Divided We Fail… the Animals
By Lili Trenkova
Recently, a former founding member of Collectively Free (CF) appeared on Go Vegan Radio to express her newly-realized disagreement with CF and Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) tactics and messaging. She claimed to be providing constructive criticism while using a platform known for a one-sided angle, namely that of Gary Francione. Two weeks prior, the founder of a vegan education group used the same platform to also condemn any type of animal rights (AR) activism that differs from his group’s.
Here are excerpts from the earlier of the two radio speeches:
Dear non-vegans of the world, animal rights activists are lying to you. They are speaking untruths to you at every moment, at every passing, at every encounter, and with every interaction. They are liars who are out there to lie to you, bamboozle you, deceive you, bathing you in fiction, fraudulence, falsehood, misinformation and distortions of the truth, and their true intentions. They are vegans, who want you to go vegan, and yet are telling you everything but.
[H]ere’s the truth, as I see it. The real reason [for their lying to you] is not because they think you’re too ignorant to change, but because they’re too incompetent to articulate themselves clearly. A vegan message proves to be just too complicated for the unskilled activist. And so the self-proclaimed and self-absorbed teacher blames the student for failing the class. They fail to recognize that the onus is on them to educate, not on you to magically be educated. It’s because they are inherently arrogant. They say they are morally superior to you, and so the lowly old you could never rise to their level of awareness and alignment with the universe. They’d rather that you shoulder the burden of their own shortcoming.
Together we can make history and lead humanity into an utopian vision that includes all living beings into our circle of compassion. So stand with me, and let’s prove them wrong. Let’s stand united as the new generation that is freed by the truth.
In their book “The Social Movement Reader”, Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper define the phrase “social movement” as, “a collective, organized, sustained, and noninstitutional challenge to authorities, powerholders, or cultural beliefs and practices.” If we accept this definition, we can hardly apply it to the animal rights movement as it stands today. The largest reason for this does not come from how AR activism is viewed by outsiders but from the divide and antagonism within, such as was evident from both interviewees of Go Vegan Radio. Statements like this directly deter the building of the collective, organization and sustainability that a movement needs in order to grow and thrive. In other words, the largest obstacle in the way of the AR movement is itself.
Because we are a young movement (some even say we’re not yet a movement), we must learn from other social justice history. Yes, we are breaking ground into new territory, but every other movement before us did the same in theirs. The goals and purposes of each movement are unique, but we all share similar progression, obstacles and strides.
As a comparison, let’s briefly look at what began as the struggle for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights and has now grown into the ever more encompassing LGBTQAIPD+ movement. The first memorable U.S. activist groups from the 1950s, most notably the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis, only provided support to specific community members (e.g. gay men or gay women). The first large-scale organized protests didn’t begin until the 1960s, when groups joined together towards a common goal, inspired by the parallel and overlapping civil rights movement. Empowered by the times, activists also started employing sit-ins among other nonviolent disruptions, all of which elevated their voices and gathered more participants. The movement’s most famous protest of the decade, the 1969 Stonewall Riots, would not have caused such an impact had there not been bridges established between the many communities within. With trans women of color at the helm, Stonewall brought together all those who had experienced sexuality- or gender-based discrimination — regardless of their other differences.
The point of this reference is to illustrate the importance of the organized, sustainable collective in social history. Surely, as it grew, the LGBTQAIPD+ movement gathered as many groups as it did opinions on strategy and activism methods. Some groups focused until recently on the federal legislation of same-sex marriage. Other groups focus on assisting youth and adults who live without the privilege of support. Groups have always and will always disagree with one another in terms of HOW to achieve the common goal, but they are always able to put these differences aside when it comes to demonstrating WHAT the common goal is – total equality for humans identifying with all types of sexuality, gender or gender expression. We see this solidarity and unity between groups in events like Pride and in rallies against instances of discrimination. LGBTQAIPD+ groups know that power comes with numbers, and that the common goal overrides all lines of division.
Can the AR movement grow this way? Will we ever have our own equivalent to Stonewall that will magnify our message across the world? Not if we don’t accept one another and not if we continue to badmouth one another.
A movement does not need to be comprised of members who unanimously agree on strategy. We are still at a young phase, and there’s room on the table for all types of methods, tactics and theories — rescue, sanctuary, education, direct action, art, journalism, politics, etc. — but as long as we all remain on the same table. Without a large and tight community, without respect for those whose views differ from ours, we risk losing sight of the common ground that brought us all to the cause.
Ultimately, we all want total animal liberation. We are, however, the only movement in history to attempt social change led not by the victims of oppression but by their allies. Because of this, we are extra challenged and because of this we so often disagree: we cannot ask the animals for guidance but must rely on our personal experiences to inform us of ways to act. But we must never forget that it is them, the animals, the non-human victims, that we’re working for. This is not about us; it’s about them. With every minute we spend arguing or bashing on each other, thousands of lives are bred into existence and taken, when we could be instead concentrating on how best to help them. Infighting does not help the animals and it does not help attract new members into our community.
So please, let’s accept the fact that we have different visions and opinions. Let’s agree to disagree. Let’s get together for a public discussion and debate even. But let’s do so amicably and respectfully. Let’s focus on the common goal and let’s welcome the newcomers rather than scare them away with family drama. We may find that we have more in common than we think after all. And we certainly may see animal liberation in our lifetimes.