“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
King’s words echo in my ears whenever people state how we should be careful when we write or speak about what we truly believe in.
Then it happened to me. I lost my job when I posted on Facebook.
I am an elementary school teacher. I connect with my students and help them find the joy of learning. I love working with them and they know it.
Also, I am a vegan activist. As someone who longs for a better world, I spend much of my free time speaking up in support of peace and compassion for animals and people.
One day, I was riding my bicycle by a local farm and saw an image that really struck me. As a society, we often overlook the fact that for any mammal to lactate, pregnancy and birth are necessary. If we want to drink the milk of a mother cow, we are choosing for her baby to be separated from her, usually within a day of birth.
Individual calf crates, or calf hutches as the industry prefers, are a common housing method. As I passed this farm, rows of opaque crates, where baby calves would spend their short lives in isolation, were visible from the road. I took a photo and posted it on my Facebook page.
I had begun the school year, having been verbally rehired on another one-year contract. Although I was waiting for official approval from the board of education, it never happened.
The owner of the farm had seen my Facebook post and called the superintendent of the school district. Concerned over the complaint, the superintendent pulled my name from the list for hiring approval. Before the week was over, I was removed from my job.
Anytime you speak up for something you deeply believe in, you risk offending someone. However, if you keep silent to avoid causing offense, you have removed yourself from effective social discourse and severely limited your efforts to improve the world. And that we cannot allow ourselves to do.
In one month, nearly 140,000 people from around the world showed their support for Keith Allison on Change.org and Facebook.
Change comes from awareness and from open discussion. If we are going to teach about Martin Luther King Jr., and uphold what he stood for, then we have to be willing to allow voices that speak for those who are suffering. If we want a sustainable future with cleaner air and cleaner water, if we want to preserve our rainforests and feed our hungry, we need to be willing to honestly look at the effects of animal agriculture on our planet. If we are truly going to advocate for change, then we need to be willing to discuss real possibilities for change, not just the ones that keep us comfortable.
Kindness and compassion are not radical concepts, we all believe in them. And it is not unusual to extend that circle of compassion beyond just the human race—whether we include cats, dogs, dolphins or cows.
If, at the end of the day, the biggest complaint about me as an educator is that I have too much compassion and that I use my free time to speak out for love toward all creatures—both human and non-human—then perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.
We all need to be able to speak out for what we truly believe in.
That’s the only way we will improve the world.
April 14, 2015 Update: The ACLU of Ohio and PETA Foundation settled a lawsuit on behalf of Keith against the Board of Education of Green Local School District. In the agreement, the board recognized that employees can freely express their opinions on public issues outside of work. Additionally, the board agreed to pay Keith his back salary and pension contributions. Keith went back to teaching in January in a similar position at another school in the district.