Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Ka-ching! That's What We Like to Hear": Why the Vegan Society isn't Vegan

Many abolitionists have been very disheartened by the new Vegan Society campaign that replaced 70 years of uncompromised vegan outreach with the rhetoric favored by welfare organizations:  You no longer need to go vegan to help Nonhuman Animals, you only need to "reduce" by changing your consumption patterns in whatever way suits you, "your own way."

No longer is veganism framed as an important political action.  Now it's about consuming:
Already, people have been getting in touch with us to say how much they love to eat vegan food and wear vegan lipstick, and (this is the best bit) how they’ll be thinking more about their shopping choices as a result of this campaign. Ka-ching! That’s what we like to hear.
The Society then asks readers to connect with a wider audience by sharing their branded "You don't have to be vegan" posters on social media sites.  Also, they request readers to donate or to become a member (membership is another form of financial donation).  The vegan labeling scheme, first developed to assist vegans in navigating a speciesist world and to draw attention to the vegan movement, now operates more like a brand intended to increase sales.

This shift is not unlike the paths taken by other non-profits in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (and organizations from other movements as well).  Organizations are often pressured to enter the non-profit system as a matter of survival.  That is, organizations rely on financial support in order to operate as they grow larger.  This is partly due to societal ideologies where "bigger" is considered "better," and increasing bureaucracy is conflated with increasing effectiveness. The caveat, however, is that the fixation on organizational growth and the dependence on financial support necessitates the degeneration of social change goals.

The non-profit system is relatively new in the history of social movement activism.  A path dependency is created where organizations feel that getting bigger and wealthier is necessary for survival and influence.  Unfortunately, to tap into grant money and to appeal to the largest pool of potential donors, organizations cannot hold on to social change appeals that demand major structural changes.  First, grant monies typically come from foundations set up by wealthy capitalists who got rich off of these same exploitative structural conditions and who seek to maintain this system by carefully selecting who will get their money and what they will do with it.  "Veganism" is a scary word for those who benefit from exploitation.  "You don't have to be vegan" is a lot more palatable.  It doesn't necessitate any serious behavior change, and it keeps the system in tact.  Non-profitization keeps social change under the thumb of the state and elite corporations.  Focusing on consumption keeps the capitalist system satisfied.

Of course, veganism is unique because it is, ultimately, about what we consume--what we eat, what we wear, etc.  However, framing veganism solely about what we buy detracts from the political and social justice foundations to veganism as a social movement.  The Vegan Society was founded by a group of women and men who wanted the world to do right by other animals.  Their goal was not to become peddlers of expensive vegan products. Veganism began as a movement to end speciesism, but it is quickly becoming no more than a marketing label to increase sales.  Within this framework, people don't become vegans or activists, they become consumers.  Appealing to capitalist interests with the goal of deconstructing capitalist exploitation is a problematic tactic.

Monday, September 8, 2014

For the Animals, By the People . . . Not the Man: A Vegan Feminist Critique of Social Movement Hierarchy

I learned this week that another abolitionist organization has been "thrown under the bus," so to speak, as factionalism within the abolitionist vegan movement continues.  The Abolitionist Vegan Society (TAVS) , formed by Sarah K. Woodcock (an unpaid young woman of color), has been, for lack of a better word, "blacklisted," by prominent abolitionist author Gary Francione.  Without having all of the details, it seems that, based on publicly posted announcements, TAVS suddenly wasn't "abolitionist" enough (code for, there was not enough deference to Francione's theory).  As many of my readers are well aware, this is not unlike the experience of many abolitionist grassroots groups and projects that have come before.  Francione requested that TAVS remove all reference to his name and work, and TAVS subsequently announced that the organization was no longer affiliated with him.  Not long after this one-sided split, Bob Linden of Go Vegan Radio contacted Ms. Woodcock to inform her that she was hereby removed from the speaking lineup at Francione's "World Vegan Summit." I have been in communication with Ms. Woodcock, and present my analysis below with her permission.

The purpose of this essay is to explore the ramifications of patriarchal organizational structures within social justice spaces.  Many people bemoan the "in-fighting" of the movement, and of the abolitionist faction in particular.  I have argued in the past that factionalism is both normal and healthy for social movements, and is something to be expected. "Squabbling" and "divisiveness" happens.  It is essential for tactical development and movement growth. Of course, the stressful and difficult work of "in-fighting" can also detract time and resources from important activism.  It might also be off-putting to those who just don't want to be involved with the turmoil or who have just had enough.  These are challenges that are endemic social change work, and, again, are to be expected.

My concern, however, is with the co-optation of the supposedly-democratic structure of new social movements with patriarchal forms of control.  "New" social movements are defined by their appeals to social justice and their rejection of traditional social structures that are found to be oppressive.  Importantly, they are characteristically democratic in their organizational structure. That is, instead of appealing to the classic patriarchal structure of increasing control and influence (with those at the top typically being highly privileged persons who are supported by a large mass of unrecognized persons of little prestige), everyone gets a say. In "new" social movements, everyone has the potential to participate equally.

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is comprised primarily of women and young people, two demographics that are vulnerable to exploitation.  Too often, the volunteer work offered by youths, women, persons of color, and others go undervalued or ignored, with prestige and rewards funneling up the organizational ladder to those "in charge."  The persons "in charge," inevitably tend to be wealthy, well-educated white men.  Social justice spaces become yet another place for privilege to be enacted.  The Nonhuman Animal rights movement, in particular, has had many problems with men usurping positions of power.

We should be concerned as a social movement, not so much with the "squabbling," but more so with the exploitative situation that is created when we maintain a patriarchal social structure of command within our organizations.  First, it perpetuates injustice for vulnerable persons who are trampled within the system.  Especially for a movement that seeks to end oppression and the exploitative hierarchies that support it, maintaining such a structure within the social movement space seems especially problematic.  Secondly, it creates a major disincentive for these persons to participate.  Women, for instance, get frustrated with putting in hours of unrecognized organizational work only for top authors and academics to reap the rewards (this pattern happens in all social movements, not just Nonhuman Animal rights).  Social movement research has indicated that having contributions acknowledged is an extremely important indicator of future participation.

Vegan Information Project, Dublin

I was excited to learn that TAVS has been "liberated" from this chain of command.  TAVS and other grassroots abolitionist groups like it that run on the hard work and ideas of volunteers of all backgrounds are essential for movement health. These groups provide crowd-sourced activist resources and invite everyone to participate as equals.  This democratic ethic is foundational to the vegan world we work for.  This organizational structure is welcoming, inclusive, and more likely to attract and retain membership.  We need a movement for the animals by the people . . . not the man.  An intersectional social justice movement should first and foremost be critical of patriarchal rule within its confines.  For that matter, a movement needs to take care of its activists before it can take care of others.  For some time now I have been calling for activists to work towards a community of accountability.  I encourage my readers to prioritize this goal and support fellow activists who have been victimized.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Animal Suffering Motivates Behavior Change

I came across a unique vending machine idea in Istanbul that encourages folks to recycle and to feed and water free-living dogs and cats. People insert recyclables into the vending machine, and it dispenses food (click for more images and a video).  There is also a spout for people walking buy with water bottles to share their leftover water with thirsty nonhumans.   The inventor suggests that the purpose of the project is to instill a feeling of efficacy regarding pro-social behavior, but I see something else at work here.  It seems that these vending machines use images of other animals (both happy and sad pictures are used) in order to create behavior change.  This is promising, because it reaffirms what many of us are already aware of--humans care about other animals, want them to experience pleasure and safety, and want them to avoid suffering.

This project is also interesting because it creates an easy opportunity for passerby to act on their desire to behave pro-socially for other animals in their community in a meaningful and direct way.  One of the major problems with mainstream animal advocacy is that non-profits keep concerned individuals distanced from the social problem, encouraging them to participate only through donations and perhaps petition signing. Large non-profits like Vegan Outreach often turn volunteers away, asking for their money instead. I have argued that this approach is disempowering (meaning only those with financial means can participate, while a large variety of other useful skills and non-monetary contributions are devalued or ignored) and elitist (privileged folks from middle-class backgrounds with expensive college degrees get to make the decision on where the money goes and what solutions are appropriate).

I also think this type of approach widens the human-nonhuman divide by putting animal suffering "out there" "somewhere," hurting "some animals."  Indeed, social psychological research has shown that distance of this kind can impact a person's desire to behave pro-socially (for instance, more Americans donate and donate more to hurricane relief in the United States than they do to provide assistance to those suffering natural disasters in "far off lands" like Asia).  Hands-on social change efforts like vending machines keep people in direct contact with vulnerable persons in their community, instilling empathy, social responsibility, and the desire to act pro-socially.  Research shows that when people feel like they can "do" something and that their "something" will make a difference, they are much more likely to participate and to continue to participate in the future.

On the other hand . . . I'm not too keen on the survival of homeless dogs and cats relying only on the kindness of strangers.  Access to necessities like food and water should be basic rights afforded to urban-dwelling nonhumans.  Likewise, this type of activism represents only a band-aid effort at helping other animals, and does nothing to seriously address structural problems and ideologies of speciesism that create these problems in the first place.  I am also concerned that this form of "easy activism" can aggravate that problem.  True, many people do not engage social movements because of the cost or risk potentially involved, but some types of social problems cannot be solved with a quick fix.  Can we create a vending machine that encourages people to go vegan and to stay vegan?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Fetishization of “Animal-Friendly” Animal Products: The Body Shop Example

In the San Francisco airport earlier this week on return from a conference, I stopped in The Body Shop for the first time in search of a birthday present for a friend. I knew that The Body Shop had a large vegan inventory, but had to ask the sales clerk for certainty as nothing was labeled. While he was searching for a list, he informed me that most of the products were vegan, and those that were not were produced in ways that “doesn’t harm the animals.”  I guess the expected or typical response would be, “Oh, wonderful! My mind is at ease! Let me buy all the things!”  Instead, I was quick to clarify that all exploitation involves harm. 

I told him that the animals used to make the eggs, milk, or whatever else in their products1 have their babies taken away and eventually end up slaughtered.  A little annoyed at his offensive sales pitch, I also said that, “That’s the same thing LUSH says,” though clarifying that The Body Shop was a better alternative because of LUSH’s misogynistic sales tactics.  Hey, that has to count for something, I guess.

Afterwards, I sent a tweet to The Body Shop, expressing my concern that the clerk had so blatantly misinformed me regarding their ingredient sourcing.  Their Twitter account only responded with more nonsense:

@CoreyLeeWrenn Hi Corey, maybe it was a misunderstanding but non [sic] of our products harm the animals

A misunderstanding?  Is there any misunderstanding the violence that happens to the sheep used to produce the lanolin in their products?  Is there any misunderstanding the veal calves languishing in crates and mother cows carted off to slaughterhouses in order to obtain milk derivatives for their products? Is there any misunderstanding the mass killing of bees done to obtain their wax and honey?  Apparently so, as one of my readers reported to me that she was informed by a TBS clerk that their products containing bees’ wax are vegan because “bees aren’t animals.”2 3 I suspect that, like LUSH, TBS also markets cage-free egg-based products or hormone-free/grass-fed/free-range/whatever milk-based products.  Ooh la la . . . exploitation made pretty.  The Body Shop, like LUSH, markets itself as a compassionate company—that simultaneously profits hugely off the institutionalized exploitation and death (yes, death, or rather, murder) of Nonhuman Animals.  Oh, but it is papaya scented!

Telling customers that non-vegan products “don’t harm the animals” is false advertising of the worst kind.  Obviously, the sales clerk was just telling me anything I wanted to hear to get a sale.4  I walked in the door stating that I cared about animal justice and that my friend for whom I was purchasing the present for cared about animal justice.  So, animal justice is exactly what he’s going to sell me.  Of course, TBS, like most companies that exist off the backs of the oppressed, bank on customers never questioning or thinking critically about their ethical claimsmaking.5  As long as they make these claims, use these labels, and enjoy uncritical promotion by large non-profits like PETA, who would really think to question their authenticity?  This is especially so because we live in a society convinced by Nonhuman Animal “rights” and “welfare” organizations that it is okay to use other animals as long as we do so “nicely” (of course, what constitutes “nicely” will be left up to the discretion of those who exploit animals).

What is happening here is that The Body Shop, Aveda, LUSH, and other pseudo-vegan “natural” companies that cater to socially & environmentally conscious customers are fetishizing “animal-friendliness” to artificially meet the demand for ethical products.  Continuing to rely on animal products is likely cheaper (or at least easier) in an industry that has a path dependency on non-vegan ingredients and processes.  In this way, The Body Shop, Aveda, and LUSH are not really much different from Tyson, Smithfield, or whoever else PETA and HSUS are awarding lately for their astounding “progress” for Nonhuman Animals.  When I hear TBS tell me that their non-vegan products “don’t hurt the animals,” I am reminded of Tyson commercials with little cartoon chickens bouncing about as the narrator assures us how happy their chickens are on their vegetarian, hormone-free diets. 

If you have a choice, always shop from a 100% vegan company.  And, if it is a vegan company, also make sure (if you can) that they aren’t hurting humans (is it ethically sourced?) or other animals indirectly (Seventh Generation, for instance, is supporting legislation for “environmentally sound” products that will require genocidal levels of suffering and death for Nonhuman Animals used in vivisection). 

It should be clear from the litany of criticisms surrounding the so-called “green economy” that we cannot buy our way to social justice. I have to buy my shampoo somewhere, so I’m going to get what I need as ethically-sourced as I can based on my access, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking that my savvy vegan shopping is going to end oppression. These products are important to help us maintain our vegan lifestyle (if we are lucky enough to enjoy the access to them),6 but it would be a mistake to expect radical revolution within the capitalist system. The capitalist system is designed to feed on exploitation. Capitalism cannot exist without exploitation.  This means that we cannot have truly oppression-free products within capitalism, but also that we cannot change the world unless we change our economic system.  


The Body Shop responds on Facebook, failing to address what happens to the animals and suggesting that veganism is irrelevant to a "humane" lifestyle.  Using animals "humanely" is apparently just as "cruelty-free" as veganism.


1.  To be clear, I am not positive what exact animal ingredients The Body Shop uses, as that would necessitate my going through the entire product line and reading each and every ingredient list. I have seen from internet forums that they use bee products and lanolin.  Based on what I know from other “natural” products, I expect egg and milk-derivatives are also used to some extent.  Please correct me if I am wrong, but 99.99% of “natural” companies do this, and I have no reason to believe TBS is any different if they are not a vegan company.

2.  Marc Bekoff would disagree. He has cited some interesting research in his latest book Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation that demonstrates an incredible level of sentience in bees.  Bees have many of the same brain chemicals as us, allowing them to feel pleasure and pain (including emotional pain).

3.  My salesclerk provided me with a printed list of their products that are “free from animal ingredients.”  Does this include bees’ products?

4.  I’ve had this happen before when a man selling bees’ wax based hand cream grabbed my hand as I walked by his booth at a festival and began rubbing it into my skin (borderline sexual harassment).  As I was telling him I was vegan and not interested, he was telling me that the product doesn’t harm animals and that bees don’t count. Then he slapped me with a sticker that read, “I just got a hand job!” (okay, now it is definitely sexual harassment).

4.  The recent Starbucks Coffee campaign that offers “free” college tuition is another good example, as is just about any “fair trade” coffee labeling scheme by Starbucks or any other coffee chain.

5.  Keep in mind that “buying” social justice is a tactic only affordable to a small percentage of privileged individuals, and necessarily excludes the masses…the very masses needed to make large-scale social change.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Theorizing the Role of "Pets" Under Capitalism

Companion animals, like other domesticated animals, are distinct from human proletarians in that they so not sell their labor power under the pretense of free choice. Rather, companion animals are themselves commodities. Their labor power is sold all at once, by others, unlike proletarians who sell their labor power in increments. Further, companion animals work toward the creation of a marketable commodities, as do other domesticated animals. While, say, cows involuntarily labor toward the production of milk, offspring, and flesh, companion animals involuntarily labor toward the reproduction of human labor power.

Richard B. Lee defined the reproduction of labor power, a Marxist concept, this way. “In a capitalist mode of production, reproduction of labor power occurs on a daily and generational basis," Lee said. "Daily reproduction of labor power involves the provision of food, clothing, rest, and emotional support for the workers, the task of restoring their depleted capacity for work, while generational reproduction of labor power involves child rearing and child care, the work involved in producing the next generation of workers."

Companion animals are involved in the daily reproduction of human labor power by helping to meet their owners' psychological and emotional needs. This forced contribution is quantifiable. Studies show that human proletarians who own pets have lower blood pressure, anxiety, and risk of depression, among other things. According to Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at Mayo Clinic,"A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can't always explain it myself, but for years now I've seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.”

But on the whole, pet ownership certainly doesn't benefit companion animals. According to the website of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of the 7.6 million pets who enter shelters nationwide every year, 2.7 million unwanted, healthy animals are killed. Human domestic violence figures perhaps give the best idea of pet abuse's scope. According to the Humane Society of the United States, over two million people (primarily women) are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year, and 71 percent of victims say their abusers also targeted their companion animals. No doubt more prevalent than intentional cruelty toward pets is unintentional neglect by well-meaning owners. Even when this is not the case, companion animals' lives are inevitably dull and circumscribed, as these creatures have been reduced to near-complete dependency on their human masters.

As the socialist animalist Henry Stephens Salt said, "The injustice done to the pampered lap-dog is as conspicuous, in its way, as that done to the over-worked horse, and both spring from one and the same origin—the fixed belief that the life of a ‘brute’ has no ‘moral purpose,’ no distinctive personality worthy of due consideration and development. In a society where the lower animals were regarded as intelligent beings, and not as animated machines, it would be impossible for this incongruous absurdity to continue."

Whatever my writing here may suggest, I don't put a high premium on abstract theory. I'm sympathetic to 'Big Bill' Haywood's quip regarding the value of experiential learning, in which the Wobbly leader said, "I've never read Marx's Capital, but I have the marks of capital all over me." In a similar way, I think many are able to see the marks of capital all over animals, without needing an intellectual system to explain it. But for whatever reason, some socialists don't see these marks. For them especially, I think it would be helpful to codify a Marxist animalism, if you will.

As I've mentioned in past essays, the minutiae of theory is not my strongest suit. I'm sure there are some errors here, besides the intentional subversion of classical Marxism’s anthropocentrism. But I have no doubt other anti-speciesist socialists can radically expand, and, where necessary, correct, this brief sketch of companion animals' role under capitalism. I hope they will.

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

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 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.