Wayne Hsiung

Published on:

November 15, 2013

The Open Model

Our next day of action, Someone, Not Something, is just a few days away, and we are expecting almost twice the number of cities to participate. One of keys to that growth is that we use an open model of organizing -- that is, we default to inclusion and transparency in everything we do, and make it a highest priority to support other activists in getting active for animals, no matter their background, experience, or current moral convictions. 

That does not mean we abandon our principles. DxE stands for total animal liberation, and indeed, unifying our community around a strong and ambitious message is absolutely vital for a movement's long term growth -- in no small part because a strong message is a much more powerful meme. It does mean, however, that we recognize that different activists have different roles in the movement, and are at different stages in their evolution as activists and people. 

Along these lines, there are three specific areas where the open model is often tested. 

Ideological or behavioral purity.

Many new activists have faint feelings about animal abuse but have never been exposed to animal liberation (or even just veganism) as a campaign for social, political, and moral transformation. Others have strong views on animal liberation but may not appreciate, or agree with, the extensive intersections between human and non-human oppression.

An open model of organizing suggests that we should accept and encourage these new activists. Moral psychologists have found that emphasis on purity shifts us away from the ethic of harm, and is generally advocated by traditionalists and conservatives who seek to split our communities into "us" and "them." This is why, for example, so many religious conservatives emphasize dietary purity. It is so easy and simple to attack someone as "unclean" or "disgusting" because they eat a different set of foods. But such categorizations, even if initially based on some valid logic (e.g. threat of real contamination from certain foods), often take a life of their own.

One example of this is our judgment of activists as "unfit" if they are not yet vegan. Vegan consumerism, as I have argued previously, does nothing to liberate animals, or alleviate their suffering. And anyone who has made the decision to get active for animals is taking a far stronger and more important step (ironically, even for their long term commitment to dietary change) than a similar person who has decided to become a committed vegan. And yet I routinely hear activists feel that they cannot become involved with animal rights campaigns or communities, if they are not yet vegan. We cannot allow that to happen, if we would like our movement and communities to grow. 

Total animal liberation should be the anchor of every social justice community, but so too should a recognition that every individual activist is at a different stage in their journey toward that ultimate goal. 

Strategic disagreements.

Just as common as differences in ideology are differences in what tactics, targets, or messages are most effective. DxE, for example strongly advocates the message of total animal liberation, and the use of strong, honest, and creative tactics. This is a provocative and ambitious style of activism that even many activists, at this stage in the movement's evolution, are not yet comfortable with. And it leads to many differences of opinion with other activists -- some of which get quite nasty! 

This is because tactical disagreements often turn into personal disagreements. The same "us" versus "them" mentality that animates purity ethics suddenly extends even to factual views about effective activism. "Those who disagree with us are not just factually wrong; they are dirty, unclean, stupid, or even evil!" But, again, the open model of organizing asks us to consciously resist this urge to "otherize." Indeed, extensive research suggests that differences of opinion, if encouraged, are vital for all of us to get at right answers

In short, under an open model, tactical disagreements should not be sources of frustration, much less division; they are opportunities for all of us to hone our message and become better activists. 

Differing capabilities

The final area where the open model is challenged is when activists avoid certain activity because of personal dispositions. For example, someone who is shy may avoid confrontational demonstrations. Someone who is easily bored may refuse to engage in less sexy work, such as leafleting or preparing materials. 

Here is where the open model shines, though. Instead of trying to fit square pegs into round holes, we should try to integrate all new activists into roles that fit their personalities, experience, and passion.

DxE is known for organizing splashy and creative demonstrations, for example, and many think they cannot participate without a disposition toward such actions. But that could not be further from the truth! There is an incredible amount of behind the scenes work that happens prior to every demonstration -- and we do a lot of less glamorous actions too (e.g. research on various messages and tactics, community building events, and yes, even leafleting). 

The open model of organizing asks us to find roles for everyone and even find opportunities for activists to grow into new roles. And what I've found is that, over time, activists who believe they don't have "this skill set", or "that disposition", will often transform and grow into something very new and different.

Including one shy, bespectacled Chinese boy who, at his first protest, was so scared that he hid behind a sign.