I have been vegetarian since the age of 13, vegan since the age of 17, and active in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement ever since. In college, I was president of Virginia Tech's Nonhuman Animal rights club and founded the Nonhuman Animal rights club at Colorado State University. As I began to get serious in my graduate career as a young professional (meaning I was spending more and more time in front of the computer), I also started connecting with other activists outside my own community who gathered in online spaces to discuss theory, tactics, and goals. Now, at age 31, I have identified as an "Animal Rights Activist" for almost 2/3rds of my life. This week, however, I decided to throw in the towel. I no longer wish to be an "Animal Rights Activist."
My experience with the movement is probably similar to that of others: I joined full of youth and energy, bright-eyed and eager to help the animals with whom I had always empathized and shared my home with. Images of slaughterhouses, zoos, and laboratories haunted me. I felt obligated to do my part. As a young white woman, there was never any question about whether or not these were appropriate aspirations. When I entered college at 17, everyone else in the Virginia Tech student group was white and many were female. Like many activists who would go on to become abolitionists, I was growing increasingly disturbed by the welfarist position of my newly adopted movement. I started advocating for abolition instead of reform. It seemed so rational and necessary to me, I was utterly shocked when others in my student group and others in the movement were unwilling to recognize the violence of post-speciesist ideology (the idea that "real" speciesism is on its way out in favor of a new system that "respects" other animals with "humane" oppression).
As I progressed in my graduate studies, I came to understand that this post-speciesist thinking was directly relevant to ideologies of human supremacy and capitalism. The immense power of industry, the state, and the non-profits they control had convinced an entire movement that we can reform animal use in a way that protects human superiority and eradicates speciesism. It is illogical as a matter of liberation and justice, but precisely logical for a human supremacist capitalist state. Fortunately, the abolitionist faction had begun to find momentum in the movement, offering hope to those frustrated with the compromises that endanger Nonhuman Animals.
The abolitionist faction was also appealing because it rejected many of the other irrationalities of Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy that were clearly standing as major barriers to the movement's success: violence, racism, and sexism. PETA may be the face of the movement and may be abusing its power by engaging sexism and racism, but abolitionism rejects this approach. ALF may be celebrated by advocates for "sticking it to the man" and doing what others wish they could were they only "brave" (read: white/male/able-bodied) enough, but abolitionism insists on the need for non-violence. Indeed, because scientific research suggests that intersectionality and non-violence are critical for social movement success, abolitionism as a theory is refreshingly evidence-based. Unlike PETA and ALF, abolitionists can be confident that their intersectional, non-violent, vegan education approaches to abolition actually work.
Since becoming an abolitionist, I have dedicated my activism 100% to the promotion of abolitionist principles (1. veganism; 2. non-violence; 3. intersectionality). Unfortunately, after all these years of advocacy, the reality of the movement has become crystal clear. As a teen and young adult, I thought it was just a few bad apples making the movement such a nasty place. Now with age, experience, and research, I have come to understand that the movement suffers from serious structural problems and with a generous helping of corruption on the side. This includes the abolitionist faction. In practice, abolitionism means one of two things: values for show or values for application. For a movement that is reviled by much of the public, demonized by the state, and rejected by the Left, a clear commitment to intersectionality and non-violence is essential for the movement to be taken seriously. Frustratingly, the majority of those in the movement who engage this rhetoric do so without any intention of actually applying these values.
The Nonhuman Animal rights movement was founded as a project of white supremacy (yes it's true, the research is out there), and this history continues to shape the movement's imagination. Identifying as an "Animal Rights Activist" means that white people can come together "for the animals" and not so coincidentally target the practices of communities of color (dog fighting, slaughterhouse work, dog and cat consumption, dolphin slaughter, etc.). As a predominantly female movement, identifying as an "Animal Rights Activist" means that men can infiltrate and rise to power with little to no resistance and target the practices associated with women (cosmetic use, "fur" production, rape, obesity, and even procreation and public breastfeeding). Intersectionality rhetoric protects these approaches as race and gender neutral.
In a society where it is no longer vogue to be an outright racist or sexist, post-racism/post-sexism ideologies flourish. That is, few will openly identify as racist or sexist, but many will hide behind the fantasy that racism and sexism are things of the past, therefore, it is okay to ignore, dismiss, or downplay these issues. In a post-racist/post-sexist world, humans have it pretty good, so it is okay to ignore them in favor of other animals. Another result is a widespread failure to acknowledge or believe that racism or sexism could be influencing one's own attitudes and behaviors or the privileges and advantages one enjoys. In other words, just as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement at large maintains human supremacy through post-speciesist ideology, the abolitionist faction maintains white supremacy and male supremacy through post-racist/post-sexist ideologies. Abolitionists reject human inequality as a theoretical matter, but they see no, hear no, speak no evil when it comes to putting their money where there mouth is. It is a world full of racism and sexism with no racists or sexists.
Since I began my feminist writings for my other project, the Vegan Feminist Network, with the intention of putting abolitionist values into practice, the violent resistance I have received makes it abundantly clear that the abolitionist faction's intersectionality values are empty. As my colleagues with The Abolitionist Vegan Society, Sistah Vegan Project, and Vine Sanctuary have increased their discussions of racialized violence against vulnerable communities in activist spaces, the heavy resistance they have received makes it abundantly clear that abolitionist intersectionality values are empty. When I write an essay about the Thug Kitchen Cookbook and the conversation is almost immediately derailed by white advocates crying "me too!" with accusations of ethnocentrism because I was not taking into consideration the irrelevant fact that white people in the United Kingdom apparently aren't using "thug" language to kill people of color, intersectionality is rendered meaningless. When Bob Linden of Go Vegan Radio refers to me as a "something" and publicly mocks my experiences with rape on national radio, accusing me of appropriating the experiences of dairy cows, while simultaneously shouting for "PEACE HOW? PEACE NOW!" and inviting Gary Francione to take up space on the show with his more legitimate white male opinions on rape and sexism, abolitionist intersectionality means nothing. When James McWilliams promotes sexist tactics and then remains silent while dozens of his supporters bombard me with misogynistic slurs and accuse me, a rape victim, of being a rapist myself for criticizing his position, do not insult me with claims that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement values non-violence. When white abolitionists accuse vegans of color of "appropriating" anti-racist mobilization efforts in order to bully white people, intersectionality rhetoric exists only to deflect criticism. When abolitionists accuse transgender vegan activists who do not dedicate themselves 100% to anti-speciesism of acting selfishly in a world where violence and discrimination against transgender communities is astronomically high, intersectionality means nothing. When Gary Francione repeatedly posts on his fan page thinly veiled references to myself and my colleagues that claim we are using intersectionality "dishonestly" or "opportunistically" to further our careers or to bully others, intersectionality is included in his "abolitionist approach" solely to protect privilege and silence vulnerable groups and victims. As for meaningful and applied intersectionality, the movement is just not ready yet.
And I am no longer confident that the movement ever will be ready. The movement began as a project of oppression, and it continues to maintain this framework almost two hundred years later. The truth of the matter is that outsiders are right: the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is, by and large, privileged, insensitive, and uninterested in the plight of humans who are suffering and dying, in many ways, just as other animals do. The movement has simply become a safe haven for privileged white people (particularly men) to congregate in the name of morality and protect and grow their privilege. Indeed, a nonhuman constituency is a perfect platform for this behavior. Nonhuman Animals can't voice their disagreement with our tactics in a way that we understand or recognize. Nor can they interrupt with their own experiences or approaches. If they had the ability to express themselves in these areas, it is doubtful that activists would even listen. The movement doesn't even pay attention to the experiences of women and people of color. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is a space that allows for full white male control, a space that is free from the interrupting, nagging voices of the oppressed.
It has come to the point where I am now embarrassed to be associated with the movement. I am afraid of potential employers looking at my resume and making assumptions on my character. I am afraid of meeting another domestic violence or rape victim and triggering her with my identity, as she has undoubtedly been exposed to at least one of the thousands of misogynistic images produced by the movement: women being skinned, pierced, slashed, hung, dismembered, raped, beaten, dragged, dying and dead. I am sick at the thought of her viewing one of Vegan Sidekick's crude memes of women and other animals being raped, while the artist jokingly refers to their violated body parts as "buttholes" and "tits." I cringe at the thought of a survivor tuning into Bob Linden's nationally broadcast Go Vegan Radio only to hear him play sounds of cows being raped while he insults vegan feminists as insensitive and appropriative. I am embarrassed of triggering people of color I meet with my identity. They, too, are fully aware of the many callous stunts engaged by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement: making a mockery of "thugs" for profit, wearing KKK hoods at dog show protests, staking out the Museum of Natural History with slavery appropriations, shaming people of color who cannot afford or access fresh food, harassing mostly brown slaughterhouse workers who are suffering and dying in the country's most dangerous industry, demonizing Asian cultures, and interrupting #BlackLivesMatter with #EveryLifeMatters.
|We should be their stepping stones|
With abolitionists spending hours and hours posting comments and status updates on social networking forums and writing and sharing uninformed essays all with the goal of resisting applied intersectionality and protecting the protective veneer of intersectionality, I am left to conclude that even the abolitionist faction, the last holdout of hope in the movement, is also uninterested with success. Activists must know that making a mockery of intersectionality will not advance the movement. For that matter, there is no evidence to support that hurting vulnerable human communities will shame them into compliance, but plenty of evidence to support that it does not motivate them to participate. Dismissing intersectionality has only one goal: protecting the Nonhuman Animal rights space as a white male club: a place where whites predominate and where people of color and women with lived experience in structural violence are afraid to speak.
If they do speak, they are swiftly punished with dozens upon dozens of harassing messages. We are called "stupid," "insane," "despicable," "divisive," "bullies," "ugly," "selfish," "speciesist," "cunts," "bitches," etc. We are targeted with orchestrated attacks in order to intimidate us and silence us. Women and people of color must know their place. They must understand that intersectionality exists in the activist toolbox only to maintain the fantasy of a post-racist, post-sexist world, it was not appropriated for actual implementation. Those who seek to put intersectionality in the service of social change are immediately accused of using it falsely to hurt whites, men, and their supporters. Again, this is an accurate assumption to make if intersectionality exists within abolitionist spaces only to keep up the appearances of a just and equal space. If its use, however, begins to peel back the wallpaper of empty abolitionist rhetoric, then it becomes problematic. It competes with the invisible "whites only" sign that stands triumphantly outside our movement's door, the sign that the rest of the world can clearly see.
As of today, I am no longer an "Animal Rights Activist." I entered this movement because I wanted to work for social justice. I want to end oppression, not aggravate it using Nonhuman Animals as ammunition. From here on out, I refer to myself as a Vegan Feminist. I believe this label continues to explicitly acknowledge other animals while also recognizing that intersectionality is the only logical and evidenced path towards abolition. It is not an identity that conjures notions of humans vs. animals. Rather, it is an identity that sees all oppressions as linked, with Nonhumans included as equals, and veganism as more than just a duty to other species, but also to vulnerable human communities. I no longer wish to associate with the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Call me a cynic, but I think it is a lost cause. It is clear now that the movement has a different goal in mind, one that I do not support and one that I work to end. I want to apologize to any person I have hurt in the previous years through my association with the hatefulness that masquerades as "animal rights." It was not my intention. I was swayed by empty rhetoric. Starting today, I'm committed to putting that rhetoric into action. First order of business: step away from the movement.
A recent video published by For Harriet's founder Kimberly Foster has had a profound impact on how I now understand my role in anti-oppression efforts. The video is titled, "Why I'm Not Wasting Anymore Time Debating or Explaining My Oppression," and she makes two points that resonate with me deeply. First, I will no longer allow myself to be stretched further and distracted from my important work in anti-speciesism and intersectionality by engaging every person that seeks to target me. I have had my status as a victim of rape and male violence mocked or dismissed by so many influential male leaders and their male (and female) supporters, I just do not see the necessity in continuing to allow others to victimize me when there is no indication that there is any commitment whatsoever on their part to dismantling oppression. Second, the information is out there for anyone who wants to learn. I can no longer make myself a willing victim for privileged people in the movement to gleefully harass, attack, and insult to protect their empty intersectionality rhetoric. I respect myself too much, and I respect the experiences of others hurt by this movement too much to continue to associate with it.
Are there a few good apples in the movement? Are there some who do "get" it and wish to do better? Absolutely. But they are few and far between. I am no longer convinced that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement as a movement has a genuine commitment to ending inequality, and I no longer wish to associate with it. For me, for women, for Nonhuman Animals, for all groups hurt by oppression--I am no longer an Animal Rights Activist. I am a Vegan Feminist.