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When a journalist becomes a rescuer
Donny Moss was living a successful and privileged life. Then he took a risk that changed his life.
In 2013, I co-founded a ragtag grassroots outfit called Direct Action Everywhere. We did absurdist street theater in grocery stores and silly flash mobs in Louis Vuitton and spoke truth to power wherever we could, even when our voices would shake. And while we earned some fans for our passion, most of the mainstream media, and even the world of nonprofit activism, scoffed at us. The things we were asking for – a world where every living creatures is safe and free; a transformation of our political system towards compassion and away from corporate profit – seemed somewhere between stupid and delusional. Dr. Drew brought us on his national television show at Headline News, and mocked us for being obsessed with chickens.
But Donny Moss, a long-time journalist and public relations expert with blood as blue as blue can be (Ivy League credentials; Big Pharma alum), did something very different. He listened. And something odd happened: he liked what he heard. Donny and Jane Velez-Mitchell, a former news anchor who Donny partnered with in the early 2010s, gave us a platform when few others would. And I never really understood why. Donny lived in a beautiful apartment in the best part of Manhattan. He was married to the general counsel for one of the largest corporations in the world. His life seemed so perfect and successful and normal. Why would he start associating with, well, someone like me?
This conversation explains why. Donny, you see, went through a massive personal challenge (and transformation) in the years before he was a journalist and activist. He was a young gay man, in the late 80s and 90s, at the height of the AIDS pandemic. But unlike the gay men mobilizing in the streets to ACT UP and fight back, as powerful men laughed at them (and their friends and lovers wasted away and died), Donny worked for a major pharmaceutical company that was the target of protests. But, secretly, while working for their enemy, his heart was with the people on the streets.
I think that’s what Donny saw in me and DxE. We were earnest and angry, but we wore our hearts on our sleeves. And it’s why, a few years later, he decided he wanted to do more than just share our story. He walked with us into a massive factory farm and walked out with a sick and tortured animal in his arms – and then broadcast everything he did on his news platform, Their Turn, at great personal risk.
This is a fascinating conversation with one of my favorite people in the world. And there’s a lot to learn – about privilege, courage, and change. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think!