Wayne Hsiung

Published on:

August 12, 2013

"How do we give life to an idea?"

Lauren Gazzola was a lead organizer of one of the most successful campaigns in the history of animal rights - Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. The campaign mobilized thousands of activists in places as far flung as Little Rock, Arkansas, and created unprecedented media waves, including extensive coverage in flagship newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

Her talk on Saturday in Los Angeles was more about asking difficult questions than providing concrete answers. But they were important questions indeed:

- The prominent "arguments" within the movement are about the proper methods to persuade individuals, one-by-one, to become vegan. But is this debate (what I have called "naive incrementalism" and "throwing pebbles into the ocean") even the right way to frame the problem?  Should we be focusing on individuals, or on systems? Should we be inspiring people to veganism, or to activism?

- Does ideology matter? Can we imagine a society that conceives of animals as inferiors and things, that nonetheless treats animals with decency? Do ideologies, social norms, and ideas cause bad behavior? And do we have any hope of changing bad behavior, if we do not confront and change those ideologies? 

- What does a social movement look like? When we think of the canonical social movements from history, do they look like what we are currently doing (acting as salespeople for a consumer lifestyle) or do they look like something different (empowering people to challenge an oppressive system)?

- And perhaps most important, how do we give life to an idea? If we need to do more than just "raise awareness"... if we need to motivate  people to grapple with the debate over animal liberation, how do we create energy behind that debate? Might contention, polarization, and controversy be a good thing? 

Important questions. And questions that, when asked, will lead us to surprising answers.