Interview with Baltimore-Based Animal Liberationist Brenda Sanders
By Saryta Rodriguez
Recently, I had the honor of speaking with Brenda Sanders, an amazing activist based in Baltimore, MD. Brenda runs a successful vegan mentoring program called Vegan Living and works with Open Cages Alliance. Below, she shares her extremely valuable insights on race challenges in the AR community as well as details about the incredible work she's doing. Thank you so much, Brenda!
SR: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to DxE.
BNS: Thanks, Saryta.
SR: Please share with us how you two first became involved in the Animal Liberation Movement. Were you inspired by a particular event or person in your life, or in the liberationist community?
BNS: A few years ago I realized that I was starting to feel a connection with animals. It was a strange experience for me, since I had never thought much about animals prior to that. I was suddenly seeing them as individuals and becoming concerned about the way humans were choosing to treat them. When I tried to express these thoughts to other people they laughed. So I began looking for like-minded people and I was fortunate enough to stumble across Open the Cages Alliance, an organization with a strong animal liberation message.
SR: While some claim that we are living in a “post-racial” society, recent court cases regarding police brutality coupled with the dominant faces of many social movements tell a different story. Animal liberation is one such movement, perceived by many to be a “white people thing.”
How has being POCs (persons of color) impacted your experiences as animal liberationists?
BNS: It’s interesting because as an African-American, I’m extremely motivated to educate other African-Americans about the horrible exploitation animals are experiencing at the hands of humans. The problem is that I’ve been witnessing so much racial bias within the Animal Liberation movement that I’ve found that I’m sometimes reluctant to even associate myself with the movement – especially in my outreach to marginalized communities.
SR: What advice might you offer to other liberationist POCs who may be struggling to gain acceptance of their values in their racial communities, or who would like to encourage other POCs to join the movement?
BNS: That’s a really tough question, one that I struggle with everyday. I think I would say, “Blaze Your Own Path.” It’s possible to be a part of a movement while not embodying every single thing that movement represents. Yes, there is a lot of racism, sexism and classism within the Animal Liberation movement but that doesn’t make the work of freeing animals from human tyranny any less important.
SR: What might recent instances of nonviolent direct action that have occurred as a result of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions teach us about the intersectionality of racism and speciesism? To what extent do you think liberationists should be cautious in drawing parallels between the two, and how might such parallels be illustrated most effectively?
BNS: The marches and demonstrations that have been sweeping across the country - and the world - in response to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions show us that people from different ethnic backgrounds, economic statuses, age groups, and cultural identities can all come together to speak out against inequality. There is no more effective way to create change in the world than for people from all walks of life to speak as one voice to demand justice. It’s important that animal liberationists make the connections between the oppression of animals and all other systems of oppression but animal liberationists have to be careful not to appropriate other people’s struggle for justice merely for the purpose of highlighting animal suffering. Making a sincere effort to reach out and ally themselves to others who are engaged in similar struggles would be a great first step.
SR: I understand you are heavily involved with the Open Cages Alliance (OTCA). Can you please tell us a bit about this organization and how you came to be involved with it?
BNS: As I mentioned before, I found Open the Cages Alliance in my search for others who were working to stop the exploitation of animals – and I’m so glad I did! OTCA’s strong message of animal liberation combined with the drive to connect these issues with other social justice issues was exactly what I was looking for. I started out as a volunteer in 2013 and have since stepped up as one of the directors of the organization.
SR: How is the Open Cages Alliance organized, and what are some of its short-term and long-term goals?
BNS: Open the Cages Alliance is an all-volunteer organization run at this time by three women who are dedicated to animal liberation and raising awareness of the connection between the different systems of oppression. One of our goals is to educate the public about the systemic exploitation of non-human animals while offering everyday alternatives to these oppressive actions. We also work to build coalitions with other social justice activists, including those activists in Baltimore involved in the Blacklivesmatter movement.
SR: Please tell us about one of your favorite actions, lectures or other events in which you’ve taken part since joining the alliance.
BNS: One of my favorite actions with Open the Cages Alliance was the lecture and discussion we conducted on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in conjunction with the Week of Action Against the AETA. It was so rewarding to engage in a discussion with other activists about the implications of this legislation and how we can affectively move forward with our activism in spite of the pushback from the animal exploitation industries.
SR: You are also an active member of a vegan mentoring program. What is the program called, and what are some of the core values that you and other mentors impart to its mentees?
BNS: The Vegan Living Program is a yearly five-week-long vegan educational program run by Open the Cages Alliance. The purpose of this program is to teach people the ins and outs of the vegan lifestyle, including an understanding of what veganism actually is (a lifestyle that avoids the exploitation of animals) and how veganism can benefit our personal health, the animals we share the planet with and the planet itself.
SR: How does the Vegan Living Program impart the liberationist message, beyond promoting a vegan lifestyle?
BNS: The Open the Cages Alliance directors are, first and foremost, animal liberationists. The total liberation of animals from human tyranny is the foundation that our activism is built on and our programming ALWAYS reflects that. We see the vegan lifestyle as one of the vehicles through which animal liberation can be actualized, therefore we feel perfectly comfortable promoting veganism. We do, however, understand that veganism is only a small step towards bringing an end to all forms of exploitation and oppression.
SR: How do you ensure, or at least increase the likelihood, that mentees remain committed to animal liberation after they have completed the program? Do you often engage in follow-up conversations or activities with former mentees?
BNS: The purpose of the program is to educate and inspire. Once Vegan Living Program participants know why it’s wrong to exploit animals and what a lifestyle free of exploitation looks like, we stay engaged with program participants through the numerous protests, demonstrations and events that we have throughout the year. Many of our former vegan pledges come back to serve as vegan coaches in the VLP, participate in our demonstrations and stay actively engaged in the vegan community that we’re growing here in Baltimore.
SR: Please tell our readers a bit about your involvement with DxE.
BNS: I first became aware of DxE when I heard about the campaign against Chipotle’s “humane meat” marketing. I was inspired to get involved in that campaign because I was so disgusted at Chipotle’s attempts to woo more customers with deceptive marketing. After Wayne and Ronnie visited Baltimore in August 2014 for the East Coast tour, I was motivated to keep the momentum going with the disruptions and began organizing with other people in Baltimore to do regular disruptions.
SR: Thank you so much, again for sharing your insights and experiences with us!
One last question: What is your spirit animal?
A short-tailed hawk wearinga quizzical expression.
BNS: If I had a spirit animal it would be the hawk because of it’s superb vision and ability to follow through once it sets out on a course of action.