Adam Kol
Published on
June 15, 2016

Why DxE Wednesday XV: Leslie Goldberg

This is the latest installment in a series of interviews with DxE activists by Rachel Waite, who is part of the blog team and an organizer for DxE Grand Rapids (MI)

Q: What inspired you to get involved in activism and join DxE?Activism is in my bones. My great grandfather was a Communist activist in England. My grandfather was a union organizer at a time when that was not an easy thing to do. My father was an activist as I grew up in the racist South at the time of the civil rights movement. He was an Episcopal priest who actively and vocally opposed segregation both on the radio and from the pulpit. I was taught to stand up for justice.

 Leslie giving a presentation about her art
Leslie giving a presentation about her art

As an adult and as a journalist, I fought corruption, racism and incompetence within the San Francisco police department, the juvenile justice system, public housing and, well, man’s inhumanity to man. (Ok, it wasn’t all great stuff. I did write a guide to shopping centers in the Bay Area and a guide to Christmas tree farms!) Despite the fact that I was a generalist, I had no thought or real awareness about animal rights.

My mother was a passionate animal lover from when she was a small girl, rescuing many dogs on her school lunch hour and bringing them home. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she realized that the dogs hadn’t run away as her mother told her, but had been taken to the pound. My mother died before learning about the massive suffering in the animal food industry. I’m sure she would have been vegan, had she known.

When I was very young, maybe four, we lived next door to a house that had chickens. My brother and I used to go and watch them for hours and feed them little bits of food, my dad recently told me. He said my brother and I were very upset when they were killed by the neighbors for food.

Still, as I grew up, I was basically clueless about the tragedy of animal exploitation. I now see it as a culturally induced hypnosis, like a fog. Yet, something was pulling me out of the fog, manifested by odd interests or flashes I had – the movie “Babe,” macrobiotic cooking, the art of Sue Coe, Dr. Dean Ornish’s book on health and plant-based eating, a Haight-- Ashbury food co-op. These were all the seeds that had been planted along my path, yet still I couldn’t see the big picture of the exploitation and murder of animals for food or my own involvement in that.

What finally broke me open was seeing the movie “Food Inc.” and seeing the suffering of chickens and cows. Going to that movie I had a vague sense that it might include animal suffering and I remember thinking, “OK, I think I’m ready to look at this.” I hadn’t been eating cows at the time, but I did, on a weekly basis, eat chicken -- not because I liked the taste but because I believed I needed it for my health. Walking out of that theater I understood that my personal health worries were nothing compared to the anguish I had witnessed. I said to my husband, “Never again – never will I eat animals, never again will I participate in that.” I thought, “I don’t care what it does to my health.”

Seeing the horrific abuse of animals made me want to “do something,” beyond just going vegan. I had to tell the world what I’d seen and learned. Friends and family would certainly change like I did. I was pretty surprised when they didn't. I'd try again to explain it to them; maybe I'd just told them wrong. Surely they would get it.

But they didn’t. They got mad.

I blamed myself for not carrying the message in a way that people would understand and accept. I read several books, including “Living Among Meat-Eaters” by Carol J. Adams. I decided I’d been too aggressive. Too much of a proselytizer. Too rude. I turned myself into a pretzel trying to figure out the “right way” to reach people and convince them to go vegan. It wasn’t working.

 Leslie at a DxE demonstration outside of a Whole Foods Market
Leslie at a DxE demonstration outside of a Whole Foods Market

I first saw a DxE action online in early 2015. I was impressed and intrigued. The actions I saw seemed to be solo speak-outs. That looked scary. But I thought, “Damn, I should go into that freaking Burger King by my house and do that.” My husband, knowing my tendency to jump before I look, said, “Don’t do that. You’ll get arrested.”

After a bit of back and forth I managed to get us both to the DxE meetup. It was great. The San Francisco Goat festival was the next week and it was either Chris or Adam who asked if I was going to go and protest. I heard the question: Are you going to walk the walk or just talk the talk? I agreed, with a measure of trepidation, to go. It was, of course, awesome.

Finally, I thought, I was participating in something that might make a difference. I shed a lot of the responsibility for getting friends and family to go vegan. Instead, with DxE I could plant seeds. I could disrupt some random person’s grocery shopping or meal and maybe cause them to think about animal cruelty. And maybe, just maybe, they would be led as I was to learn more about animals raised for food and would do something about that atrocity.

At the same time, among my friends and family I became more willing to be upfront about not eating at a table where meat was being consumed. I took the Liberation Pledge, which was not so much about what they were going to do; it was about what I was going to do. In other situations I started to speak up more about animal rights. I challenged a woman in the grocery store, a man on the sidewalk, an instructor I’d had, while remaining respectful and calm. Having the DxE community behind me, I was able to do that. I have become more centered.

DxE has been a precious gift to me and to the animals.

Q: What has been your favorite DxE moment?

There have been so many! I really like the singing protests.

Q: Tell us about how art impacts your activism.

One of my early efforts to “do something” was making vegan and animal rights art. I did drawings with captions – some humorous, others very sad, and posted them online. I started a blog, Vicious Vegan, that included my drawings and writing.

Years ago, artist Viola Frey told me, “The hardest step any artist takes is the step into the studio.” At times I have failed to take that step. I’ve experienced the (really self-centered) fear of “What if it’s ugly?” “What if I have no ideas?” “What if nobody likes it?”


 A drawing by Leslie with a chicken saying
A drawing by Leslie with a chicken saying

Part of the reason I wanted to start Art@DxE was to encourage myself and encourage others to get cracking! I believe art can change the world. There are so many visual art activists: (not in order of importance) Sue Coe, Banksy, Picasso, Goya, Van Gogh, Henry Moore, Gustave Courbet, Louise Nevelson, Judy Chicago, Mike Kelly, Theodore Gericault, Daumier, Jose Orozco, Diego Rivera, George Grosz, Joseph Beuys and on and on. (We’re in good company!)

For a long time I worried that making art was indulgent. How can you sit and draw or paint while the world is burning? Now I can say, I’m doing it for the animals, doing it for other artists, doing it for all of us, including me.

I read Mathew Fox’s quote: “You can refuse to be creative or you can be happy.” I believe that.

Q: How does DxE support your activism in your area?

I am soooooo lucky to be in the beautiful Bay Area. DxE supports my activism in every way. DxE members support my activism in every way – the meetups, the talks, the connections, the friendships, the exposure to new ideas and energy.

Q: What advice do you have for new activists?

Try not to worry about your non-vegan friends and family too much. It’s often a time-sucking, energy-draining drama that you don’t need. Give them time. Change is hard on everybody. Don’t blame yourself when you don’t come back with the perfect vegan argument. Meanwhile, start organizing, writing essays, drawing, painting, writing songs, reading, protesting, meeting new people (in person!) and learning everything you can about animal rights. Be a happy warrior.

Limit your FB time. If it gets hot and heavy, disengage.

Q: Why animal liberation?

When I first heard the phrase I imagined animals just running around free on the streets, risking death from cars and maybe starvation and thirst. My understanding of it now is – no zoos, circuses, pony rides, animal “entertainment,” vivisection, experimentation on animals and no

wool, leather, food, or feathers from animals’ bodies. Our job is not to use animals but care for

them the best we can.

I see liberation as freedom from exploitation, pain, suffering and indignity – to be allowed a life that is happy and joyous.

Animal liberation says to me, we don’t have the right to kill or use anyone -- human animal or nonhuman animal alike. It is creating a world where love, respect, justice and peace for all has a chance.

Q: What are some new things you’re doing to further the cause of animal rights?

Cooking! Recently I took an online vegan cooking class. (I know, I know, vegan cupcakes will change the world.) But I have gained confidence about my vegan cooking, and I know that despite the fact that my non-vegan brother asked for a peanut butter sandwich after eating only small portion of the vegan dinner I’d made, it was still pretty darn good.

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