5 Questions with Author Stacy Russo!

A Better World_New Release

 

Sanctuary Publisher‘s seventh book is a collection of first-person stories from activists dedicated to all different forms of activism in many different communities.

A Better World Starts Here by Stacy Russo is a book that inspires, re-kindles, teaches, and gives hope.

Here’s what Stacy had to say about the book, her own activism, story-telling, and much more…

1. Call you tell us a little about yourself and what forms of activism you partake in?

Thank you for inviting me. I’m a librarian and associate professor at Santa Ana College, a community college located about 30 miles from Downtown Los Angeles. My activism started in the 1980s when I was awakened to human rights and animal rights issues through the punk rock scene. Back then, I created a political zine with my friends titled Anti-Establishment. Early on and through the years, I participated in various protest actions related to war, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, animal rights, violence against women, and police brutality. Most recently, my activism is directly connected to my writing and art. I also participate in my community in different ways beyond the library, such as organizing an annual community poetry reading and providing zine and art workshops.

I try my best to live a life rooted in non-violence. It begins with veganism for me and spreads out from there into all actions I take during the day, including where to spend my money, how I treat people, and continuously educating myself about the experiences of others, especially individuals from marginalized communities. Because I now receive a steady income through my job, I am also able to donate monthly to various social justice organizations I wish to support and on an as-needed basis when I am made aware of an individual, including a nonhuman animal, needing emergency financial assistance. It is important that people who are able to financially support activism and activists in need do so.

 

2. How did you come up with the idea for this book?

I have always enjoyed reading oral histories, memoirs, and autobiographies. Something about a first-person story is very compelling. Several years ago, I attended an oral history workshop through a San Francisco, California, based organization called Voice of Witness. This brought together social justice work and first-person narratives. I learned about how to conduct interviews, including the important ethical aspects, such as being aware of power dynamics if the interviewer has more privilege and ensuring the narrator maintains ownership of their story throughout the process. I’m so grateful for that workshop, because it greatly changed my life as a writer.

After the Voice of Witness workshop, I embarked on a long oral history project that resulted in my third book: We Were Going to Change the World: Interviews with Women from the 1970s and 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene. The voices of women are so often left out of historical movements, including those of music and art, so this book presented voices that would otherwise not be heard. I then interviewed ten amazing activists for my next book, Love Activism. After working on that, I decided I wanted to do more to bring activists’ stories to an audience.

This book, A Better World Starts Here: Activists and Their Work, turns the spotlight on activists, who I believe are the real champions in our world – not the celebrities and culture of the wealthy and privileged that dominates the media. With this book, there is the educational aspect of hoping to inspire readers who may be interested in activism work to discover all the different avenues they may take. I also want the book to be inspiring for those who are already deeply engaged as activists. Beyond all of this, I’m hoping that people who may even be resistant to some forms of activism in the book will read the personal stories captured here and deeply listen without judgment or assumptions. I believe it is through stories that we can find our interconnections and shared humanity. 

 

3. You made sure to include the voices of activists from many different communities, including activists from varying ages. Why was this important to you?

I wanted every reader to be able to find voices in the collection that spoke to them personally. It is also very important to me that we move marginalized voices to the center and disrupt white supremacy and other power hierarchies related to gender, sexual orientation, and so on. The culture in the U.S. and other countries is also obsessed with youth. Not only is youth connected to beauty on a societal level, but it is also how someone’s worth is determined. I used to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and I recall all of the statistical reports in our library overwhelming confirming how a person’s perceived worth in the labor market begins to decline if you are 40 or over. This reality is compounded if you are a Person of Color, a woman, or an individual viewed as disabled. It was important to include voices from across all spectrums, including age, which is why readers will discover young activists, those in their middle years, and one who is close to age 90.   

 

4. What do you hope readers will walk away with after reading “A Better World Starts Here”?

I hope that readers will see the interconnections between all forms of oppression and how activism must be interconnected in the same way. All of the forms of activism presented here are necessary. The book is a statement against single-issue activism because you cannot liberate in one direction while being oppressive in another. All beings need to be liberated, and this includes nonhuman animals, which is why several vegan activists are included. The best scenario I can imagine is someone discovering how they may be contributing to a form of oppression, and they decide to learn more and make changes in their life to work against the oppression they were previously promoting.

 

5. As activists, continual learning and working towards becoming better activists should be something we strive for, did you find yourself learning something new from the activists featured in the book?

Definitely. I learned so much from this project. I talked with individuals who have experienced horrible forms of racism, violence, and what we can call an “everyday terrorism” that I, as a white cisgender woman, will never know. It is not that I was unaware of injustices before but talking with someone one-on-one when you are fully present brings an awareness that I don’t believe happens in other contexts. There were also some very specific things I learned, such as the intersections of race and public transportation rights and access that Lark Lo made me aware of when I spoke with her. I also discovered concepts discussed by the people I interviewed, including “root shock,” “body terrorism,” and “intuitive eating” that I was not familiar with.  I have already referred students and friends to some of the activists and organizations I discovered while working on this project.  I’m incredibly thankful for the book and the gifts of stories and information others were willing to offer. I absolutely believe the voices in the book show us the path to a better world.

***

Get a copy from our shop: SanctuaryPublishers.com/Shop

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The 25 featured activists and their work:

Aquila Hope, trans activism

Marisela Gomez, gentrification activism

Sandi Torkildson, community activism

Carol J. Adams, ecofeminist activism

Sonya Renee Taylor, body activism

Kate Jessica Raphael, feminist activism

Michelle Carrera, food justice activism

Celeste Chan, queer activism

Helène Aylon, art activism

Julia Feliz Brueck, consistent anti-oppression advocacy

Ruth Behar, anthropology activism

Steve Bell, prison advocacy

Kamekə Brown, vegan advocacy

Judy Grahn, poetry activism

Bamby Salcedo, trans activism

Sarah Rafael García, literary activism

Michelle Habell-Pallán, scholar activism

Hilary Kinavey, body activism

Yago S. Cura, library activism

Beth Pickens, art activism

Lark Lo, intersectional activism

Ardeth De Vries, senior dog advocacy

Sara Vander Zanden, homelessness advocacy

Janet Holmes, photography activism

Edwin Ramirez, comedy activism

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Wild and Free, a New Animal Rights Children’s Book!

Wild and Free is Sanctuary Publishers’ first published children’s book!

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The author, Andrea Zimmer, is an elementary school teacher in OC California.  Her love for all animals led her to transition to veganism, and after having her daughter, Andrea became inspired to work towards creating tools that would help parents introduce young children to the concepts of animal rights, wrong versus right, compassion, and kindness for all.

Andrea tells us about her new book in 5 questions…

Sanctuary Publishers: Hi Andrea! We’re so excited for your first ever children’s book, Wild and Free! Can you tell us about it and how you became inspired to write a rhyming book that succinctly helps children make connections about their choices at such a young age?

Andrea Zimmer:  Hi and thank you! That’s a very good question! Being a teacher, I have seen what a huge impact a good book can have in a child’s life.  After I had my daughter 2 years ago, I was searching and searching for good vegan children’s books for “very young children” to help her understand “why vegan” and how our actions can greatly affect other nonhuman as well as human beings on this planet.  I found some that I liked, but thought, “I love words, especially rhyming words, and so do children. I can write my own book”. Then, one day while at school, the first verse popped in my head, and the rest is history.  I love it when a book “flows”, and Wild and Free flows with the truth in a kid friendly non-graphic way.

Sanctuary Publishers: Maritza Oliver, a well-known Vegan Children’s book author and illustrator, noted how the book and illustrations get this message across, as you mention, in a non-graphic way. Could you tell us more about that and what age group you wrote the book for?

Andrea Zimmer: Sure, I’d love to. This book was written for a younger audience from babies to toddlers but could also be a great first reader for preschool children too.  It’s a wonderful book to use to introduce our young children to the ethics of veganism and help them understand right vs. wrong without being graphic. However, it’s still being specific enough, so they can understand that it’s wrong to do what we are doing to our fellow nonhuman beings; thus, the kids still get a basic understanding of animal rights.

Sanctuary Publishers: What would you say is your favorite verse in the book and why?

Andrea Zimmer: That’s a tough question since I love all the verses, but honeybees are very close to my heart and are often a subject of debate in the vegan/plant-based communities. Without bees everything else is a moot point. Bees work very hard to make their honey, and they need it to survive. During the winter they feed on the honey they collected during the warmer months and it takes about 35 pounds of honey to provide enough food for a smaller colony of bees to survive the winter. Honey collection is destructive to a hive. A hive must travel far and wide to visit over 2 million flowers in order to produce just 1 pound of honey.  They fly approx. 55,000 miles to produce that 1 pound of honey.  Honeybees make their honey to provide for their hive, and we depend on them to help pollinate our plants. Without the bees our food chain collapses.  They are gentle little beings who help us do a big job, so why do we take away their food?

Sanctuary Publishers: What about the illustrations? Do you have a favorite?

Andrea Zimmer: I love all the illustrations, which were done by Julia Feliz Brueck. She is such a talented person and did a beautiful job bringing my words to life. The illustration at the end of the book with all the children standing united together with the animals touches my heart. It helps me remember that if we start with our younger generations and give them the information and tools they need, they will become empowered to use their compassion to fight for truth and justice for all beings – both nonhuman and human alike.  I like to say, “We are planting the seeds of change, one book and one child at a time, for a brighter future for all Earthlings”. I hope that my daughter’s generation will be the one that finally ends the exploitation of all living beings on Earth.

Sanctuary Publishers: One other unique thing about your book is that it ends with a list of 10 things kids can do with their parents to help raise the voices of both non-humans AND humans. So, it’s not just a book about connections – it’s also about taking action when we can. Why do you think this is important?

Andrea Zimmer: It’s extremely important that we as adults show our children that although we feel strongly about something it’s just as important to act and use our voices to make positive change.  They need to know they aren’t powerless and should be taught that their voices matter.  The future is in their hands, and they need to know how to make positive changes whether they are large or small.  Kindness has a ripple effect and one person can make a difference.  I’ll be working on more actions we can do with small children, so keep an eye on our Wild and Free Facebook page and Instagram for more. Together we can make this world a better place for ALL!

Wild and Free is now on sale!

-Available as eBook and hardcover from Amazon and bookstores-

Sales from each book sold will help support the residents at PreetiRang Sanctuary!

Read about the great work they are doing and about their residents, here:

http://www.preetirangsanctuary.org/

Guest Post: lauren Ornelas, Food Empowerment Project

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) is a vegan food justice nonprofit organization seeking to create a more just world by helping consumers recognize the power of their food choices. F.E.P. works in solidarity with farm workers, advocates for chocolate not sourced from the worst forms of child labor, and focuses on access to healthy plant-based foods in communities of color and low-income communities.

F.E.P. is also the chosen organization that will receive donations from sales of our newest book, Veganism in an Oppressive World, a Vegans-of-Color Community Project, edited by author & illustrator, Julia Feliz Brueck and with contributions from vegans of color from around the globe.

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I remember when I started Food Empowerment Project and explained to fellow animal rights activists about some of our goals. I was told that racism isn’t that bad. Well, at this point in time, I don’t think anyone can deny the blatant racist comments and actions that are taking place across the country right now. The time is up for us to ignore it, and we must constantly use our voices to speak out against it.

For those of us, like myself, who are sci-fi fans, we know that one of the beauties about sci-fi is how writers can cleverly weave commentary about issues, such as racism, animal exploitation, sexism, etc. – within the story lines set in another time and place while making them relevant to the here and now.

My husband and I have been watching Twilight Zone episodes, and one struck me that I just can’t shake. The episode is called “He’s Alive,” and the description from IMDB summarizes that, “Around 1960, a tiny neo-Nazi organization struggles pathetically to succeed in a big city. A mysterious figure begins to ruthlessly guide a young, insecure U.S. Nazi leader, and the group begins to draw more attention.” The episode had me thinking about how people treat various forms of discrimination, including racism, homophobia, cruelty to animals, and the treatment of immigrants. You have those who speak hate and vitriol, those who listen and are uncomfortable with it but laugh as they do not know what to say, those who agree, and finally, those who speak against it.

I believe that it’s not unusual for many of us to experience these types of responses based on our reactions to conversations about discrimination, mostly from people we don’t know well or work with. I was faced with this when my husband and I chose to protest Prop 8 in California (Prop 8 made marriage equality illegal) by having our wedding in Massachusetts, which legalized marriage equality. I was asked, and continue to be asked, why we married out of state. People want to know if it is because we had family there or if we met there. Every time someone asked, I knew this was an opportunity to make a statement against hatred and discrimination. I told the truth and said it in a way that would assume that any decent person who does not believe that marriage inequality was discrimination would agree with me and understand why we had to make this choice. Did everyone agree with us and embrace what I had to say? Certainly not. Should I worry about offending people whose point of view is different to mine? To me, that would be no different than being silent and not speaking up about other forms of discrimination. And that is a small way in which we all can use our voice. It doesn’t mean we have to scream (although clearly there are times when this is necessary), but we must not be silent. We must not laugh or ignore the hatred that is being spouted these days. We should not listen to these shock jocks and laugh. We should not give them anything.

Why should those with the most constant and loudest voices be those who speak such absolute disgust? Even if we don’t have the microphones they do, we must use our voices because collectively we can be loud.

Now most people who are reading this (if you have continued to read) are not ones who would remain silent when animal cruelty is involved. However, I start to worry that this trend is creeping into our movement in an insidious way. Every time someone talks about “humane” meat or cage-free eggs, it is as if the discussion of the reality of the actual suffering, cruelty, and deaths of these animals is erased, because the conversation, for the most part, stops there.

Why is it that those who bring up these injustices are seen as not allowing others to have a good time? Why aren’t those that make homophobic, racist ,or sexist jokes seen as the kill joys?

These conversations, as uncomfortable as they might be, must see the light of day and not be overshadowed by laughter or the thought that it will all go away if we don’t talk about it.  I don’t want to have to worry that my group will lose support because a racist or a homophobe reads this. Enough. We must take stands against those who seek to oppress people, even if they support animal issues. We must use our collective voices to speak out against all forms of injustice if we think we can ever chip away at it.

Veganism in an Oppressive World will help guide you towards consistent anti-oppression in our movement, so that we can truly create the just world we all want to be a part of.

lauren Ornelas, Food Empowerment Project

Guest Post: Michelle Carrera, Chilis on Wheels

In tune with Sanctuary Publisher’s mission, a portion of sales from

Baby and Toddler Vegan Feeding Guide by Julia Feliz Brueck

will go towards supporting the work of Chilis on Wheels.

Jimmy Cow 2017

Through this beautifully written guest post, Michelle Carrera, founder of Chilis on Wheels, tells us more about this inspiring vegan-based humanitarian organization that is helping to change daily lives while staying true to nonhuman animal justice:

I’m sitting in the van of TheVTeamTour, rain pitters and patters on the roof, the refrigerator spurts and goes silent, our solar power is out; condensation arises and the windows begin to fog; Ollie, my six-year-old says “I’m bored”; Meli, the dog sees a squirrel in the distance and starts barking; my head throbs. I take a second and go inside myself, as I breathe “Think of what all this is about. Think of all the people it will help”. Clouds don’t immediately part, but I slow down and it doesn’t look so ugly and despairing after all. This is what Chilis on Wheels, and now its offshoot project TheVTeamTour has been all about. About gaining perspective on our privileges, and using every last bit to help others.

Chilis on Wheels is a mobile vegan soup kitchen that builds community around free vegan food. Among a warm vegan meal, we provide vegan education, personal care products not tested on animals in our Free Store; we engage the youth into participating in their community, and we create spaces where people can gather; we provide the warmth and the support of a community; and we create a safe space where everyone can belong to and take shelter from the harshness of the world. Because our communities are built by real people, what that space looks like is always changing according to the people that integrate it.

It all started on Thanksgiving 2014 when I looked for a vegan soup kitchen to volunteer at with my son, to teach him about community and to connect him and myself to other people. Upon not finding such a thing, Ollie and I made 15 meals in our kitchen, and distributed it ourselves to people in the streets of New York City. Unbeknownst to me, this day changed the course of my life. Something that day told me I needed to do more, and I started giving food out monthly, then weekly. I ran a crowdfunding campaign to help fund it, and I have poured all my resources, all my time, all my energy into making it flourish. Last year, we served 11, 239 meals!pizza day

Both Ollie and I have grown tremendously during this time. I have learned to trust more, in myself, and in others, in that everything will work out. I have learned that we are all rich, that money is not the only capital, not even the most important one; that when we band together and pool our skills, anything is possible. Last Thanksgiving, on our biggest event of the year, we served 1,000 vegan meals and covered the entirety of Manhattan! Close to 200 people joined us and helped serving, cooking, transporting, getting the word out, writing, printing, and taking pictures. In the end, on a day most people spend with their families, people who found themselves alone found a community to share a meal with; a meal possible thanks to the collective efforts of more than 200 people.

It is about the people that share a meal with us. I have made some great friends from the people that we serve. Irene is an older woman. She is gentle and kind, and soft spoken. She has been coming to our gatherings every week for two years, we talk of the weather, and our families, always positive and kind thoughts. James Brown joins us every week too, we like to complain about our aches, and throw some jokes in to ease it. Marcella sometimes brings her two lovely granddaughters. Chile gifts us the donations he receives from the food bank, things he cannot cook because he does not have a kitchen, for things we have already made. Howie is quiet but he is also kind, and loves the products we offer on our Free Store. Maria CoWMaria, is a 96-year-old woman from Puerto Rico, who I have adopted as my grandmother. She walks close to a mile every week to see us. She has come to a period in her life, where she has no one else to count on, except her grandson who visits her about once a month. In the meantime, she has us every Saturday to talk to, to laugh with, to complain to, or joke with. We have given her our phone numbers so she knows she can call us if she ever needs anything. She came to us very depressed and lonely, and we have seen her flourish since, making jokes and being saucy. Chilis on Wheels is so much more than just a meal.

It is about the volunteers. The people that come week after week to make this happen. People that store supplies in their closets which in the limited real estate of NYC this is a HUGE deal! People that come to cook on Saturday mornings, people that tread through blizzards, thunderstorms, heat waves, to make sure the people that rely on us for their Saturday meals, will not go empty handed. Michelle Thiele in the kitchen 2017Michelle Thiele, now our NYC Chapter Director, a vegan mom to Jamie, one of our youngest volunteers who started helping us out when he was just 2 years old, comes week after week, stores food, cooks it, transports it, seeks out donations, coordinates volunteers, always with such a warmth! Her husband, Jeff, also helps us out every week with his permanent kind smile and solid support. Natassia comes in every week always willing and ready to help in whatever is needed. Christian, our Director of Chapter Development, our Renaissance Man, does a bit of everything, from shoveling snow to helping install solar panels in TheVTeamTour van, to cooking, to drumming up donations, to staying in touch with new chapters. Blake is our favorite babysitter and rule enforcer. And Jimmy, who came to us referred to by a social service agency two years ago. Jimmy is a young vegan; he was going through some hardships and found himself without a place to live, and looking for meals without animal products in the soup kitchens and shelters. Thankfully a social service agency connected us, and Jimmy came in one rainy afternoon. He instantly fit in with our volunteers, and he started coming weekly, having a meal with us and helping us to set up, and serve. Eventually he heard of a job opening in the Parks Dept. in NYC, and he applied, putting in his experience working with us, and including as a reference. He got the job, and has worked with them since. And he still finds time to volunteer with us most weeks. He is our Chilis on Wheels family, where we come together to care for ourselves and our community.

It is about the vegan education, and who we talk to about veganism, about inexpensive but filling and rich meals without animal products. It is about connecting people with their food, in the ingredients, in the process of growing it and bringing it to their table. We visited a school in the Bronx and we gave our standard talk on the importance of plant-based nutrition, connecting it to their readings and their community, and a student, 13 years of age, became so touched that she approached me after the talk, and asked me a million questions a minute. Her mind raced to keep up the pace with the new information; her ethics transformed that day, and we stayed in touch. She is now vegan, and although she cannot volunteer with us because we are more than an hour away from her, she stays in touch and texts me to update me on what she has said to her family and her friends and her local community activism.

So, when the rain pours down and everything seems so hard to live with, I take a minute to think of all the people we have brought together, and the ripple effects our presence continues to create. TheVTeamTour is going across the country gathering folks together to build communities around free vegan food, setting up chapters of Chilis on Wheels, infusing them with our contagious energy to build networks of people, to realize the value of our most underestimated capital: our communities. 

Support this amazing organization  and  nonhumans by ordering a copy of the Baby and Toddler Vegan Feeding Guide by Julia Feliz Brueck:

Order the paperback and eBook on Amazon

Also available at Vegan Essentials.

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