Monday, February 9, 2015

Is DXE a Vegan Abolitionist Group?

The short answer is no.

The following meme is being shared on social media networks by a DXE leader:

Meme of Batman smacking Robin. Robin asks, "But you'll never get people to go vegan if you go into restaurants and yell at them." Batman says: "We're not a vegan outreach group."

In my opinion, DXE is not a vegan abolitionist group because they utilize welfarist tactics (open rescues, single-issue campaigning, branded campaigning, and a general mirroring of large non-profits like Mercy for Animals, Animal Equality, and Compassion Over Killing, etc.). Of course, all of these characteristics are up for debate. I suppose it may be possible to make a good argument for the utility in open rescues as an abolitionist endeavor (not that I would agree with such an argument, but I concede that there is room for debate).  However, when a Nonhuman Animal rights organization explicitly rejects veganism, this is a clear indication that this is not an abolitionist organization. I suspect that, based on my earlier observations, DXE is on the path to professionalization. The utilization of tactics intended to grab media attention and the rejection of veganism are two unspoken requirements to achieve bureaucratic growth and access to grants and donations.

Vegan Outreach and other large non-profits also make the convoluted claim that abolition is possible without advocating veganism. DXE is unique in this respect only because they choose to yell at people instead of hand out leaflets or hire Playboy models to strip for billboard ads. If yelling at people won't get them to go vegan, then what exactly is the point of yelling at people at all?  What's liberation without veganism? My guess is that yelling at people gets media attention, and media attention increases access to resources. Unfortunately, non-profit growth and Nonhuman Animal liberation are mutually exclusive. Institutionalization and capitalist success is the cause of speciesist oppression, not the solution.

You can read DXE's statement on direct action here.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

If You Believe it is Wrong to Force Your Beliefs...

Image from Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary


If you are a person who believes it wrong to force your beliefs on others, then you are obligated to go vegan.


- John Tallent

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Join the Vegan Club for the Low, Low Price

Vegan Outreach has repeatedly explained in a number of essays, position statements, and interviews that they do not want a "vegan club."  A consistent vegan position, they explain, is sanctimonious and off-putting. Vegans are angry, loud, and too concerned with morality. "Meeting people where they are," they insist, is a more "practical" approach. What this means is that promoting reductionism (eating less "meat" or "humanely-raised" "meat," vegetarianism, flexitarianism, etc.) is most appropriate. In order to protect this compromised position, they spend a great deal of effort "bashing" veganism. So, imagine my surprise when I received an email invitation from Vegan Outreach this morning asking me to join their vegan club.

That's correct, Vegan Outreach has launched their own vegan club and you don't even need to be vegan to join. True to Vegan Outreach practicality, one only needs to fork over $120.  In other words, their club membership is a monthly $10 donation. It is membership by proxy.

When Vegan Outreach says they don't want a "vegan club," what they mean is that they are opposed to holding veganism as the baseline, a basic requirement for taking the interests of Nonhuman Animals seriously.  A vegan club to them is a nonpolitical, non-active, non-involved donor. Vegan or not vegan, it doesn't matter as long as you pay up and buy stuff.

The following is pulled directly from today's Vegan Outreach newsletter (I've included the sexist "Chicks Dig Vegans" logo for context. It appears sexism is becoming as standard in animal advocacy as donating as activism).


Making a Difference without Breaking the Bank!

Sticker
Cookbook
A $120 donation may sound like a lot, but what about $10 a month? That’s less than four cents a day, but it makes a big impact for animals! You can sign up now for an automatic monthly donation to Vegan Outreach, and make a huge difference by giving a little at a time throughout the year! And you’ll become a member of the “Vegan Club” through VO’s membership program, making you eligible for awesome gifts like our Chicks Dig Vegans bumper sticker, a copy of Betty Goes Vegan, and so many others!
Check out our membership levels, thank you gifts, and ways to give at VeganOutreach.org/membership.

The first course of action for anyone who wants justice for Nonhuman Animals is to go vegan. The second course of action is to educate others about veganism. Donating is not activism (and "activism" of this sort is reserved only for the privileged few who can afford it). We cannot buy the revolution. When non-profits convince a generation of would-be activists that we can change the world if we just pull out our credit card, we've already lost the battle.  When non-profits that claim to represent the interests of vulnerable Nonhuman Animals convince a concerned public that reduction and donation will satisfy their obligations to Nonhuman Animals, this movement is a movement no longer. Rather, it is simply another moneymaking capitalist venture.

NOTE: Vegan Outreach issued a correction: 
In encouraging you to consider a monthly donation to VO, we said that $10 a month breaks down to four cents per day, when actually, it's forty cents per day. [ . . . ] PS. Coincidentally, four cents a day does add up to $36 a year, which, as a one-time donation, would make you an official Member of The Vegan Club and get you some pretty neat membership gifts as well.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

When the Evidence is Lacking, Revert to Ableism

One thing has become crystal clear to me in my many years of advocating for peace, non-violence, and veganism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement: when folks (usually men) can't or won't pull on evidence to support their compromised position (a. that it is okay to exploit other animals, or b. that promoting happy exploitation is an effective tactic), they can be expected to fall back on character attacks, namely, the mental health of those who disagree with them. Over and over and over this has happened to me. Because, really, women's intelligence is suspect from the get go. Gary Francione doesn't like my feminism--I must be "deluded." Abolitionists don't like my criticisms of Free From Harm's racist tactics? I must have a mental illness. John Edmundson doesn't like the abolitionist approach? I must be stupid for defending it. A PhD in social movement theory means nothing if I stand in the way of violent ideology. I am confident that could have 100 degrees and still be accused of ignorance and mental defect.

Fully disagree with you. Those who are still with Gary F-word & those who have parted from him (or pretend to have parted from him) but still espouse his nonsense are seriously deluded. Henry S. Salt called the debate 'stupid' in 1900. It has gone far beyond 'stupid' now. ~ For our own part, we have no quarrel with those who are abolitionist only, or with those who are restrictionist only; it is for each to do what he or she can. But we hope that members of the Humanitarian League will strive, wherever feasible, to adopt the fuller and wiser policy—that is, to be both restrictionists and abolitionists at once. Humanitarians have a hard fight before them against the power of cruelty and oppression, and they cannot afford to refrain from using their intellects as well as their hearts. Stupidity, in such a contest, will retard the noblest cause. And the recrimination that goes on between the advocates of greater and lesser measures strikes us, if we may say so, as just a little stupid.

Ableism is a form of violence. It must be rejected. Secondly, it is a cheap shot, and an easy diversion from addressing an argument in a serious manner. I believe this happens because defending welfarism, sexism, and racism is really an impossible task. Turning the tables by accusing the messenger of mental deficiency attacks their credibility and thus protects an indefensible position. It is infinitely easier to call others "stupid," "deluded," or "confused" than it is to engage the scienfitic research or to admit to protecting violence.

My advice to those who value a movement that is safe and inclusive: if you must revert to insulting someone's mental health or intelligence to engage a debate, choose silence instead. This is why myself and many others do not feel comfortable or safe participating in the movement--because it is a violent, privileged, and bigoted space. Please reject violence from your advocacy.


Update: Edmundson and his male colleagues have been bombarding me with messages to my private email and private social networking account to intimidate me into accepting their right to use the disability of others as an insult. This repeated contact is done explicitly against my wishes and after I clearly stated that I found their repeated, unwanted contact threatening. I post this here as a warning to any other advocates in a vulnerable position who may want to avoid these people for their own well-being. Be aware that Edmundson works for the Ernest Bell Library, the Humanitarian League, and Happycow.net. Practice safety in your advocacy.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Abolitionism and Incremental Reforms


By John Tallent


Image courtesy of The Abolitionist Vegan Society

Abolitionists are not opposed to incremental reforms; we are of the belief that they will automatically happen as a result of vegan education's effect on the demand for animal products.
The difference between abolitionists and nonabolitionists, in terms of these incremental reforms, is that abolitionists aren't out there promoting the "humane" exploitation of nonhuman animals. We believe that the incremental "reforms" that happen from advocacy for them results in people believing that they justify the use of nonhuman animals. Ask any nonvegan about using nonhuman animals - they will tell you that it is justifiable "if done humanely."
These kinds of incremental reforms only work to legitimize the property paradigm of nonhuman animals - not to overturn it. Bigger cages means more efficiency and happier consumers.
Animal welfare reform is for speciesists; vegan education is for those that wish to see the end of nonhuman animal use.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Vegan Abolitionist Discussion in Australia


By Stevie Lynne

Not Safe for Work: Contains some good natured cursing.

Do we need people like Rupert Murdoch on our side? White men say, "Yes!"

Went to a vegan abolitionist discussion group last night. It solidified a few things to me that I already knew:

1. Francione's style of abolitionism is dripping in privilege as evidenced by the total lack of awareness about how a small group of white men insisted on dominating the conversation.

2. Men literally have no clue as to why "welcoming everyone into veganism" is problematic and threatening as f*ck. One dude insisted we needed people like Rupert Murdoch on side. Called him on it and said that welcoming everyone was a direct threat to my safety and the safety of others. His eyes glazed over and uncomfortable silence followed. Yes, a woman just challenged you on your privilege. Get the f*ck over it.

3. Many in our movement are just freaking unaware about the harmful language that they use. 

4. There are other abolitionist thought leaders out there besides some white dude and who actually rock an intersectional praxis. I managed to drop a couple of names at the end of the discussion - like Corey Wrenn and Sarah K Woodcock (much to the organiser's chagrin)

5. Francionists are happy when police can enforce certain laws. You can't be all like "abolish hierarchy and domination over nonhuman animals" in one breath and supporting the police in the next.

6. Francionists are happy to talk about human slavery in the past tense, even though they know human slavery is bigger now than ever. That's just downright deceptive shit that makes white people feel good about slavery being "in the past".

7. Francionists don't like to admit that food privilege is like a thing and should be a part of the conversation about veganism. I brought it up. It got swept away asap.

Screw Francione's abolitionism. Give me intersectional veganism any day.

Friday, January 9, 2015

On the Problems with Open Rescues: A Response to the DXE Position

Yes, images can elicit emotions which can, in turn, inspire action. No, they need not be graphic, and graphic images can backfire within a political environment that normalizes welfare reform as the appropriate response to animal exploitation. Image courtesy of The Abolitionist Vegan Society.

Following the new Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) campaign in open rescue which mirrors popular fundraising campaigns of larger non-profits, DXE issued a brief essay that outlines four reasons justifying the necessity of open rescues:
Providing a window into the world of animal abuse is Reason #1 for open investigation and rescue. [ . . . ]
Reason #2: Undercover investigations – in which an activist obtains employment and secretly takes footage of a facility – face serious obstacles. [ . . . ]
Reason #3: Open rescue is a powerful statement of our opposition to an oppressive system.  
Reason #4: Open rescue saves animals, and tells their individual stories.
As an feminist abolitionist, I have many issues with this position, a position that, granted, I do not find surprising given DXE's structure that closely mirrors that of professionalized organizations like PETA, Compassion over Killing, Mercy for Animals, and other co-opted organizations that prioritize attention at any cost (...to cover costs).

As a scientific matter, the utility of morally shocking imagery is highly contested. This is something that I reviewed extensively in my 2013 publication with Society & Animals. Wayne Hsiung is correct to focus on "abuse" and not "use" in his first point: those viewing this imagery understand it within the mental schema of welfarism. Decades of powerful welfarist mobilization have conditioned the American public to react to graphic images of animal suffering with a desire to reform and donate, not with a commitment to go vegan or end humanity's use of Nonhuman Animals altogether. Open rescue has historically been a tactic of major welfarist organizations that have socialized viewers to respond with support for welfarism. There is no reason to believe that DXE's work will be interpreted any differently. Certainly, many abolitionists believe they can use the tools of welfarism towards an abolitionist goal, but this position can only be understood as new-welfarism, which is simply a reincarnation of old, ineffectual tactics working within the structure of reform, fundraising, and the non-profit industrial complex.

This argument also relates to Hsiung's second point: just how much more open-rescue footage do we need exactly? Many organizations have been obtaining similar footage since the 1970s, and, while DXE claims their undercover footage is "groundbreaking," many other large non-profits also target "humane" agricultural facilities. We have the information; we have the images. I suspect that the true reason for continuing these rescues is to maintain the treadmill of activity for grant proposals. That is, these kinds of activities have very low impact in regard to the number of animals saved (and the animals saved will be replaced immediately), however, they make for a good story on websites and grant proposals. Vegan education efforts don't make for glamorous or exciting photo opportunities, and vegan education is also aimed at seriously challenging systems of oppression. Both of these things are scary to funders and non-vegan audience members who would prefer to point the finger at the individual "bad apple" facility operators as the perpetrators of violence, not themselves as consumers or the system they benefit from.

Open rescues keep the system as it is and thus protect the interests of conservative foundations that maintain most grant monies. Open rescues also give non-profits something to write about and fund-raise behind. DXE may pride itself in resisting the heavy reliance on funding that characterize other non-profits, but the donation rhetoric that they do engage reads chillingly similar to that of the larger non-profits.1 For that matter, their logo is plastered on their outreach for a reason. This isn't 100% about Nonhuman Animal liberation, it is also, to some extent, about advertising their organization/brand. The social movement arena is a competitive world. To survive and thrive, a group needs to raise resources. To do so, it has to start prioritizing single-issue campaigns, shocking imagery, brand promotion, and yes, fundraising.

It also needs full-time employees to run the organization and more funding to pay them to do so. Like other professionalized organizations, DXE maintains the pro-capitalist position that some privileged individuals will be paid to advocate.2 Funding careerists is problematic because it supposes that we can "buy" the revolution. First, not everyone can access the privilege of non-profit employment; the non-profit system is known to reproduce social inequality by under-representing oppressed groups on the payroll.3 Secondly, it is capitalism that has created this oppression, capitalism is not going to end it. Dismantling oppression will require the efforts of millions of individuals, and it is not plausible for them to expect a paycheck or stipend. Oppressed groups have been doing this important work for hundreds of years without access to these resources--only the privileged non-profit sector would so arrogantly presume that anti-oppression work could also pay the bills. The notion that we can work against the forces of capitalism while simultaneously earning an income from it is nonsensical and it is also privileged. This is advocacy as industry.


DXE's point number three ("Open rescue is a powerful statement of our opposition to an oppressive system") I believe also runs into conflict with the actual impact of graphic imagery on an audience. I have thus far argued that graphic imagery can trigger a welfarist response, but, relatedly, it may also reinforce distancing and domination.This consequence is something that DXE has considered as well. Earlier publications by DXE report (as a result of their very own research) that the use of graphic images of Nonhuman Animals suffering is easily counterproductive. Kelly Atlas writes:
Horrific, graphic images can trigger defense mechanisms that make people shy away from the scene, thereby discouraging engagement with the liberationist message and political activity. [ . . . ] 
I am also concerned that repeatedly seeing images of people of a given group (nonhumans) being objectified by one's own group (humans) may normalize their objectification in the viewer's mind.
Indeed, in an essay for Vegan Feminist Network, I have likened this use of imagery to the mechanisms of pornography. It seeks to elicit a physiological reaction by presenting images of degraded and objectified bodies to the privileged human gaze:
The entire point of pornography is to titillate via the sexual degradation and humiliation of an oppressed body.  Those who consume pornography are consuming it specifically to “get off,” so to speak, on the demonstrated powerlessness of otherized bodies.  The relationship between the viewer and the viewee is one that reproduces and reinforces a hierarchy of domination.  Pornography users also report experiencing a “tolerance,” meaning increasingly degrading and shocking imagery is needed for them to feel something.  The pornography industry is happy to serve that need by producing increasingly disturbing media. [ . . . ] 
So what makes it any different for vegan advocates who share these images with the intention of shocking people with images of violated and degraded animal bodies?  And for that matter, what gives them the right?  
Atlas goes on to suggest that images that recognize the personhood of survivors may be more useful, but I see no difference from open-rescue imagery and, say, that of Hurricane Katrina rescues or Ebola interventions. People of privilege produce and share these images to create a shocking response, but in a way that reinforces the privilege of the viewer and the objectification of the persons in the image. Farm victim/Katrina victim/Ebola victim=object; Humans/whites/westerners=subject. These images are common: bodies degraded by a society that does not value them, put on display for persons of privilege who will, as a social psychological matter, interpret them in ways that protect the system of oppression that produced them. Has imagery incited collective action and individual transformation? Absolutely. But positive outcomes are only one of many consequences of this tactic.

I also believe that DXE also makes a critical mistake in conflating open rescue with emotionally-charged imagery. They are separate issues. We don't need open rescue to create imagery that inspires social change. However, DXE makes it appear that, without open rescue, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement lacks arsenal. In doing so, Hsiung pulls out the tired accusation that the vegan abolitionist approach consists only of "dry information." He is also drawing on the popular direct action ideology that is critical and suspicious of non-violent, education-based advocacy (see Elizabeth DeCoux's publication in Animal Law for a more detailed reflection of the position shared by DXE). In my piece with Society & Animals, I counter this position with a brief content analysis of abolitionist websites and publications. Despite claims made by Hsiung and other direct action advocates and welfarists, abolitionists actually draw on emotionally-charged imagery quite heavily. Narratives are being told in countless ways that do not rely on the limited (and sometimes counterproductive) nature of open rescues. I think the prevailing difference is that abolitionists work to ground their imagery within clear abolitionist claimsmaking.

I believe there is a major difference between audience interpretation of images produced by DXE or Animal Equality and images produced by The Abolitionist Vegan Society or Vegan Information Project. The former relies on traditional welfarist structures to elicit a physiological response that will encourage the "Do something, anything! Less talk, more action! Take my money! Reform it!" type of mentality. The latter is more likely to encourage viewers to consider an anti-speciesist perspective and a vegan lifestyle. The vegan education approach is also likely to be much more resource efficient. Education works, it is cheap, and it is accessible. The impacts of veganism are also farther reaching than single-issue campaigns that open rescues tend to prioritize.

Notes
1. From the DXE donation page: "Yes, we could use funding. Materials, cameras, and technology aren't cheap. Our groundbreaking investigations of 'certified humane'  farms cost a tiny fraction of what is spent in comparable investigations by large non-profits, but expenses still often run into the thousands of dollars."
2. From the DXE donation page: "And a small number of DxE Fellows and Investigators have given up their careers to work for animals; we hope to support them with activist stipends."
3. I do not know the data for DXE, which is actively more racially inclusive, but the Nonhuman Animal rights industry as a whole tends to reserve paid positions for white men of means.