Create Change At Any Age
Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Article from

FROM lauren Ornelas, FEP Food Empowerment Project
August 2021

Sukie Sargent is 88 years old, and I aspire to be like her. As someone who went vegan when she was 55, Sukie gives us hope and embodies the reality that no matter what age a person is, they can make a difference.

Suki Sargent

If I remember correctly, Sukie and I met in 1992 at the Texas Conference for the Animals in Austin, though I really got to know her when I started organizing on a state and national level for various animal rights organizations. I was impressed that she had created such a wonderful team all the way out in El Paso, Texas. In November of 2010, when I was in El Paso to speak to their Vegetarian Society (which she founded), I stayed with her and got to learn more about her. I was incredibly impressed by her energy, smarts, family—everything about her. Currently she’s 88 years old, and I aspire to be like her. As someone who went vegan when she was 55, Sukie gives us hope and embodies the reality that no matter what age a person is, they can make a difference.

Where were you born?

The City of Chihuahua, in Chihuahua State, Mexico.

Where were your parents born?

Chihuahua, Mexico.

Do you have any early memories of your connection with non-human animals?

Yes, I loved cats and dogs and I never killed anything. I didn’t let my brothers kill even flies. I learned how to catch them with my hand and let them free outside. To this day, I keep on doing it. I have lots of practice. I will never forget a traumatic experience I had when I was maybe younger than 10. I had a dog named Rex and one day a friend of one of my brothers came to visit us. He was a close friend and he was used to just walk in without knocking. My dog didn’t know him and attacked him. My father was furious, and that night he shot my dog. That experience will haunt me for the rest of my life. Also, my father liked to take the family to the countryside on Sundays to teach my brothers how to hunt rabbits. My mother and I stayed in the car and all I did was close my eyes and chant, “Corre conejo, corre veloz, van a matarte, corre, corre” (“Run rabbit, run fast, they will kill you, run, run”). Those were not enjoyable trips for me. When I went to the movies in Chihuahua, they had lots of commercials in between movies, including ones for the corridas de toros (bullfights). I had to close my eyes; I couldn’t watch.

When did you go vegetarian?

When my younger son, Alex, was a teenager, he learned about factory farms and animal testing. When I took him shopping, he would always tell me, “Don’t buy this product or that other product because they test on animals.” And one day he announced that he was going to be a vegetarian. So, I got a subscription to Vegetarian Times to learn about vegetarian dishes. My husband, Richard, was not too happy about it, but I had to do it. The seed was planted, and I started learning more about vegetarianism, and then I decided to become a vegetarian myself. I became a member of a lot of national animal rights organizations.

What made you go vegan?

I had been a vegetarian for about a year when I read an article in a magazine about the egg industry and how they cut hens’ beaks so they won’t kill each other under the conditions they are raised in, and also how they destroy the baby male chicks. Right then and there, I knew that I couldn’t eat eggs anymore. The same with the dairy industry and what they do to male calves. That was my conversion to veganism. I kept on reading and learning, and after reading John Robbins’ Diet for a New America, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was never going to eat meat again. I realized that we not only exploit and kill “food” animals, but we also are killing ourselves by eating animal products and destroying the environment in the process.

How long have you been running the Vegetarian Society of El Paso?

This year, it will be 20 years (in 2021, it is 28 years). But, the Vegetarian Society was not the first organization I founded. First I founded Voice for All Animals in September of 1992 and the Vegetarian Society in February of 1993. And, for many years, I was doing both of them.

How did you start Voice for All Animals?

While traveling through Albuquerque, New Mexico, I found a Sangre de Cristo Animal Protection (now Animal Protection New Mexico) flyer and joined the group, indicating I was willing to volunteer. A few days later, I received a call from Bob Young, the Las Cruces Representative at that time, and he suggested I get a permit to have an animal rights information table at one of the malls in El Paso. I kind of panicked—I didn’t feel I had the knowledge to have a meaningful conversation about the subject. He assured me that I wasn’t going to be alone—he was going to be with me and help me. So, I obtained a permit to have the table at Cielo Vista Mall.

We had more tables at the other malls, and we collected names and information from people interested in participating. We decided to have a shot at forming a group, and we had our first meeting at my home on September 16, 1992. There were eleven attendees, plus two from a group across the border in Juarez, Mexico, and a veterinarian and animal protectionist from Chihuahua.

What did Voice for All Animals do?

We were the first-ever animal rights group in El Paso. We organized Fur Free Friday for many, many years and World Day for Animals in Laboratories, vigils for Homeless Animals Day. We protested the annual rattlesnake roundup in Alamogordo, New Mexico. And many others. We freed Sebastian, a 125-year-old lobster, and sent him to Maine, where CNN was waiting to film his release into the sea. We protested the rodeo, circuses, and any other animal entertainment that came to El Paso.

Can you describe a particular animal rights campaign that you’re especially proud of being involved in?

Yes, one in particular involved Sissy the elephant. After she arrived at the El Paso Zoo in October 1998, Sissy was videotaped being beaten for hours by one of the trainers during a “breaking session.” The horrifying video of this beating was released to the media by a disgruntled zoo employee in October 1999. The video was shown all over the world. Voice for All Animals members and other concerned citizens engaged in a protest against the vicious beating of Sissy. On December 7, thanks to pressure from Voice for All Animals members, concerned El Paso citizens and founder of The Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary, the city council voted unanimously to free Sissy. On January 24, 2000, Sissy left for her new home at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. When Voice for All Animals disbanded in June 2000, we donated all the money we had in our account to the Elephant Sanctuary where Sissy is spending the rest of her life in a beautiful place free of cruelty.

Do you find cooking some of your favorite dishes, especially Mexican dishes, difficult?

Shirley Wilkes-Johnson (co-founder of the Lone Star Vegetarian Network) used to say that vegan cooks are the most creative cooks. I make chiles rellenos with cold mashed potatoes instead of the cheese, as well as potato tacos and flautas. In the Mexican rice, all I have to do is replace the chicken stock with vegetarian stock. Refried beans with oil instead of lard. There are so many vegan meat analogs now that you can make any kind of Mexican dish. I make a great green chile “chicken” enchilada casserole with TVP and vegan sour cream. My husband loves bean soup for breakfast and it’s the easiest dish to make. I cook the beans in the crock pot all night, and all I need is tomatoes, onions, chile and cilantro, and a lot of the bean juice. I also make bean tostadas, chopped tomatoes, avocado, lettuce and anything you like. Also, chilaquiles with or without vegan cheese. I make fajitas with portobello mushrooms instead of the meat, the rest is the same: onions, bell peppers and fajita seasoning. Lots of soups: fideo soup, potato and chile soup, poblano cream soup with rice milk instead of the dairy milks, lentil soup and posole. Also, for the past several years we have learned, thanks to the lady who takes care of our cats, to make vegan tamales with TVP instead of the chicken. TVP is readily available in Mexico. They call it Carne de Soya, and it’s easy to find.

From your perspective, how has the animal rights movement changed from when you started until now? What has improved, and what needs more work?

There is a lot more awareness regarding animal rights and veganism now than when I became one. Again, education is the only way. We can educate by providing the forum for it, i.e., information tables, dinners with speakers, workshops, etc. Also, we need to teach by example—being a healthy vegan is the best example we can give. We need to take care of ourselves. I encourage all vegan activists to do the best they can to keep healthy.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in the animal rights movement? What would be the first step?

Join a group and volunteer for whatever the group is doing. Read and learn all you can about the issue to be prepared to answer questions. One piece of advice I give to anyone is not to answer a question you are not sure about. It is best to tell them that you will do some research and get back at them with the correct answer. Another one is not to get angry at anyone who is ugly with you. That was one of the rules I had when we protested the rodeos and the circuses. It doesn’t matter what they yell at you or say, you just smile and hold the sign—do not get involved in an ugly confrontation. You are not going to change that person’s mind, but if others see you being angry and ugly, they get turned off and you won’t reach them. If we claim to be compassionate to animals, we need to be compassionate to human animals. Most of them are not aware of all the cruelty involved, and the reason you are there is to sow the seeds.

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