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For the animals, for the planet and for us

Who are North East Animal Rights and what do they stand for? By Anna Malia

We set up North East Animal Rights (NEAR) at the beginning of last year, starting with of several longer term and experienced animal rights activists, as well as newer activists who were just starting their vegan journey and linking it to animal rights.

NEAR was created because we felt there was a need for a different type of activism, although we had no idea what was about to happen with the pandemic! We wanted to have a wide cross section of experiences and skills and certainly have that.

I am proud to stand with each and every one in our fantastic group - I learn so much from them and it is great to see the newer members grow in confidence and develop their own style of activism.

Our main values are to educate the public in a friendly, cheerful way in all aspects of veganism, whether it be food, dairy, leather and skin etc.

During activism events, we deliberately used light and bright colours for our dress code and our logo - the colours of the earth and sea as well as the vegan flag.

We thought, 'What would make us approach a stall if we were not a vegan but wanted to ask a question?' - so, we agreed smiling, approachable people in bright colours, with positive factual messages, would make us stand out.

Belief system

Our strapline is 'For the Animals, For the Planet, For Us'. Animals come first and foremost, always - it is about educating the public with the facts. We use relentless persuasion, because you cannot argue with the facts.

We talk to people about what is stopping them and signpost them to organisations like challenge 22 (one of our members and resident poet is a mentor) or Viva 7-day challenge.

It's important for us to tell them that we were once them; everyone is at a different part of their journey, so you need to be conscious when you talk to people that they could be at the very start of it - the conversation you are having right now could be the final push they need.

Abolition is the only true route for animal rights - the movement is about justice and oppression. Recently, I listened to a YouTube talk by Seb Alex and he was saying that we shouldn't say we love animals as we can't possibly love all animals, it is just they have the right to live and don't care if we love them or not.

I would say that love is about respect, so you respect the animal's right to live safely and free from harm or oppression. It isn't about being all fluffy about animals - you can't say you love all humans, but you can respect their right to have a particular life.

Advocate with kindness

When it comes to advocacy, we try to be good role models, we advocate with 'peace, love and kindness' - it's hard sometimes, but no one listens to someone being aggressive or loud. Social media is our main tool at the moment, so we make sure our posts reflect this - it's always about 'what would we want to see', 'what could we share to non-vegans which won't turn them off'.

We also make our work as accessible as possible. Lisa, one of our members, is an extremely skilled transcriber, so she transcribes the interviews we do so those with hearing impairments can also access them. We also have two members who can use sign language to talk to deaf members of the public coming to the stall.

Virtual outreach

Before the pandemic really kicked off, we had intended to do fortnightly outreaches in the form of educational stalls in the centre of Newcastle. Each fortnight would be a specific theme, for example 'Scary Dairy' or 'The Egg Industry'.

In between, we would air interviews with high profile animal rights activists or vegans (in fact, we got some great ideas for subjects from Vegan Life magazine!) So, every weekend our followers would have something to watch.

But with lockdown happening we were only able to get out for a few stalls, and we were severely restricted in how we could interact with the public.

We did borrow an inflatable cow from Friends Not Food, which went down a treat, but at the moment we can't get out there. So, we have looked at what we can do virtually to make sure we are reaching our target audience - not just vegans, but vegetarians, vegan curious and more importantly, non-vegans.

We want to create posts and articles that we would like to see, so we steer away from graphic or aggressive messaging. That isn't to say there isn't a place for that type of activism, but we want a more laid-back approach.

Support the community

Upon forming, NEAR also created and ran a regular article 'focus on a vegan business', as we wanted to support our traders during these difficult times, but it quickly became so popular that we now run this free feature twice a week.

We also do a lot of work in the community, starting with going out for walks for exercise, but we quickly realised that we could be doing something useful for the animals and their environment. So, we now do two weekly litter picking sessions (in line with restrictions) and a hand-weeding session around a local estate.

When we first started with the litter picking we were taking multiple bags per person, but this has lessened due to the regularity of our work. The weeding work began when we became aware of the council using bee and insect killing weed killers.

We have an agreement now with the council that we hand weed a specific area and they do not spray weed killers, but we are starting a campaign to ask the council not to use bee and insect killing weed killers anywhere in the borough.

\"Respect the animal's right to live safely and free from harm or oppression\"

Volunteer work and campaigns

As well as this, some of our members volunteer at a local animal rescue and we have found it incredibly rewarding, as you can literally see the animals you save, flourish.

NEAR have a number of campaigns both local and national we run or support. There is a high incidence of seagull and pigeon shootings in our area so we work with the council, police, councillors and MP to look at what we can do to educate people as well as catch perpetrators.

Another project is supporting a national firework campaign to bring in restrictions on dates and times fireworks can be set off, as well as having licensed-only events.

We have a long running campaign against the use of camels in a local winter parade where we have Animal Aid, PETA, Freedom for Animals, our MP, and a number of councillors on-board, as well as long-term support from Peter Egan.

We have good relationships with some of our councillors, MP, local police and other local environmental groups and we support each other with a variety of issues.

Through the amount of work we have carried out over the past year we have built up a good reputation and are frequently contacted as a first port of call for animal issues or requests for help.

Our greatest achievements so far would include interviews with Peter Egan and Juliet Gellatley and others like them.

Peter has been a constant source of support for our camel parade as well as a vegan festival I used to run, and we were delighted when he agreed to do an interview. Because of his kindness, trust and support others agreed to do interviews with us, too.

The future

What's in store for the future? The sky's the limit - we have come way beyond what we had hoped for already. We want to increase our social media following both on FB and IG, and want to set up a YouTube channel, which we will be looking at soon.

The more people who hear our message, the more animals we can save. But we also want to get back out there doing stalls, talking to people, advocating face to face - in the words of a beautiful song by our good friend and fellow activist Barbara Helen, 'It's All About the Animals'.

If you're vegan and in the North East, give us a shout and join! Otherwise, read and share our posts, watch our livestreams and interact with them, sign petitions on our pages, support our campaigns, suggest what you would like us to do and what you would like to see.

For more info, follow @northeastanimalrights on Instagram and Facebook, or talk to NEAR at northeastanimalrights@hotmail.com


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