room with Josue of Transforming Culture. Josue is doing critical work teaching about navigating conflict in our movement. 
  • Moderating several sessions: this mostly involved introducing the speaker and helping setup things in the room. I am a little reluctant to admit (see my note on lectures below) that the talks were for the most part engaging and informative. The most fun part for me was meeting with Diana Molina of Mercy for Animals the day before her talk. We goofed off a lot, and were also very thorough in figuring out the logistics of the room and the talk.
  • Effective Altruism panel. See the book The Good It Promises, The Harm It Does: Critical Essays On Effective Altruism. My supervisor at the Better Food Foundation and others wrote an essay in this book, and was invited to speak at a panel. She did a great job in the introductory remarks pointing out the challenges of the concentration of wealth and power in the nonprofit sector. I was too tired to stay for most of the panel. I’m glad they hosted this discussion.
  • I felt kindness, good will, and respect in almost every interaction I had at the conference. This made AVA feel welcoming, positive, and constructive. I appreciate how pleasant this feels, but maybe we lost something edgy with fewer grassroots activists? See my thoughts about that below.
  • I ran most mornings, and I generally prioritized sleep, rest, and balance. This felt great and helped me enjoy the conference.
  • I have advised the summit since the beginning, and I trust that AVA staff are motivated to create a powerful animal protection movement that we all desire. I have a deep appreciation for their devotion, hard work, great listening skills, and humility.

Here are some of the aspects of AVA that I found challenging or disliked:

  • The conference had relatively low participation from grassroots activists. It appeared that most attendees were employed in the movement, looking for work in the movement, or relatively young and considering a career in the movement. I want to see a movement that is filled with unpaid leaders and participants, and I would like our conference to facilitate that kind of movement. Price was likely a deterrent for activists, but I suspect it’s more than that.
  • The dominant format of AVA is lectures. I’ve written about my desire for workshops over lectures before, and unfortunately AVA has had little improvement in this regard. I’m concerned that attendees expect lectures for future conferences, even if other formats could be both more enjoyable and productive. There were several activities that happened in the early hours, before, or after the regular conference hours including the soccer game, mediations, a workshop in infighting, meditation, wellness activities with Brialle. All of these looked engaging, connecting, and interesting, and I appreciated all that I attended. I wish these activities were daylighted. Besides the sessions I moderated and the panel, and a couple of opening and closing sessions, I didn’t attend any talks.
  • I have a sense that speakers’ placement in plenaries, opening or closing talks, and other prominent slots signifies that the summit believes these people are important. I think this is unfortunate; I’d like to see speakers chosen based on their value to the event. I think we could learn from many speakers that have experience in other social movements, speakers that are talented but aren’t part of any significant organized aspect of the movement, and other folks who don’t have prominence. Funding might be part of the challenge here – the summit may be choosing speakers who come from organizations that are sponsoring events, and they also feel the need to give prominence to speakers so that funders in attendance will see what the conference organizers want them to see.
  • I witnessed first hand the problem of funding for the movement largely dependent on a handful of very wealthy men. The result is that our movement caters to their needs and desires.

In summary, AVA was inspiring and productive, and I think it could be so much more. I plan on attending next May in the Washington, DC area – please join me! If my critique of AVA resonates with you, please tell the conference organizers. I have been open with them about my opinions and serve on the advisory board, and I think they need to hear from others, too.

The perspectives shared here are mine and mine alone!

2 replies
  1. Naijha
    Naijha says:

    Peace and blessings, Unny. I truly appreciate you sharing your thoughts in this blog. As a grassroots organizer and member of the AVA Summit 2023 advisory committee, I overstand where you’re coming from. It would be great to see a movement that is filled with unpaid leaders and participants, and the AVA Summit to facilitate that kind of movement. I had the pleasure of moderating two DEI-themed panels on Friday and co-hosted the Movement Celebration ceremony Saturday evening. The highlight at the AVA Summit for me was attending the African vegan panel discussions and learning more about the vegan movements on the continent. Also, meeting and connecting with funders was a valuable experience for me. I agree that the registration fee may have played a factor in reaching the target audience.


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