Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Can Non-Violent Protest Work for Animal Rights?

I wanted to followup on my essay published yesterday on the foolhardiness of "non-violent" direct action as a drain on our resources. Some readers had questions about he effectiveness of protest and I want to flesh out these ideas. Importantly, yesterday's essay put "non-violent" in quotations for a reason:  I was specifically referring to violent direct action which many people misconstrue as non-violent. I gave two examples:  A group of people stalking the private home of a woman involved in vivisection, and myself and a friend yelling like a couple of rednecks at the horse-carriage driver in downtown Fort Collins.  Neither of these are "peaceful" or "non-violent" actions, and the police, understandably, don't take too kindly to it. People wind  up in jail, and people in jail costs our movement (and aggravates the bad image of Nonhuman Animal activism).

But what about truly non-violent protest?  Can that work? Many readers pointed to the importance of this tactic in achieving social justice for other movements.  I want to explore why, for anti-speciesist efforts, I don't think this is an effective tactic either.

Single-Issue Campaigns

First, the vast majority of protesting in our movement pertains to single-issue campaigning.  Most people out marching and holding signs are doing so to save the dolphins, to ban "fur," or to end factory farms, etc.  Single-issue campaigning has a lot of serious flaws and have been heavily critiqued by many abolitionists as confusing and piecemeal.  You can explore my position on single-issue campaigns in an article I have published with Food, Culture & Society available on my academia.edu page.  See links below.

Consider the organization, Igualdad Animal/Animal Equality. They conduct non-violent protest, but they do so by specifically focusing on single-issues, like the dog and cat flesh trade in Asia. Protest of this kind picks "low-hanging fruit" and tends to obscure the more important structural problems by meeting people where they already are and not pushing them to examine speciesism. Most people in the US and Europe love dogs and cats, for instance, and already agree that they shouldn't be killed for food.  Most people also agree that animals should not suffer "unnecessarily" in factory farms and reforms should be implemented.  Less common are those protests that ask people to consider their personal engagement with exploitation and to recognize speciesism as an institution of oppression.  Without a push to deconstruct speciesism at this level, single-issue campaigns are not accomplishing meaningful change.

Political Context

As it stands now, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is not viewed favorably by most Americans. Advocates for other animals are currently considered a terrorist group (thanks in part to the violent actions of many protesters). For protest to work in our favor, we need to rebrand ourselves as serious social justice activists, not unstable vandals and terrorists.

For that matter, we also lack the numbers.  In the 1990, the movement was able to rally 25,000 activists to march on Washington.  By 1996, only 3,000 or so showed up for the followup march.  This pitiful turnout didn't show much evidence of solidarity or strength.  We appeared marginal and irrelevant. In most protests today, less than 100 (and usually less than 25 people) show up. Indeed, my local news just covered a zoo protest where only two or three protesters were present. I will explore why I think this is in the next section, but for now, I want to emphasize that Nonhuman Animal activism is viewed unfavorably, many people are hesitant to participate, and publicizing our small numbers invites public observers to easily dismiss us as a few weirdos up to no good.

What about Igualdad Animal? Are their protests effective?  Well, maybe they get some people thinking, I can't deny that. However, I suspect that many people view these activists as weird and disturbed, because most people in society are unfamiliar with vegan ethics and most support (or at least see nothing wrong) with speciesism.  The law, the media, the medical establishment, the schools, etc. all tell us that using animals in socially sanctioned ways is normal, acceptable, and good.  Until we create a more favorable political atmosphere, how effective do we think these types of protest will be?  Be honest with yourself, what do you think is going through the heads of some of the people looking at the protesters? When they go home to their friends and family, what do you think their description will be like?

The Non-Profit Industrial Complex

One of the most important reasons why we can't garner solidarity (and why the 1996 march was so pitiful) has been the rise of non-profitization in Nonhuman Animal rights.  Groups became competitive, fundraising-focused, and issue-specific.  The non-profit industrial complex means that protesting and other campaigning is often only employed to raise membership and press coverage (in other words, the organizations are prioritizing fundraising over social justice work).  I have written quite a bit on the role of non-profitization in defanging social justice work (see below). So long as the movement is distracted with paying salaries and keeping the cashflow rolling, they are going to be utilizing tactics that maximize financial return, rather than tactics that are most effective for challenging exploitation (single-issue campaigns play right into this approach, as they target issues most everyone already agrees upon and will gladly financially support).  Non-profitization conflates effective advocacy with fundraising, but fundraising and bureacruatization are principle components of capitalism.  We can't deconstruct an exploitative capitalist system by continuing to operate within it.

Consider Igualdad Animal again.  Even in their more vegan-centric protests, they have all volunteers wear t-shirts brandishing their organization's name and posters/signs brandish the name as well.  Their website is packed with "donate" buttons.  But why the need for this tribalism in our advocacy?  Why does one of their most favored forms of protest (holding Nonhuman Animal corpses in public spaces) require fundraising to this extent?  They steal bodies from the trash and have volunteers hold them--this is free activism.  They fundraise because they have bureaucratized; they choose tactics that get attention and promote their name so they can improve fundraising.  Capitalist ideology has corrupted social justice work by convincing activists that bigger and bureaucratic is better and that money is the most important end goal.

Future Potential

This is not to say that I believe non-violent protesting does not have future potential.  If the movement were to adopt a vegan-centric, abolitionist position and protest speciesism (as opposed to single-issues), protest could serve a purpose. If the movement were to gain in numbers and could mobilize a large number of people to give our message weight, we would not seem like a marginalized group of terrorists and killjoys.  If the movement would see protest as a means of ending the exploitation of animals rather than a means of organizational publicity and fundraising, there may be hope.  As it stands, our movement is too small, too disdained, and too focused on making money to feed its bureaucracy.  Before protest could become effective, other steps need to be taken to improve the efficacy and public image of our movement.  Other movements have successfully used protest, but they tended to enjoy a much more favorable political environment.

Of course, this essay begs the question, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?"  In other words, how can we create a public that is ready for our protest without protesting?  I am not dismissing the utility of protest outright.  I am simply asking us to be critical about the message we are giving and how useful protest will be given current contexts.  I maintain the abolitionist position that the most effective use of our time is to promote veganism using non-violent educational measures. And yes, I accept that there are some vegan-centric forms of non-violent protesting that counts as abolitionist vegan education.  Consider Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary's annual "Walk for Peace," which brings together vegan advocates and interested non-vegans for a short march. The event includes educational tabling and free vegan food.

We need to build up a sympathetic public and we need to be critical of ineffectual and toxic movement policies and tactics.  Until we get things sorted in these departments, protest is not likely to be useful.  In the meantime, it would be very interesting if organizations could conduct research to determine how effective their protesting has been on the attitudes and behaviors of their communities. For instance, if Igualdad Animal's public corpse display is turning people vegan, we may need to take a closer look at non-violent protest of this kind.

Relevant Citations & Further Reading

Dan Cudahy - Single-Issue Campaigns:  Pruning Exploitation
Corey Wrenn - A Critique of Single-issue Campaigning and the Importance of Comprehensive Abolitionist Vegan Advocacy
Mylène Ouellet - Why I Won't Support Single-Issue Campaigns

Corey Wrenn - Nonhuman Animal Rights, Alternative Food Systems, and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
Corey Wrenn - The Non-Profit Industrial Complex: Effective Animal Advocacy & Your Checkbook

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Non-Violent" Direct Action Protest Doesn't Work, More Importantly IT IS EXPENSIVE

There are a variety of reasons why people support "non-violent" direct action protesting--it raises awareness, it gives activists a feeling of "doing something," or it is even supposed to challenge "free speech" restrictions.  I think these justifications are largely bogus at worst, or reflect a lack of critical thinking at best.

In a recent protest, one organization decided it would be excellent "non-violent" campaigning to target the private home of a woman to "non-violently" pressure her into ending her participation in vivisection.  First, I would challenge that stalking women is never "non-violent."  Second, this approach just does not work.

It would be one thing to waste the time of volunteers with this ineffectual protesting, but what really becomes problematic is when these folks inevitably get in trouble--arrested, charged, etc.--and then turn around and beg for money to cover them. Indeed, when researching Nonhuman Animal liberation media from the 70s and 80s for my dissertation, I was struck at just what a large percentage of space was dedicated to supporting people who have (not surprisingly) gotten in trouble with the law.

Our movement is desperate for resources. We need people and we need money. When we put our people in jail and then spend our fundraising efforts attempting to bail out stalkers, harassers, vandals and arsonists, that's not helping the animals.  We live in a world that is deeply speciesist, with media channels, the public, and the police on the side of capitalist enterprise and social privilege.  It is nothing short of foolhardy to think that harassing people at home is going to do anything good for Nonhuman Animal liberation.

Just as a personal example, earlier this summer, I was walking with a vegan friend through downtown Fort Collins. Fort Collins is unfortunately still in the stone age and uses horse-drawn carriages to drag tourists around the streets, and this is considered quaint and "Old West."  Emboldened by the support of my friend and honestly sick to death of seeing these straining horses lumbering by over and over, my friend and I began yelling out  slogans of animal liberation from across the street as we passed by on our way to our destination.  Later that night, the slaveowner tracked us down on a dark street far from the populated and well-lit areas of downtown. He was a big man in our face threatening us; we were two young women. I called 911.

Fast forward 30 minutes later, we had been surrounded by 5-6 police officers who were grilling us about our violent actions and lecturing us on interfering with our attacker's "business." They had tracked down the perpetrator, and he, of course, spun up an elaborate story that suggested we had been in his face, spitting on him, etc. (a miraculous feet for two women who were on the other side of the street from him).  "He says you were calling him a slave driver," one officer accused.  I said, "He is a slave driver."  But, our position is not interpreted as logic, only harassment. After the thirty minute interrogation, we escaped arrest by the skin of our teeth.  "We won't arrest you this time . . . " they warned.

This was not something that I had planned, just some off the cuff remarks, because, hey, free speech right?  Wrong. The world sees Nonhuman Animals as objects and resources . . . and it sees anyone who interferes with that as anti-capitalist, terroristic, hooligans.  You know what? If I had been arrested, I wouldn't be surprised.  He was a respected business owner and a man.  Me?  I was just an angry young woman, a killjoy, and potentially dangerous.  The system is not designed for that type of "protest" to succeed.  I didn't plan my "direct action" protest, though.  Thousands of activists, however, make this their primary form of activism.

...and they waste our time and money by endlessly campaigning for funding to support court cases, appeals, and incarcerated activists who are no longer one lick of good to us sitting behind bars.

If it doesn't work, don't do it. It is your responsibility to engage in activism that is effective. Doing whatever you want or whatever makes you feel good isn't going to cut it.  It is a waste of time, money, and humanpower.

P.S. If you are ever asked to donate to support the obvious and predictable consequences of "direct action," give your money to a vegan sanctuary instead. Those animals could directly benefit from your money.  Don't give it to activists who knowingly engaged bad activism being fully aware of the consequences and ineffectiveness.

Note:  I do not in any way support or condone the prison-industrial complex. The vast majority of prisoners are incarcerated due to state violence, not because of individual shortcomings, evil, or legitimate crime. My concern is with the Nonhuman Animal rights movement's celebration of ineffective advocacy that is doomed to fail and drain our resources.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Animal Exploitation in Hobbit Production: A Socialist Critique

Besides overseeing the creation of a remarkably dull film, from a Marxist-animalist perspective, the capitalists behind The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey1 were unusually brutal on their non-human workforce. As many as 27 animals involved in shooting — including horses, chickens, goats and sheep — were killed.

Based on a section of a 1937 novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, the film was released in 2012 and made over one billion dollars at the box office worldwide. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it was only the 15th film, not accounting for inflation, to pass this milestone.

Like the human actors, grips, and camera operators, the animals involved in the movie's production were laboring toward the creation of a commodity, an astoundingly profitable blockbuster. Unlike their human proletarian counterparts, however, the animals did not sell their labor power to Warner Bros. or related subcontractors under the pretense of free choice. Rather, the animals themselves were commodities. Their labor power was sold all at once, unlike the proletarians’ whose labor power was sold to the studio or others in increments.

According to an Associated Press story, animal wranglers involved in the film "said the farm near Wellington was unsuitable for horses because it was peppered with bluffs, sinkholes and broken-down fencing. They said they repeatedly raised concerns about the farm with their superiors and the production company, owned by Warner Bros., but it continued to be used."

Animal wrangler Chris Langridge told the news agency that a horse named Rainbow had broken his back and was given a lethal injection as a result. Wrangler Johnny Smythe said a horse named Claire died after falling from a bluff. According to the Associated Press, "the six goats and six sheep [Smythe] buried died after falling into sinkholes, contracting worms or getting new feed after the grass was eaten. He said the chickens were often left out of their enclosure and that a dozen were mauled to death by dogs on two separate occasions."
So why weren't these hazards addressed? One must assume that the capitalists in charge of production hoped to increase the animals' surplus labor. Surplus labor is work over and above what's called 'necessary labor,' that used to create the equivalent of the animals' livelihood. The movie-industry capitalists might have achieved this by making the animals produce absolute surplus value, which is obtained by increasing the overall amount of time laborers work in a particular period. 

But in disregarding their animals' welfare, these capitalists were making their non-human labor force create relative surplus value. Relative surplus value is produced by the lowering the amount of work dedicated to necessary labor in proportion to that dedicated to surplus labor. So in choosing not to spend the money needed to create a safe environment, the capitalists were extracting a greater percentage of profits from their animals.

Ultimately, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the American Humane Society gave Peter Jackson's fantasy epic a passing grade on its treatment of animals, stating that the organization had "monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action.” This despite the fact Smythe tried to get the AHA to investigate the animal deaths incurred by production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Again, according to The Hollywood Reporter, "An AHA official told him the lack of physical evidence would make it difficult to investigate. When he replied that he had buried the animals himself and knew their location, the official then told him that because the deaths had taken place during the hiatus [in filming], the AHA had no jurisdiction."

Editor Notes
1.  This film is also remarkably sexist in a graphic over-reliance on male violence that far surpasses the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. Additionally, the film seriously fails the Bechdel test (at least the first installment) with only one woman receiving any screen time (the elf queen for about 5 minutes of the 3 hour long film).

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the founder of SpeciesandClass.com and is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his personal website by clicking here

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Social Psychology of Speciesism Lecture Series

For those new to social psychology, I've published an introductory four part hour long lecture on the science of human-nonhuman relationships. In the first lecture, I make a case for the inclusion of Nonhuman Animal issues in the social sciences. In the second lecture, I cover a few important social psychological concepts that help explain institutionalized violence against animals. In the final piece, I criticize the use of other animals as research subjects in the discipline.

Lecture 1: Social Psychology of Human & Nonhuman Relationships (Part 1) 

Exploring how social psychology relates to nonhuman species and the role of human supremacy in otherizing nonhuman species.

Lecture 1: Social Psychology of Human & Nonhuman Relationships (Part 2) 

Lecture 2: The Social Psychology of Speciesism 

Exploring various theories of social psychology to explain the institutionalized violence against other animals.

Lecture 3: Animal Research in Social Psychology 

Exploring the ethical problems with using animals in social psychologial experimentation, highlighting prominent research, and suggesting alternatives.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Against Security Culture in the Animalist Movement

There are certain kinds of animalists, generally young and male, who are obsessed with security culture. Whatever their intentions may be, I believe the cloak-and-dagger measures they promote are ultimately harmful for our movement. In essence, security culture, as it's generally understood, are those practices which minimize the risk of police infiltration into small groups involved in illegal actions. These secretive measures are generally premised on the idea, conscious or not, that small numbers of highly-committed individuals can change society. I believe this premise is false. As frustrating as it might be, only the human masses can make change. They cannot be bypassed. Instead, we must engage in the hard work of winning them to our side.

In response, some animalists might argue that security culture should be encouraged so as to defend activists involved in mass — as opposed to individual — struggle against animal exploitation. I'm sympathetic to this idea. After all, capitalists who abuse non-humans are increasingly moving to curtail the democratic rights of activists whose work would previously have been considered lawful. Unfortunately, mass movements, by their very nature, cannot take place in private. In the United States alone, a successful movement against animal exploitation would require millions and millions of people. Secrecy cannot exist on such a scale. Risk of government repression is inevitable. Trying to impose security culture is the equivalent to administering a cure with side effects worse than the disease it's meant to treat.

For instance, there's a possibility that there are police agents among the nominal animalists I'm networked with on Facebook. Personally, I find such an idea unlikely and hubristic, as I don't think I'm much of a real threat to structural speciesism. But for the sake of argument, let's say there are. I have two general options. The first is that I accept surveillance is an unavoidable risk, the cost of any activism that genuinely undermines animal exploitation. The second is that I become highly selective in terms of who I allow in my social media circle, in the hope of preventing undercover operatives from entering it. Obviously, in my view, the first option is preferred. A mass movement can't be built by atomized individuals communicating via invisible ink from disparate islands of security culture. The growth of our struggle, whether offline or online, requires networking with those we don't know.

It should also be said there is a large degree of posturing in the performance of security-culture measures, which is embarrassing to watch. Most of those who zealously advocate these practices are not involved in illegal activity on behalf of animals. And given the government's technological capabilities, we should assume that if the capitalist state wants certain information, it has the means of obtaining it, regardless of animalists' precautions.

We should reject security culture, at least as it's currently understood. It's most often premised on a model of change — created by a small group, operating in secret — that has never worked, is not working, and will never work. As conservative as the human masses might be, they are, like it or not, the fundamental agents of progressive change. Individuals hoping to become these agents themselves, so as to skip past winning the masses over, are engaged in self-indulgent grandstanding. Further, even if one rejects this individualistic model of change, attempting to graft security culture onto a nascent movement will only stifle its growth.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the founder of SpeciesandClass.com and is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his personal website by clicking here

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Call for Papers for a Book: Animals in Human Society

Daniel Moorehead has issued a call for papers for a book on “Animals in Human Society: Amazing Creatures that Share our Planet” (title subject to change--please excuse the objectifying language!) which he will edit. The abstract deadline is July 21, 2014 and the full chapter deadline is September 1, 2014 with the approximate date of publication in the summer of 2015. Please include a brief self-bibliography of your credentials with your abstract. Topics would include but not limited to the following:
  • animals in culture
  • animals and the afterlife
  • animal ethics
  • animals as property
  • animal rights
  • animal welfare
  • animal rights activism
  • animal-assisted therapy
  • animal consciousness
  • animal cruelty and human violence
  • animals in the entertainment industries
  • art and animals
  • bloodsports
  • animal industries
  • companion animals
  • domestication
  • endangered species
  • factory farming
  • fishing
  • grief and loss of animals
  • humane education
  • law and animals
  • political perspectives on human-animal relations
  • racism and animal rights
  • religion and human-animal relations
  • representations of animals in literature
  • sentience and animal protection
  • scholarship and advocacy
  • speciesism
  • urban wildlife
  • vegetarianism and veganism
  • vivisection
  • war and animals
  • wildlife
  • zoos

Please send abstracts to: dlmoorehead@frostburg.edu or mail to
Dr. Daniel Moorehead
Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology
Frostburg State University
Frostburg, MD 21532
Office: GC-025
Phone: 301-687-7965

Monday, June 30, 2014

Draft Horse Exploitation in Adirondack Logging Industry

Writing history from the perspective of domesticated animals, the group most exploited under capitalism, is incredibly difficult to accomplish. I recently attempted this, researching the exploitation of draft horses in the Adirondack lumber industry in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Unsurprisingly, given society's speciesism, the labor of these animals is almost completely invisible. Reading through the various popular histories of the region, mentions of the horses' forced toil, essential to past logging efforts, are rare.

From a Marxist-animalist perspective, there were differences between the animal and human laborers working in lumber production. The human laborers were proletarians, in that they sold their labor power to logging companies incrementally, under the pretense of free choice. 

"A good lumberjack with a sharp ax could cut seventy logs a day for a month," Paul Schneider said. "For this the lumberjack received, at midcentury [1850], about seventy-five cents a day." Though room and board was provided, Schneider said, "pay was often in company script that was good only at selected local stores and bars, or at the camp commissary."

The draft horses were closer to slaves, in that their labor power was sold all at once, without any semblance of agency. "Most of the horses were Belgians, often obtained from farms in Ontario for $80 to $110 each," according to Bill Gove. "In the years after World War I,the price was over $300." Due to domesticated animals' obvious lack of political power, even in comparison to human proletarians, these horses produced surplus value at a much higher rate than the lumberjacks working beside them.

Logging was a massive business in the Adirondacks. In the early 1870s, according to Schneider, "upwards of a million logs a year were floating down out of the mountains." As Frank Graham, Jr. pointed out, wood was always in demand for fuel in houses and factories. In addition, it was constantly needed to construct buildings, furniture, ships, and countless other important products. However, Craig Gilborn said, the profits from the industry did not remain in the Adirondacks, but rather enriched the capitalists "whose businesses and homes were chiefly in Glens Falls and cities outside the region."

Logging generally took place in the late fall and early winter, according to Schneider. "This was in part because timber left lying through the summer attracted woodworms, and even more because most loggers preferred to spend the warmer months farming or guiding," Scheider said. "Smaller crews were employed through the summer and early fall building logging roads and constructing camps where the seasonal men would stay."

Draft horses were made to haul logs. According to Gove, the best animals, from the perspective of their human masters, could interpret the commands of teamsters and were able to quickly pick up on potential dangers. “A well-trained skid horse could even work alone without an escort, twitching a log from the cutting crew down to the man at the skidway and returning without anyone walking along with him [sic],” Gove said. “If the log hung up en route on an obstruction such as a rock, the horse knew enough to 'gee and haw' in different directions on his [sic] own until the log came free."

Working in the winter posed specific challenges. "If a horse fell in deep snow, it became quite difficult for him to get back on his [sic] feet with the harness in place," according to Gove. "He [sic] would lie still, as trained, until the teamster unhooked the straps and chains. Most horses would readily walk across a railroad trestle, carefully stepping on the ties."

This involuntary labor, dragging logs, often ended in death for the non-humans involved. "The mortality rate for the horses was high," according to Lloyd Blankman. "Sometimes fewer than half of them survived when the drive started in the spring. All kinds of accidents befell them. There were sickness, trees falling, unseen holes and cliffs, icy roads, many occasions for trouble." Besides being dangerous, the work was gruelingly difficult. "Working eleven hours a day during the season, a horse could be expected to last about six years," according to Gove. Due to his troubling vagueness, one is unsure whether Gove meant the horses died from exhaustion after this period, were slaughtered, or sold for another form of work.

1.  Draft horses suffered high casualty rates in World War I, many breeds were at risk of extinction.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the founder of SpeciesandClass.com and is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his personal website by clicking here