I was nearly an hour late.
It was only a week or so prior that I learned about the talk—though, even with advanced notice, I have a standing meeting scheduled every second Tuesday that presented a schedule conflict. Maybe my meeting would end early enough to make it to the talk in time, I hoped.
No such luck. My meeting’s agenda was packed and, even rushing, we still had a lot to work though before I could leave. But I was determined to hear and hopefully meet animal rights activist James Aspey, visiting Baltimore from Australia.
On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, Red Emma’s hosted James Aspey for a talk about Animal Rights. From the host’s event description:
If you come to Red Emma’s often, you know we don’t serve meat. Perhaps you even have some ideas about why that is. But you probably haven’t heard us talk much about the politics of animal rights and why we decided to make a commitment to a 100% meat-free restaurant over a decade ago – we’re busy cooking up some vegan treats in the back kitchen. Luckily for us, there are folks like Australian animal rights activist James Aspey out there, fighting every day to raise awareness about how we can and should think about using our individual and collective power to protect the rights of our animal friends. James hit news headlines all around the world after breaking a 365 day vow of silence during an interview on Australia’s most popular morning TV show. His first words were watched by millions and inspired countless people to make positive changes in their life. In his talk at Red Emma’s, James will focus on how we can make our vegan activism more effective: we have to learn what to say and how to say it. Are you a committed vegan? A curious maybe-vegetarian? Hard-core meat-eater? All open minds are welcome at this talk!
Never Heard of the Guy?
Like Red Emma’s advertised, James Aspey made national headlines in 2014 when he took a year-long vow of silence for the animals. The animals are voiceless, and so would he be.
James has since gone on to spread the vegan message far and wide through his online engagement and inspiring speeches. Indeed, his “Most Inspiring Speech You’ll Ever Hear” video on YouTube is what caught my attention.
Sure, I was skeptical at first. I probably saw the thumbnail cover of the video about a dozen times before I finally clicked to watch. But when I finally did, I was blown away—brought nearly to tears on a few occasions, if I’m being honest.
Because I was tired of watching myself become a bitter, angry vegan. And it felt like he was speaking directly to me.
I have to give James a lot of credit. I discovered his videos around the same time as I began ramping up my own social media involvement. But it was a time when I was getting bitter, aggressive, and straddling the preachy vegan line. I wasn’t happy. I was harboring a budding resentment toward my friends and family for resisting veganism or, rather, for stubbornly sticking with their animal-consuming ways.
But before I let my frustration erupt, I listened to what James had to say.
I devoured his social media content. I watched every video of his that I could. I liked him on every social media platform. I began sharing his message with anyone I could. I think he even made it onto my Instagram as a #ManCrushMonday once or twice! I was totally crushing on this dude.
The Baltimore Talk
If you’ve heard James speak before, the talk last night at Red Emma’s wouldn’t have had too much new material for you. In fact, there were a few stories in there recycled from his other speeches—and of course I still managed to well up with watery eyes! Even having heard his speeches before, it was incredible to hear him speak in person.
From the portion of his talk I was able to hear (I’m still pretty bummed I missed the first half or so), he went through a variety of the questions that people typically ask of meat eaters along with his go-to responses. He emphasized compassion, but with a healthy sense of humor and common sense, no-bullshit answers.
It was so great to see a large crowd there to hear him speak. And there were great questions asked by the audience, like “what’s your favorite form of activism?” and “what do you say to a friend that owns a meat-eating cat.” I think he fielded the questions well, and based on the ease to which he answered, I’d say he’s probably heard every question in the book one hundred times over. That’s definitely someone I’d trust for giving advice on answering questions directed at vegans!
Meeting James Face to Face
I waited in line—no, make that waiting in three ever-moving lines—as James bounced from corner to corner of the room like a pinball, needing to manage questions, photo opps, and t-shirt sales simultaneously. I waited until I was among the last dozen folks there to speak to him; I wasn’t about to duck out early! Folks approached and snapped their photos, and went along their way. When it was my turn, I almost ran to him.
“Do you mind if I give you a hug?” I asked.
“Not at all!” James replied, immediately opening his arms and welcoming me toward him.
I explained to him how thankful I was to have found his videos at such an opportune time in my journey—that he helped me find peace and compassion towards all living beings, including my meat-eating friends and family. I explained how my rhetoric has been evolving and, as a result, I’ve seen more and more of those around me open themselves to veganism.
He was a blessing.
The Caution Against Hero Worship
It’s never a wise idea to idolize someone. As soon as you think someone is a model of perfection, they’re likely to do something problematic or act in a way that conflicts with your values. Hero worship might blind you to those qualities or negative actions. (The Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! Podcast gals discuss the Dangers of Hero Worship in one of their episodes.)
With heed, I’ve allowed myself to be inspired by James. I am thoroughly impressed with his demonstration of values. I don’t know everything about the man. Might there be something problematic about him? There definitely could be! But for the most part, I’ve observed James to be an inspiration. And I am grateful to have met him in person.
If you haven’t heard him speak, I would highly recommend checking out his videos. And if he comes to a town near you, skip your meeting to hear him talk. It’ll be worth it.