We are not free until everyone is free

Intersectionality

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CF is all about empowerment. So please, download the PDF presentation for the talk The Lack Of Intersectionality: A Moral Inconsistency of the Animal Rights Movement which addresses the content of this page and give your own talks! The original transcript of the above video can be found here.

PRESENTATION
Trigger Warnings – Speciesism, sexual assault, violence, sexism, racism, heterosexism and ableism.
Before we start this talk, how many people in this room think that supporting human liberation detract from animal liberation struggles? For those who believe that human liberation and animal liberation can be tackled together, we hope that with this talk you will further your ideas, and for those who don’t believe it’s possible, we hope to show you a different perspective.

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This is a picture of a successful disruption we did during Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. For those of you who don’t know what this event is a ESPN-televised contest and it has been around since 1916. In recent years, an estimated 40,000 fans come to watch the contest in person – not counting the folks watching it nation-wide and internationally.

Have you heard that before? What other similar things do we often hear?

Animal rights activists are often accused of not caring about humans. We can argue that usually these accusations come from people who have just had their speciesism challenged and who feel attacked, so they’re reactionary statements. We can obviously also argue that we do indeed care about other humans. But this happens so often that even people who’ve never faced their speciesism have come to believe that animal rights activists simply do not see humans as important as non-humans.

And here’s some examples of why people may see our movement as a misanthropic movement. On the left picture there’s an example of racism and misanthropy. The context is the dog trade in China, and the person says “I would love to be there. I would put bombs to kill all these sick people.”

The-Lack-Of-Intersectionality_WEB_Page_03The next picture, is of Kendall Jones. For those of you unfamiliar with who she is, she is a hunter who is heavily targeted by activists and a vegan photoshoped her shirt and substituted the word “hunt” with “cunt” which is a pretty sexist term that reduces women to their private parts.

And on the final picture it reads “Statistics show that animal abusers commit less abuse after they’ve been shot.” – classic misanthropic remark.

I wrote an article not long ago about breaking the hero-worship in which I shared my personal struggles and how we should avoid putting activists (or anyone, really) on pedestals and calling them heroes. So, to do the same here, I’d like to share a few screenshots of my personal facebook page back in 2013.

I went vegan on April 2013 and the world for me became darker than it had ever been. I was never a fan of people in general, always identified myself better with animals, but after going vegan I was a complete mess. Here’s a few things I said.

“Now I hope this piece of garbage Venus Laventure starves in prison” when talking about a woman who almost killed her dog by starving him

The next picture me talking about Michael Vick “Hope he dies slowly”. Vick is a famous NFL player who was caught doing atrocious things to the dogs he used and killed for dog fighting. Now, while I don’t mention anything about his race per se, we should be aware of the weight that statements like mine play in a country which is extremely racist. So for me, a white person, to wish death upon a black person in the USA, has implications of oppression and race. Have you ever behaved similarly?

While feelings of sadness and anger regarding the human species as a whole or certain people in particular, in relation to animal exploitation, may be very understandable, we need to be aware of and carefully watch ourselves when we start moving in a misanthropic direction. First because, a misanthropic attitude, like any persistent negative attitude, hurts us. But, most importantly in terms of our animal advocacy, it hurts animals and it affects our activism.
How can we change this view? There are among us those who truly believe we cannot fight one system of oppression (speciesism) by supporting another system of oppression (sexism, for example). It is morally inconsistent to claim we care about the bodily autonomy of hens but to oppose the bodily autonomy of women, just as it is morally inconsistent to say we care about equality but exclude certain species who are worthy of that consideration.

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According to Javed Deck, for animals rights “[…] to be a movement that actually transforms relationships between humans and animals it needs to take seriously issues of race, class, and gender, and the ways these impact animal systems. Just like the transformations feminist and queer struggles have undergone as they crossed cultural boundaries, so must animal struggle change across these boundaries.”
KimberleIn the 70’s, black feminists who worked both for women’s rights and civil rights, started to look at gender and race as connected issues. The feminist movement back then wasn’t talking about race, and the civil rights movement wasn’t addressing gender. They developed a theory and practice called intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Applying Crenshaw’s framework of intersection to other systemic oppressions, we can no longer see discrimination based on gender, race, species [in the case of activists or sociologies who add such category], class, ability, sexual orientation, etc., as separate and independent from one another. Axes of identity interact on multiple levels, contributing to systemic injustice and social inequality.  

Oppressive systems also share the same roots. They not only have the same strategy, the same tactics, but they also share patterns of behavior and thought.

In her essay, Crenshaw uses an analogy to a traffic intersection, or crossroad, to concretize the concept:

“Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them.”

Why is this concept so important? For many reasons. But one that I’d like to point out and to start going deeper into in our talk is that by rejecting the idea that oppressions are independent from one another, and embracing the concept that that systems of oppression are connected we avoid ranking or establishing hierarchies of oppressions. What does that mean? For example, we reject the idea that sexism is worse than heterosexism or ableism, or that speciesism is worse than ageism and xenophobia.

This practice of ranking is wrong in many levels but primarily: It overlooks the fact that all forms of oppression are harmful and unjust.

This does not mean that as activists we should attempt to dismantle all forms of oppression: that would be simply unrealistic. It’s perfectly fine (and most effective) to have a focus – ours being animal rights. But it’s also crucial that we remain supportive and inclusive of other social justice causes because it’s the right thing to do and because movements can only benefit from building bridges between one another.

“99% of the intersectional analysis that is done by the left today completely ignores the intersection of species,” Kymlicka adds “I think there’s no way for the animal rights movement to possibly succeed without the support from other social justice movements.” - Professor Will Kymlicka
Intersectionality So why should we care about others’ struggles?

  1. Because it is the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong with choosing to be morally consistent.
  2. If we want animal liberation, then we had better build bridges. According to professor Will Kymlicka, “99% of the intersectional analysis that is done by the left today completely ignores the intersection of species,” he adds “I think there’s no way for the animal rights movement to possibly succeed without the support from other social justice movements.”
    Our movement consists of humans and our goal won’t be achieved if we don’t convince other people to join us. How can we do so if we’re not considering their struggles, needs, rights?
  3. Being able to create a safe space for activists and potential supporters is key to grow our movement. If we choose to ignore the intersections of oppressions, we run a great risk of turning people away from our cause.

It seems like the word intersectionality currently to be getting a lot of attention as well as confusion. Quite often there isn’t a mention of the originators of the concept, leaving it to be a white-centric circle. So please, when talking about intersectionality, let’s remember that black women have been the leaders in this field of sociology.  Love it or hate it, the concept is challenging all of us, and we shouldn’t turn away from it.

We would like to share our view about it and how we are learning to apply it to Collectively Free. When we first started CF, our dream was to create an anti-speciesist group that embraced the intersections of oppression, both internally in our community and externally in our actions.

Internal Commitments
Within our community, we strive to create a safe space for activists to express themselves and for potential supporters to join us. Our internal commitments include but are not limited to:

  • Checking our own privileges, self-reflect: this is an ongoing process and quite often very hard to make.
    For example, raise your hand if you have clean water. That is a privilege.Raise your hand if you have where to sleep. That is also a privilege. Raise your hand if you don’t have to worry about being  killed for food or clothing. That is also a privilege.
  • Being humble: if you have offended someone from a particular group, recognize it, listen to them and don’t disregard their pain with “but’s”. The intentions may be good but the context is hurtful. So for example, if you’re a male and something you have said made me uncomfortable and I deem it to be sexist, please, do listen to me. Even if you disagree the worst someone can do in such circumstances is say “well, I don’t think it’s sexist.” and walk away.
  • Establishing and applying a safe space agreement.
  • Having meetings that address intersectionality
  • Empowering activists to have a strong voice (to be outspoken and to know that they are being heard)
  • Checking that our messaging is respectful to other groups. Example, that we are not using racist, ableist, homophobic, ageist language. It can be a fine line here sometimes when dealing with speciesism.
    For example, in our action called “Glass Walls: Who Do We See?” we decided to have activists wear folds to illustrate our oblivion towards the truth and the fact that Starbucks conceals the truth from us.
    The common word for this fold is “blindfold” so first we wanted to check that the idea was okay so we reached out to individual people who are part of the community for disability and from there we also posted the idea publicly on their group, so other people could give their opinion.
    We also made a note that activists should not use language that speaks of blindness with negative connotation and should avoid the use of ableist language like “blindfolds”, “turn a blind eye to…”.
  • Message that reflect common goals such as of anti-speciesist, anti-heterosexist, anti-racist and anti-cissexist struggles, for example. – liberation from oppression and equality of consideration. In other words, universal principles like justice, equality and freedom.
  • Not being afraid of making mistakes: our goal is growth not purity.

Analyzing our movement and beyond, there are some failed attempts to intersectionality that really stand out.

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The point here is not to say what is “wrong” and point fingers but to critically examine the messaging behind them. In our view, the more inclusive we can be the more effective our messaging will be. If we can get the same result, and let me emphasize this again, if we can get the same result with a messaging that is both anti-speciesist and respects/includes other forms of oppression, why are taking a shortcut? We too though have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but we have also tried our hardest to remain humble enough to recognize our mistakes and implement prompt changes to repair them.

A great example of that was when the amazing activist, Heather P. Graham, felt triggered during one of our protests after hearing an activist use the word “rape” trivially. We reached out to her, heard her concerns and asked her to do a panel discussion about the “Importance of Language In Our Movement” followed by a Q&A. We learned a lot from Heather that day. It pushed us forward to officially retire a poster we hadn’t used in a long time, part of our early days, which had the r-word in it. The decision wasn’t because of personal purity, because we care more about what other people may think, or because we don’t believe that mother cows are truly sexually assaulted – it is because we learned that we can achieve the same result in making people understand our message without running the risk of triggering them. Lesson learned: always listen when people who have been hurt share their stories, and always listen when someone brings up issues to your attention.

(Man with broccoli) Saying that if you’re vegan you’ll have a fit body.

(Ku Klux Klan) Peta held a campaign against dog breeding. According to PETA, being dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan was a good idea to call out breeder, since they have similar thoughts. Breeders are obsessed with “pure” race and KKK members also believe in the superiority of the white race.

(It is legal to eat) Slutwalk in the UK. Speciesist.

(Impotence) heterosexist, objectification of women and men.

(Black Lives Matter) A highly respected group in the United States and beyond that fight for for racial equality. They do an amazing job, but are extremely speciesist. In this case a member of Black Lives Matter poses with a roasted pork with officer’s cap – basically saying that the cops are pigs.

(Women War) objectification of the female body. There is much controversy in this case, some feminists say that if women are empowered, we must allow them to do so, but others believe it is completely unnecessary and reinforces the objectification of women.

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When it comes to races, religions, cultures we are not part of, we have to be really careful on how we craft our message and our attitude towards them. How can we justify aggression, violence to a specific group, but seek dialogue and provocation with another group? In one hand we categorize “the other” as monstrous, and those similar to us as just unaware. But the truth is – they are both speciesist.

On the left there is a picture of a practicing Orthodox Jew Kaporos, a ritual involving the sacrifice of chickens. The ritual is practiced on public sidewalks and is a terrible thing to witness. Still, the reality is that they are no different from a customer buying dead bodies, a butcher or your co-worker eating their chicken sandwich.

The second image is of Eid, the second largest Muslim celebration and also involves the torture and death of animals.

The third image is the sale of dogs in China. Normally these images horrify people who struggle to recognize the hypocrisy behind the fact that them eating a beef burger is just as horrifying.

Below are images of Whole Foods, Starbucks and a family meal. Both scenarios require strategies and reviews that mention the universal principles of justice, stories of animals and a call to action – without using racial slurs.

Let’s think of ways of either making a sign or a speech addressing speciesism which isn’t racist and gets the point across.  

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Moving to our external commitments, they include but are not limited to:

  • Applying a safer space agreement.
  • Actively supporting and participating in other social justice issues and groups. Learn about their struggles, their history. Don’t do it because it’s cool lol.
  • Actively volunteering for intersectional causes like Food Not Bombs, Food Empowerment Project.
  • Pro-intersectional actions: we definitely carefully craft these actions and always maximize our chances of building bridges by contacting groups from other social justice movements.

In terms of delivering an effective message for our activism and building bridges, our first big effort was at NYC PRIDE 2015. We wrote a speakout and chants that reflected the common goal of anti-speciesist, anti-heterosexist and anti-cissexist struggles – liberation from oppression and equality of consideration. The feedback on our video from that day was overwhelmingly positive, from both animal rights and LGBTQI rights activists. Another lesson learned: participate in different movements’ protests and support their causes. I’d like to share it with you.


It wasn’t until we launched the campaign against Starbucks that we had the opportunity to really bring that concept out in our actions. We spent several months trying to convey a strong message for the animals while highlighting Starbucks’ exploitation of coffee workers. We have never felt so listened to in any action we ever participated in as on our first day of action, and we are certain it was because we carefully brought together human rights and animal rights. The way we built our campaign was to first screen a documentary called Black Gold. Which documents the exploitation of coffee workers in Ethiopia, the largest coffee exporter in the world, and highlights Starbucks as a major player in the industry. We also personally went to Starbucks and distributed flyers about the screening to SB workers and invited them. The intent of this is to create dialogue, generate a discussion, establish on both sides that after all, we are humans and there are no enemies in this situation. When we disrupt places, workers never get to talk to us, they rarely get a chance to grab a flyer, and they are usually too irritated at us. We found this to be the first step to trying to fix that situation. 3 workers came, etc.

Besides that, our Chick-Fil-A action gained significant media attention and brought both animal rights and human rights to the table.

Our community is not perfect, and we’ll surely continue to make mistakes and learn from them. But if we all stay open to ideas that challenge us we’ll also make strides.  Don’t worry, our community will still be hard-core, progressive, envelope-pushers – but now with a bonus! Our activism will no longer appear as a one-way street but as a lane on a highway, a highway shared with other fighters for liberation, equality and freedom.

The-Lack-Of-Intersectionality_WEB_Page_38At its most basic level, grassroots activism is a group of people who feel strongly enough about an issue to actively campaign to make a difference.

At Collectively Free we all feel strongly about universal principles such as justice, equality and freedom. This is why we frame our activism around strong principles and not around consumerism and welfarism.

Beyond Veganism There Is Activism
How wonderful would it be if all we needed to do to abolish the wrongs in our world was to not commit these same wrongs ourselves in the first place? Want to end sexism? Don’t be sexist! Want to eradicate racism? Don’t be racist! Want to stop animal suffering? Go vegan! That would be quite fantastic, and we would all live in peace and harmony. Unfortunately, the abolition of systemic inequality, discrimination and exploitation is only achievable through our engagement in actions that work towards eradicating them, not actions that focus on non-participation.

At this point you may be saying this to yourself, “All of this sounds great, but how do you plan on transforming society’s most ingrained wrongs?” Through a combination of principles and methods.

Our mission is simple: Total animal liberation by challenging the dominant culture of speciesism and raising consciousness on a mass scale through highly creative non-violent campaigns and using anti-speciesist messaging. We tell the animals’ stories, build a community and emphasize intersectionality, underscoring the connection between all kinds of oppression, human and non-human, while always keeping the primary focus on the animals.

Community building: Examples in history show the importance of community building, from women’s rights with one of the oldest women’s club dated back to 1868 called City’s Sorosis, to LGBTQI+ centers which not only provide a safe space but also health care, social services and housing and leadership/advocacy; from churches during the Civil Rights Movement that “served as the centerpiece of the city’s African American community, functioning as a meeting place, social center, and lecture hall”, to Gandhi’s module for India’s Independence Movement – which was based off the African module of community building.

Conclusion
So what is the conclusion to all this? We need to be vegan, obviously, but if we truly oppose oppression and all its forms, we also need to act. We don’t just need more vegans – we need more vegan activists, speaking out and acting out against the injustice and against the cultural norm that allows for this injustice. The more activists there are, the more visible our movement will be, and the more effective. So please, if you haven’t already, join us! Together, we can really make an impact and make the world a better place for animals.