Have you ever believed in something with all your heart and wished everyone would support it? Have you ever felt the frustration, anger, and sadness that not enough people are listening? Have you ever been ridiculed for taking a stand for the most defenseless among us? This is what it often feels like to be an advocate for animals confined, abused, deprived, exploited, and killed for food.
When someone who also gets it gives voice to that cause and millions of people are watching, it’s an inspiring moment. It gives hope among cries for help. In a world that often mocks and ignores people who advocate for farmed animals, it provides comfort when someone uses their platform to speak truth to power and indifference. This is how millions of people felt the night Joaquin Phoenix spoke for animals.
Phoenix validated what many of us have been saying for decades: Eating animals is cruel, unnecessary, destructive to the planet, misaligned with people’s values, and indefensible. When he walked on stage to accept the most prestigious award in his field, he immediately told the crowd to stop clapping. Applause didn’t feel right amidst so much suffering. His humility and desire to direct attention to those most in need was refreshing–a stark and welcome contrast to the country’s president who walks away from the podium to give people more time to clap for him and talks endlessly about himself.
Joaquin’s speech meant so much because animal and environmental advocates are emotionally drained from the daily onslaught of bad news. It was uplifting to see someone promote justice during such trying times.
The speech meant so much because the animal agriculture industry spends millions on false advertising and lobbying that permeates our culture and politics. This speech was the animals’ advertisement.
And the speech meant so much because the animal and planet advocacy movements have momentum and each act of courage and kindness further jolts people into awareness. The plant-based food industry is booming with delicious, healthy, and more humane options, so we celebrate any positive step that helps us reach a tipping point–and we’d prefer an Oscar speech over an unprecedented natural disaster.
I saw River Phoenix speak at the 1990 Earth Day on the National Mall in DC. It was a pivotal moment in my life that helped me transition from an environmentalist (I was working for a nonprofit environmental protection organization on Capitol Hill) to an animal advocate. I imagine Joaquin’s speech will do the same for so many open-minded people in search of ways to align their actions with their values.
Here’s a quote from River’s 1990 speech: “In my life, I decided not to eat animals or animal products or to use their skins for my clothing, shoes, or decorations. There’s such immense cruelty involved with the raising of animals for human consumption that if I can stop their pain by boycotting their products, I will immediately make a difference.”