Three months ago, Ken Swensen joined our volunteer team — and from day one, he hit the ground running, eager to help bring our message of compassion to the big apple.
He started by heading up the COK table at the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival and he kept right on moving to the Connecticut VegFest, Queens College Green Festival, and Rutgers University.
He even started an vegetarian and animal advocacy group at his church!
In between all of his activism and regular day-to-day life activities, we managed to get him to sit down with us for a few minutes to talk about how and why he got involved in speaking out for animals. We hope you find his story as inspiring as we do:
Location: Pound Ridge, New York
Full-time job: Selling furniture and editing my wife’s novels
COK: How did you first get involved in animal advocacy?
I had already been vegan for many years, but a couple of years ago I was watching the movie “Amazing Grace” about ending slavery in England. In the middle of the movie they showed the wooden crates where captured Africans were kept immobile for the entire ocean journey. I had long been aware of the brutal conditions of animals on factory farms and for some reason it hit me at that moment that abstaining from meat and dairy was no longer enough. I had to speak up for animals that are confined for their entire lives on factory farms.
How did you first get involved with COK?
I met Erica Meier at the National Conference to End Factory Farming and was impressed with the energy
and focus she had, and with the work she was leading at Compassion Over Killing. Knowing that COK did not have a NYC office (yet!) my wife Robin and I offered to man a table for COK at the NYC Veg Food Fest.
We had such a good time talking to people about helping animals that I wanted to keep doing local events. Katie, COK’s East Coast Outreach Manager, and all of the COK folks have been incredibly supportive. We found they already had a lot of fans in the New York area – so, now I am just trying to spread the message to even more!
How has your advocacy changed over time?
My first step was to educate myself. So I read dozens of books and watched movies and videos, many of them painful to see. I read on-line reports about animal welfare and became familiar with the organizations that focus on farmed animals. I also attended animal advocacy conferences and was inspired by the fabulous people who are effective advocates. Now that I feel reasonably well educated (there’s so much to know!) I feel like I can meet people wherever they are on the journey and maybe help them with that next small step.
COK: What’s the best feedback you’ve had from someone at an outreach event?
Ken: “I really appreciate the chance to talk about this!” Many people just want to be heard, share where they are at, or try to get some questions answered. It’s so gratifying to help them align their morals with their menu!
COK: What would you say to someone who is interested in advocacy but not sure where to start?
- First, educate yourself about the issues. The more you understand, the more valuable you can become.
- Then find an organization that seems a good fit for your spirit and your goals and think about what you might do to help that group.
- Consider the things you like to do or are good at and see if you have transferable skills. For example, I have done a lot of trade shows in the furniture business and they are very similar to VegFests — engaging
people, handing out materials, and getting them interested in our “product.” Plus I like to write and edit, so I am doing some of that work as well in the animal welfare world.
What is your favorite thing to do outside of advocacy?
I love to play tennis. Though, I hurt my wrist last week so now I’m playing lefty. I have a funny looking overhead and a terrible serve, but it’s still fun to play!
Want to join Ken in NYC? Sign up to walk with Ken and the COK team at the NYC Veggie Pride Parade on Sunday, May 27.
Not local to NY, but want to do more for animals in your own area? Touch base with our Outreach team, just like Ken did, and we can get you going!