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US adventures part 5: AR Conference, Washington, DC

WEDNESDAY 14th July: Portland -> Washington, DC

Early this morning Mark and Imber took me to the Portland airport where I then flew to Dulles airport at Washington, DC to attend the AR Conference which is one of the main reasons for my jet-setting across the world.  Almost 5 hours later I arrived, losing a few hours due to the time difference.  At the Dulles airport they have these buses set up like trains to shuttle you from one area to the other, bizarre.  I'm sure it wouldn't have taken that long to walk...  I've decided Dulles is worse than LAX as I didn't think LAX was as big or as daunting as everyone makes out.  I got picked up by the Super Shuttle another of my favourite modes of transport in the USA.  The bus was full as we headed to the Alexandria Mark Hotel.  It took what seemed like forever to get to the hotel, combine this with a lady on the bus telling me I wouldn't be able to walk to Washington city from the hotel and I realised that I was actually quite a distance away from, well, pretty much anything.

I arrived at the hotel in which the staff seemed overwhelmed and everything was running late.  A lovely guy holidaying with his family which included two fur friends, said he'd been waiting for his room for 4 hours!! My friend, Shannon Keith who runs ARME and put out the documentary films Behind the Mask and the new Skin Trade, had booked a room for her, myself and two of her friends.  Unfortunately due to the passing of one of her fur family members, Shannon couldn't make it to the AR Conference where Skin Trade was one of the premiers and she was meant to be speaking.  Since the room was booked under her name and not mine and I was using my card, this created all sorts of drama.  Shannon's two other friends, Gene and Ethan would be my room mates for the AR Conference.  We didn't know each other at all (though I had met Ethan briefly at the Let Live Conference in Portland at the beginning of my US adventures) though we had all decided having Shannon and veganism in common was enough and were willing to give it a go.

I finally got to my room, caught up on some emails and phone calls, had a shower and went to bed.  I was exhausted.  The time difference from Australia -> LA hadn't really effected me, but the time difference from Portland, OR -> Washington, DC that was another matter.

THURSDAY:  AR Conference Opening night

I was planning to go into Washington city by bus then train from the hotel to check out some local vegan places that Saurabh from the Washington branch of the International Vegetarian Union had recommended the day before.  However after making some calls and answering emails I went back to sleep, ever so exhausted.  I ended up waking up around lunchtime, got ready and decided to have a wander around to see what was happening.  Most people wouldn't be arriving until about now so I headed downstairs hoping to run into someone I knew or knew of.  I met some of the FARM volunteers including Michael who via Cindy had offered for me to use his flatmate's acoustic/electric guitar for my performance Saturday night at the banquet.  The guitar was a black Ibanez acoustic/electric with a heap of punk band stickers on it that I'd never heard of before.  I took the guitar upstairs, changed the strings and had an hour or so practice as I hadn't sung my songs or played the guitar since I'd been away from home.

I went downstairs to register for the AR Conference and after that went into the food hall where I paid US$18 for a vegan meal that wasn't that exciting at all, hopefully will not be doing that the whole time of the conference.  I had dinner with a couple of people as well as a great guy, Michael who would end up being one of my favourite people at AR Conference. As Michael had been to all of the AR Conferences he was my go-to man for any questions and a great help all weekend.  After dinner I went into the Exhibits hall to set up my Viva la Vegan! stall/booth/table (ever so confusing getting the US terms right!) so it would all be ready for the next day.  A couple of my close neighbours in the exhibit hall were Josh from Herbivore, Michael & Karen Budkie from Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) a great group raising awareness and leading many campaigns against the vivisection industry's abuse of animals. Many people had said that Michael Budkie was a great speaker, so I looked forward to hearing him speak this weekend.

When I was leaving I saw Daniel Tudor from Sparrow Media and spoke to him while he was setting up their table.  I'd met Daniel previously in Portland, had interviewed him at the Let Live Conference and was meant to go on a road trip with him that never eventuated, so I looked forward to spending some time with him over the weekend.  He ended up bunking with Gene, Ethan and I for a couple of nights as well.  Gene, Daniel and I had an early night this night as the next few days were sure to be full-on.

FRIDAY: AR Conference

w_robert

Today was a great day of meeting like minded people and a few of my FaceBook friends, including the wonderfully upbeat, postitive and just an all-round great guy, Robert Cheeke from Vegan Body Building who has a new book out on Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness.  My new friend, Michael bought me some food for lunch from somewhere local (sorry can't remember the name) and I hung out with Peter Young most of the time, getting to know him and having great discussions about everything.

Peter, Gene, Ethan, some other friends and I ordered some pizza from Z Pizza that had Daiya cheese and actually delivered to the hotel in Alexandria.  We spent about US$60 on vegan pizza and only got one topping - cheese!  Obviously I had no say on what was ordered, boring.  So we all went outside to eat and there was a guy cooking pizza in a solar oven who just so happened to be Keith McHenry, one of the founders of Food Not Bombs.  He's a great guy and Peter had a starstruck moment ;)  Unfortunately we were way too full from our store-bought pizzas to finish his own pizzas.

The screening of Bold Native was on tonight and as I'd seen this great new fiction film in Portland I opted to hang out with my roomies, Gene and Ethan and get to know them better.  There was a lot of action downstairs with the scheduled evening programme, around the hotel and especially in the lobby and bar area.  Gene, Ethan and I went to bed earlish tonight, except for Daniel waking us up at 4:30pm to get in as well as myself doing a bit of sleep talking and scaring my roomies with my ramblings and yelling of "Where the hell am I?" This didn't wake Daniel up but freaked Gene and Ethan out a bit.  I pretty much have woken myself out of a semi-conscious state each night of my US adventures saying this exact same thing, though I didn't remember this particular one...         

SATURDAY - Speaking on Staging Effective Events & Performing at the Banquet

Today was my big day with my speech on Staging Effective Events in the afternoon and my performance at the banquet at night.  I was joined by Lorri Houston from Animal Acres (which I had visited when I was in LA) and Alex Hershaft who was one of the main organisers of the FARM AR Conference.  The three of us spoke at 2pm on Staging Effective Events as Lorri has put on many events to raise funds for Animal Acres, Alex has put on the AR Conference (for a number of years I believe) and myself putting on the Green Earth Festival - our first one was held at the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens this year and we had about 3000-4000 people in attendance.  See HERE for some photos from the day!

Each of us spoke for 10 minutes each and then had about 30 minutes of questions from the audience.  I am in the middle of writing an e-book on putting on events but as it's a huge task and there's a lot of things to go into it, I've set up a YouTube channel that I've uploaded the videos from my talk and the questions I answered after my talk.  You can also see the AR Conference website for more speeches from all of the other speakers throughout the weekend.  We had a great turnout, had great questions and I had wonderful feedback afterwards and throughout the rest of the weekend.

speaking

I managed to get away from my table/stall/booth for awhile to practice my songs for the night.  The banquet started at 6:30pm and I was to play 2 sets of 2 songs each, the first set starting at 7pm.  The banquet was quite unorganised and I didn't start until after 7:30.  The sound was really bad too, but I know that people aren't there to hear me perform so I did my best ;)

I played two songs: "My new favourite friend" which I wrote a few years ago when I was in a completely different stage of my life and also played "Good bye my love, Good bye my pain" which I released on an EP a few years ago entitled "Songs of Love, Heartbreak and Retribution" that you can download on iTunes or buy on CDBaby.  This is probably my most heartbreaking song (they are my forte!) as well as being most people's favourite of my songs.

Normally at Animal Rights or vegan events I do a spoken word piece of mine, Piece by Piece, which is about the beginning to end of the killing floor from the eyes of the animal.  It's a bit of an intense piece but necessary for the majority of people to hear.

about_to_perform

Awards on the night went to Anthony Marr from the Anti-Hunting Coalition (Grassroots Activist Award), Niki Gianni (Young Activist Award) and Zoe Weil from Institute of Humane Education (AR Hall of Fame)

The food wasn't that exciting, and as the banquet went on we were being very silly at our table, acting as though we were in school again (!!) so Peter, Gene, Ethan and I decided to take out fun outside.  With most of these AR and vegan events, it's not really the specific speakers, performers or events that are actually planned for the people at the event that matter.  It's the people you meet, converse with, get to know and generally develop relationships with that will hopefully be life-long that are the best thing about these events AND my US adventures.

So here's a few photos with a few of my favourite people:

w_pete

Peter Young was definitely my favourite person at the AR Conference.  We hung out most of the time together and he kept me company at my stall/booth/table as well.  I must admit that I didn't really know much about Peter before my US adventures other than the fact that he'd been to prison for liberating a heap of mink.  I just knew from the first time I met him in Portland that we would get on famously.  The ladies definitely love Peter Young with many telling me so throughout the weekend!

Peter runs a great website Voice of the Voiceless that is an online tool for activists who are interested in the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) movement as Peter has regular updates and a mass of information on all things to do with direct action.  He has Keith Mann, ALF organiser's From Dusk til Dawn book, and has also compiled a book on the history of ALF actions of the past 30 years, as well as an Animal Abusers Directory and much more.  Peter is a great speaker therefore speaks at many (AR) events, inspiring people to (continue to) be great activists, to get involved with eradicating the enemies of our animal friends (by hitting them where it hurts the most: their hip pocket) and being comfortable with enacting the changes that are so desperately needed even with the threat of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and other such threats on action and consequence.

Peter went to prison for 2 years on account of Animal Enterprise Terrorism (after being wanted by the FBI for 7 years) for liberating over 8000 mink as well as foxes from various fur farms just before the pelting season (when every single one of the animals in fur factories in the USA get murdered) Peter gave a very inspiring statement to the court at his sentencing on 8th November in 2005.  See below for the statement that I found HERE.  This statement is still spoken of and oft quoted, and for obvious reasons.  I hope you get something from it:

This is the customary time when the defendant expresses regret for the crimes they committed, so let me do that because I am not without my regrets. I am here today to be sentenced for my participation in releasing mink from 6 fur farms. I regret it was only 6. I'm also here today to be sentenced for my participation in the freeing of 8,000 mink from those farms. I regret it was only 8,000. It is my understanding of those 6 farms, only 2 of them have since shut down. I regret it was only 2.

More than anything, I regret my restraint, because whatever damage we did to those businesses, if those farms were left standing, and if one animal was left behind, then it wasn't enough.

I don't wish to validate this proceeding by begging for mercy or appealing to the conscience of the court, because I know if this system had a conscience I would not be here, and in my place would be all the butchers, vivisectors, and fur farmers of the world.

Just as I will remain unbowed before this court- who would see me imprisoned for an act of conscience- I will also deny the fur farmers in the room the pleasure of seeing me bow down before them. To those people here whose sheds I may have visited in 1997, let me tell you directly for the first time, it was a pleasure to raid your farms, and to free those animals you held captive. It is to those animals I answer to, not you or this court. I will forever mark those nights on your property as the most rewarding experience of my life.

And to those farmers or other savages who may read my words in the future and smile at my fate, just remember: We have put more of you in bankruptcy than you have put liberators in prison. Don't forget that.

Let me thank everyone in the courtroom who came to support me today. It is my last wish before prison that each of you drive to a nearby fur farm tonight, tear down its fence and open every cage.

That's all.

It's great to meet people who are strong in their convictions, know how to get on with most people and how to read others well.  Peter is a great person who is comfortable in his own skin (no matter what the gossip of the day is) who is definitely a walker and not a talker and these and more are some of the reasons why I just LOVE this guy!

my_roomies

My roomies Gene & Ethan were my other favourite people from AR Conference.  From just having Shannon and veganism in common to becoming firm friends, I love these guys!  We had such an amazing time getting to know each other and I'm excited to hang out with them again in the future!  Gene Blalock is from LA and in a band called The Faded whose song Leave out the Rest has appeared on one of the latest Twilight movies, which is a pretty big deal!  They also appear on Shannon's latest film, Skin Trade.  Speaking of Skin Trade, Gene is also the Editor and co-producer of said documentary.  Due to Shannon not being able to make it to the conference, Gene did a great job of filling in for her with most of Shannon's speaking committments. Gene is a great guy with a devious sense of humour who takes awhile to get ready, but at least you know that his hair is straightened and styled to perfection!

Ethan Wolf is from New York and a lawyer who works in child protection, you know, the horrible stuff you see on Law & Order SVU?  He's a great guy with a quick wit and a sense of humour that some people don't get so he can sometimes come across as condescending or just sarcastic.  Ethan is also the NY contact and organiser for all things Sea Shepherd and he's always organising events to raise awareness or raise money for Sea Shepherd.  As I'd decided to go to New York after the conference, I looked forward to seeing Ethan in his hometown! Both these guys are amazing people and though quick to tease me about anything they can including talking in my sleep and the essential oil blend that I wear that just so happens to have Patchouli in it ;) I thank Shannon that the three of us got to be roomies!

There were many other amazing people who I met at the conference who I will remain friends with - you know who you are!

Tonight was the screening of Skin Trade and as I'd seen it before I sat in on one of Peter's talks with a few other activists: a round table discussion that focused on not letting fear get in the way of being active for the animals.  This was the first session that I really got to sit in as I was at my stall/table/booth most of the conference.  It was quite an informative talk and great to hear so many takes on similar issues.  There are many passionate people who are doing they best they set fit to help our animal friends find freedom, it's very inspiring.  However, just like back home, there's always in-fighting and a bit of this happened at this talk.  I'm a bit over it all as I can't understand how people can't just get along.  I know that maybe naive, but, WHY NOT?!  After all they say there's always 3 sides of a story: one person's side, the other's and the truth ;) haha.  I like that one.

After this Peter and I went to find one of my other favourite people at the conference, Jared Palermo who along with Linwood Bingham, had a table for their straight edge vegan clothing company, Motive Company.  Jared's a great guy who is so charming, amiciable and just a pleasure to be around.  Peter, Jared and I had a lot of fun hanging out and doing silly things.  So we hung out in the bar, met some new people and spoke to a few friends.  Denis from Bold Native came to join us as well, then when things were starting to slow down a bit, the wonderful Sparkle and her friends came over to cause some ruckus.  Things got very weird after this, even though most of us weren't drinking...  After Sparkle coloured in Jared's shoelaces and I drew some great (!) pictures with Sparkle's crayons for the guys, it was well and truly time for bed.

SUNDAY: Last day of AR Conference

rob_in_tee

Today was the last day of the AR Conference and here's another photo of the wonderful Robert Cheeke from Vegan Body Building just because I can.  Robert has a new book out on new book out on Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness and he hung out with me at my stall/table/booth selling his new book, striking some bodybuilding poses as well as the one above with him in one of my "This is what a Vegan looks like" singlets, YAY! It was a bit intense being in the airconditioning ALL day every day so whenever I could, I went outside to sun myself for awhile.  Robert and I had a great deep and meaninful converstaion (but then again, aren't they all?!) when we were sunning ourselves outside.

w_will_and_josh

Above is a photo of me with two wonderful guys: Will Potter from Green is the New Red and Josh from Herbivore.  I look tiny next to these two! Will runs Green is the New Red a very informative site on such things as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, Green Scare and has some great "Activism is not Terrorism" and "Domestic Terrorist" merchandise. I met both of these guys in Portland at the Let Live Conference and had interviewed Josh and his lovely partner, Michelle before I left Portland. Herbivore are one of the stores in the Vegan mini mall in Portland. Warning: Will and Josh are very silly especially when together!

Below is a photo of myself with Karen and Michael Budkie who run Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) I got on very well with these very passionate people and hope to see them in Australia soon (plus finally hear Michael speak!)

with_karen_and_michael

Gene, Sparkle and her friend, Ramy and his friend, Peter and I headed to Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant to get some dinner for the night, but as it took Sparkle and I awhile to find the place and I was meant to perform around 8:30pm back at the hotel, Sparkle, Gene and I ordered some food to takeaway and drove back to the hotel.

That evening was the closing ceremony for the conference and I performed another two songs for the audience around 9pm.  Saurabh from the Veg Society of DC gave me a great introduction but the sound was even worse than the night before.  I performed To Your Rescue a song that I released on an EP a few years ago entitled "Songs of Love, Heartbreak and Retribution." You can download on iTunes or buy on CDBaby as well as a new song Not Just a Dream that I will hopefully record properly soon.

singing

This was our last night at the hotel and at the conference so we all made the most of it!  I made sure I hung out and chatted with most of my new friends wherever they were before the end of the night/early morning.

A mutual friend, Daphne wanted to interview Peter so she could get him some publicity in Greece with the media contacts she has.  So I filmed the interview with the two of them.  I have an edited version here of Peter's responses to Daphne's questions as it was too long for YouTube.

Then I interviewed Peter in this VIP room I had found earlier on in the night.  Peter is a great person to interview and so passionate about what he believes in.  That night we all met at Ramy's unit at one time or another to watch silly people get even sillier when alcohol is involved ;)  And a few of us don't even need alcohol to act silly - you know who you are!  It was sad to know that I wouldn't be seeing my new friends for quite awhile, including the charming Jared (below).  The amazingly dedicated and passionate, Camille Hankins from Win Animal Rights dropped by about 4am to say good bye and let us hang out with Freedom, one of the beagles rescued from a labratory that had been closed down recently.  Then it was time for bed.

w_jared

Some other blogs on the AR conference include:

Doris Lin's Animal Rights blog

Sara Pegarella's One Planet. One Person blog

and MORE HERE

MONDAY: Goodbye Alexandria, Denis and I are heading to New York!

So, Peter and I were meant to get up to have a free breakfast (that the hotel had given my roomies and I due to a bit of a room confusion a day or so ago), maybe watch some of the talks, including Michael Budkie from Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), but we ended up sleeping through the morning, checking out and then going downstairs where the conference area became quite eventful with leaflets of lies being passed around by certain people.  I won't get into it as I'm not into drama or gossip and don't surround myself with people who are, but in-fighting, bullying and disrespect within the Animal Rights and vegan communities doesn't just happen in Australia - it's international!!  This isn't a good thing.  I don't see why we can't all get along.  I know I'm naive at times and I know that I see the good in all people (even when I shouldn't sometimes) but we're all meant to be on the same page, you know, uniting to fight for those who can't fight for themselves...

So my last day in Alexandria was anything but dull.  I had decided due to the lovely Jackson as well as Mandi from Chic Vegan both advising me to go, that I would be heading to New York after the conference until I was to fly home.  I was planning to either train or bus it with my new travel companion, Denis, but in the end Denis hired a car as he had a bit of stock and merchandise to take with him due to the New York Bold Native premier in a week's time.

wraps

Denis and I went to Sticky Fingers Bakery for a late lunch.  I had the Hummus wrap and Denis had the Chicken Ceasar Wrap (above) both US$7.50 each.  We also got a cupcake each and a nut brownie to takeaway, all US$2.50 each.  Mine cupcake was Cookies and Cake:

cookies_and_cake

Denis had the Red Velvet cupcake:

red_velvet

Due to us leaving Washington, DC quite late, we got to see the sun set and it get dark on our Washington to New York road trip.  We stopped of a couple of times to stretch our legs and I took a few scenic shots on our road trip, for example:

travelling

Denis is a great road trip buddie, we are obsessed with a lot of the same actors (Michael Pitt!!) and movies and had a great time getting to know each other. We finally arrived in New York about 10pm and we were staying at Denis' business partner, Casey's friend's place when she was out of the country.  We had a great apartment on East 81st Street on the Upper East Side that would be home for a few days until my flight back to Australia.  See below for a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge when we were driving to our apartment:

B_bridge

So, I can't get the Alica Keys & Jay Z song Empire State of Mind (New York) out of my head!! 'Cause I'M in New York...

USA_Adventures_CoverMy USA Adventures - the Book by Leigh-Chantelle (ISBN 978-0-9808484-2-7) is now available to purchase in paperback on Amazon US & Amazon UK, Barnes & NobleEspresso Book Machine and other online retailers. Wholesale info for Retail Stores, Libraries, Colleges, Schools, Universities: Ingram Books.
See HERE for more information.

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