“I wish that people just cared more."
On March 20th, San Francisco supervisors voted to ban the sale of fur. The city became the first major city in the U.S. to approve the prohibition. The ban will take effect on the first of January, and it applies to apparel and accessories featuring real fur. A week prior to this celebratory event, I spoke to Kitty Jones, longtime animal rights activist and the founder of Berkeley Animal Rights Center (ARC). Here is the account of our meet-up.
One Saturday in March, I came to the ARC in Berkeley to have a conversation with Kitty Jones about her veganism, activism, and efforts to build a community for animal rights advocates. Considering the popularity of veganism and the widespread growth of animal rights activism in the last few years, I was curious to hear what the young, experienced indigo-haired activist has to say about the San Francisco’s upcoming fur ban vote.
Kitty is usually busy, so we ended up talking at around 5 PM even though I arrived at the center a few minutes to noon. When I got there, she had to rush to a candlelight vigil held outside of a slaughterhouse in Oakland. There, a group of activists hosted a memorial for Grace, a hen who they had rescued a few months ago from Saba Live Poultry. I followed along to watch the vigil, as well as the guerilla art installation they put up later in the afternoon. The installation was inspired by the missing children graphics on milk cartons in the 1980s and was intended to raise awareness towards the exploitation in the dairy industry.
Kitty has been vegan for more than a decade; she converted immediately after watching a slaughterhouse video shared on her MySpace feed. We spoke at the center as some volunteers were cleaning up the space and getting ready for closing. Sat on a couch next to me, her teal eyes gleamed with excitement and every once in a while she lost track of her thoughts when a volunteer came asking for some help.
Anna: Well, you’re really busy!
Jones: I’m so sorry!
Anna: It’s fine. So, the first thing I really want to know is how did you turn vegan?
Jones: Yeah, so when I was fifteen I used to use MySpace. I think a lot of people did. And I remember somebody posted video footage of a slaughterhouse. And all I remember was seeing cows having their throats slit. It wasn’t a movie, it was maybe a 5-minute video. And it didn’t even say “go vegan” or anything, it was just really graphic footage. The video was so shocking [to] me because [I’d] never thought about these things or even thought that they existed. I was just like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe that all this is happening and no one told me about it.” I thought that I had to do something, so I googled ‘what can you do to help animals’ because like I was a kid, I was never exposed to any social justice but it hit me really hard. I feel like a lot of people at some point in their heart—they know. So yeah, I googled it, and the first thing I found was ‘go vegan.’
Anna: Didn’t you know about veganism before this?
Jones: No, I had never heard about veganism. I didn’t know anyone who was vegan. But I did it, I was going like, “So what’s vegan?” and I looked it up again. Then [it] came to me that being vegan is not participating in the consumption of animals and animal by-products. And I was just like “Okay!” so yes, it was quite easy for me.
Anna: It’s great that you were able to have that kind of exposure to and information about veganism ten years ago. We’ve come a long way. Have you seen any of the recent documentaries? Some really good ones came out, like What the Health, Cowspiracy, Speciesism, Earthlings…
Jones: I haven’t seen What the Health yet. We’re doing a screening of it in a couple of weeks. But yes, I’ve seen Cowspiracy and Earthlings, that’s the really graphic one.
Anna: Which one would you suggest for someone who’s looking into veganism?
Jones: I can’t remember them all. I don’t think I’m very familiar with many of them. I’m not too fond of many of the films. They affected me, but I always felt like they could be so much more powerful. I really liked Okja. It’s not a documentary at all but I thought it had a really powerful message. I also feel like Peaceable Kingdom is really good, but it’s a really old movie so it’s not that catchy or interesting, but I liked it because it showed this family that wanted to start a goat milk farm. Through their love for goats, they realized that there’s no way for them to have that farm without killing the goats. So they ended up bringing the goats to a sanctuary. It was really powerful.
Anna: I haven’t heard of that one, I think I’ll check it out later. Would you say that there’s someone who’s vegan and is involved in a lot of activism that you look up to?
Jones: No. (Laughs) I’ve never had any sort of idols. I look up to my friends. I just kind of love everybody, everyone is awesome. Like, I value so many characteristics of everybody around me, but for strangers or celebrities—I’m not really interested. Well, I look up to Suzanna (a volunteer at ARC) for her positivity, I look up to Bria for her bravery, I look up to Almir for her organizational skills.
Anna: That’s really refreshing to hear. I feel like now a lot of people are influenced by pop culture or they would idolize someone who they have never really met. I’m also very inspired by the work that everybody does here at ARC. Why did you want to start this center?
Jones: Well, we started ARC like a little over a year ago. I wasn’t in the country at the time, but I joined DxE (an animal rights activism group active in the Bay Area) like five years ago, right when I moved here for university. I started hanging out with DxE people, and at first I didn’t quite understand their methods. I was like “This is nuts, you can’t just go in public and yell about animals.” But then after reading more about activism and learning about social justice, I understood that that is what you have to do. You have to disrupt, and it’s going to be uncomfortable, but I was in the mentality of being a nice vegan. One of their goals was that someday [they would] have hundreds of people at their event because a lot of other forms of social justice in the past had community, had events, and had meanings. So like, that’s what the ARC has become for us. And it transformed our community, because before we had meet-ups at Wayne’s apartment and there were like 30 of us every week. Now we have events that have 200 to 300 people coming out, and that’s incredible. Community is a really important aspect of having a sustainable movement.
Anna: Yes! Especially when you guys are based here in Berkeley, it’s known to be a very progressive city. It banned fur a while back. Do you think that living in Berkeley allows you to be more active with advocacy?
Jones: Yeah. I was in Seattle in high school and I was still really active—since I’ve been vegan, I’ve been very active and outspoken. But we didn’t have an activist group like DxE, so I was just doing like signature-collecting and leaf-letting—that was all I did. Sometimes, there would be occasional protests. But when I came to Berkeley and there was like this demand for an active community, [I became] really involved. It just helps having an established group that does a lot. Berkeley is amazing because I feel like people are more receptive and more compassionate, not just about animals but other social causes too, so I can kind of connect with people on that level. All these injustices intertwine, you know.
Anna: Having a community for me is very motivating—it really encourages people to do more than they normally would. They feel like they belong somewhere with like-minded individuals. Would you say that animal liberation is realistically achievable?
Jones: When I was younger and moved here, I didn’t think I fully believed in it. I was doing small forms of activism because I thought it was the right thing to do. But now I really do think so. We built slaughterhouses, we built prisons, we built all of these systems of violence and oppression. We can un-build them and have a better world. I think it will be [for] the greater good. Animal rights still is not the most popular social justice issue, but little by little the world is talking about it. Just the fact that we’re born caring about animals—children love animals. It’s just that we’re living in this unhealthy society that teaches us that it’s okay to treat women this way, and that it’s okay to treat animals this way. We have already changed so much in our society, people used to drown black cats and that was okay.
Anna: I think so too. So much has changed, and we are certainly heading in a good direction in terms of social justice. How would you advise someone starting their own activism?
Jones: Honestly, it’s hard to do activism on your own. So I think the best and most sustainable way to be involved in activism is to find a community and find other people that care. So what I did when I was in Seattle, when I didn’t know anyone that cared about animal rights, I just googled animal rights groups and vegan groups. Then I started going to events and meet-ups. Everybody was in their thirties and I was like fifteen. But we all still became friends. Here, the community is a lot bigger and age-diverse so it’s a whole lot different. But I think in every state and all around the world even, there are small pockets of people that care. So just look for them! My first protest ever I actually self-organized and managed it. I convinced all my friends from high school to come.
Anna: Community and support. That’s pretty much the basis of all forms of social justice. There’ll be a fur ban vote in San Francisco later this month. A lot of major fashion houses recently also decided to stay away from fur—it’s been a lot of progress for animal rights.
Jones: Yeah, it’s great that it has been universally recognized that fur is not only cruel, but it’s also completely unnecessary. It’s slowly phasing out. Maybe like 50 years ago, all women wore fur—it was a thing, and nobody really questioned it. And now, very few people were fur. Anyone that is wearing fur, if you mention animal rights, they know what you’re talking about. It would be relatively easy to ban fur in San Francisco, there wasn’t that much push-back. West Hollywood banned fur, and it hasn’t affected their economy.
Anna: Yeah, I’m generally very hopeful about the result of this vote. Out of curiosity, have you been in any bad or dangerous situations during protests or open-rescue?
Jones: Well, I’ve heard countless numbers of negative comments . . . but I think when I was younger it affected me a lot more when I was insecure about what I was doing, because I didn’t have a lot of other vegan friends. I was just thinking, “How come I’m so passionate about this but other kids aren’t? Have I lost my mind?” I spent a lot of time just on the streets collecting signatures and leafleting alone, so maybe due to that I was vulnerable to people saying mean things [to] me. And I was getting a lot of really sexist comments [and] harsh comments that hurt me a lot. Now, people just say completely mean and unnecessary things sometimes but I [don’t] even hear them anymore. Even when I’m having a conversation with somebody who’s trying to upset me, I just think that I’m just here for the animals.
Anna: Sometimes what people say isn’t really aimed at you even though they’re saying it at you.
Jones: Yeah. The mean things people [say] just show that their conscience is being triggered and they know what they are doing and it’s not okay. Well, but as far as dramatic incidences, I don’t think I’ve encountered one. It’s just when I’m kind of hanging out with my dad [and] he doesn’t have much respect for the animals. My mom went vegan though, she lives in LA. And my dad lives in Spain. I think what is hard is that it just hurts when you see the animals and hear the animals because I’ve been on a lot of farms and open rescues. So when I try to communicate that to people and get them to see but they don’t understand it the way you do—that’s when it just hurts. Sometimes it’s when others are just being ignorant. A lot of people fail to care about social causes and injustices, it’s all about going to clubs and drinking and then getting cool clothes. But I’m just here trying to be like, “No, life isn’t about being cool and popular, it’s about doing the right thing.” So I think that is something that kind of weighs down on my chest and I wish that people just cared more.
Anna: Well, I feel like right now a lot of different movements are surfacing and many changes are happening. All social justices correlate, so there is a very high chance that animal rights activism and support will grow. One positive change could lead to a domino effect.
Jones: Yeah, all injustices are connected. They all came from the same idea of superiority and some other beings are lesser than you. That’s the lead of many sufferings.
Anna: I think it’s really inspiring and incredible what you guys do here at the ARC. Thank you so much for spending some time to talk with me!
Jones: Yeah, I’m inspired every day by everybody here. A lot of us are committed to many social causes. Being vegan is not partaking in killing and consumption, [while] activism is a step further where you’re trying to persuade others to not do so [either]!