‘Research Strategies and Go!’ An interview with AJP Aotearoa NZ Executive President Rob McNeil
Posted on January 17, 2024
In this series of articles May Safely Graze editor Sandra Kyle interviews the leadership team of the newly-registered Animal Justice Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. We begin with Executive President, Rob McNeil.
1 Tell us a bit about your background Rob.
I grew up in West Auckland, with many family companion cats at times, and eventually became a Chartered Accountant. My real loves were languages and music, but a job in numbers gave me security and paid the bills. This career path led me to a 3-month job in Canada, where I oddly stayed for 32 years, discovering veganism and activism seven years ago, before returning to New Zealand in 2022. My guitar and my music are never far away from me.
Luckily the area I was in in Canada was home to Anita Kranjc and the Save Movement, and I learned a lot from them. I was also lucky enough to attend multiple Animal Liberation Conferences in California, be engaged (allegedly) in direct animal rescues, lead an activism tour across North America, support farm sanctuaries, develop campaigns and run various grassroots activist groups. Along the way I learned a lot about campaigning, social movement change theory, empathy and movement building. I still have much to learn.
2 How has your path so far helped you to do the job you do in the AJP?
Everything I’ve done has helped me develop my skills and keep my focus through various trials. I’ve learned both from successes and failures. Successes include stopping a backyard chicken initiative, managing undercover ag workers, and helping defeat an ag-gag bill. Setbacks were watching the world’s biggest chicken slaughterhouse built locally, despite our campaign, being arrested and facing a 10-year maximum sentence for duck rescue (no conviction yay!), and, tragically and unforgettably, seeing activist Regan Russell’s blood washed off the streets after she was callously killed outside an Ontario pig slaughterhouse.
3 Do you have a personal philosophy? What drives you?
Knowing that whatever struggles and human setbacks we have, nothing compares to the suffering of the animals on a daily basis. “Find a small aligned crew, research a goal and strategies, and go. Rinse and repeat.”
4 What do you consider your main strengths are?
Great mentors in my life (mostly women) have taught me about empathy, speciesism, my privilege, theories of change. I am grateful for all the mentors in my life so far.
5 You have been there from the start of the AJP. Why did you want to help form a political party?
It was an obvious next step for animals in Aotearoa – a party that could be a clear voice for animals, without compromise. I’ve been here since the start, although it’s the excellent team that has made it great. Watch what we can do – stay tuned!
6 What does your position in the AJP entail?
I’m Executive President (2nd term). Sounds fancy but I’m really just here to serve the Executive Committee and the Members, trying to push the agenda forward strategically to help build an organization to do great things as capacity builds. We are all unpaid volunteers – join us!
7 Are there any AHA moments you have had on your vegan/animal rights journey you want to share?
There was an accidental trip to a farm sanctuary in 2017 where I met the late, great Mr Dusty Miller, a rescued turkey who was proud, fierce and gorgeous. It was definitely an ‘AHA’ moment as he stalked me, and taught me he was an individual and worthy of my respect and adoration.
8 Do you think a single issue party like AJP has any chance being a part of the government?
Definitely – when we win just one seat we could hold a balance of power. Before special votes were counted, in the 2023 election it was quite possible had we won a seat. We just need some great strategies, and some candidates with charisma and experience.
9 How do you think AJP can make a difference for animals if it remains small?
There are city elections to potentially contest, committees to attend, MPs to engage with, and policies and submissions that can influence other parties’ actions and the fate of animals. We can also reach many kiwis with strong campaigns and social media.
10 Is there anything else you’d like to say?
The animal movement has all the values and willpower it will ever need, but we lack capacity and sometimes long-term planning to become bigger and more influential over time. We can learn through training how to improve the plight of vulnerable animals. I’m also hopeful that we can learn and share empathic listening and non-violent communication to better understand ourselves and the challenges we face, as we work together to achieve justice for our fellow animals.