Bernie Sanders: Not So Progressive On Animal Rights

By Ana Hurwitz

We need to have a heart to heart about Bernie Sanders. We must declare openly that the heart of progressive politics is an uncompromising defense of the defenseless.

We must declare openly that one cannot be progressive without compassion for the murders of billions of defenseless beings every year. Beings who feel pain and love.

Every single one of them was beautiful and important. Every single one of them wanted to be free and loved.

For over a quarter century, Senator Sanders has sat comfortably atop the political caste of the United States empire, a consistent adversary of world peace.

berniesandersWhy is this morally permissible when we learn these billions were nonhuman persons? Is freedom only for those who look and speak like we do? Shouldn’t love know no species?

One who believes in a hierarchy of life has no genuine claim to progressivism. An arbitrary ‘hierarchy of life’ is actually the cornerstone of reactionary morality.  It is unfair to the animals for us to not hold politicians accountable who have the power to speak up for them yet look the other way.  Especially those politicians who are part of the political power structure. Of a system centered upon a belief that those who can be dominated should be dominated.

So why single out Senator Sanders? Because he is widely viewed as one of the most progressive mainstream politicians and should be held to higher standards. Truthfully no candidate in the US presidential election is a friend of animals. We need to honestly reexamine how we see the value of nonhuman animals’ lives. We are not affirming their unconditional worth when we overlook their rights in favor of minor promises of social progress.

Every year the US allocates $38 billion in subsidies to the animal exploitation industry. That’s enough to end world hunger.

Bernie Sanders has said that he “stands with farmers” and that “Americans love bacon.” Meanwhile ‘bacon’ contributes to the declining health of millions of Americans, as, as the World Health Organization reports that meat causes cancer.


What the senator did not acknowledge is how one-third of Americans believe nonhumans and humans should have equal rights.

So what does it mean that Sanders “stands with farmers”? His website makes constant reference to “family farms.” Evoking warm and pastoral images of the colonial American frontier.

Yet even family farms are large-scale illusions with hundreds of thousands of animals. Family farms also perpetrate animal cruelty and have been the subjects of graphic undercover investigations.

Basically all animal products in the US – over 99% according to the ASPCA – come not from family farms but from factory farms. This is the 99% Sanders supports.

In the US today we see a rising wave of criminalization against those fighting for animal liberation.


The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) was passed in 2006 with unanimous consent by Congress. Sanders nor anyone else dissented. The AETA prohibits anyone from activities which shine a light on the animal exploitation industry. Comparing the AETA to the Enabling Act is not a stretch – because billions of lives are at stake.

As animal enterprise continues to keep the people in the dark about where our food comes from, nonhuman animals are depending on us for help. Senator Sanders is part of the political apparatus that criminalizes this desperately needed help.

Let us dispose of all illusions that the Democrats and Republicans are not unified in this common vision of protecting businesses and policing activism. They are no friends of the Animal Liberation Movement. Lesser evil is still evil.

If you cannot empathize, imagine if these nonhuman animals were your children. If the nonhumans on today’s factory farms were all replaced with humans, suddenly we would be dealing with an international emergency. Or even if the farmed animals were replaced with companion animals.

At a 2016 rally in Portland, national headlines were made when a small blue bird landed atop Sanders’ podium and the two enjoyed a friendly moment. This prompted us as animal liberationists to disrupt his rally in the Bronx with the simple question: “What if Birdie was a chicken”

Animal rights activists all around the country have been disrupting Bernie Sanders rallies in an attempt to spark a national conversation about the forgotten victims of capitalism: nonhuman animals.

Many vegans have criticized these disruptions and even argued that ‘progressive’ politicians should be exempt from speciesism. Untrue.

Or we should not speak out for animal rights when human rights are at stake. Untrue.

Why is the value of a life dependent upon socially constructed meanings? Why is the chicken the most mistreated animal in the world while the dove is a symbol of peace?

We have been told these lives are less valuable as an ideological justification for big business to make money off of nonhuman animals’ property status.

Let’s pretend you don’t care about animals. Bernie Sanders’ record on human rights speaks for itself.

In 2001 he voted for the Afghanistan War which has caused over 26,000 civilians casualties. If this number is too overwhelming, here are a few snapshots of these crimes against humanity:  

  • In 2013, eleven children were killed in a NATO airstrike
  • In 2012, nine children in Kandahar were shot door-to-door by a US soldier
  • In 2010, three civilians were murdered by a self-appointed ‘kill team’ in Maywand
  • In 2007, 45 civilians died in airstrikes in Helmand
  • In 2002, US army soldiers chained to the ceiling and beat a man named Habibullah of Bagram

Why isn’t Senator Sanders held accountable for these crimes against humanity? If Congress isn’t accountable for war crimes, then who is? Would he be able to run for office if he reaffirmed his approval in 2009 for the killing of white civilians as he did for the killing of Arab civilians? American society sees Muslims and Arabs as ‘life unworthy of life.’ That’s why we only mourn terrorism in white countries.

The Black Lives Matter movement has also withheld endorsement of Sanders. Perhaps it’s his support of the 1994 Crime Bill which exploded mass incarceration and put more police on the streets? Or his support for the extradition of Black liberation activist Assata Shakur? Or his opposition to reparations for African Americans?

Make no mistake. Bernie Sanders is not a progressive nor is he a socialist or revolutionary. He is a liberal and he is Washington’s attempt to harness the energy from the Occupy movement. We must stop putting our faith in politicians and start believing in the people.

We will not forget the stolen lives in the Arab World. Or the dreams of the children lost to US wars. We will not forget our debt in reparations to our African brothers & sisters. We will not forget the billions of nonhumans who fought for their lives.

This is why Collectively Free does not endorse any politician but instead calls for a complete reordering of society which protects human and nonhuman rights.

The lives of the oppressed do not lessen in value simply because our society does not yet recognize the sacredness of life. Never again means never again for all.

Ana Hurwitz is a writer and organizer for the international animal rights organization Collectively Free. A former organizer for two other animal liberation groups, she is a volunteer for FARM’s Compassionate Activist Network and The Advocacy of Veganism Society. She’s been involved in movements for socialism, pan-Africanism, immigrant justice, women’s rights, and environmentalism.