Inspirational Animal Activist: Cheyenne Danner – My Vegan Journey Began as a Young Child

Photo Credit: Jesper Valencia Gonzalez.
Photo Credit: Kevin Lee Baker

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Cheyenne Danner. I’m a 25 year old,  San Francisco native, still living here in this progressive bubble by the bay. I’m a full-time animal rights activist, supported by the community through Patreon. I also have a few side hustles, as I like to call them, such as babysitting, dog walking, and helping with my friends vegan catering business. Within Animal Rights Activism I am an organizer for Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV), The Save Movement (SAVE), and in the process of being onboarded for Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). I am also the West Coast Regional Organizer for AV.

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What lead you to veganism? How long ago?

I always say that my vegan journey began as a young child. The first seeds were unknowingly planted by my grandmother as she taught me that all animals deserve respect and that they each have their own experiences and personalities. This wasn’t reflected on our dinner plates, but it taught me something very important, that all animals are sentient individuals. When I was 5 we brought a kitten home. The first time I had ever lived with an animal. His name was Chaplin. I remember letting him sit on my chest and we would stare into each others eyes, as if he were trying to speak to me and share wisdom through his gaze.

During my junior year of high school, my English teacher who was vegan required everyone to watch Earthlings in class and write an essay about it. This was a very important experience for me. Before I had only ever seen animals happy. When I looked into the eyes of the animals in the film, I saw fear and desperation. I became vegetarian after that and lasted a year before my rowing coach told me that vegetarians couldn’t get protein. This of course isn’t true, but I didn’t fact check what he said so I went back to consuming animal’s bodies.

Flash forward to my 3rd year in college, when I was assigned to read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by my English Professor. The book doesn’t necessarily tell you to go vegan, but it exposes a lot about what happens on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s). As I read about how the cows are knee deep in their own excrement and how they are pumped full of antibiotics, all the images from Earthlings came rushing back. The book placed doubt within me about whether or not we actually have to use animal at all. This led to two hours on the internet, diving deep on the internet. When I emerged from the rabbit hole, the protein myth was busted and so was the belief that there is any necessity to use animals. I never wanted to use animals, so once the connection was made that I don’t have to, the choice to become vegan was so simple and so logical. That was nearly 4 years ago now.

Tell us about our journey to activism? Why are you an activist?

I was really afraid of activism for several years. A lot of people I knew, in the vegan community in San Francisco condemned activists for one reason or another. A lot of it was one sided information or negative judgements without seeking to understand their methods. Since they were the only vegans I knew and I trusted them, I stayed away from activism and even told others to do the same.
Then, I watched a video of Earthling Ed’s speech at the Official Animal Rights March in London a couple years ago. He included an analogy that changed everything for me. It goes a bit like this:

There’s a man beating a dog with a stick and a second man approaches. The first man tells the second that he has another sick and asks him to join in beating the dog to death. At this point the second man has three choices. He can join in beating the dog, which would be participating. The second option is to refuse to participate and leave. This is non- participation which is basically what being vegan is. The last option is to not only refuse to participate, but to also do everything in his power to try and stop the first man from beating the dog to death. This is the only option where the dog does not die, and that is why being vegan is not enough, we also have to be activists.

This made something click inside my head. I thought I was already doing what was necessary to end the suffering for animals, but I wasn’t. I was scared to get involved, especially because I didn’t want to be judged negatively by other vegans, but I knew I had to do something. I went to my first Cube of Truth on November 5th, 2017. It felt so good that a week later I decided to start a chapter in San Francisco! After just one month, I quit my job to pursue activism full-time. It’s been a bit over a year now and I can say with full confidence that becoming an activist was the best decision I’ve ever made and going vegan is a close second.

Photo Credit: Kevin Lee Baker

What type of activism are you involved in?

I will pretty much do any type of activism as long as I feel like it goes in line with my values and that it is an effective use of time. We have “the big three” as some call them; AV, SAVE, and DxE. I’m involved pretty heavily in all three. Some specific actions I take part in are Cubes of Truth or other outreach demonstrations, disruptions, marches, farm investigations, open rescue, and vigils.

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What were your thoughts and feelings before your first activism event?

I was really nervous. I had no idea what to expect because it was a spontaneous decision to go. My cousin had all the information and said he was going so I tagged along. I had seen Anonymous for the Voiceless in videos on YouTube but that was the extent of my knowledge. I knew I had to do it for the animals and that’s what pushed me through the fear.

How did you feel once the event was over?

I felt more fulfilled than I ever had before! I only had two outreach conversations and really didn’t know what I was doing, but they were so receptive. It felt great to be able to talk to people who were already curious and open to receiving information. It was also such a relief, because it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Everyone there was so nice and welcoming. I was so excited to have finally taken action to help animals!

How do you feel you are most effective as an activist?

I feel that I am most effective when I am able to be creative and I have an active roll. I really enjoy coming up with new ideas for actions, editing videos, talking to people, and anything that requires me to think outside of the box. When I’m enjoying what I am doing or if what I’m doing feels very fulfilling, then I’m able to stay really focused and give quality effort into what ever it is!

What’s been your most memorable moment as an activist? Toughest moment?

My most memorable is also the toughest moment I’ve experienced as an activist. It was when I went into an industrial pig farm for the first time. It was such a soul crushing experience to witness hundreds of pigs locked up in cages so small, they couldn’t even turn around. Hundreds of babies that had been stolen from their mothers, waiting to be sent off to slaughter. The hardest part was that I couldn’t save any of them. There were no resources available to find housing for a rescue, so I had to leave them all there. It was a horrible place, but I am glad that I went in because now I am able to share my experience and their stories with others. Also, my mom has become vegan after watching the video I produced from the footage I obtained from the investigation.

What is your favorite type of activist event?

My favorite is mass actions like the Daylight Open Rescue that took place last year at the Animal Liberation Conference. It’s so powerful to be with hundreds of other passionate activists taking a huge stand for animals!

Photo Credit: Kevin Lee Baker

Please recommend your favorite activism video/s, book/s or website/s to share? Who are your activism role models? Why?

I currently do not have a favorite book, but I’ve found a ton of inspiration in the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. also think it’s important to have a strong foundation and educate oneself on the history of the Animal Rights Movement as well as of other movements such as Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage. Tom Regan is a good author to start with.

My current role models are Martin Luther King and Gandhi, because they both used nonviolence to fight for justice!

When you first went vegan how did you phase out your non-vegan food, clothing and other items?

It took me about two weeks to make the transition fully and a month to stop cheating here and there. I had a difficult time with cheese, now I know thats because it’s literally an addiction. It also took time to learn to read the ingredients on packages. What I did was first I stopped eating meat. eggs, and fish, then the second week I stopped dairy.

Once I found alternatives for the things I liked, it was a breeze.
It took longer for other things. About 6 months before I cleaned out my closet of all things animal derived except for a few items that I was attached to. About a year before finally getting rid of those things. Cosmetics were a slow phase out. I just used what I had until it was finished then make sure the new one I bought said vegan and cruelty-free.

Do you believe we should show children the process of how animals are turned into products?

Children should be educated on how people use animals and why it’s wrong. I think there are age appropriate ways to do this, such as vegan children’s books, going to sanctuaries and sharing what the animal’s life was like before being there, etc. But honesty is so important. If a child asks a question, tell them the truth.

I know there is some controversy regarding the footage that we show at Cube of Truth demos being shown in public when children are around. My perspective on this is that it’s up to the child’s parents as to if they think it’s appropriate or not for them to see the footage. We do have protocol set for if we see a minor who is unattended.

Overall, I think there is a huge lack of transparency for children. They deserve to know the truth about what happens and deserve to be able to make their own choice based on that.

What does being vegan mean to you?

To me, being vegan means doing everything that is within my means to respect the earth and all life. All of our actions have an effect. To be vegan to me, means I will always try to minimize the harm that my actions have on others and the planet. It also means striving to live without excess. Just as using animals is not necessary, having too many belongings isn’t either.

Is it every vegan’s duty to become an activist?

Yes, I think it is not just every vegan’s duty. I think every human on this planet has the duty to be an activist. It’s our responsibility to create the change we want to see it the world and to clean up the mess our species has created. There is some controversy surrounding the idea of activism being the moral baseline as opposed to veganism. The more time I spend at slaughterhouses, right there with the animals in their last moments, the more I come to realize that veganism is just not urgent enough. We have to take action.

Are you the activist you want to see in the world? Why?

I think the ideal activist is less of a type of person and more of a journey. Everyone has their path. As long as we keep moving forward and keep growing, then we’re what this world need. So yes, I am.

What is the activism scene like in your city?

The Bay Area is bursting at the seams with activism opportunities. We have several chapters of Anonymous for the Voiceless, a couple well established Save groups, and the founding chapter of Direct Action Everywhere. This means weekends are completely booked out with things to do, and typically there’s quite a bit of overlap. Most days you have to choose between a couple different events to attend. During the week there are at least 3 events as well.

We also have the Animal Liberation Conference here in Berkeley which is a huge life changing opportunity. over 1000 activists traveled in from around the world to attend workshops and participate in historic actions together. we even had James Aspey and Earthling Ed there last year. I’m really excited for this year’s ALC in May. I encourage everyone to come!

What personal recommendations can you make for people to get involved in activism?

It’s really easy to get involved. You can go to cubeoftruth.com, thesavemovement.org, or dxe.io to find a chapter in your city or start one. There are over 900 chapters of AV worldwide, so that’s typically the easiest to find. Besides getting involved with an organization, my advice is to not let your fear prevent you from doing what you know is right. It’s a little nerve racking when you first get involved, but this is one of the most welcoming communities I’ve ever been part of and this work is both fulfilling and necessary.

What do you feel is your biggest area of opportunity for growth in your activism?

This year I’m working on becoming a better leader. Leadership is something I’ve always felt drawn to, but never had any training on. It’s a delicate balance to direct people, but also make sure they feel respected. I’ve learned so far that reflection is important and also becoming more comfortable with receiving feedback.

How do you balance your well being and activism?

This is something I’m finally feeling like I’m achieving. I experienced a really bad burnout last year and I made it one of my goals to practice better selfcare in 2019. I’ve made my health, both mental and physical, a top priority. I used to feel guilty before if I did that because I felt like I was taking time away from doing work for the animals. Now I realize that’s not true. I have to take care of myself otherwise I wont be any use to the animals burnt out.

I’ve enrolled in a jiujitsu and judo class that’s free at my local community college. Martial arts is great for the mind and the body. I go to that class several times a week and make it a point that I go to at least 3 classes per week unless I’m traveling. This has boosted my mood and focus so much! I also find that having a routine is really important. The repetition is comforting and makes the unpredictabilities in life a little more manageable. Lastly, I have found that spending time at sanctuaries regularly is tremendously healing.

Cover photo with megaphone credit: Jesper Valencia Gonzalez.

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