I like this initiative so much that I felt I must re-post to our blog. This yields some AMAZING food for thought in the violence prevention movement. Please read and comment.
As with many who want to create a better world for all, one thing leads to another. Ashley Maier, who currently serves as the Prevention Program Coordinator for the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force, found that her focus on working at the roots of overturning the oppression and exploitation of women led to a connection with the exploitation of nonhuman animals and the planet. Now Ashley uses her connectionist vision — and her organization, Connect the Dots — to address the connections between human, animal, and environmental well-being. We asked Ashley to tell us more about her work for a just, compassionate, healthy world for all.
IHE: What drew you to humane education?
AM: Human rights work, actually. Work against violence, against women in particular. I’m one of the rare people who was drawn to expand my lens from human-exclusivity to include non-human animals and the environment due to my human rights work. I remember that I got a pamphlet from Vegan Outreach in 2005. I had been a vegetarian for a long time, but never was fully exposed to the realities of animal exploitation beyond actual consumption of animal flesh. That pamphlet drew me to veganism. Once I was vegan, and I continued to work against domestic and sexual violence, I saw the very norms, standards for behavior, that support violence against women support violence in so many new places. I realized that those same norms support the exploitation of the planet and all of its inhabitants. I knew that I would never end gendered violence as long as the roots of generalized violence remain intact and manifest throughout our environments, systems, and behaviors. It just clicked. I started making the connections because I had to. The prevention of violence against women demanded it.
IHE: What led you to co-found Connect the Dots and to call it a “connectionist movement” and yourself a “connectionist”?
AM: From the first day that the interconnections clicked for me, I learned that it was not safe to talk about this within my human-exclusive, social justice circles. It was too “radical,” too much to actually imply caring for animals “as much as” humans. I could lose my job. So I started searching. I felt so very alone. I started to talk to animal rights folks about this and Kath Rogers from Animal Protection and Rescue League said she knew someone who she thought could relate. It was then that I met my partner in this work, Stacia Mesleh. She too came from the anti violence against women movement and she agreed with me! It was like breathing for the first time after holding your breath just to the point of losing consciousness. We started Connect the Dots because we felt that something major was missing from social justice work: work at the intersections, at the roots. We wanted to build a movement of folks who make the connections and who allow those connections to inform their work towards a peaceful and just world. We wanted to break down the false dichotomies, the walls, that divide human, animal, and environmental movements. We call it a connectionist movement because that’s what it is: a movement of connectionists – folks who make connections between human, animal, and environmental well-being. And it’s growing!
IHE: What have been some of your biggest challenges? Your biggest successes?
AM: Honestly, our biggest challenge has been life. Full-time jobs, moves, family …you name it. This isn’t a popular concept at which people are throwing money, as I’m sure you know, so having to do this as a “side project” while attempting to support ourselves by other means has been a big barrier. Also, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard that it’s “too radical.” In general, we find that animal rights folks are supportive of the concept. Human rights folks? Not so much. What we’ve learned is that the very norms that support violence against the planet and its inhabitants are alive and well in our movements. Our challenge is to work to shift these norms. So one of the biggest barriers is also one of the main foci of our work. Finally, if we were celebrities, this would be a whole lot easier.
Successes? We’re still here! This can be incredibly discouraging and lonely work. But we’re still here. And the movement is growing. We meet more and more people every day who consider themselves connectionists. People are studying this much more in school, incorporating it into their activism, and living their lives through a lens of interconnection. It’s exciting! And most exciting of all – we’re inspiring others to do this work. The best message I ever got was, “You have to hear about my new project – it’s inspired by Connect the Dots!” We know that we didn’t invent connectionist work, but we’re thrilled to help facilitate it.
IHE: What kind of influence do you hope CTD will have on people? What would success look like?
AM: Success is in our name: Connect the Dots. We hope to influence people to connect the dots of human, animal, and environmental well-being. Our theory of change is pretty simple: If people make connections between their well-being and the well-being of other animals and the environment, then they can incorporate concern for the planet and all of its inhabitants into their daily choices and the world can become a peaceful and just place. We know it’s bigger than this. We know that measurable behavior change requires multiple, sometimes complex strategies. Yet by building a connectionist movement, we believe that we can change systems of violence and exploitation. For every connectionist that CtD creates, there is one more step towards comprehensive community health. A peaceful and just world for ALL.
IHE: What gives you hope for a just, compassionate, healthy world for all?
AM: I am able to look back to 2005 and compare where we were to where we are now. The movement is still small, but it’s growing. In 2005, I didn’t think I’d ever find more than a handful of folks who made the connections. IHE didn’t have nearly as many graduates as it has today. The world really is changing. Those of us who do prevention work know that it’s often discouraging because we don’t have the quick, easily identifiable indicators of success that other more crisis or response-focused work does. I can’t tell you the number of positive behaviors that have resulted from my work. I can’t name the exploitive acts that I’ve prevented from occurring. But I can tell you that a movement is growing. I can name individuals who support connectionist work. I can point you to new connectionist resources that didn’t exist 7 years ago. It’s changing. We’re changing. That gives me hope.
IHE: Future dreams/plans/projects?
AM: We look forward to publishing our book, Connect the Dots Essays: How Human, Animal, and Environmental Well-Being are Connected! We also can’t wait to be able to give out mini-grants to support connectionist work and to host the first annual connectionist conference! We hope that you’ll all join us along the journey.