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James Evans, CEO of CARE
Featured Illustration By: Hugh Lofting
It seems everyone wants to be likened to Dr. Dolittle, and why not? The ability to speak to, and sometimes for, our wild and mysterious siblings is an intoxicating prospect.
Let’s note now who Dr. Dolittle was before we lose ourselves in the magic and magistery of conversing with cougars and whispering in the ears of weasels.
Dr. Dolittle was a broken and traumatized man who turned reclusive, walling himself off from people and only tending to animals at his sanctuary.
“But I like the animals better than the ‘best people,'” said Dolittle in Hugh Lofting’s now-famous book,
The Story of Doctor Dolittle.
When I heard Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society describe her organization as a modern-day “Dr. Dolittle” at this year’s American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC] annual meeting, the comparison rang true, with a significant exception to the latest depiction of the good doctor.
Director Stephan Gaghan’s Dolittle, played by Robert Downey Jr., is moved reluctantly from hermitage to serve a cause greater than himself and the welfare of his beloved companion animals.
I watched hopefully for a similar awakening within Animal Welfare following the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
So, when I read Julie Castle’s blog, “Changing the Color of Our Movement,” I saw a glimmer of light. Not only was this blog one of the few deriving from Animal Welfare regarding George Floyd’s murder, it also definitively addressed the rampaging elephant in the room and acknowledged the challenging work the field must embrace for the love of animals and people.
“The Black Lives Matter movement has also been a massive awakening. Black Lives Matter is shining a light on the horrifying frequency of the killing of black men and women in this country, and many people who may have thought that America was approaching race neutrality have been presented with undeniable evidence to the contrary. The fact that black or brown people are the constant targets of racism and disenfranchisement became glaringly obvious, and to many of the sincerest believers that things were improving, the status quo became unbearable. But change rarely comes from a position of comfort.”– Julie Castle
Shortly after this was written, the light of hope grew dim as Best Friends appeared at ALEC in 2021. Dimmer still when the organization’s widely praised Culture Councils were disbanded. And now, after drawing an anti-racist and loving line in the sand, Dr. Dolittle is back at ALEC again, much to the chagrin of many Dolittle Doers.
Others who regularly invest and speak at ALEC include Ron DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio, Tucker Carlson, Trump loyalists, and many other “Freedom Loving” Americans determined to turn back five decades of Environmental Regulation, Civil and Women’s Rights.
So, what is ALEC? Rather than describing the organization in detail here, it may be more prudent to name some of the initiatives the organization supports:
Bans on CRT and truthful education about racism:
Critical Race Theory [a.k.a. teaching the history of American Slavery]
Stand Your Ground Laws:
[a.k.a. “no duty to retreat” law provides that people may use deadly force when they reasonably believe it necessary to defend against certain violent crimes.
Well-known victims include a high school junior, Ralph Yarl, who went to the wrong address to pick up his younger siblings and was shot in the head; Ajike Owens, who was shot and killed through a door in front of her children; and most famously, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“Research on “stand your ground” laws has found huge racial disparities, with white Americans much more likely to find success with self-defense claims, particularly when they kill Black people.”Source: The Guardian
ALEC opposes the individual health insurance mandate enacted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Restrictions on Women’s Health:
ALEC has been a predominant driving force in the battle and victory in overturning Roe vs Wade.
Restrictions on LGBTQ Rights:
ALEC has pushed anti-gay propaganda, and urged legislators to oppose attempts to “homosexualize society.” ALEC said that homosexual relations were “probably some of the most destructive and degrading institutions in America today.” ALEC claimed homosexuality caused psychological harm, led to pedophilia, and that homosexuals sought to recruit the young.
You may believe wholeheartedly, as ALEC does in the policies above, but I do not. Banning books and controlling women’s bodies is not centered on freedom principles. And weaponizing fear, as Stand Your Ground does, will lead to the death of our precious brown and black children.
ALEC exists and dominates conservative legislative policymaking because wealthy and powerful organizations pay to have access to ALEC’s member and donor base.
“Due to controversies about ALEC’s secretive operations, controversial agenda, and public pressure from Common Cause and our allies, more than 100 major companies have left ALEC since 2011, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, McDonalds, Walmart, Amazon, Bank of America, General Motors, Visa, Sprint, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay, BP, T-Mobile, ExxonMobil, Verizon, and AT&T.”Source: Common Cause
In the movie, Dolittle, the villain Lord Thomas Badgley, a member of the House of Lords, poisoned the goodly queen. Dr. Dolittle and his comrades, humans and animals alike, endanger themselves to save the queen, and in doing so, they save themselves.
Real life tends to be far more complex and, for black people, particularly dangerous. Our allies must be chosen carefully, as true allyship comes at a cost few are willing to pay on our behalf.
If only we were more furry.
“As a national animal welfare organization, we have a mission, a large infrastructure, and we are part of a massive movement. Countless organizations look to us for leadership. This puts us in an even greater position to not only advance our mission but to engage animal lovers in communities of color as lifesaving partners in our drive to achieve no-kill by 2025.” “So, this is the question for Best Friends as a national organization with programs and operations across the country: What is our part in making and influencing positive change?” “So, I’m going to ask questions, listen and learn because, clearly, if we already knew how to be inclusive, we would be.”– Julie Castle
So listen. Try to hear what I feel when “Black Lives Matter” is spoken.
I hear the guttural whaling mother, so deep and pain-filled it could be mistaken for the screaming that bought her child to the world. But today she screams him into the grave. The sound buckles my knees; I can’t recall how many church pews I’ve dug my hands and nails into, straining to stand against the weight of her sorrow.
I hear a father saying, “Be careful, love,” ever so softly with muffled urgency to not frighten his child as she leaves to face a world that will not search for her if she goes missing.
I hear tortured people crying;,” Love us also; our losses to your privilege cannot stand.”
If you listen and hear what I do, you cannot stand beside the extinguisher of hope for all those yearning to breathe free. If you’ve heard the streams of suppressed people, you cannot continue supporting a delusional – Ends to a Means – approach to the well-being of animals alone. The real price of “A Means to an End” always falls on the marginalized to pay.
The well-being of animals requires that all communities caregiving for them are treated with dignity – without compromise.
“Selective solidarity exposes the self-serving impulse to bolster one’s ego (and ease one’s conscience), all while avoiding the necessarily difficult and costly practices of allyship”― Jamie Arpin-Ricci