A long time ago a wise vegan activist, let’s call him Johnnycakes, once said in a meeting that veganism was not animal rights. At the time I balked zealously arguing that veganism was the embodiment of animal rights, they were one and the same. If there’s something I’m learning about the way my particular brain works is that it’s as slow on the uptake of new ideas as it is tenacious on the grip of old ones. I guess I get so happy to understand an idea that just I hang on to it for dear life. This poor stoopit, dense, abused brain of mine is barely hanging in there already as it is. Many ideas (like the one JohnnyCakes dropped on me) in the past have been coming home to roost recently. The death grip veganism had upon me is slowly loosening its grasp as its corpse cools and withers. Maybe, now after several years, I’m misinterpreting Mr. Johnnycakes words with a fair dose of confirmation bias but I think the salient nugget holds true.
While animal justice advocates often practice something akin to veganism it does not means that people who practice veganism are animal justice advocates. For many this is well understood but for me who was so bought into veganism, it was relatively recent that I was able to grok this. Veganism is not animal justice. In a movement, it’s important to understand who your allies are. If your interest is justice for animals, the quicker you realize that vegans are not your allies the less strife you will have. Let me illustrate:
Every year around the world, as some of you dear readers may know, people meet in cities on the Friday after Thanksgiving for a protest called Fur Free Friday. They march with placards along city streets stopping in front of local fur stores to chant and protest the despicable nature of fur. The way animals are oppressed and butchered for their skin is something even the few of the most ardent animals eaters can justify. I started my activist career as a participant at one of these events and I found it invigorating. It went beyond the passive nature of daily abstention of veganism and felt cathartically constructive.
And every year there is a Fur Free Friday protest, the vegan activists present public dissent over the discordant tactics of protest. They fear it is a waste of time to focus on the 1% of animals abused when 99% are involved in food. They fear that it turns the public off. They lament the effort of attendees at the protest who otherwise never commit to the vegan utilitarian brand of activism on the street day after day like they do. Valid concerns, no? Well let’s unpack a few things… (if this gets TL;DR for you, you have my permission to skip to the conclusion punchline)
And what population would better care about the issues a protest like Fur Free Friday drags out than vegans? For now, let’s just concentrate on ethical veganism. In this context, veganism has strong utilitarian underpinnings. Utilitarian-what? Sorry, I’ve spoken on it before but as a short cut lets say it’s a belief that hinges upon causing the least amount of suffering. As a philosophy, any action you take should conform to this general principle. People practice veganism to avoid contributing to the suffering of other animals so it’s a very utilitarian ideal. Sounds all good right? Right. The more people go vegan means the less suffering there is naturally. Within that utilitarian framework it behooves activists to hone their technique to go for quality not quantity. Dress nice, be non-threatening, read How to Win Friends and Influence People, “meet them where they’re at” by connecting to their own interests like health. Get people vegan – “Go vegan!”
On Animal Justice
Animals other than humans happen to inhabit this spec of dust we call Earth. We Earthlings have been constructing ideas of justice within our own particular tiny twig of a branch in the tree of life here. We’re noticing that it’s not fair to treat others of our species different for attributes that are a result of the genetic lottery. Slowly, as we discover more of our place here we become more apt to include others in our ideas of justice. How could we not?
Doing something in support of a cause makes you an activist. Whether it’s camping out on the street or writing letters to representatives. It is something you do to affect a change. A movement is made up of activists who share similar goals. Sometimes these activists argue about tactics. After all, their time is precious and they want to be effective and efficient in spending resources. Done constructively this is a good thing. Ideas lead to acts. The acts that make up activism.
Vegans judge by acts. It is their daily act that identifies them. Vegan activists who work to get other people vegan care less of ideas. Their utilitarian agenda makes acts the highest priority. Acts are good though. They are the tangible, real world, rubber-hitting-the-road difference in reality. As somebody who may be suffering in a cage somewhere, acts make all the difference. Get me the fuck outta this cage NOW!
Just because though somebody makes an act it doesn’t mean they have the idea that drives it. Ideas are important and they inspire acts. Sometimes people have done the thinking for you and decided what the proper act is for a particular idea but sometimes they could be wrong. It is one of human’s great strengths that we can take previous ideas and build upon and improve them. Also ideas are not sacred, they should be open to be challenged. To be open-minded one must ready and willing to accept a new idea if valid and discard one if not.
When there is an issue people feel strongly about they tend to gather together and display their emotion through public protest. It’s a well-established and understood form of communication that shows that people are so passionate about something that they are willing to, in the very least, spend their time doing it. When bystanders are confronted by this they sometimes counter with derision or mockery but the reason for this is to resolve the strong emotional dissonance they are witnessing. This is not a bad response. Fancy monkeys don’t like the boat rocked. When that happens they take notice and sometimes they hoot ‘n holler and sometimes they come to aid. It’s the nature of fancy monkeys. Protest is an attempt to communicate an idea in the most primal and expedient way possible combining emotion and reason through act.
Vegan and animal justice advocates need to realize that they have different goals. In order to maintain friendly ally status it would do both parties well to recognize this distinction and respect the boundaries. Doing anything less will cause internal strife and stunted progress when each assumes something of the other. In the activist context, the arguments over tactics will never find harmony for the goals are deceptively different. Vegans have their goal of making more vegans. Animal justice advocates want justice. Veganism can be an expression of justice, but it is not the end-all-be-all. It is a tiny cul-de-sac in the animal justice movement township. Depending on the particular vegan abode it could reflect the greater ideology of said township or it can be a crazy cult holed up in the basement.
Protest is valid. Emotional reactions to injustice should not be shamed or denigrated as some utilitarian canon. It is ok for other people to be made uncomfortable, it is a goal of protest. Protest is also valuable for participants and can inspire future work. Whether or not they are vegan or come out the rest of the year should not be judged. Fur Free Friday is one of the few animal justice events that doesn’t shy away from the tenets of animal justice. Attempting to co-opt this protest with planning stage dissent or vegan literature supplementation threatens and waters down the important essence of the event. What does it say to bystanders who see a protest about fur and get inundated with literature on another issue like asking them to go vegan?
Ideas of animal justice stand on their own. They don’t rely on consumer habits. They don’t rely on a particular human’s propensity to love another animal. They don’t subtract justice from another or cause further injustice. Justice is not a zero-sum game. The effort to advocate on the behalf of a fraction of the total does not diminish the idea or limit its scope. Just as advocating on behalf of non-humans does not take away from doing so for other oppressed human classes. The same hold true for any animal oppressed whether it’s for fur or food.
So if you had any concerns about going to a protest for fear that it will delegitimize or work against the cause I hope you might feel better about it. There’s no shame in this game, get out there and make noise! It is not an outreach event, it’s fine to show your emotional reaction and don the madface. Vegan, vegetarian, meat eater, who cares. Be unabashedly rowdy and angry! This is your time to speak up for the millions who have died, the millions who have suffered, and hopefully contribute to a movement that will work to save lives of the future. The life of a fox in a cage is not less worthy of one in a gestation crate or battery cage. If numbers mean anything it is the long-term effects short-term gains will deny the movement. Don’t let your vegan buddies derail your fight. Empower the people, advocate for justice, free other animals. I think FFF is missing one more “F”.
Fur Free Fucking Friday!
* Post title changed to “Vegan Interlopers” to add crankiness.