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Toward Total Animal Liberation

May 12th, 2009 · No Comments · Talks

Toward Total Animal Liberation (*)

pattrice jones

I operate a chicken sanctuary in the region of the United States where factory farming was invented. I also coordinate the Global Hunger Alliance, which is an international coalition of environmental, social justice, and animal liberation organizations united in opposition to factory farming and in support of effective, ethical, and environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and malnutrition.

I mention these things because I want you to know that I am speaking as someone who works with injured animals every day and as someone who has had some success in forging effective coalitions. What I have to say may be hard to hear but is rooted in my heartfelt concern for all animals as well as my thoughtful analysis of the strategies needed to achieve total animal liberation.

In my view, what the animal liberation movement needs most urgently to do is to become more diverse in its internal constitution and in its coalitions with other movements. If we cannot do those things, then all of our debates about tactics and aims will be useless because we simply will not have enough people to implement those tactics and achieve those aims.

The truth of this can be seen simply by glancing around the room at the national conference and other major animal liberation events. We see mostly white people. But, people of color are the majority of the people in the world and rapidly becoming the majority here in the United States. People of color tend not to cede any sort of moral authority to white people and also tend, for historically justified reasons, to look with skepticism upon health information presented by white people. If we want the world to “go vegan” then we’re going to have to build a movement that looks more like the world.

As we strive to end the exploitation of animals on farms and elsewhere, we face extremely formidable opponents. The transnational corporations that profit from the exploitation of animals are wealthy, powerful, and absolutely amoral. Corporate agribusiness, for example, has ruthlessly gained control of the worldwide food supply with utter disregard for human and animal suffering. Farmers and activists who have challenged them in other countries have ended up dead. Nobody’s died here yet only because we’re not yet powerful enough to be a real threat. My point is that this is a struggle we cannot win without allies.

Even if we did manage to shut down factory farming in the USA, what would happen? I can tell you, because it has already begun to happen. Thanks to our good work, increasing environmental and animal welfare regulations along with decreasing domestic demand for some meat products has made it harder and less profitable to produce meat in the USA. Already, the major meat producers are developing new markets and relocating operations in low-income nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. If we’re not very careful, we will end up not ending animal exploitation but simply changing its location. We must make effective alliances with activists in low-income nations, and with the activists here who oppose trade globalization, and we must do it now.

All of this sounds pretty grim. The good news is that we already have the skills we need to increase both the internal diversity and the scope of the coalitions of the animal liberation movement. All we have to do is apply those skills in a new context. We’ve all been through the difficult process of challenging ourselves about our relations to non-human animals. What we need to do next is just an extension of that process.

The four things we need to do are: (1) challenge myths; (2) remember that people are animals; (3) make connections; and (4) translate insight into action. Let’s look at each of those in turn.

(1) Challenge Myths

We all accept that we were socialized to think of animals in a certain way. In becoming vegans and animal liberation activists, we had to challenge the things we thought we knew about animals and then change our behavior accordingly. So, it shouldn’t be too hard for us to accept that we have been socialized to think about race, sex, and class in certain ways and that we might have to challenge those myths too.

Let’s look first at two myths that have allowed the animal liberation movement to make excuses for its lack of internal diversity. The first is the myth that people of color don’t care about animals. This is an insidious and absolutely unfounded myth. Some animal activists look at Latino participation in cockfighting or African American participation in dog fighting and make broad generalizations about whole communities. But, we don’t look at white participation in rodeos and draw similar conclusions about white people as a group. Some animal activists look at the lack of diversity in their own groups and conclude that it is lack of interest among people of color, rather than their own structure or way of doing things, that is standing in the way. I’m here to tell you that there are people who care about and are trying to help the animals in every community. They may not call themselves animal liberationists and they certainly do not have access to the resources of the mainstream animal welfare and liberation movements, but they are there. We need to find those people, share resources with them, and invite them into the animal liberation movement on there own terms and as leaders.

Another insidious myth is the idea that people living in poverty don’t have time to care about the ethics of human-animal interactions. This myth arises out of an entirely well-meaning effort to understand the constraints faced by people living in poverty. But think about it: this myth essentially states that people living in poverty don’t care about right and wrong. That’s terribly insulting, not to mention untrue. Of course people living in poverty think about right or wrong. They go to church or not, depending on what they have concluded about the role of divinity in good and evil. They try to raise their children to live up to their individual and cultural moral standards. Like all of us, they try to do the right thing within the choices life offers them. And, of course, they debate with themselves and others in the course of making those choices.

People living in poverty are neither more nor less likely than anyone else to take the issue of animal testing into account when choosing between two equally-priced bottles of shampoo. But, they can’t take that issue into account if the activists fighting against animal testing have written them off as moral agents and failed to provide them with the information they would need to make that moral choice.

These are just two of the myths that might be hampering your organization’s efforts to become more diverse or enter into coalitions with a diverse array of other organizations. Luckily, as with myths about animals, once you get into the habit of challenging myths, you will start to catch yourself in the act of making unfounded assumptions or thinking in stereotypes. From there, it’s a short step to more accurate and useful perceptions.

(2) Remember That People Are Animals

One of the most basic tenets of the animal liberation movement is that the thick line between human and non-human animals is an artificial construct designed to facilitate and justify the exploitation of non-human animals. If we really believe that is true, then we need to work towards a more comprehensive definition of veganism. In both theory and practice, vegans ought to shun all participation in the exploitation of any animal, including human animals, and ought to strive for more equitable relations with all animals, including human animals. That means shunning the products of both sweatshops and factory farms. That means that, just as we care about the young hens who are imprisoned so that their reproductive organs can be exploited by the egg industry, we have to care about the young girls who are imprisoned so that their reproductive organs can be exploited by the sex tourism industry. Because that’s animal suffering too.

I know how hard it can be to care about people when you are confronting the reality of human abuses of non-human animals every day. I run a chicken sanctuary in the middle of Perdue country. Believe me, when those transport trucks rumble past my front door with thousands of six-week old birds looking out of the cages in terror, it can be hard to care about human-on-human violence. But then I come to my senses and remember how dangerous it is to start drawing lines, to say “these animals deserve my compassion but those do not.” Whether or not the battered woman is a vegan, she doesn’t deserve to be beaten by her husband. And maybe, just maybe, having an understanding of how one form of household violence (spousal abuse) relates to another form of household violence (meat eating) might lead us to be more effective in ending both of them.

(3) Make connections

Which leads to the next task: making connections. Every day, we ask people to connect the dots from the factory farm to the dinner plate. We also ask them to forge more genuine and equitable connections with non-human animals. What we need to do now is just more of the same. We need to connect the dots between the meat processing plant and the sweatshop, between the research lab and the for-profit health care system, between rape on the dairy farm and rape at the fraternity house, between the genetic manipulation of animals by scientists and the destruction of biodiversity by industry, between the traffic in animals and the traffic in women and children.

Perhaps the deepest and most enduring connection, which we must understand if we are ever to eradicate the roots of animal abuse, is the historic and ongoing intersection between the exploitation of women and the exploitation of animals. We’ll never know which came first; that’s lost in the sands of time. But, we do know that the enslavement of women and the enslavement of animals appear together in the historical record, have been and continue to be justified by the same ideologies, and together represent the pattern upon which all other forms of oppression of one group of humans by another have been modeled. The exploitation of women and the exploitation of animals justify and support one another; they are so closely intertwined that we cannot possibly hope to end one without ending the other. If we are serious about ending, rather than simply lessening, the exploitation of non-human animals, we must understand and act upon that connection.

We also need to forge more genuine and equitable connections among the people working on all of those related problems. No one can do everything, so we have to work in coordination with one another, understanding how the seemingly different problems we are working on are, in fact, just different facets of the same struggle for equitable relations and against violent exploitation.

The growing worldwide movement against trade globalization offers us the most opportunities for productive and mutually beneficial coalitions. The international trade agreements and institutions opposed by this movement are exactly the same agreements and institutions that already are helping corporations that exploit or abuse animals to evade the animal protection regulations that we work so hard to enact. Therefore, any aid that we can give to this movement will aid the animals. At the same time, the people in this movement are people who have already changed their own behaviors for ethical reasons. People who are already boycotting the products of sweatshops ought to be easy to persuade to also shun the products of factory farms.

(4) Translate insight into action

We know that it’s not enough to just care about non-human animals and we’ve all taken steps to change our own behavior in relation to non-human animals. We expect, indeed demand, others to do the same. We know that the process of change can be difficult but we expect other people to do it anyway. We have to hold ourselves to the same standard and be willing to change our own behavior both in response to what we learn through self-education and in response to direct challenges from other people. We have to embrace, in thought and deed, an encompassing vision of total animal liberation.

Some local organizations are already taking exciting steps in this direction. The folks at GSARA — the Gay/Straight Animal Rights Alliance — in Salt Lake City, Utah (of all places!) are doing great work making meaningful contact with gay youth in that city. In San Francisco, the Food and Social Justice Project is taking the bad news about factory farming to a variety of social justice movements, talking to each movement in the terms they are most likely to understand and embrace. Meanwhile, Boston Ecofeminist Action is bringing the animal liberation message into both the anti-globalization and feminist movements in that city.

At the international level, my own organization, the Global Hunger Alliance, is building a worldwide network of organizations united in shared opposition to factory farming and in shared support of plant-based solutions to hunger and malnutrition. Similar national networks have started to spring up, sparked by our partner organizations in different countries. In Italy, the new “Another Diet Is Possible” campaign, which includes both environmental and animal liberation organizations, is adding a new dimension to the “Another World Is Possible” theme embraced by the worldwide movement against trade globalization. In South Africa, the new Diversity Nature Animals Network is working hard to integrate the animal agenda into grassroots movements for biodiversity and sustainable development.

Thus, while the tasks before us are daunting, there is cause for hope. It’s not always easy to grow and change but we already have the skills we need and have already demonstrated our ability and willingness to change our minds and our behavior in response to new information. I have perfect faith that we can and we will do what we need to do to join forces with progressive environmental and social justice movements and to work together for peace and justice for all animals.


(*) This is an expanded version of an address delivered on 01 July, 2002 at the AR2002 Plenary session on Engaging Other Communities. Audio and video tapes of this and other conference sessions are available via FARM.

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