A Vegan Trilogy: Veganica, Vegan Radio, and The Vegan Bus
Vegan Bus Crew Members / Vegan Radio Co-hosts Scott Lahteine, Megan Shackelford and Derek Goodwin
Now that the winter snow is finally arriving in Northampton, MA, and the Vegan Bus is parked in an unspecified location for renovations... it is high time I started updating you on our past adventures as well as our hopes and dreams for the future. This post is the first of many to come...
The Vegan Bus evolved from a series of vegan projects that have consumed much of my free time since moving to Western Massachusetts in 1999. When I first moved here I had a job as a web designer. It was during the heady days before the "dot-com bubble" burst, and I had dreams of making lots of money designing web sites and then funneling it all back into vegan activism. I bought some domain names back then based on these dreams, including Veganica.com, VeganRadio.com, and one that has not been put to use yet... VeganPolice.com.
I first began work on Veganica.com, which I envisioned as an online community for vegetarian and vegan artists. In my subjective anthropological studies of the vegan movement I noticed a higher-than-average percentage of creative types, and being one myself thought it would be cool to have a place we could all share the products of our creativity. I myself am a photographer and musician who dabbles in other wacky stuff. I wanted a site that could have images, words, audio and video. I enlisted my programming genius friends Alex Jarrett and Scott Lahteine to create the databases and code to bring it slowly to life. Over the years since then I have guided Veganica along to make it what it is now, a social networking site for vegan artists and cultural creatives with hundreds of members. Scott is still working with me and over the winter Veganica will see some upgrades that should take it to the next level. If you are an artist or creative person who is vegetarian or vegan you should definitely sign up for free (or get a paid merchant account) and share your stuff!
Around the same time as I began work on Veganica I purchased the Vegan Radio URL. I had an idea that I would create a streaming audio website that would play music by vegans interspersed with vegan propaganda 24 hours a day, perhaps tied in to Veganica. It was put on the back burner when in 2000 I got tired of schlepping corporate web sites and decided to start my own photography business. I renewed the URL over the years because I knew the domain name was worth saving. In 2005 a group of volunteers and activists in Northampton succeeded in getting a license for a community low-powered FM radio station and Valley Free Radio was born (Northampton is in a part of western MA commonly referred to as "the valley"). I convinced my friend Megan Shackelford that it would be a great way to get the vegan message out there if we had a show about veganism on FM radio, since we would get random listeners who might otherwise turn their heads. At the same time Podcasting was becoming popular and it was a no-brainer that we should make the show into a Podcast for the world to enjoy. Thus in October of 2005 Vegan Radio was born. Scott Lahteine joined us as our third co-host when he moved back to the valley in 2006.
I like to think of The Vegan Bus as a continuation and the current culmination of my activism. I conceived the idea after participating in the Burning Man festival of 2006. Burning Man is a week long experiment where 40,000 people create a community in the harsh Nevada desert based on sharing and radical self-reliance. Most people who have attended a "Burn" will tell you that it is a trans-formative experience. I personally sensed an emerging new consciousness there, one that could spread out into the world like the playa dust that the participants unavoidably carried back with them on their clothing and gear. Here, I thought, is a place that needs a vegan consciousness. Here where a new paradigm for community and society was being beta tested. I felt that perhaps my life path had led me to this, to help bring veganism to this place, to make sure that if this was a seed for the next evolution of society that animals would finally be respected and considered as "the subjects of a life", as Tom Regan puts it so thoughtfully.
How to slip veganism into the consciousness of a modern day cultural rebirth? The Vegan Bus popped into my head one day while pondering the conundrum. A vehicle of transformation. It resonated with me, a transformed bus transforming people everywhere in the world it went. Not by force but by contagiousness of an cultural enlightenment whose time has arrived. I funnelled my resources and contacts gained from my 12 years of vegan activism into making it happen. One year later the Vegan Bus made an improbable journey across the USA in 3-1/2 days running on waste vegetable oil and got to Burning Man carrying eight exhausted passengers/drivers. We were all transformed by the experience. One person went from omnivore to being nearly vegan, our first conversion (besides the bus itself). Vegan Radio episode #44 features a reunion of our band of "grease pirates" who went to Burning Man on the bus and lived to tell. I will be blogging about it soon as well.
Two months later that all seems like a lifetime ago. The future of the bus that excites me now. It is what I fall asleep at night pondering and what I wake up in the morning fantasizing. I am seeing that the bus is not something separate from Vegan Radio and Veganica, rather it encompasses and enhances them. The Vegan Bus will slowly be transformed inside and out by the types of creativity found on Veganica until it is a morphing of bus, RV and art car. It will run not only on waste vegetable oil but by the efforts of a community of activists, teachers, and artists. It will be an ongoing subject of Vegan Radio discussions and promotions as well as a vehicle to bring us to the people and stories we will feature on future episodes.
A trilogy is a set of three works of art that are connected and can be seen as a single work, as well as three individual ones. I conceptualize the Vegan Bus, Veganica and Vegan Radio as evolving works of art, effecting the fabric of culture. I hope to have a community of inspired activists, teachers and artists collaborating with these works, and through our efforts to bring some fun into the world and effect positive change.
I am looking forward to this winter, to writing down on this blog my many thoughts and visions. I hope to make my activism a means of supporting myself by the end of 2008 so I can dedicate my whole life and being to greening the earth and teaching compassion. I hope to also create jobs for others to join me. With the bus I quit dreaming small. The times demand more from me and from all of us. Every time I look at the bus I realize that I can make a crazy dream into reality. Anyone can. So let's shake this mofo up a bit and co-create a better and saner world for whoever comes next, be they plant or animal. Yes, us animals too. We matter, just like they do. Even the matter of the state of matter matters. So what's the matter? Go Vegan. Get on the Bus!