When I first learned that the products of the dairy industry resulted in endless suffering and animal death, I went from vegetarian to vegan and began to learn all that I could about what was happening to animals. I began listening to podcasts all day long as I worked and I learned a lot during that time. I listened to Colleen Patrick Goudreau of Compassionate Cooks, Dino Sarma of Alternative Vegan, the folks on Vegan Radio and Bob and Jenna Torres of Vegan Freaks. After that, I read and listened to anything I could get my hands on. Meanwhile, I was learning that some of the animal protection organizations to which I had sent money in the past were not helping animals the way I always assumed they had. In fact, some of them were making things much worse, profiting from animal abuse by owning stock in some of the worst animal abuse industries and promoting the status quo by asking for regulation of the existing structure of domination and abuse rather than trying to abolish it. Some were participating in sexist, violent campaigns. Some were promoting flexitarian or vegetarian campaigns rather than veganism. At the same time, I was getting an education online via some abolitionists, including Gary Francione. I was also becoming the object of some very snarky individuals and got caught in the crossfire between abolitionists and welfarists on more than one occasion. Good grief! Then I started to really catch it; I was called divisive and told that I wasn’t DOING anything for animals. Those who believed in ending animal abuse by tackling one problem at a time saw those of us who wanted to end the domination of animals altogether as nothing but TROUBLE!
Opposing Theories or Personal Attacks?
I was shocked and disturbed to see the personal attacks on people in the movement, in particular Gary Francione. Rather than debating him, or challenging the abolitionist ideas, there is a deterioration into ad hominem assaults on occasion. Many of us respect Professor Francione immensely because of the clarity and consistency of the message he ends, because of his tireless work for animals, and for his stand for ahimsa or non-violence.
Anyone who finds his message resonating within them is then accused of being a cult member, which is rather humorous in light of the theoretical basis of his view of animal rights. What these misguided people see as a fanatical attachment to a personality is, in fact, admiration and respect for a theoretical approach which seems to offer the only hope for peace and the end of commodification of animals. Personally, there are many welfarists that I admire for their optimism and tireless work on behalf of animals. I love their hearts and know how sincerely they want to end all animal suffering. I deviated from the path they were on, and here is why:
Why I Left Welfare Activities
- First, welfare reform is ineffective. As long as animals are property, they will be difficult to protect. They will be considered commodities and will be subject to the whims of their owners. Despite decades of protesting the clubbing of seals, elephants in the circus, shooting of wolves, the fur trade, hunting, the killing goes on. Until a large proportion of the population adopt a vegan attitude towards animals, little will change.
- Second, it supports the status quo. The current situation for animals is precarious because they are considered property and some humans benefit financially from their commodification. Since working within the given structure reinforces the subjugation, it is doubtful it will ever change without a change in attitude towards animal life.
- Third, it sends a very confused message to the public. Few of the animal protection organizations support veganism; some support veg*n, veggie, vegetarian or other such terms. This is confusing because if one is not vegan, one is still supporting the commodification of animals. Asking people to send money to an organization whose own members are consuming animal products is a sign of moral confusion. Owning stock and profiting from animal abuse causes confusion, as does campaigning for measures such as Controlled Area Killing (CAK), free range eggs, and humane labeled meat. There is some evidence that these campaigns have actually increased the demand for meat and eggs; it has definitely confused the public. Let’s not add to it.
- Fourth, it detracts from the energy and resources that could be going towards clear and consistent vegan education. HSUS and PETA both take in millions of dollars each year. Imagine if they clearly promoted veganism. Imagine rather than using celebrities, many of whom are inconsistent and unclear about the meaning of veganism, if PETA promoted vegan education with their considerable PR machinery and funding.
- Fifth, individual causes reinforce speciesism by gaining momentum based on emotional appeal. Baby seals, dolphins, cats and dogs all appeal to many human beings, but lobsters, turkeys, and pigs need non-speciesist individuals to fight for them, too. Animal welfare organizations tend to promote animals that are appealing to humans as a priority. It is no more just to work on protecting only certain species than it is to protect only certain human beings. It reinforces speciesism.
First, We All Need a Vision
One of the problems between welfarists and abolitionists is an inability to dialogue and debate. Many welfarists, sometimes referred to as New Welfarists, actually say they are abolitionists but believe the road to the abolition of animal use must be paved with welfare regulations first. Believing they are being pragmatic, they view abolitionists as doing nothing, while abolitionists regard welfarists as spinning their wheels and wasting energy better spent on vegan education. I would like to suggest that all of us need to expand our vision to what we would like to see happen and stop voicing that it is impossible. It is not. In my lifetime I have seen changes in women’s rights and civil rights that led to a female presidential candidate and an African-American president in 2008. But it took the vision of a man who went to the mountain top before it could happen. Things change, if we can envision it, if we can imagine…..
It is doubtful that welfarist and abolitionists will ever see eye to eye, because there are two distinct views of how to end the subjugation and injustice towards animals. In one vision, we must work within the existing power structure to effect change by using rules and regulations. In the other viewpoint, animals should never be considered as property, must have a right to their own personhood, should be allowed to live their lives in the way they were intended rather than being used to benefit another species. This also means clear vegan education.
Many say abolitionists are dreamers, but the vision is very important towards achieving success. It doesn’t take a preponderance of individuals in a movement to make it successful; in fact, it is usually a minority of people that effect change.
The Dancing Guy and Starting A Movement for Change
There has been a You Tube video going around called Leadership Lessons in Starting a Movement (by Derek Sivers) about how a dancing guy at a concert represents the start of a movement. There is just a single guy, dancing alone, with people giving him a glance as if he is a bit odd. But after a while, a second guy gets up and starts dancing, too. This second guy changes everything, because now the first guy looks like a leader and not a crazy guy – he is just ahead of the pack. After awhile, more and more people get up and begin dancing, until the hillside is alive with dancing. At first it might have just been Gary Francione, dancing solo, getting hit from all sides. But now, more people are joining in. We already have two teen abolitionist podcasters in New Zealand alone – imagine if there were teen abolitionist podcasters all over the globe! It will be wonderful when there are people joining us in the dance all around the world. As Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” All we need to do now is just dance!
Animal Rights People to Know
Tim Gier mantains an excellent animal rights blog. He is on Twitter and Facebook, too, and provides a lot of relevant information and articles for other people. Tim has an engaging style of writing that is sure to win you over and get you thinking. His Facebook page says it all, “I am not trying to be better than anyone else; I am just trying to be better than I was before.” You can find his blog at timgier.com. Be sure to bookmark it because you are going to want to come back to it again and again. Tim is a prolific writer so check back frequently – you do not want to miss any of his posts.
Another important contributor in the animal rights field is Sandra Cummings. Sandra has a facebook page called the Vegan Starter Kit that has more information in a small space than you can find anywhere. She also posts lots of positive articles relating to justice, animal rights, and veganism.
An excellent writer is Angel Flinn of Gentle World. Angel writes for Care2.com and maintains her own blog, The Vegan Solution. Don’t miss her article, Being Vegan is a Speciesist World and Free Range – Not Free Enough.
Trouble by Elvis Preseley
Trouble by Over the Rhine
Imagine by John Lennon
Just Dance by Lady GaGa and Colby O’Donis
Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy by Derek Sivers
The Vegan Starter Kit by Sandra Cummings
The Vegan Solution by Angel Flinn
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