Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Today’s Victims

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

One day when I was a young schoolgirl, I was home from school sick with the flu, when the television show I was watching was interrupted by a sudden announcement: “Caryl Chessman is now in the death chamber, the cyanide pellets have now been dropped.”  And a few moments later, “Caryl Chessman is dead.”  This was the first time I was aware that the State of California was killing people, and it was many years before I would learn that Mr. Chessman had been given a stay of execution, but it had been too late as the pellets had already been dropped. I still recall, though, the chilling and horrifying realization that this was being broadcast about an actual human life. I wished I had gone to school sick rather than be part of the dreadful day. While in prison, Mr. Chessman wrote four books, all national bestsellers. Mr. Chessman maintained his innocence throughout his twelve years in prison. There had been only circumstantial evidence against Mr. Chessman.

Violence Breeds Violence

On June 16, 1944, then 14 year old George Stinney became the youngest person to be executed in the U.S.during the twentieth century. Young George was taken into custody after the disappearance of two little white girls, ages 8 and 11. Within an hour, and without counsel or family present, the 90 lb. Mr. Stinney confessed to the murder of the girls. Listen to recollections here from family members of both the accused and the victims. There was no physical evidence presented against him and the jury only took ten minutes to deliver a guilty verdict. Due to the volatile racism of the era, the African-American family of George Stinney fled South Carolina, leaving young George to face un unjust system all alone. George came from a small, loving family and was reportedly a good student.

Many people around the world are mourning the recent loss of Troy Anthony Davis. Davis was convicted of the murder of a policeman but most of those who testified against him later recanted. There was no physical evidence against him. Police had circulated his photo, making it unclear if those who identified him saw his photo or saw him at the crime scene. Jurors stated that they would have never voted for conviction had they known then what they later learned. The Supreme Court of the US denied Davis his last chance at life, and at any form of justice. Amnesty International, NAACP, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict XVI and many others supported Mr. Davis in his quest for life and justice. Impersonal state agencies, far removed from the individual, decide whether that individual will live or die.  There was doubt about his guilt. With the advent of DNA, we have learned that our system of criminal justice is seriously flawed, with one person after another being found innocent of their alleged crimes. Despite overwhelming evidence that Mr. Davis was an innocent man, despite the lack of any physical evidence tying him to the crime, despite the doubt of his guilt, Mr. Davis was nonetheless executed by the State of Georgia at 10 PM on September 21, 2011. For many people, his death was also the end of any semblance of trust in a failed US criminal justice system, one that appears more concerned with control than truth or justice. What we know for sure is that Mr. Davis was a human being who wanted to live. Troy was also reportedly a good student from a loving family. He was, like George Stinney, also black. Minorities are over-represented on Death Row. So are poor people.

Convicted of Being Different

Over in West Memphis, Arkansas, three young misfits were convicted of murder, once again without physical evidence, nearly two decades ago. These boys were white, but they were markedly different from the rest of their community. One was somewhat Goth in appearance, wearing black and listening to heavy metal, all three were adolescents. When three little boys disappeared and were late found murdered in a grisly fashion, the boys who appeared different were easy targets. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., commonly known as the West Memphis Three, spent half of their young lives imprisoned due to a shoddy criminal justice system. They were recently released, free of all charges, yet with the stigma of being felons to remain on their shoulders. Damien Echols was on Death Row and the other two men were serving life sentences when there were released. Filmmaker Joe Berlinger made two documentaries about the plight of these three young men and a host of celebrities supported their release. “Free the West Memphis Three” was emblazoned on tee shirts supporting the men. (You can watch Paradise Lost, the documentary about these three, online.)

I now live in the State of Texas, which is known for the high number of executions. Texas executes the mentally ill, too. In 2000, one mentally ill prisoner asked to be executed under a full moon in exchange for waiving his right to appeal, and thus Larry Robison, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was executed on January 21, 2000. And mentally retarded individuals have also been included in these ghastly statistics, too.  Johnny Paul Penry, with an estimated IQ of 56, did not understand why he was going to be put to sleep but thought it was “a cruel thing to do.”  When our current Governor, Rick Perry, was debating other Republican contenders for the nomination as candiate for the President of the United States recently, the crowd at the Reagan Library burst into rousing applause at the mention of his execution record, a higher number than any other governor in the modern era, interrupting the moderator before he could complete asking a question of Governor Perry. Death is popular in some quarters, it seems. The US joins China, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as nations that execute their citizens. As a deterrent, capital punishment has failed.

Mourning the Lack of Justice

For those of us fighting for years for justice for Troy Anthony Davis, this is a time of mourning; for those of us fighting for justice for all the innocent, regardless of species, today is yet another day to mourn the violence in the world.

Violence is not the answer; violence is what needs to stop.

End the death penalty.
Go vegan.
Stop the needless killing.

I’m Vegan and I’m Not Vegan

Friday, January 14th, 2011

A recent conversation with my five year old grandson went something like this:

“I’m vegan and I’m not vegan.”

“How is that possible?”

“Well, I am vegan at your house, but when I go home….. my parents won’t be vegan.”

“Your father is trying but finds it difficult with all the family having different views. And your mommy said she would eat whatever is delicious.”

“But she won’t. She won’t even try. And I don’t know why my daddy won’t be vegan.”

Not wishing to alienate family members nor confuse my grandson, I found this a troubling conversation. Obviously, this five year old is thinking about the underlying reasons people make the choices they do. He’s figuring out how he fits in. I paused for a minute, then went on….

“Maybe you are always vegan. Being vegan means doing the least harm (ahimsa). It is not really just how you eat. You have no choice what to eat when you are five years old, but if you care about other beings and how they feel, maybe you are still vegan.”

“No, I am only allowed to be vegan here.”

Making Sense in a Nonsensical World

I try to listen and not interpret things too much. For a five year old, most things are pretty cut and dried. One day he had asked me why I care so much about animals. Another day he is admonishing me to be careful when I am removing a bug from the house. Some days he rails against me for not having his favorite nonvegan fare available. For him, it is all part of growing up and trying to make sense of things.

I am still trying to do that even now, as a grandmother. Sometimes it feels like I am trapped in someone else’s nightmare. I live in a nation that seems in love with violence and guns, with politicians even using them in their political ads, with violent rhetoric ongoing without pause, even when another shooting claims the life or lives of innocent people. Veganism is my stand for world peace, and for the animals that live in this world, too — at least for a little while, until they are hunted, or vivisected, or led away to the abattoir. It is an era of denial, whether giving tax breaks to the wealthy while running up massive debts or denying any climate change problems even as the physical evidence mounts.  It is also an era of alienation. People are on edge.

Satyagraha: Holding Firmly and Letting Go

According to Gandhi, a part of Satyagraha (holding firmly to truth) or resistance to injustice means letting go of results, doing what you believe to be right without concern for where that might lead. Gandhi believed in a strong moral force that came from nonviolence, from refusing to participate in systems that were unjust. He also believed that it was important  not only to do no harm to those with whom you are in opposition, but to wish them no ill will. One has to be willing to suffer.

I think I will be able to protect my friend Skitter the cat for her whole life, since she is getting on in years right now. For my grandson, I have less assurance that he will have a safe or peaceful life. The principles of Satyagraha give me some small comfort; I try not to become invested in results. I am working to create a more peaceful world for the beings on earth, but all I can really do is refuse to participate, to the best of my ability, in the injustice that is going on around me. I can try to reach out and educate others. And I can make sure that, at least when he is with me, my grandson always has a place to be vegan. As he ties on his shoes to go out in the world, I am left wondering what kind of world he will inherit. But I know that is not for me to realize. It is enough that today, he is talking about veganism.

Violence and Vitriol

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

“Evil is an abstraction that enables you to look at someone and not see the person.” a quote from Lee Thorn (via Trisha Roberts)

Fragile by Sting

One of the most important aspects of being vegan is, to me, being part of an international peace movement.  “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields,” said Leo Tolstoy. And even much longer ago, Pythagoras said, “As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. “ A recent study showed a correlation between an increase in violence and the presence of a slaughterhouse within a community. But vegans also know that, while we try to live with the least harm to the earth and other beings, many humans live to maximize capital, remain as comfortable as possible, and acquire the best and brightest toys. Others live to experience the most thrills and chills, to see the most of the world, and to avoid unpleasant realities. Given the real world, the one we hope to change and improve, it is disturbing to find an element of violence within even this vegan movement of ours.

What the World Needs Now clip by Tom Clay

Violence Creates More Violence

On an earlier podcast, I looked at how throwing pies in people’s faces to protest animal abuse was counterproductive – it resulted in negative press for vegans and an upturn in anti-vegan sentiment and anti-vegan book sales. There have been a few notable new ex-vegans that have also, most unfortunately, received violent threats.  This is always a deep irony – for people who do not believe in harming the most vulnerable among us to make threats of violence against another human animal. Do these folks believe that threatening harm is the way to encourage someone to adopt a lifestyle based on limiting harm?  I guess irony is lost on some of us.

Not long ago, I found some ad hominem attacks against a high profile animal rights activist, listed on a thread on Facebook. I was quite upset by this thread, because one of the people attacking this activist was someone who was high profile herself.  This was someone I know works hard for animal issues and someone I had respected in the past.  This thread deteriorated from anything about animal rights and instead focused on a negative yet inappropriate topic about an associate of the activist in question. It was way off point — something that seems to occur when someone is frustrated or angry about another person’s style of activism, personal characteristics, or public stance on an issue. It is never acceptable and always most disappointing. Worse still, it lowers the level of discourse that might actually educate and improve our movement. No one person holds all the answers, nor is one person responsible for all the ailments.  If you do not care for someone else’s activism, work harder on your own. Educate, but do not get into personal attacks – let’s stick to the issues — there are enough obstacles between us and the day animals will be treated with respect for us to avoid creating more obstacles via angry personal attacks.

Military soundoff – What the World Needs Now clip, Tom Clay, part 2

What Constitutes Violence?

Another issue of conflict lies within the definition of what violence means: is it limited to physical assaults only, or are veiled threats and vitriol in the same neighborhood? What is acceptable in the realm of tactics for vegans? An article on Yahoo’s Associated Content challenged those who are “vegangelical” as being too vitriolic for the movement. Some of the examples given seemed in the realm of education to me, but everyone comes from a different place. This writer discussed how someone who was vegangelical might be found on forums telling others that meat is murder – the very idea! You mean there is killing involved, the taking of life? Of course, the fact that is exactly what meat is – the murder of an innocent young being that very much wants to live — seemed unimportant to this writer. To her, this was all about personal choices – for which the animals were not allowed any at all. It is the height of speciesism to eliminate the will and rights of the animals and focus only on what appeals to the human in question – this in effect proves the point the writer was opposing. Irony raises its quizzical head once again.

A guy that self-describes as “Meathead” on Huff Post just wrote an article titled, “Vegans Starting to Sound Like Beck and Limbaugh.” In it he states,

You wouldn’t go into a Jewish Synagogue and yell “Jesus Saves!” would you? And that’s not a flippant analogy, because to some people, the choice to skip meat is religious. God knows, vegans and vegetarians often speak with the zeal and fervor of an evangelist.

In my case, I have read everything from Pollan to Foer, and given my decision to eat meat serious thought. I don’t eat it every day, and I am as horrified by the inhumane conditions under which some factory farms operate as you are. I know the health risks and the benefits. And believe it or not, so have a lot of other carnivores.

So stop preaching. Stop proselytizing. Stop moralizing. You are giving the many intelligent quiet meatless community a bad name.You’re only undermining your own cause.

Craig Goldwyn, ironically, has a subtitle under his moniker that reads Hedonism Evangelist.  I guess preaching is okay if it is mainstream and self-absorbed rather than about concern for the well being of others which might cause someone to challenge their own conscience.  Craig is disgusted by “strident vegans’ who leave posts on meat related articles, but sees nothing wrong in an out loud attack on vegans and vegetarians.  From Pollan to Foer? These guys are hardly presenting widely variant viewpoints. How about some Regan and Francione on your bookshelf, Craig?

So Craig, in the spirit of peace, let’s try to understand one another – what do you say?

You’ve Got A Friend in Me by Randy Newman

A History of Violence Disproves Violence as Solution

On some pro-animal websites there is much violent imagery.  I found a picture of a knife and a gun held in two different hands, the caption reading, “The enemy is armed. It’s time to arm ourselves.” While it is understandable to be angry and frustrated with what is happening to animals, one must carefully weigh the potential consequences that armed conflict might bring. If the root problem is violence, can violence then be any part of the solution?

Kennedy shooting clip, Tom Clay

The recent shootings of innocent people in Arizona beg the question. After Sarah Palin put crosshair imagery on her page targeting Gabrielle Gifford, she frequently talked about “reloading” and has always used guns and hunting as part of her public persona. Yet on her Facebook page, any negative comments have been immediately deleted. For someone who espouses the constitution and the Bill of Rights, well….ironic, huh? I am not suggesting Ms. Palin is directly responsible for the shootings – she did not pull the trigger that killed or shot the elderly and young alike, the politician and the student. She did not slay her political opponent directly. But she did help to create a climate that urges those who are not mentally stable to believe that violence is the answer.  Words matter. Those who use violent imagery, and that includes many who make jokes about poisoning or shooting a public official, are indirectly responsible for the carnage they create. Repeating “Tiller the Baby Killer” without context, with no informative view from the other side, creates a climate for faceless violence. It incites and it is destructive. Sarah Palin is busy protecting her own image rather than taking a socially responsible stand against violence.

Robert F. Kennedy clip, Tom Clay

The Animal Rights Position Rejects All Violence

The animal rights position is the ultimate rejection of violence. It is the ultimate affirmation of peace. The animal rights movement is the logical progression of the peace movement, which seeks to end conflict between humans; the animal rights movement ideally seeks to take that a step further and to end conflict between humans and nonhumans.

Violence treats others as means to ends rather than as ends in themselves. When we engage in violence against others—whether they are human or nonhuman—we ignore their inherent value. We treat them only as things that have no value except that which we decide to give them. This is what leads people to engage in crimes of violence against people of color, women, and gays and lesbians, the poor and the mentally challenged, the animals. It is what leads us to commodify nonhumans and treat them as resources rather than beings who exist for their own purposes. All of it is wrong and should be summarily rejected.

Abraham, Martin and John by Bill Keale

Moreover, for those who advocate violence, exactly against whom is this violence to be directed? The farmer raises animals because the overwhelming number of humans demand meat and animal products. The farmer raises those animals in intensive conditions because consumers want meat and animal products to be as inexpensive as possible. Violence against institutional providers of animal products makes no sense. If we want to end animal exploitation, we need to educate the public about why animal exploitation is immoral. We need to reduce demand for animal products and that can be done only through education–not violence.

Professor Gary L. Francione has stated:

The abolitionist approach to animal rights maintains that those who reject the exploitation of nonhuman animals should be ethical vegans and should engage in creative, non-violent vegan education.

The Rainbow Connection by Willie Nelson

Separate the Person From the Behavior

I have noticed that there exists a subgroup of vegans and animal people who get violently upset about those who abuse animals. They somehow mistakenly believe that by wishing violence on the abusers, many of whom have already been the victim of violence themselves, they somehow show love for the animals.  While it is appropriate to despise the violence, a line must be drawn between the behavior and the individuals.  I know as a therapist that those who are disempowered or were abused may themselves bid for love and, if it is not available, try to identify with the abuser so as to protect themselves from vulnerability and victimhood. When I see a photo posted of someone who does something despicable to a vulnerable animal, I often wonder what happened to that person when they were vulnerable to override the natural repugnance we all feel towards such abuse. I know that further violence will not improve the status quo for animals.

If you do not believe me, look to history for those who effectively changed the lives of millions by using non-violence.

Martin Luther King clip on violence

King’s words still resonate today.

Martin Luther King and Mohatmas Gandhi Supported Nonviolence

King said on June 4, 1957, in The Power of Non-violence:

The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.

Then we had to make it clear also that the nonviolent resister seeks to attack the evil system rather than individuals who happen to be caught up in the system. And this is why I say from time to time that the struggle in the South is not so much the tension between white people and Negro people. The struggle is rather between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

And he said on May 4, 1966:

Our record of achievement through nonviolent action is already remarkable. The dramatic social changes which have been made across the South are unmatched in the annals of history. Montgomery, Albany, Birmingham and Selena have paved the way for untold progress. Even more remarkable is the fact that this progress occurred with a minimum of human sacrifice and loss of life.

Gandhi took a slightly different approach, based on Hindu philosophy. From the website, Social Changes Now, is this excerpt:


For Gandhi, ahimsa was the expression of the deepest love for all humans, including one’s opponents; this non-violence therefore included not only a lack of physical harm to them, but also a lack of hatred or ill-will towards them. Gandhi rejected the traditional dichotomy between one’s own side and the “enemy;” he believed in the need to convince opponents of their injustice, not to punish them, and in this way one could win their friendship and one’s own freedom. If need be, one might need to suffer or die in order that they may be converted to love (Shepard 4).

Gandhi also firmly believed that if violence was used to achieve any end – even if it was employed in the name of justice – the result would be more violence.


Nonviolent Resistance is Active, Not Passive

Both Gandhi and King used the power of nonviolent resistance to bring oppression to its knees. King stated that active nonviolent resistance is not passive at all. Some who oppose the nonviolent tactics of fellow vegans miss this important point in history. While their frustration is understandable, giving credence to failed philosophies is dangerous.  As Gandhi believed, history demonstrates that violence only leads to more violence.  Look at the state of the world today – we are hardly become a more peaceful nation since 9/11, but have caused many more deaths than those of the perpetrators of that catastrophe. Who has the violence saved?

For us as animal rights activists, the end must be reconciliation and redemption. As long as the energy goes toward punishment and destruction, the movement will be harmed. If you are taking the stand of non-harm towards animals, those animals must also include all human beings, no matter how unsavory their behaviors and beliefs. The minute we cross the line into becoming perpetrators of violence and vitriol ourselves, we contribute to the overall violence in the world.

Peace to you all and to all our fellow earthlings.  Celebrate Martin Luther King day by practicing nonviolence with those who oppress you.  Never forget the end goal. The cause is too big and too important to push aside for momentary gratification. We must remain strong, we must remain tenacious, we must remain resolute, and we must remain the embodiment of peace.

Let There Be Peace on Earth by the African Children’s Choir

Probing the Link Between Slaughterhouses and Violent Crime

Vegangelical: Does It Hurt or Help?

Vegans Starting to Sound Like Beck and Limbaugh

How Tradition Kills

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Irish_Eyes_103_1163aMost of us are comfortable with the usual, the ordinary. Change can be frightening, the unknown can become anxiety-producing, even when what is known is disastrous.  For those few people that have benefited from the status quo, voluntary changes are not likely to be undertaken; aggression may serve as an outlet for internal conflicts about change.  For some people, those who feel alienated, change has meant an ongoing sense of personal assault and loss of power. The familiar is often represented by tradition, and tradition has included some horrendous practices, including racism, sexism, fundamentalism, and speciesism. Justification because of common or historical practice allows people to continue abhorrent practices because of tradition’s normalizing of the behavior.

When women and children have become reduced to the status of property, according to tradition, they have not fared well.  Wives in some cultures may be murdered, as may children.  Daughters who have been raped, through no fault of their own, may be killed due to the shame the act brings on the entire family; other young women are destroyed in “honour killings.” In some current cultures, women are viewed as so toxic that they must keep covered at all times, even though they are uncomfortable and cannot see properly within their proscribed garb.  Some are not allowed to leave their homes. Husbands have the right to beat their wives and children with impunity in many other countries.  In some nations, young girls are considered “filthy” until they are circumcised, and have all their sexuality excised along with a lot of their ability to urinate, have sexual intercourse, or bear children; they are left mutilated. Men who immigrate to progressive countries from repressive cultures may find it difficult to give up their “power,” as it is the way they  maintained control and a sense of their proper place, a sense of their masculinity.  It was tradition, the way things were, the way they are supposed to remain.  We have all heard about living widows who threw themselves on the flames of their husband’s funeral pyre (sati or suttee); when a woman’s status only existed when her husband did, it was a tidy but tragic way of ending a dependency which was created by tradition.

Similar thinking exists about animals.  They exist only for their intended purpose as seen by a very anthropocentric view popularized by humans with a narrow focus.  People who are self-loathing displace much of their internal loathing onto animals.  A look at common verbage will affirm this: eats like a horse (who only eats hay and a carrot or two?), sweats like a pig (who actually sweat very little, some breeds hardly at all), et cetera. In most of the modern era genocides, humans have been reduced to animal status in order to be considered fit for slaughter. In Rwanda, where the resentful Hutus plotted to murder their Tutsi cousins, hate radio first began calling Tutsis “cockroaches,” which somehow allowed people who had lived side by side for years to take part in brutal murders, including the murders of little children, with machetes in a personal and up-close confrontation. The idea was planted that they were ridding the land of these “pests” rather than the truth: they were cold-bloodedly killing trusting people whose children had played alongside their own children. During the Holocaust of the Nazi regime, Jewish people were called “rats,” or “vermin.”  It became easier to kill “vermin” than individuals, so alienated are most humans from their animal brethren. Because most humans long ago quit identifying with the natural world, they have become capable of wanton murder of innocent non-offending animals to sate their lust for entertainment, clothing, food, and cruelty. If they were able to feel empathy, these humans would be incapable of the horrendous acts of unnecessary suffering they inflict on millions of animals on a daily basis.

After the mechanization of killing begins, The Other becomes unseen, invisible.  Their personhood is nonexistent.  There is no normal human reaction to their plight, their suffering, their individuality. This is one of the most frightening aspects of human behavior and is the most chilling by far to witness or experience. Whether The Other is a human or nonhuman animal, the result is the same.  Destruction runs rampant and leaves a bloody trail in its wake.  Many Tutsi women were raped by their assailants, giving birth to a generation of children whose mothers find it difficult to have any feelings for them – they are a constant reminder of their degradation and the man who raped them.  Most of the murderous Hutus have remained unpunished; it is only now after more than 30 years that some of the Khmer Rouge stand trial, despite leaving more than two million dead Cambodians in their wake.  So compartmentalized are we that we can even turn against people living side by side, who look like us, talk like us, and work with us; how much easier it must be to detach from creatures who bear little visible resemblance to us.

Justification for the suffering and murder of billions of animals exists because it is tradition, it is accepted by vast numbers of human beings. They turn a blind eye to the dogs stuffed in cages or the debeaked chickens, the tail-docked cows, the once-proud horses awaiting their dismal end in the abattoir.  Yet these traditions are not universal; there are millions of human beings who do not partake of animal products and whose tradition has never permitted it.  The growing numbers of vegans breaking tradition are finding new answers for the current problems of global warming, human and animal starvation, suffering, deforestation, water pollution, and health issues.  When an article about “traditional values” surfaces, one must ask: what is being promoted? It is important not to accept traditional values “whole,” but for each generation to look at what is of value and what needs to change. Our moral evolution has not come so far that we need to look backwards towards even more primitive times to find an ethical baseline.  Become a vegan and stand up for the rights of all animals to exist for their own purposes. Save the planet, save the future, save yourself. We must go beyond tradition if we are to survive. We must do what is right.