Activists + > Actors
Elissa Sursara Interview with Rob Lavin

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see also: ARA - actress Elissa Sursara gearing up for own TV show

Elissa Sursara - Anti-Whaling Protest

How did you get involved in animal rights activism?

I've always been enthusiastic about animals and felt a great connection to the environment as a young girl. As an Australian child, my love for the outdoors was definitive to my lifestyle and I spent every waking second outside and exploring, developing a deeply ingrained love for my environment and the animals within it. As I grew older, I noticed the way in which many humans differed from me; they were not protective of their oceans and seemed unperturbed to hear about environmental devastation and larger animal cruelties. I came to the realisation that humans are desensitized to consumerist consequence and I became infuriated by what I believed to be a blatant disregard for our natural surroundings. Though I spent a lot of time picking up trash around the parks and beaches, rescuing fallen birds and plotting ways to buy abandoned animals at our local shelter, I was still blissfully unaware of the real horrors animals face in entertainment, for science, for clothing and for food. During a shift volunteering at my local shelter, I was introduced to some unsettling footage of cows at a factory farm and through tears and shaking hands, I made a decision, at fifteen years old, to become vegan. Because greater society has not yet developed a true understanding of animal exploitation, I felt, and still feel, a great sense of responsibility for the exploited and immediately begun attending rallies to protest all forms of animal exploitation. Seven years later and animal rights activism is a huge part of my life and who I am as a person.

What are your greatest frustrations as an animal rights activist?

Ultracrepidarians -- those who speak with authority about an issue in which they have no knowledge, experience or expertise -- plague the movement, cause incredible suffering and present challenging obstacles, and that is the most frustrating part of my activism. It's incredibly difficult to educate a person about animal rights when they lack the ability to correctly identify an oxymoron like 'humane slaughter', or those who feed into sponsored myths that meat is synonymous with health and ignorantly argue that modern meat production is part of natural selection. The most frustrating part, however, is to hear a person that eats, sleeps and breathes support for revolutionary action and fighting against government and corporate misinformation go on to dismiss the realities of meat consumption, a relic and social norm riddled with propaganda; it's truly inconsistent.

How has your activism affected your career?

My animal rights activism has united my fans and indescribably enriched my career. My fans tell me that my voice for animals has touched them and that they have introduced their friends and family to my career and musings in hopes of further spreading my message. New fans and strangers proudly inform me that they will support my roles and projects because they appreciate the effect my platform will have for animals. My fans have shown great support for me as both an activist and an actress; I'm incredibly lucky.

Has your health, life and body changed since becoming a vegan?

I've been vegan since I was fifteen years old and the benefits of this are undoubtedly obvious. I was a sluggish teenager with little interest in experimenting with food and fitness, and I was uninspired in terms of being adventurous and trying new things. My self-confidence was dismal because I struggled with weight gain, bad skin and a lack of confidence. Since making the decision to become vegan, my life has changed dramatically. I'm alert and active and my body is bursting with energy. I rarely suffer with illness and my veganism means I am almost exempt from many of the most life threatening diseases: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast cancer and arthritis. My struggle with weight gain has all but disappeared and my current, healthy weight is easily maintained -- I never have to worry about splurging on fattening foods because my body is so well prepared to burn it off. I am ageing incredibly slowly -- in fact, at 23 years of age, I am often questioned about whether or not I am old enough to buy alcohol and enter a club! -- and I believe that's one of the most physically rewarding aesthetic benefits of a plant-based diet. My hair grows strong and healthy and my skin is unbelievably resilient. I feel fit and my body functions in an outstanding manner. I never suffer from PMS. I get my entire daily intake without meticulous planning and have developed an incredible relationship with food and cooking -- my creativity in the kitchen has hit an all time high and I often find myself going weeks and weeks before I repeat a meal. Veganism is an incredibly exciting lifestyle choice and I credit it for pushing me in a fantastic and rewarding direction. My teenage struggles were almost always a result of my diet: a diet filled with animal proteins, cows milk, eggs, mercury and sugars. I thank veganism for eradicating these struggles in my young adulthood and look forward to a healthy adult and senior life.

Would you say that your morals and ethics govern your life?

The process of sacrificing things I loved that were inflicting cruelty in order to abstain from that cruelty was challenging, but shampooing my hair with an animal tested product and sitting in the audience of a dolphin show at SeaWorld suddenly left me feeling overwhelmingly dirty. It didn't take long to become militant about where my dollar goes. As a person opposed to animal exploitation, it would be fair to say that my morals and ethics govern my life -- but it would be incorrect to suggest that I am restricted and limited in my choices. I am liberated by my perspectives and have never felt 'controlled' by my moral compass; if anything, it's wonderful guidance. I am healthier, happier and a better influence on the planet because of my veganism and it's a truly halcyon feeling knowing that my actions, consumptions and recreational activities do not inflict suffering any longer. Human beings are conditioned from a very young age to become ignorant and unaware, because a thinking person will never be 'a good little consumerist.' Major corporations and industries survive by keeping you in the dark, and it's that search for light that will truly liberate you.

What is your opinion on direct-action activism?

In our current society, a man breaking the law to save a child from sex slavery is a hero, but a man breaking the law to save a cow from food production is a terrorist. I put it to you that they are both heroes. Some of the world's greatest revolutionaries used direct-action to end social injustice and the iconic people behind this Satyagraha or 'truth-force' - including Martin Luther King and Mohandas Ghandi - have inspired some of the greatest changes in history and asserted the independence of different social and racial groups; an undeniable benefit to society and our metamorphosis. Not unlike these revolutionaries' rhetoric, direct-action for animals never intended to always fall within the idea of pacifism, but does not seek to endanger human life - this was true of the plight to abolish slavery and it's true of animal liberation. Direct-action has always sought to liberate those exploited by a society that refuses to negotiate and confront the issue. It's a mischaracterization, a fallacy sponsored by industries that profit from exploitation, to claim that direct-action on behalf of animals is violent terrorism and any intelligent person would see right through such misrepresentation.

You state there is a correlation between the oppression of animals and the oppression of women. Does this motivate your activism as an open feminist?

The exploitation of women is evident within pornography, fashion, modelling, advertising and entertainment and it's primary objective is to attract and entice an audience -- of both males and females - in order to make money. Both women and animals are oppressed within our society and bought and sold as commodities; an exploited means to a financial gain. Any resistance to both oppressions is dismissed with poorly formed justifications and bias concepts used to protect sadistic, wealthy industries. Feminist women and pro-feminist men protest to challenge the gender inequalities prevalent within our society while animal rights activist protest to challenge the inequalities between species. The plight of women is synonymous with the plight of animals and I'm enthusiastic about the ways in which feminists and pro-feminist men are collaborating with animal rights activists in order to achieve liberation.

Finally, who are your 'animal rights' idols?

I'm a huge fan of academic activists like Peter Singer, Steven Best, Gary Francione, and Jonathan Safran Foer and am constantly inspired by their works. It's my hope that their clever approach to animal liberation will help to dispel some of the unjust myths surrounding the intelligence and seriousness of animal activists. I admire outspoken advocates like Paul and Stella McCartney, James Cromwell, Alecia Moore and Ellen Degeneres, because they are fearless in their message and adamant to bring about change no matter what the cost to their careers. I admire those in the movement that have risked their own freedoms to liberate animals, persons such as Ronnie Lee, Darius Fulmer and Walter Bond, and all other direct-action activists. I'm also inspired and moved by many of my activist friends dedicating themselves to fighting animal cruelty, some of which who do not have the money nor the time to dedicate, but find it nonetheless.

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