Q&A with CWI Executive Director Carrie
For the first time, we're offering a sneak peek into CWI's founding and what motivated our executive director to build an animal rights organization from the ground up. We hope you enjoy!
Can you tell us why you started working for animals?
Sure! I've actually always loved animals. I used to have pictures of all kinds of animals hung on my wall when I was a kid and I of course had a huge collection of stuffed animals. Koalas were my focus! As I got older my attention got taken away to other topics--I received degrees in Anthropology and Art History--but in my post-academic life I knew that I wanted to focus on having a direct impact on the world. It took some serious soul searching over the course of a couple of years, but I found my way back to animals. First by volunteering for local shelters, then starting my own vegan project, and then moving into full-time work for animals.
Why did you decide to start an organization from scratch?
Well, at the time I made the decision, I was working at the farmed animal advocacy organization Mercy For Animals. I was their first director of operations, which was actually a position I created there. I helped build their infrastructure and fundraising program, as well as supported campaign development. But in time some aspects of working solely in the realm of farmed animal welfare didn't sit well with me. I saw supposed "animal rights activists" who were unwilling to take action for any other type of animal, and also an absurd amount of focus on taking actions that amounted to virtually no progress for animals. Because I had the background and experience needed to start a nonprofit, I decided the best direction was to move forward by starting from the beginning. Though honestly, it was a bit terrifying because we had no founding major donors.
So you definitely went vegan at some point on your journey?
Oh yes, in fact that was what really catapulted me into dedicating myself for animals. It's funny....I actually went vegan by reading the job application for PETA! There was a question on there asking about veganism. I'd been vegetarian at that point for nearly 30 years and had dabbled with veganism off and on, but I didn't fully understand the reasons why it was so important. The PETA question prompted me to do some research. It took only one video of watching baby male chicks getting ground up alive as a byproduct of the egg industry for me to change my ways and never look back!
I decided not to go work for PETA, but I did start my own community organization called Go Vegan Santa Barbara. My original idea was to spread this project to other communities, because it was very successful in Santa Barbara! I was regularly in the news, on tv, holding events, and doing everything possible to support veganism there.
That project never came to pass because I stumbled on the opportunity to help Mercy For Animals grow, and that felt more important at the time.
What do you view as the biggest success of CWI so far?
Ah...it is hard to choose one exact thing. So I guess I will broadly say our work against circus cruelty. I know--that is very general. But we've helped close down numerous circuses at this point, including Ringling Bros, which was a huge coup for the movement. We've also campaigned for animals to go to sanctuary and have had two resounding successes: Nosey and Bo. I suppose that is what I am most proud of.
But CWI also hosts the largest vegan event in Nevada, right?
Yes! From the start, I wanted CWI to help ALL animals, or as many as possible. That was always going to include some sort of farmed animal campaign. When I founded CWI I relocated from California to Nevada and the vegan movement was just starting to gain traction. There was no major vegan festival at that time, so of course I felt I needed to take that on. We're holding our 6th festival this year, which means that so far we've had around 30,000 people visit our event since we began!
Advocating for animals can be extremely frustrating. Progress feels slow. What can you share about your experience of the process and what you see coming in the future?
Definitely. I feel that frustration frequently, so I get it. But it is critical to animals to push past that feeling and be consistent in our actions as advocates. If you were in wrongly incarcerated, you wouldn't want someone to give up on you after a year, or five years, or even twenty! We can't give up on animals, either. The reality is that animals are considered property under the law. That is demeaning and disgusting, but that is fact. So it is not easy to take animals out of bad situations. A lot of CWI's work revolves around situations that the general public often doesn't even view as "bad". For instance we have a campaign to end the keeping of elephants and polar bears in zoos. That's why we focus so much on educating the public and providing the truth behind the use and abuse of animals.
Look here's what I know--I've been working full-time for animals solidly for more than a decade now. When I look back, I see nothing but progress. Progress that didn't even seem possible at the time. I believe there is always hope and the possibility of cultural shifts to a more humane, just world for all. Personally, I will NEVER stop fighting for animals. I just couldn't do it.
My goal is to inspire and support others to have that same level of dedication. The animals need ALL of our voices!
Have other questions for Carrie? Let us know! And perhaps we will feature them in a future segment. We are also considering a video series with Carrie. If that is of interest, let us know that too! Reach out to us at email@example.com.