Do Animal Rights Marches Advance or Hinder the Movement?
I am devoted to animal liberation and veganism. It is the mainstream AR movement that white vegans have created that is the embarrassing racist/sexist uncle, for whom I refuse to make excuses. It is hindering activism for animals—while at the same time also harming oppressed people.
While I’ve given up hope that the mainstream AR movement will redeem itself, it is hard to disengage after well over 30 years immersed in it (though I have been disengaging for several years). I watch, in dismay, as thoughtless, counter-productive activism, which does not serve the interests of animals, makes itself as uninviting as possible to black people, other POC, women, disabled people, fat people, gay/trans/non-binary people, immigrants, poor people—and to activists for every other social justice movement.
When members of these groups do become vegans, it is usually despite, not because of, the mainstream vegan movement. And many who agree with the ethical arguments for veganism, and are drawn to the ways in which veganism aligns with wider social justice goals, are put off from the message (though they agree with it) by the oppression they experience among white vegans (especially white vegan men).
Every social justice movement, especially in the last several years, is making alliances with other social justice movements—every movement, that is, except for the mainstream AR movement. The pro-intersectional AR movement is doing so–but they are not the ones marching down the street, patting themselves on the back as a public display of unearned pride.
The obliviousness to the public’s reaction to watching this parade of self-aggrandizement (and worse, the reaction of potential/attainable allies in other social justice movements) is an embarrassment to those who have talked and written endlessly about the house-cleaning that needs to be done by our movement.
It is a good thing for the animals, oppressed communities, and veganism, when individuals from groups either intentionally or thoughtlessly made unwelcome by the mainstream, form their own vegan groups, bringing a needed collaboration and alliance between animal rights and broader social justice issues. With any luck, this will become the vanguard, the public face of, veganism. The white mainstream can follow this innovative lead or stay stagnant and moribund.
A parade for and by a group of oppressed humans (accompanied by their allies, marching in solidarity) is not the same as a parade of humans, for animals. Of course, it is the nature of animal rights that the activism is done entirely by one group (humans) for another group (non-human animals). In this latter case, the marchers are not the victims, though AR people sometimes act like they are. Animal activists frequently identify, to a self-deluded degree, with suffering non-human animals, but they are not the suffering animals (as Pattrice Jones has noted). It does not help animals for people to put themselves on display, as the center of attention—that attention belongs to the animals.
Animal Rights is every bit as important a cause as any other. There is no hierarchy of worth. But, public perception must be taken into consideration. With all of the preventable suffering going on in every area of the planet (due to capitalism, global warming, racism, lack of empathy, and other human-created symptoms of short sightedness, greed, and depraved indifference to suffering), it comes across as insensitive for a movement that has made it clear that it does not care about any aspect of human suffering to make a spectacle of itself.
What are the stated goals of, and hoped-for gains, from, animal rights marches? Have years of marches, itself, made these goals more attainable? I suggest that they, and the assumptions and practices on which they rest have made them less attainable. What are [some of] these practices and assumptions?
· that in your face activism works
· lack of concern with how the message is received
· focus on converting young, able-bodied white people
· disinterest in anyone but the above
· anger at the non-white and/or not-young and/or not able-bodied for not getting the message that has not even been thoughtfully conveyed to their communities
· lack of concern for systemic obstructions that keep people in survival mode, with little energy to consider the plight of animals
· no concern, let alone help, forthcoming for the above, from the mainstream AR movement
· that merchandising women’s bodies (and promoting misogynistic standards of beauty for women) goes unchallenged by the mainstream as a major way to sell veganism to the public (when there is data that shows that it is counter-productive: https://moneyish.com/ish/heres-proof-that-sex-doesnt-sell/)
· not questioning why “the public” to which the above message is aimed (straight, non-feminist men) has become the de facto main focus for a movement that is actually women-driven
· lack of discussion of the use of women as handmaidens to the “important” activists—the white men in charge
· little, if any, movement to change the white-male-centric movement, even after documentation of multiple instances of sexual abuse and bullying of women by white males in position of power in AR groups
· anger at POC and women for starting their own movements, in the face of exclusion of them from the mainstream movement
If you want to march, march as vegan allies to other social justice groups. Be out there at BLM rallies, health-care-for-all marches, pro-Palestinian demos, anti-violence to women gatherings. Don’t be there to promote veganism, but be there because you care. Your presence will demonstrate that not all vegans deserve the justifiable stereotype of caring about no other issue except animals. And if you do fit that stereotype, stay home and start reading about other social justice movements, and how intersecting systems of oppression cannot be pried apart.
Read Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, in order to expose how the intersections of race and gender specifically affect black women (https://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersectionality-i-wanted-come-everyday-metaphor-anyone-could ).
Read what black vegans have to say about mainstream veganism. Read their more advanced take on animal rights–and amplify their voices. The most original thinking on animal rights and veganism is not coming from the white males who dominate these movements and who have made it inclusive and harmful to so many.
It can be challenging to care about other humans, when you see how so many of them treat animals, but by ignoring the suffering of people, you are going to make them far less likely to reconsider their stance on animals. Open your activism to other social justice movements and learn about their issues. And learn about what marginalized vegans experience from a privilege-dominated (dominated by power, not by numbers) movement. Do it because it is the right thing to do and because the animals deserve better than the stale, non-inclusive activism that marks the mainstream movement.
Doing AR work is heart breaking and we need fun and a respite from the human-caused suffering we daily witness. How about a city-wide picnic (or other fun event) to which the public and other social justice groups are invited, instead of a march that will leave many observers puzzled, angry, or uninterested?
This was not meant to chastise individuals holding marches. I assume that they hold marches with the best of intentions, but the animals need more than good intentions and counter-productive spectacles. And so do the people whom we harm with our biases and exclusivity, and with our ignorance of their (frequently life-and-death) issues.
Susan Gordon lives in New Jersey, USA and has been vegan for 34 years. She is active in pro-intersectional animal rights, justice for Palestine, feminism, racial justice, anti-ableism, and anti-fat shaming.