Once Shy Kimberly Carroll Is Now Front and Centre in the Animal Rights Movement
Kimberly Carroll is a coach for changemakers, a campaign strategist for Animal Justice, a director at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank, and the Animal Justice Academy director, where animal activists learn the ins and outs of becoming an activist. Once a voracious meat eater to the point where folks used to make fun of her about it, Kimberly has switched this love of protein to things like tofu and lentils and became vegetarian about 25 years ago.
This was pre-internet days when research couldn’t be easily conducted and when veganism was not as common as it is today. About ten years later, right around the time Earthlings came out, she went all-in vegan and became an activist at that time.
Kimberly didn’t tiptoe lightly into her career speaking up for animals, and she continues to be a passionate voice for animals. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. It’s made me feel much more peace in my heart. I don’t feel as heavy in my conscience, especially as an activist, and it allows me to start making up for all the harm I did in the first part of my life.”
Kimberly grew up in Manitoba and despite having lived in Toronto for many years, she still considers herself a prairie girl at heart. An only child until the age of six when her sister was born, she was painfully shy around other children when she started school. An astute teacher discovered that Kimberly has a nice voice, so singing became the way for her to come out of her shell.
Kimberly moved to Toronto to study radio and television arts at Ryerson University. She worked as a television host and producer for 15 years, and she also got the lead in Kink!: The Musical about the life of Bettie Page, known as the Queen of Pinups.
Because of her background in theatre, which she loved, there’s been a dichotomy in her life. “I was always torn between Kimberly the performer and Kimberly the person that was going to build a powerful platform to do good work in the world.”
But she took performer Kimberly to another level when, in her early thirties after being laid off from her job with the CBC, she travelled the world as a street performer. “I had an Australian boyfriend at the time who was a street performer. He juggled chainsaws on a tightrope. He said, ‘Why don’t we go and travel the world? You’re a performer. You can make a show.’ So, I ended up, after having quite a lucrative career in television, dropping out and becoming tantamount to a busker. I decided to do it because I had always been so career driven that I’d never taken the time to travel, and it was always something I wanted to do. That was my version of ‘fuck it, let’s just live life.’”
This decision took her to major cities around the world, and she made her living through street performing. Things shifted for her when she arrived in India. “It was in India that I was faced for the first time with incredible suffering — humans who were dying of leprosy that costs $50 to cure. I was vegetarian at the time, but I hadn’t become an activist yet, and I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of animal suffering, but there was a lot of that, too. At this point I thought, there is so much suffering in this world and I need to make this a priority, and I want to make this world a better place in a tangible way, but what is the best vehicle to get there?”
Once back in Canada, the vehicle she used was her prominence in television, which at one time included being on the popular Take This House and Sell It show broadcast throughout North America. She reached out to animal rights organizations offering to be their spokesperson and host of their events.
She became part of the now-defunct Toronto Animals Rights Society, which she credits for building a solid community of animal activists in Toronto and many members initiating projects of their own. At the start, she took part in a lot of street-level activism. “I did a lot of protests. I went to a lot of demos. I held a lot of signs, handed out a lot of pamphlets. I got my feet wet with grassroots activism,” says Kimberly.
During a particularly quiet street-level event, she decided she needed to work smarter and use her unique skills to make a bigger difference. (Today, she teaches the work-smarter-not-harder way of activism to those who join the Animal Justice Academy, because she knows that’s what advances the movement.) Calling herself a social activist, Kimberly works to achieve change for animals on a political and social level.
While building her activism career, she was at the same time building what would eventually become her coaching career — coaching that integrated body, mind, and spirit. “I felt this was something I had to explore. I thought I would do it on the side for a little bit, and about a year later I started doing it full-time. It called to a part of me that I most needed to develop as well, and it mined parts of myself that I hadn’t mined before. I was also seeing the effect it had on people and how much this work could be life-changing.”
It was during this pivotal time in her activism career that Kimberly brought all the required people, skills, and money together and with Lisa Kramer went on to create the “Why Love One But Eat the Other” transit campaign that appeared throughout the GTA. The campaign has run several times in Toronto, across Canada, and has also run in Singapore, Australia and Germany. In the late 2010s, Animal Save Movement asked if they could reboot the campaign, and they also ran it successfully.
“It was the first widespread animal rights campaign in Canada. To this day, I still hear from people that it made them vegan or an activist. People doing amazing things in the animal rights movement were started from this campaign. It’s still something I’m proud of, and I feel lucky that I was able to work on that.”
From there — along with Camille Labchuk, Lisa Kramer, Anna Pippus, Arden Beddoes and of course Milo Runkle — Kimberly went on to help launch Mercy for Animals in Canada, an animal rights organization that was the first to conduct undercover investigations. “One of the biggest things we had been hearing in activism up until that point when we showed undercover footage was, ‘Oh, well, that’s what happens in the States. This doesn’t happen in Canada.’ So, we knew that doing undercover investigations in Canada was important to be able to break that bubble. Those were pretty heady times. I got to see the inner workings of undercover investigations; Milo Runkle was a real genius around that stuff. I learned a lot from him.
“My media connections came in handy, and we were able to get the first undercover investigation on W5 [a documentary program in Canada]. That was a lucky break. It opened up a lot of Canadian people’s eyes as far as what’s actually going on in their own country.”
Kimberly herself didn’t take part in undercover investigations, but she volunteered to counsel those who did this hard work. “Undercover investigators are the most special people in the world. I have the utmost respect for them. It’s not suited for many people; they’re able to compartmentalize.”
About seven years ago, Kimberly moved to Animal Justice where she’s a director and Campaigns Strategist, roles she does on a volunteer basis. At one point, Kimberly, Anna, and Camille were speaking of making use of all the passionate animal lovers who contacted the organization to volunteer. Animal Justice has few paid staff, and there was no one available to take on the big job of managing volunteers.
“We have thousands of people a year that sign petitions in Canada. We have hundreds, maybe thousands that actively want to volunteer, and we’re not putting these people to use. I said, what if we had a program that could make them into their own self-contained activists so no matter where they were, who they were, what age they were, what communities they lived in, they would have tools to be able to do their own activism.” Animal Justice Academy (AJA) was born. Within the first 24 hours of its launch, more than 1,000 people had signed up to take part, and when they reached 5,000 participants, Kimberly reached out for help from other dedicated volunteers.
“I got to see a whole community of people come alive as activists. We had a lot of veteran activists who joined, and for them it was a matter of learning new skills, learning how to take better care of themselves to become more sustainable and enduring and effective. But we also had a whole crop of animal lovers, people who aren’t veg, people who had a particular area of animal advocacy they were interested in, and we took them through this entire education from every form of animal exploitation.”
When Animal Justice Academy originally launched, it was designed to be a six-week bootcamp, but it was so successful that it’s become an activism and education collective that Kimberly manages on a part-time basis. She credits the education received by AJA participants for convincing many of them to become vegan, for letters to the editor being published, and for initiatives being taken into schools, workplaces, and communities.
While the bulk of her volunteer hours go toward animal advocacy, Kimberly also speaks up for Indigenous rights, the environment, and other social justice movements. This discussion of being more intersectional brings up the death of Tommy Raskin who died by suicide on New Year’s Eve 2020. In response to vegans who perhaps project that their way of being vegan or an activist is the only way, he’s quoted as saying “I’m working for a vegan world, not a vegan club.”
Kimberly says, “That speaks to how I feel and the fact that I don’t want veganism to be this niche thing. I want the whole world to embrace it. I want the whole world to become animal advocates. To do that, we need to start opening up that umbrella. We need to invite as many people and as diverse people as possible under this umbrella. Otherwise, it’s not going to have the same richness. It’s not going to have the right balance. We need people of all backgrounds, so that requires us to be conscious of what other social justice movements are needing and not to simply focus on animal advocacy. Again, that will always be my first love, my first devotion. I care about the suffering that is happening to humans as well.”
Kimberly goes on to say that with everything going on in the world today, people are already burdened with the problems we are facing. An activist’s role, therefore, is to cut through the noise and point out issues that need attention. “I think our role as activists is to help wake people up and then to give them the tools and the guidance in this very crowded world to be able to care even when they are feeling incredibly overwhelmed, and they’ve got a lot of stuff weighing on their shoulders.”
One of the biggest challenges in doing this work for any activist is being a witness to the brutality. Kimberly shares that she’s also challenged by the politics. This is a concern I’ve heard many times in conversation with activists and it’s difficult to understand. All animal activists want to end animal exploitation; we’re all on the same side. So, why the infighting?
“Our communities need to figure out where we stand, where we unite and where we differ. We need to bring different voices to it, so I don’t begrudge us having differences. What I begrudge is that the discussion is happening with such a lack of compassion sometimes. I dislike hate in any of our activism communities.
“I know that the hate, the anger all come from a place of pain and fear. I have empathy for it, for those people who are approaching it from that place. But I would deeply like to see that shift. I would like to see deep healing happen in the activism communities and for activists so that we can all do this work so much more effectively and in a more enduring way than what we can do when there’s this kind of politics.”
Her advice for those thinking about becoming an activist? “You have to remember to take care of yourself, we need you to not burn out because there are too few of us, and we need you to be somebody that others want to emulate. If we’re trying to attract people to do what we do, we have to glow with love and light. So that requires us to do the work, to heal the pain that we take on, or to at least move through it and process it and keep ourselves healthy, strong and resilient.”
If you’re interested in taking part in Animal Justice Academy and joining this community of empowered and committed animal advocates, you can do so here. It’s free to join and available to anyone anywhere in the world. Live webinars are still taking place regularly with guest speakers.
Discover more about Kimberly, her work, and her contributions through her website.