DxE Organizer Priya penned the below article with insightful thoughts on measuring progress in activism. (For more on this subject, don't miss our open meeting on September 29.)
Measuring Change, Evaluating Successes
By Priya Sawhney
The Animals Rights Movement is growing. Just recently, activists from all over the world organized the Earthlings March, where thousands of activists in over 40 cities around the world spoke up for Animal Liberation and brought to surface the otherwise neglected issue of Animal Oppression.
But how do we measure social change? Do we measure social change in terms of how many people are becoming Vegetarians and Vegans? While doing so may seem to be the answer, there may be different and better measures.
1. Community Growth
“Without community, there is no liberation.” –Audre Lord
A strong and powerful community is the heart of a movement. Some of the most important movements in history have demonstrated to us that creating social change is impossible without a strong sense of community and great efforts to build community.
The goal of our actions is to inspire others to take initiative and to join the fight for Animal Liberation. Seeing the diverse group of activists at the Earthlings march assured me that the Animal Rights movement today is building a stronger community, locally and internationally. New faces have come forth, and more and more people are showing support, organizing actions, and evaluating the best avenues to create a world where Animal Liberation will become a reality.
2. Transforming Social Discourse
“The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.” –Edward Sapir
“Discourse creates reality,” and the way in which we speak about our social world creates the social world in which we live. Our social realities are a perception of our collective cultural perceptions. For many years, our social discourse has reflected that animals are viewed as property, that they are inferior to humans, and that their bodies are created for us to use and abuse. In order to be a successful social movement, we must challenge the culture which has normalized the torture and killing of animals. Society has not changed, yet, but it’s on the path of change.
How are we transforming the current social discourse? We do this by confronting society with strong and powerful messages. Recently, activists demonstrated at Bacon Festival, an event which celebrates death and misery. The signs in our hands read, “It’s not food, its violence.” By targeting the social normative culture which normalizes violence, we are challenging society in viewing the lives of innocent creatures for what they are: sentient and worth living.
3. Responses from Oppositional Forces
Do not be afraid to offer ideas that draw opposition. Remember, if no one is against your idea, then your idea probably doesn't do anything. –Marco Rubio
If our protests, demonstrations, and actions are not provoking the oppositional forces to respond, we ought to re-evaluate our approach. Contrary to popular belief, anger from opposition can be a useful measure of effectiveness. Inciting an emotional response from a person or a group of people means that you have been successful in making the issue at hand a real concern for them, no matter what side of issue they are on. The first priority is that the issue itself has made it on the table and that it creates buzz and urges people to confront oppression and injustice.
A recent action at a restaurant which started selling animals, The Olde Depot, provoked a lot of response from angry animal eaters. The point to be made here is that where these animal eaters were not engaging in discussions about the ethics of eating animals before, have to confront it now.
ACT UP, a group committed to ending the AIDS crisis, used direct action in order to demand change and provoke response from society. During a presidential campaign, one of the group members disrupted and confronted Bill Clinton at a campaign speech in 1991. ACT UP responded, "What happened this week was, AIDS became an issue in this campaign.”
We are trying to put the issue on the table.
We can try to measure change and evaluate success through the amount of growing Vegetarians and Vegans, but the real indicator of success really lies in our ability to maintain a struggle against overwhelming odds and grow in the face of opposition.