Friday, January 9, 2015

On the Problems with Open Rescues: A Response to the DXE Position

Yes, images can elicit emotions which can, in turn, inspire action. No, they need not be graphic, and graphic images can backfire within a political environment that normalizes welfare reform as the appropriate response to animal exploitation. Image courtesy of The Abolitionist Vegan Society.

Following the new Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) campaign in open rescue which mirrors popular fundraising campaigns of larger non-profits, DXE issued a brief essay that outlines four reasons justifying the necessity of open rescues:
Providing a window into the world of animal abuse is Reason #1 for open investigation and rescue. [ . . . ]
Reason #2: Undercover investigations – in which an activist obtains employment and secretly takes footage of a facility – face serious obstacles. [ . . . ]
Reason #3: Open rescue is a powerful statement of our opposition to an oppressive system.  
Reason #4: Open rescue saves animals, and tells their individual stories.
As an feminist abolitionist, I have many issues with this position, a position that, granted, I do not find surprising given DXE's structure that closely mirrors that of professionalized organizations like PETA, Compassion over Killing, Mercy for Animals, and other co-opted organizations that prioritize attention at any cost (...to cover costs).

As a scientific matter, the utility of morally shocking imagery is highly contested. This is something that I reviewed extensively in my 2013 publication with Society & Animals. Wayne Hsiung is correct to focus on "abuse" and not "use" in his first point: those viewing this imagery understand it within the mental schema of welfarism. Decades of powerful welfarist mobilization have conditioned the American public to react to graphic images of animal suffering with a desire to reform and donate, not with a commitment to go vegan or end humanity's use of Nonhuman Animals altogether. Open rescue has historically been a tactic of major welfarist organizations that have socialized viewers to respond with support for welfarism. There is no reason to believe that DXE's work will be interpreted any differently. Certainly, many abolitionists believe they can use the tools of welfarism towards an abolitionist goal, but this position can only be understood as new-welfarism, which is simply a reincarnation of old, ineffectual tactics working within the structure of reform, fundraising, and the non-profit industrial complex.

This argument also relates to Hsiung's second point: just how much more open-rescue footage do we need exactly? Many organizations have been obtaining similar footage since the 1970s, and, while DXE claims their undercover footage is "groundbreaking," many other large non-profits also target "humane" agricultural facilities. We have the information; we have the images. I suspect that the true reason for continuing these rescues is to maintain the treadmill of activity for grant proposals. That is, these kinds of activities have very low impact in regard to the number of animals saved (and the animals saved will be replaced immediately), however, they make for a good story on websites and grant proposals. Vegan education efforts don't make for glamorous or exciting photo opportunities, and vegan education is also aimed at seriously challenging systems of oppression. Both of these things are scary to funders and non-vegan audience members who would prefer to point the finger at the individual "bad apple" facility operators as the perpetrators of violence, not themselves as consumers or the system they benefit from.

Open rescues keep the system as it is and thus protect the interests of conservative foundations that maintain most grant monies. Open rescues also give non-profits something to write about and fund-raise behind. DXE may pride itself in resisting the heavy reliance on funding that characterize other non-profits, but the donation rhetoric that they do engage reads chillingly similar to that of the larger non-profits.1 For that matter, their logo is plastered on their outreach for a reason. This isn't 100% about Nonhuman Animal liberation, it is also, to some extent, about advertising their organization/brand. The social movement arena is a competitive world. To survive and thrive, a group needs to raise resources. To do so, it has to start prioritizing single-issue campaigns, shocking imagery, brand promotion, and yes, fundraising.

It also needs full-time employees to run the organization and more funding to pay them to do so. Like other professionalized organizations, DXE maintains the pro-capitalist position that some privileged individuals will be paid to advocate.2 Funding careerists is problematic because it supposes that we can "buy" the revolution. First, not everyone can access the privilege of non-profit employment; the non-profit system is known to reproduce social inequality by under-representing oppressed groups on the payroll.3 Secondly, it is capitalism that has created this oppression, capitalism is not going to end it. Dismantling oppression will require the efforts of millions of individuals, and it is not plausible for them to expect a paycheck or stipend. Oppressed groups have been doing this important work for hundreds of years without access to these resources--only the privileged non-profit sector would so arrogantly presume that anti-oppression work could also pay the bills. The notion that we can work against the forces of capitalism while simultaneously earning an income from it is nonsensical and it is also privileged. This is advocacy as industry.


DXE's point number three ("Open rescue is a powerful statement of our opposition to an oppressive system") I believe also runs into conflict with the actual impact of graphic imagery on an audience. I have thus far argued that graphic imagery can trigger a welfarist response, but, relatedly, it may also reinforce distancing and domination.This consequence is something that DXE has considered as well. Earlier publications by DXE report (as a result of their very own research) that the use of graphic images of Nonhuman Animals suffering is easily counterproductive. Kelly Atlas writes:
Horrific, graphic images can trigger defense mechanisms that make people shy away from the scene, thereby discouraging engagement with the liberationist message and political activity. [ . . . ] 
I am also concerned that repeatedly seeing images of people of a given group (nonhumans) being objectified by one's own group (humans) may normalize their objectification in the viewer's mind.
Indeed, in an essay for Vegan Feminist Network, I have likened this use of imagery to the mechanisms of pornography. It seeks to elicit a physiological reaction by presenting images of degraded and objectified bodies to the privileged human gaze:
The entire point of pornography is to titillate via the sexual degradation and humiliation of an oppressed body.  Those who consume pornography are consuming it specifically to “get off,” so to speak, on the demonstrated powerlessness of otherized bodies.  The relationship between the viewer and the viewee is one that reproduces and reinforces a hierarchy of domination.  Pornography users also report experiencing a “tolerance,” meaning increasingly degrading and shocking imagery is needed for them to feel something.  The pornography industry is happy to serve that need by producing increasingly disturbing media. [ . . . ] 
So what makes it any different for vegan advocates who share these images with the intention of shocking people with images of violated and degraded animal bodies?  And for that matter, what gives them the right?  
Atlas goes on to suggest that images that recognize the personhood of survivors may be more useful, but I see no difference from open-rescue imagery and, say, that of Hurricane Katrina rescues or Ebola interventions. People of privilege produce and share these images to create a shocking response, but in a way that reinforces the privilege of the viewer and the objectification of the persons in the image. Farm victim/Katrina victim/Ebola victim=object; Humans/whites/westerners=subject. These images are common: bodies degraded by a society that does not value them, put on display for persons of privilege who will, as a social psychological matter, interpret them in ways that protect the system of oppression that produced them. Has imagery incited collective action and individual transformation? Absolutely. But positive outcomes are only one of many consequences of this tactic.

I also believe that DXE also makes a critical mistake in conflating open rescue with emotionally-charged imagery. They are separate issues. We don't need open rescue to create imagery that inspires social change. However, DXE makes it appear that, without open rescue, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement lacks arsenal. In doing so, Hsiung pulls out the tired accusation that the vegan abolitionist approach consists only of "dry information." He is also drawing on the popular direct action ideology that is critical and suspicious of non-violent, education-based advocacy (see Elizabeth DeCoux's publication in Animal Law for a more detailed reflection of the position shared by DXE). In my piece with Society & Animals, I counter this position with a brief content analysis of abolitionist websites and publications. Despite claims made by Hsiung and other direct action advocates and welfarists, abolitionists actually draw on emotionally-charged imagery quite heavily. Narratives are being told in countless ways that do not rely on the limited (and sometimes counterproductive) nature of open rescues. I think the prevailing difference is that abolitionists work to ground their imagery within clear abolitionist claimsmaking.

I believe there is a major difference between audience interpretation of images produced by DXE or Animal Equality and images produced by The Abolitionist Vegan Society or Vegan Information Project. The former relies on traditional welfarist structures to elicit a physiological response that will encourage the "Do something, anything! Less talk, more action! Take my money! Reform it!" type of mentality. The latter is more likely to encourage viewers to consider an anti-speciesist perspective and a vegan lifestyle. The vegan education approach is also likely to be much more resource efficient. Education works, it is cheap, and it is accessible. The impacts of veganism are also farther reaching than single-issue campaigns that open rescues tend to prioritize.

Notes
1. From the DXE donation page: "Yes, we could use funding. Materials, cameras, and technology aren't cheap. Our groundbreaking investigations of 'certified humane'  farms cost a tiny fraction of what is spent in comparable investigations by large non-profits, but expenses still often run into the thousands of dollars."
2. From the DXE donation page: "And a small number of DxE Fellows and Investigators have given up their careers to work for animals; we hope to support them with activist stipends."
3. I do not know the data for DXE, which is actively more racially inclusive, but the Nonhuman Animal rights industry as a whole tends to reserve paid positions for white men of means.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An Update on Non-Profit Bias and the "Downright Stupid" Vegan Position


Last week I published a brief critique of the Humane Research Council's new study on vegan recidivism, which I suggested was conducted to legitimate compromised welfarist tactics. I argued this because 1. there is considerable preexisting research on this very topic that comes to much different conclusions and is conducted by academics who are not on the non-profit payroll, and 2. the study was conducted by a non-profit, with the help of other non-profits, and was funded by non-profits. That is, this was conducted by movement elites who specialize in grant-writing, not the scientific method.

Indeed, I have become increasingly concerned at the misappropriation of science to support some very unscientific claims. "Science" and "evidence" works to legitimize the welfarist position. I worry that few actually question who is conducting this research and how affiliation and funding sources may seriously bias the procedure and interpretation of results.


The Animal Charity Evaluators sprouted up over a year ago to offer assistance to those who want to help animals (ie. potential donors) by identifying, through "science" and "research," which non-profits are most effective. The group explicitly rejects veganism in their mission statement, so we should be immediately suspicious that donating money is considered more effective than eschewing the consumption of other animals. Also concerning is that several of the organizations that are voted most effective are also those that collaborate with ACE. Furthermore, these organizations are deemed "effective" in the sense that they "effectively" raise money and "effectively" spend the small percentage of money not funneled back into fundraising on reform (not veganism).

The Humane Research Council contacted me after publishing my essay, claiming that my critique was ill-conceived and their work is impervious to bias, but I implore that the connections couldn't be clearer (and no research is ever bias-free, but the academic community does see funding and non-profit affiliation as introduction of considerable bias). Just today, I received a newsletter update from VegFund, one of the non-profits that funded the HRC study. The main story featured was that of Vegan Outreach's founder Matt Ball pressing hard for end-of-the-year donations in his "A Radical Pragmatist's Guide to Animal Liberation." Hardly radical at all, the essay repeats the same non-profit rhetoric we have come to expect: veganism is too "puritanical," "egotistical," and "superior" (even "downright stupid"), but we are winning (?), give us more money.  On liberation, Ball writes:
Of course part of me wants everyone to hold all my views. But this will never happen. And if I insist “veganism” must encompass all my views, I make it significantly harder, if not impossible, for others to even consider the animals’ plight. 
The Vegan Outreach (and perhaps Vegfund by association) "guide to animal liberation" rejects veganism and advocates instead for making oppression "less cruel." In other words, they advocate for reform, although there is considerable evidence that reform further institutionalizes oppression by maintaining animals as objects of resources and by making industry more profitable and resistant.

The movement's "pragmatic" approach does not lead people to anti-speciesism, it feeds false post-speciesist ideology

In effect, what we have is the creation or promotion of seemingly unbiased funding or evaluation groups to produce "evidence" that non-profits work.  This "evidence" is extremely important to grant applications for demonstrating that the non-profit is using funding effectively and is worthy of receiving more. Leaders of non-profits like Vegan Outreach work closely with middle-man funding non-profits like ACE, HRC, and VegFund to create an image of efficacy and normalize their approach as "pragmatic" (with radical positions framed as "stupid"). This strategy is actually quite similar to that of American "meat" and "dairy" industries. They expend considerable effort painting veganism as dangerous or "stupid" (even bad for the animals), while creating "impartial" boards to make "impartial" statements and policy recommendations on their products and funneling millions of dollars into biased research that supports and legitimizes the "science" of their position.  In both cases, for non-profits and for speciesist industry, the goal is the same: maximize financial returns. Indeed, a link prominently displayed beside Ball's essay in the Vegfund newsletter reads: "One Quick Click for Animal Liberation." It leads to their donation page.

At the end of the day, the true nature of non-profits is to grow and protect resources. Veganism interferes with profits. Almost all funding comes from conservative elites who use foundations as a tax evasion technique. Instead of using the money they have amassed by exploiting vulnerable groups to help those vulnerable groups through the redistribution process of taxation, they hide it in foundations where they have full control over disbursement. Groups that demand radical structural change and could impede on the exploitative privileges of the elite will not be funded. This is why Ball, VegFund, ACE, HRC and others advocate for more "practical" efforts; these positions do not scare off funders. Constructing research that supports this compromised approach and featuring essays by prominent non-profit leaders in "impartial" evaluation groups keeps the movement satiated. Anti-vegan reformism becomes "common sense." Unfortunately, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement begins mirror its industry-led, state supported countermovement as a result.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why I am No Longer an Animal Rights Activist

Trigger Warning for anyone who has been a victim of violence and oppression. This essay discusses violent ideologies and behaviors promoted and protected in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement.


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
The anti-racism movement, the feminist movement, and other movements want nothing to do with the Nonhuman Animal rights movement because their suspicions are correct: the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is too often a project of bigotry. The Nonhuman Animal rights project is not one of social justice, it is one of profit and privilege that uses innocent Nonhuman Animals as stepping stones. If the movement was truly interested in liberating other animals, it would look to the research that clearly demonstrates that violence, racism, sexism, images of violence against women, etc. do not work. So, if these tactics do not work, why continue to engage them?

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.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Intersectionality is a Foundational Principle in Abolitionism

I have written many times on the importance of intersectionality in abolitionist advocacy as both a matter of ethics and efficacy. For succinctness, I will not repeat the arguments in this essay, but readers can access these articles by utilizing the search function in this blog. As racial violence and discrimination against people of color continues to dominate headlines and advocacy spaces, many in the vegan community are made uncomfortable by these discussions and have been publishing some unsavory and insensitive comments and essays. I believe the following status update by a self-identified abolitionist group on Facebook sums up this reaction well. 

Of course I recognise that speciesism and other forms of social injustice are cut from the same moral cloth. However, no matter how oppressed or disadvantaged humans may be at least they HAVE a voice, something which cannot be said for sentient nonhumans, the most oppressed and disadvantaged group on the planet.  I also recognise that, ideally, the vegan movement should be truly inclusive and that necessarily involves considering both animal and human rights in our advocacy BUT the movement itself should not be given greater importance than the needs of our nonhuman friends as that would be placing the emphasis on US rather than THEM.  This page is unequivocally concerned with animal rights and if that involves treading on the toes of some whose priorities lie elsewhere then so be it.

Because white privilege has created a social environment where the white experience is misconstrued as the universal experience, because whites see themselves as individuals and not part of a racial group ("Not all whites!"; "But I'm not racist!), and because whites enjoy the privilege of being spared uncomfortable exposure to the consequences of racial inequality, whites generally lack the tools to constructively handle race issues. Robin DiAngelo refers to this phenomenon as "white fragility": 
White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress be-comes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. 
Writing for Salon, Cera Byer makes a very powerful assessment
Being able to turn a blind eye [sic] to things that don’t happen to you is the essence of privilege. It’s also an abuse of power. 
The following interaction was pulled from the comments section of the above status message:

Saying "ideally, the vegan movement should be truly inclusive" is, frankly, a slap in the face to those of us whose voices are *not* included in mainstream AR rhetoric. I don't have the privilege to ignore racism, heterosexism, or cissexism, because I am neither white, heterosexual, nor cisgender. Implying that my struggles are not as important or urgent as those of non-human animals because I have a "voice" is ignoring that the voices of oppressed humans have been silenced for centuries.  Total animal liberation means freeing all oppressed, regardless of species. It might seem convenient to push aside the struggles of people of color, women, LGBTQ, and others for those who aren't members of those groups. But that's not the way to build a successful movement.

Pax, it would be nice if you actually bothered to read what the OP is saying before responding by soapboxing. Never mind, your comment has actually proved the point I'm making. While you're busy putting human interests first under the guise of attempting to 'build a successful movement', those of us who actually care about the plight of nonhumans will get on with the job of giving them priority.

Ignoring or downplaying the crisis in human suffering from the white perspective is problematic, but it is also an act of violence to shame those who are struggling to be free from violence, suffering, and death. Insinuating that people of color and women are acting selfishly also draws on prescribed race and gender roles that pressure people of color and women to put the interests of their oppressors first. In a white supremacist, neo-colonial environment, the problems facing people of color are trivialized and they are made to serve others. In a patriarchal environment, women, too, are socialized to serve others, ignore their own interests, and remain contentedly powerless and last in line.  When privileged vegan advocates draw on these race and gender roles, they pull on powerful social scripts to instill silence and obedience. These are scripts that have been in place for centuries, and persons with privilege are well socialized in their effective operation.

Anti-human/anti-intersectionality ideologies have plagued the movement in general, but their encroachment into so-called abolitionist spaces is especially disheartening. Fortunately, many are working to protect the principles of vegan abolitionism (1. veganism, 2. non-violence, 3. intersectionality) and aren't buying it. Michele Spino Martindill, for instance, shared the following commentary. It is in response to the anti-intersectionality controversy in general, but it specifically relates to the recent remarks made by Grumpy Old Vegan.
[...] the time has come to speak out against his continued defensive posturing and his complete inability to understand why intersectionality matters in the animal rights (AR) movement. GOV claims that he understands that oppressions against women and other "disadvantaged" groups are "cut from the same moral cloth" as oppressions against other animals, BUT--and there's always a BUT with GOV and his followers--he adds that oppressed humans can speak for themselves, so they don't need the support of vegans in the way that other animals need our help. I take issue with that kind of reasoning. How can children being sold into slavery speak for themselves? Are nursing home residents able to speak for themselves and assert their rights? Are rape victims given a voice when members of the AR movement compare their experiences to that of dairy cows? Were the voices of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown heard by the oppressors? It is apparent that a divide is emerging between those who define anti-speciesism as only animals other than humans needing the help of humans, and those who see anti-speciesism as the need to oppose all oppression simultaneously because all oppression stems from the same source and if marginalized groups unite they have the power to end oppression. 
If anyone dares to mention intersectionality within the AR movement, it is treated like the ultimate dirty word, like a strike against the AR membership. We get comments along the lines of, "You're a speciesist because you care more about the exploitation of humans than other animals. We're not supposed to value humans over other animals." How is it valuing humans over other animals or species to define anti-speciesism as the need to end social hierarchies that elevate the wealthy elite at the expense of those who are defenseless? Are some AR members unable to extend their compassion to more than what they term nonhuman animals? That is an incredibly narrow view of compassion and veganism. It also shows a desire to be picky about who deserves the efforts of AR members to end violence. Clearly, human animals are not deserving in their book. Their claim that anti-speciesism will ultimately end all oppression is an empty claim if they refuse to fight and speak out against all oppression now, today and forever. 
The comments of GOV's followers are equally troubling in that they now indicate a trend to divide AR members between left and right political wings. One follower specifically praised GOV by complaining that some members of the abolitionist society were demanding that followers adhere to the "Holy Grail of Liberal Dogma" and went on to add that such "sanctimonious" beliefs are simply "trendy." These followers dismiss the efforts of feminists, the Civil Rights Movement and other efforts as if there is no need for them or they are nothing more than petty issues that will be cleared up once people accept veganism. If only it could be that simple! It's not. Veganism and anti-speciesism look elitist to those who have real and immediate needs, e.g. paying the electric bill, finding coats for everyone in the family or trying to get affordable health care. AR members have a tough choice ahead. They can resist intersectionality and working for social justice across the board, or they can accept that what benefits one will benefit all, that compassion is truly limitless and can be extended to every living being.
Let us now briefly explore those selfish folks worrying about themselves with their mixed up priorities. Trigger warning: Some of the following are disturbing images that depict systemic discrimination against vulnerable humans.

Racial profiling, violence against people of color, police violence

Rape and rape culture

Homophobia and heterosexism

Prostitution/Sex slavery

Homelessness and hunger

Pornography and sexual objectification

Environmental injustice, child poverty, food insecurity

Child labor and exploitation of the Third World

Transgender homelessness, unemployment, and murder

Violence against women

Ebola, TB, AIDS, and other diseases related to systemic oppression

Labor exploitation, colonial violence, "illegal" status

State apathy and inaction

Please, let us not tread on their toes. Please, let us give equal importance to violated, beaten, raped, starving, freezing, enslaved, sickened, suffering, dying, and murdered humans. Please, let us work for everyone's liberation. This is not a zero sum game. The same ideologies and systems of inequality oppress humans and nonhumans alike. Abolitionism as it was first conceived was built and mobilized to free oppressed humans who continue to be oppressed. For vegan advocates to completely appropriate the language and ideas of this movement and then forsake suffering humans, abandon them in their time of need, aggravate their hurting, benefit from their hurting, and then accuse victims and survivors of selfishness is deplorable. Without a doubt, this approach will only further alienate anti-speciesist efforts, tarnishing it as yet another a space of violence, oppression, and white male Western privilege.


Acknowledgements
Thank you to Pax Ahimsa for the two sources on white privilege that were discussed in this essay.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Non-Profit Bias: Studies by Non-Profits, for Non-profits

Networks, community support, and Nonhuman Animal rights turn people vegan and keep them vegan.

Last week the Humane Research Council published a study on vegan and vegetarian numbers and recidivism, which was widely shared in the Nonhuman Animal rights community. The report was created with the assistance of Vegan Outreach's Matt Ball and Farm Sanctuary & The Humane League's Nick Cooney. It was funded by VegFund. I wasn't particularly impressed with it, as there are already many, many recent studies already addressing these questions, and I was rather wary because the way the study was framed seemed particularly conducive to justifying counterproductive welfarist approaches.  Indeed, One Green Planet, a notorious supporter of welfare reform, published an essay citing the study as a reason to stop using oppressive vegan labels and basically keep full steam ahead with the welfarist tactic of promoting reductionism (cutting back, switching from one animal carcass to another animal carcass, Meatless Mondays, flexitarianism, pescetarianism, vegetarianism, etc.). The problem is that there is no evidence to support their approach. Other studies that explore why people go vegan, why people stay vegan, and why people stop being vegan, which rely on valid and reliable scientific methods, make it clear that the process has little to nothing to do with the movement labeling veganism too strictly (this is probably because the movement has never collectively supported veganism to begin with).

This is precisely what happens when you have non-profit elites compose a study on vegan recidivism and it is funded by another non-profit: bias. Non-profits will interpret the results to legitimate their compromised position and to support their approach in annual reviews that are sent out to foundations for grant requests. Probably as a result of abolitionist push back, they feel the need to pull "evidence" and "science" in to support ineffectual advocacy that is functional for fundraising, but nonfunctional for liberation.  Radical claimsmaking (especially icky, scary "veganism") is off-putting to conservative foundations that keep non-profits afloat.

When we see such a huge recidivism rate, this isn't the result of oppressive labeling, it's the result of non-profits failing to make Nonhuman Animal rights the bottom line, demonizing veganism, and telling people whatever they do (or are already doing) is just fine (every little bit counts! DONATE!).  I'm convinced the only real behavior change that non-profits are concerned with is not getting people to turn into vegans, but getting people to turn into donors. We already have many scientific studies conducted by unbiased academics who answer to the science, not the funders. This research makes it quite clear that networks and support for Nonhuman Animal rights are the most important reasons people go vegan and stay vegan. In a social movement environment that actively works to destroy vegan networks and promotes veg eating as a diet, why would anyone be surprised that so many view veganism as unachievable or temporary?

UPDATE 12/11/2014:  The HRC contacted me to let me know that this study is sound and bias-free. However, claiming that there is no bias is evidence in of itself of bias and a failure to apply the scientific method adequately. This is because basic scientific principles acknowledge that no research is bias-free. Furthermore, before publication, authors are required to report any funding and non-profit affiliation in academic, peer-reviewed, scientific journals because the scientific field understands these as introductions of bias.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cork Vegans, Misogyny in Ireland

TRIGGER WARNING: Contains rape meme and dismissive comments about violence against women.


I have been in Cork, Ireland for the winter, and, since my arrival, I have been absorbing the state of speciesism outside the U.S. and have been checking out the vegan scene as well. Unfortunately, I can't say I'm all that impressed in either regard. The vegan food is awesome, but post-speciesist ideology is probably more intense here in an economically-struggling, romanticized Ireland, and the vegan movement appears to be extremely misogynistic. Specifically, violence against women is taken for granted as acceptable and standard advocacy. Vegan Information Project in Dublin utilized this tactic not long ago, and, subsequently, on my birthday trip to Dublin, we did not feel comfortable making a detour to check out their stall. Here in Cork, the situation is much more dire. Sexist tactics are not only rampant, but the local vegans cling to them unapologetically. My partner and I are both vegan and we have intentionally stayed clear of our local group, Cork Vegans, because of their outright hostility to women and their unapologetic stance on violence against women.

On World Vegan Day, Cork Vegans announced they would use the holiday to promote LUSH by leafleting outside the Cork store, encouraging people to buy their products (sort of like Avon representatives, they would receive a portion of the proceeds). But, LUSH is a non-vegan company that routinely (and intentionally) uses images of violence against women to shame or scare them into buying their expensive soaps and bath bombs. When I raised some concerns with the group's decision to squander a day of peace and non-violence on a non-vegan company that causes violence to both women and other animals, the group administrator responded that it was "women's choice" to participate in sexist demonstrations and that LUSH is worth supporting because they are "kind and generous" (to whom exactly?) and "their products are not animal tested." On World Vegan Day, the last thing I want to do is promote a non-vegan company that hurts women, so we stayed in and I began compiling my social psychology series on vegan outreach. Unfortunately, these essays are probably not of much help to vegan groups that focus their energy on capitalist consumption.

This morning, Cork Vegans posted a crude Vegan Sidekick rape meme that uses violence against women as a metaphor for violence against other animals. Vegan Sidekick is notorious for exploiting the imagery and language of violence against women to discuss Nonhuman Animal rights, completely disregarding the fact that we live in a rape culture and violence against women is a real and lived experience for half the human population. Perhaps this is intentional. Activists and organizations realize that women are considered subhuman--there is no concern in upsetting or triggering them, because women's feelings and experiences simply don't matter under the patriarchy. When the movement endangers women and dismisses women's concerns, but then uses women's experiences to promote their cause, this is known as tokenizing. For more information on the problematic nature of trans-species analogies that tokenize and exploit, what Kim Socha calls "fast food activism," please read my earlier essays, "Rape as an Anti-Speciesism Tactic and the Vegan Male Discourse" and "The Misogyny of Animal Rape Imagery."


Cork Vegans: "I'm not going to apologise for sharing this. If you don't like the posts on this page just 'unlike' the page or remove it from your newsfeed."
Cork Vegans' response?
I'm not going to apologise for sharing this. If you don't like the posts on this page just 'unlike' the page or remove it from your newsfeed.
Let me be clear, when women are told, "If you don't like it, keep it to yourself/don't look/go elsewhere/unlike," the message is clear: your victimization does not matter. When activists say, "I'm not going to apologise" for hurting vulnerable people (rape victims in this case), what they are also saying is: we intend to protect our oppressive structures and don't care who it hurts. Telling survivors to "unlike" violent material in their own community is dismissive. It is also complacent and oppressive.  

It's also a form of victim-blaming. It is though it is women's fault for being exposed to the movement's misogyny. It's women's fault for participating in the movement. It's women's fault for existing. What an unwelcoming position to take. Society already maintains intensely powerful systems of victim-blaming that successfully silence most rape victims. Silencing survivors in our movement as well is nothing short of repulsive. Why would anyone want to join a movement that behaves in such a way to vulnerable people? 


Promoting and abetting violence against women "for the animals" is grossly unethical, dangerous, and it absolutely does not work. If misogyny as a tactic doesn't work, then why engage it? I believe it is because this is behavior that works in tangent with patriarchy. People hate and hurt women because that is what they've been socialized to do; this goes for men and women. Even activists in the service of peace will prey on the vulnerable, because it is a script that we are all taught from infancy. 

Cork Vegan's actions have been extremely triggering for me. As a result, I want nothing to do with the group. I would never feel comfortable being around them, much less supporting them. My experiences with Cork Vegans and other sexist groups in the movement have got me thinking: if I can barely put up with it, how could (and why would) anyone else put up with it? Because my career involves studying and researching in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I cannot disengage, but I can only imagine how many thousands of people the movement turns away with its callous, violent behavior. 

The dismissal of human suffering is a political problem for our movement. It aggravates oppression, and paradoxically so since we claim our goal is to end oppression. It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't work. When groups like Cork Vegan engage this violence and then respond to criticism with "don't look" or "go somewhere else," that is exactly what most people will do.


Update 12/4/2014:  Cork Vegans responded several times to inform me that my colleagues and I are "a bunch of IDIOTS," "CRACKPOTS, and "off our heads." This response indicates that they are unable or unwilling to reflect on the misogyny they facilitate, are intent on aggravating misogyny with more hostility and victim-blaming, and that they are also extremely disableist. I would advise women and other vulnerable groups be wary of this organization and others like it, they can be quite volatile. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Post-Speciesism and the Commodification of Animal Rights: Aldi's "Love Ireland" Campaign

I'm living in Cork, Ireland for the semester and have been exploring new stores, new vegan food, and new ways of advertising food products. Something I quickly noticed was the "Produced in Ireland" labeling scheme. The "Love Ireland" campaign seeks to challenge globalized food production, an environmentally taxing process that outsources agricultural work, threatens the state in creating a dependency on outsiders, and strains the local economy with job loss and import costs. Localizing food is an important form of resistance to this process. Local produce may cost more, though, in a globalized world. To counter this, advertising campaigns seek to reframe local food as patriotic, moral and familial, and ethical.  

At Aldi, I came across a full color booklet provided to customers that pulls on Irish nationalism and nostalgia for the past to push Irish-made food.  Certain themes repeat to frame "Love Ireland" products as an ethical choice and a political action: green pastures, families, and happy animals. Unfortunately, in a speciesist world where Nonhuman Animals and their products are still considered "food," Nonhuman Animal rights has become a commodity. 

If we conduct an informal content analysis of the Aldi brochure, we can see how animal welfare is carefully constructed to encourage purchasing and to increase production.  This is an important counter to the belief that working to improve welfare will move society towards the abolition of speciesism. Nonhuman Animal rights groups promote reforms as easy victories, but in doing so, they create problematic alliances with industry to reach "compromises" that are often framed as economic incentives. Commodifying animal rights works to entrench speciesism by facilitating a "post-specisism" ideology. The public is made to believe that animal rights have been achieved through careful media campaigns that create a false challenge to systemic discrimination against other animals. In a "post-speciesist" world, few would openly admit to wanting animals to suffer and most believe themselves to be "animal lovers." This false ideology obscures structural oppression, thus protecting and perpetuating it.

Starting with the cover, we see a dairy cow identified as "Daisy the dairy cow," though it is clear that her real "name" is 0722. Naming her on the brochure implies that she is individualized and treated as a person with interests, though she was pulled from her mother at a young age, repeatedly raped, had her own babies taken from her, and will end up as hamburger before she reaches adulthood. Indeed, she was probably dead before her picture hit Aldi stores.


Meet the Loughnanes, who produce Irish "pork" in a fashion that has been "handed down through four generations of Loughnane family butchers," with all of their "ingredients" sourced in Ireland. Rhetoric of family, tradition, and heritage implies that buying pig flesh under the "Love Ireland" label is an ethical action. This framework obscures systemic violence, but also increases it.  Brendan O'Reilly's "100% Irish" "free range eggs" come from birds who are "free to roam" and are "happier hens because of it." Aldi's program has helped him to "reach a much bigger market."


Callan Bacon Ltd., a family using "traditional" curing methods on their "humble premises," have been butchers for four generations as well. Aldi's program has increased their staff to almost 200 in the past five years.


The Town of Monaghan's "small indigenous fresh dairy produce manufacturer" "depends on the support of retailers" to get their products to consumers, and Aldi's support has helped them to establish their presence in the marketplace.


The Grady family dairy employs 140 people in their cow exploitation farms: "Aldi's support has contributed to our ability to maintain our long tradition [,,,]"


Killower Farm claims: "Happier cows. Tastier yogurt." People pay for "tastier yogurt," but they are also paying for the fantasy of "happy cows":  "Their cows enjoy a lifestyle that involves clean air, lots of fresh grass and a gentle routine. [...]  The cows enjoy their routine and will even appear at the gate to be milked if the Farm Manager, Sean, is running late!" One is left to wonder if they line up to be raped and slaughtered as well.  Sadly, this false claimsmaking works: "As a result of working with Aldi we have been able to employ extra people on our farm in Enniscorthy."


At this "free range" family chicken farm, producers report: "Demand from Aldi for our products has helped secure our family farm income and also provides employment to several local poultry industry services in Limerick." 


Irish Country Meats, a "lamb supplier," ensures readers that Aldi's lambs are, "predominantly reared outdoors, grazing freely on Irish pastures. These are the ideal conditions for raising lamb and result in fresh meat that is not only lean and nutritious, but totally natural too."


ABP "beef suppliers" have also reported remarkable growth since working with Aldi. They now work with a network of over 35,000 farmers, spending over 450 million euros each year in the "acquisition of cattle" and staff employment.


Welfare "reform" and local food initiatives are not moving us towards abolition; they are facilitating a false ideology of post-speciesism and make the industry more viable. It paints an inherently violent industry as a patriotic, family-centered, traditional, and ethical industry.