Three years ago, Mariann came home and told me she wanted to start a blog focusing on for-profit opportunities within animal advocacy. “We could call it ‘Money Squawks,” she said. Her timing was serendipitous. While Mariann was busy concocting an idea for a blog, I had been giving serious thought to starting a podcast, even though, truth be told, I had rarely ever listened to any. Still, I thought our banter was pretty damn amusing. Plus, more importantly, I was deeply in awe of my partner’s ability to so clearly make sense out of even the most seemingly complex ins and outs of animal rights issues (admittedly, most animal issues are remarkably simple).
At the time, I had been working as the campaigns manager for a national animal rights organization. In so many ways, it had been my dream job. What passionate activist doesn’t want to devote themselves full time to changing the world for animals? I had also been lucky enough to be a contributing writer for VegNews Magazine, and, along with my friend Marisa Miller Wolfson (of Vegucated fame), had spent several years regularly giving workshops on veganism and animal rights.
Mariann was working as a lawyer, the deputy chief court attorney for the New York State Appellate Division, and in the evenings she was a professor of animal law at several law schools. She was a long-time vegan and animal rights activist, and a founding member of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. Our life together was full of play and romance, but was made rich by the overarching theme of wanting to do everything in our power to change the world for animals. If you are reading this, there is a good chance you can relate.
In the months leading up to my decision that we had to start a podcast, I had noticed things shifting inside me. Though I felt that the work I was doing was hugely important, I had an idea that had taken me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. I knew that in order to make the kind of monumental changes we need to get animals out from under, we require more than organizations. Each of us who has awakened to the horror has to be advocating for them in ways that reach deep into our lives, tapping into our talents, skills, interests, circles, and resources. In one of the scariest moves of my life, I decided to leave my job — which I loved so tremendously, which had taught me so much about changing the world — and try to help make this happen. I wanted to do everything within my power to propel forward the idea that it is each of our responsibilities to change the world for animals. My goal was to provide a clearinghouse of ideas and opportunities so that everyone who cares about animals could get behind this mass movement with gusto.
We broadened the blog idea that Mariann had, making “Money Squawks” just one section of many that spoke to the various facets of changemaking. Bringing in my own background as an actress, we started “Art of the Animal,” featuring artists of all kinds who speak up for animals. There were other sections too: “The Gay Animal,” emphasizing the connections between gay rights and animal rights; “Legal Eagles,” which tapped into Mariann’s expertise and shed light on opportunities to sue the bastards; “Class Act,” which focused on humane education opportunities; and more. We wanted every single person who cared about animals to feel that they could use Our Hen House to find their own way to fulfill their life’s mission.
Then there was the podcast. I had no idea how to produce one, and so I spent 48 hours, without interruption or sleep, learning GarageBand and reading Podcasting for Dummies (no joke). I also made full use of the free classes offered at the nearby Apple store, and soon enough, Episode 1 was complete. (Nearly three years later, we have not missed one week, and are currently in production for our 153rd consecutive episode.)
By Spring of 2010, we were incorporated. By Summer, we were a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which means that people’s donations to our work are tax-deductible. By October of that year, we had our launch party, at the chic vegan shoe store, MooShoes, on the Lower East Side. 300 people showed up, spilling onto the streets. There were cupcakes, a cellist, and a rousing speech by CNN’s HLN talk show host, Jane Velez-Mitchell. Even my grandmother gave a talk about how animals should be treated with compassion. At one point during the evening, Mariann and I made eye contact from across the room. There were people shoulder-to-shoulder all around us, all passionate about finding their way to change the world. Maybe we’re on to something, we silently said to one another.
Right from the start, it was clear that Our Hen House touched something deep in people. I began working around the clock. When there wasn’t an article to write, a video to make, a grant proposal to draft, or a podcast episode to produce, there were dozens and dozens of emails to respond to, notes from activists telling us that because of Our Hen House, they were pursuing their master’s degree in Humane Education. Or they successfully encouraged their office to host a vegan challenge. Or they started to write a novel centering around animal rights issues. Or they wrote a letter to the editor about alternatives to turkey on Thanksgiving. Or they got a vegan-themed column in their local paper. Or they started a monthly animal rights film series at their library. The list is truly endless. At some point, I started a file in my Gmail box called “Success Stories,” and it is now filled with hundreds and hundreds of notes from people from all over the world who simply needed a little encouragement, some positivity, and maybe an idea, in order to start changing the shape of things.
I am frequently asked who my heroes are. These are my heroes, the people who are on fire with the need to see the world change, and the understanding that they are key in making that happen. They find inspiration with Our Hen House, yet I find inspiration with them. It is the true meaning of community, and it fills me.
Three years ago, had you told me that Our Hen House would grow to become an online magazine, with writers like James McWilliams and Pam Frasch eager to write a feature article, columnists like Piper Hoffman and Keri Cronin bringing me to tears with their thoughts and ideas, and a wildly talented team of “behind the scenes” folks like Danielle Legg, Cassandra Greenwald, and Ben Braman working tirelessly to ensure that things run smoothly, I would have cracked up. I simply had no idea, nor did Mariann, how far Our Hen House would go, so quickly. The success of Our Hen House is absolutely due to fact that there is an army of people out there who are just looking for their way to be most effective, people who know this is what their life is about. These are passionate activists who provide us, every day, with stories of how they are changing the world, and come to Our Hen House to discover each other’s ideas.
With this new online magazine, I hope that we can spread our wings. We have added interactive features, such as “This Animal On This Day,” which allows you to upload a photo you have taken of an animal, any animal — from a pigeon on the street to your rescued kitty to an animal in captivity. It is a glimpse into a single individual’s reality at a particular moment in time. We’ve added a “Breaking News” ticker which will keep us all up to speed on what’s going on that’s important to animals and to those who care about them. We now offer columns and features written by some of the greatest movers and shakers within the animal rights movement, as well as up-and-comers whose ideas and energy are refreshing and new. And we have added a Flock corner, where “Members of the Flock” — those who donate either $10 per month, or $100 or more per year — can receive exclusive content, interviews, recipes, and, eventually, videos and podcasts, just for them. As a charitable organization, we are reader and listener supported, and we are relying on you to help us fly. Please consider becoming a monthly member in the amount of $10 or more. As our thank you for becoming a member of the flock, we are offering goodie bags to the first 50 people who become members starting today, with fabulous vegan presents from Herbivore Clothing, Booda Butter, Daiya, Hurraw, Tofurky, knitter Beth Begany, Wholesome Sweeteners, V-Dog, Vegan to a Tee, Wayfare, and author Kirk Hamilton. We also, as always, offer a variety of thank you gifts for your donations.
The last 3 years were the prologue. We’re now in the story. The subjects of that story are the billions upon billions of animals suffering and dying all over the world. The animals need each of us. I am so thankful that you are joining me on this journey and that we are each doing our part to change the ending of that story.
Special thanks to our supporters, especially our monthly supporters, and to the following for their generosity: Animal Welfare Trust, Brad Goldberg, Culture and Animals Foundation, VegFund, A Well-Fed World, Nalith Foundation, Mary Clifton, Cynthia King, and David Wolfson. Thank you to John Yunker for donating “The Tourist Trail” for so many of our lucky donors, to Michelle Rubin for donating beautiful necklaces to so many of other lucky donors. Thanks to graphic designer Laurie Johnston of Two Trick Pony for designing our new fabulous postcards. Thanks to Beth Begany and Bonnie Goodman for keeping our Etsy Shop well-stocked, and well-loved. Thanks to our website beta testers for helping us iron out some of the kinks. Thanks to Cassandra Greenwald, Ben Braman, and Danielle Legg for so generously offering their time and expertise, and to the many guest writers and reviewers (especially Piper Hoffman, Carrie Forrest, and Keri Cronin) who also donate their talents and wisdom to Our Hen House. Special thanks to JL Fields and Suzanne Gorman. We are a real community, and that is no accident. Lastly, thank YOU for helping us to build a strong voice for animals!
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