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Remembering Marti Kheel: “My hope is that we can ultimately find the common ground that will bring us together in our efforts.”

By Jasmin and Mariann — November 21, 2011

It is with a sad and heavy heart that we here in Our Hen House share with you the loss of a truly remarkable friend and animal activist, Marti Kheel. Marti lost her battle with leukemia on Saturday, leaving a hole in the animal rights and ecofeminism movements that will be felt forever. It should go without saying, however, that the groundbreaking work that Marti did on behalf of animals and women will also be felt forever. She was a pioneer, a visionary, an ambassador for animals and women. She was also a friend, and an incredibly warm, kind and thoughtful person. Her untimely death is as inconceivable as it is unfair.

Marti co-founded Feminists for Animal Rights in 1982, long before most of us were thinking about it — long before it was on the radar at all. Marti’s ecofeminist philosophy bridged various movements, including feminism, environmentalism, and, of course, animal rights. Her groundbreaking article, “The Liberation of Nature: A Circular Affair,” originally published in Environmental Ethics, has been widely cited and republished, and numerous other articles have appeared in many different anthologies and journals.

In her book, Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective, which should really be a staple on your shelf, Marti explains her reason for focusing on ecofeminism: “This project was inspired by my frustration with the inadequate consideration of animals within the larger field of nature ethics. My interest arose out of the pain and empathy I experienced upon learning of the harrowing treatment of other-than-human animals throughout modern society.” Marti found herself dissatisfied with some of the philosophies within animal rights theories, nature philosophies, and ecophilosophy. “I was beginning to suspect that the neglect of other-than-humans was not an incidental aspect of the Western nature philosophies, but rather central to it,” she wrote. “Instead of continuing to seek an ethic of philosophy that expressed a concern for individual beings, I therefore began to investigate why this concern was lacking.”

The thing about Marti is that she didn’t just dwell on these problems, or complain about them. Instead, she went back to school to get a doctorate in religious studies, eventually writing Nature Ethics. “My insights are offered,” her book explains, “… in the belief that as long as nature ethicists continue to analyze the environmental crisis in gender-neutral terms, we will overlook important information that can help to alleviate suffering and achieve fundamental change. Finally, although I focus on some of the historical and philosophical roots of the conceptual divide between animal advocates and other nature philosophers, my hope is that we can ultimately find the common ground that will bring us together in our efforts.”

Marti’s writings, and contributions to the thought processes that underly our movement, are invaluable. But her work went well beyond theory. Marti was also a tireless activist. On a personal note, here is our fondest memory of her:

In the summer of 2010, after having some business in San Francisco, we took a short vacation to Big Sur, the mountainous region on California’s central coast. We had rented a Zip Car from San Francisco, and on the final day of our trip, just before we were to return the car, we decided to take an excursion to Gracias Madre — the vegan mainstay in the Mission District. On the way there, while we were stopped at a light on a busy road, Jasmin noticed that on the sidewalk near the car, there was a protest winding down. A few protestors were still standing around chatting, holding signs that were now at their sides facing downward. The protest was to ban Smart Meters — a replacement for gas meters that operated with high-frequency microwave radiation, drastically increasing the level of radiation around us. Protests are among our favorite sights. Anything that ignites the flame within people and causes them to act is enough to send shivers down our spine. This was no exception. Just before our light turned green, we noticed among the crowd a familiar face. Wait — was that… Marti??

In fact it was! After returning from our trip to Big Sur, and only in San Francisco for one last day, we did not expect to run into Marti, who lived in Berkeley — certainly not while at a stop light. Jasmin opened the window and screamed, “MARTI!” Equally surprised to run into her NYC friends, Marti ran toward the car, zig-zagged through traffic as cars beeped wildly, and jumped into the back seat of our Zip Car. “What are you two doing here?!” she exclaimed, as she put two of her protest signs in the back of the car.

Marti joined us for the rest of the afternoon, getting a green juice at Gracias Madre (she was a passionate and long-time raw foodist), then coming with us for an afternoon of thrift-shopping. She told us about the campaign to ban Smart Meters, and she talked about the international social justice conferences where she planned to speak. We ruminated on the movement, on mutual friends, on the power of vegetables. After a surprising afternoon spent together, we bid adieu, and stayed in touch throughout the year whenever there was an article that might interest the other, or just to say hello.

We saw each other again in the summer of 2011, here in New York City. With our mutual friends Martin and Mia, we had dinner at Caravan of Dreams. Marti was feeling uncharacteristically fatigued, yet was full of as much passion as ever. She talked about her recent experiences speaking on “Gender, Flesh, and Dietary Identity” at the 13th International Vegan Festival in Málaga, Spain, a few weeks prior.

Of course, that was the last time we saw Marti. She emailed us last month to tell us the tragic news that we still don’t understand — and surely never will. She was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Marti died peacefully and in her sleep on Saturday, November 19 — just two days after appearing as a guest at Yale Medical School where she spoke at a class on alternative and complementary medicine that was being taught by her doctor. Marti didn’t stop. Not ever.

In her final journal entry that she kept on Caring Bridge — the website that allows those undergoing serious illnesses to stay in touch with their friends and family via personal updates — Marti concluded with: “I have also reconnected via e-mail with a number friends with whom I had lost touch for many years, and I have been enjoying sharing memories about our past and catching up about the intervening years since we were in touch. I also love hearing about the various Occupy Wall Street movements around the country, and especially the one in Oakland, which sounds amazing. I can’t be there in person, but I am there in spirit!”

Not there in person, but there in spirit. That is something we will hang on to as we keep Marti Kheel in our hearts and minds. She was a tireless fighter, a committed feminist, a groundbreaking thinker, a caring friend. Marti left so much more than just a fleeting impression on this planet. She left a legacy, a new way of thinking, the groundwork for a more just, compassionate world.

Thank you for changing the world, Marti Kheel. You will be sorely, painfully missed, and beautifully, deeply remembered.

Marti Kheel. 1948-2011

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