From a minority to a majority:

How a minority group in Russia made history

By Rasa Petrauskaite

 
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A month ago, I attended a charity fundraiser for a hospital in India.  At the event, I met a very interesting couple.  The husband was sitting next to me at our table.  I was one of the few people there eating a vegan option.  Most people around me were eating meat.  This Indian gentleman was eating meat too. 

He and I conversed on various topics and wanted to stay in touch.  As I was adding him on Facebook on my phone, we both looked at my profile picture. There was a slogan promoting an animal rights march plastered across the bottom of my profile photo.  I felt the need to explain the slogan to him.  I said, “I'm an animal rights activist.”  There was a long pause.  He briefly turned away from me. 

After a moment of silence, he turned back to me and said, “I believe that there will be a day when none of us will be eating meat.  We will no longer raise animals for food.  In fact, we will look back on history and say, 'What?!  People actually did that?!  It's so barbaric!'” The gentleman went on to compare raising animals for meat to owning other humans.  He said that looking back on history, we will regard both practices as equally barbaric. 

Listening to him, I felt pleasantly surprised.  I couldn't believe that this man who eats meat actually thinks that killing animals is barbaric.  When people who eat meat say that they will someday become animal rights supporters, it means that they are animal rights supporters already at least in their hearts.  It means that we, who are animal rights supporters, might not be a minority.  It means that we might be a majority.

Listening to him, I realized that all this time I have been feeling doubtful.  I doubted that we have what it takes to change the system where animals are killed for meat. 

I was thinking that we simply have too few people who share our vision of liberating animals and letting them live out their lives in peace at sanctuaries.

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For years, I've seen videos and photos of animals suffering in animal agriculture. I so badly wanted to help them.  But I felt powerless to do so.  I felt scared that no matter how hard I try, I will not make a dent in this system.  I felt almost hopeless.  I had only a little bit of hope.  But it was enough for me to take action. 

I saw incremental progress.  San Francisco banned the sale of fur a few months ago.  US senators from California started to change their rhetoric on animal rights over the past few years.  They became stronger advocates of animal rights. 

However, I also saw how hard it was for us to make any real difference.  Millions of animals are still living on farms, suffering terribly, and they will be killed.  We have large obstacles to overcome.  Sometimes they seem insurmountable.  We have opposition from some politicians, who have accepted money from the meat industry.  We have opposition from the FBI.  This may also be due to corruption.  Last year, several FBI agents raided an animal sanctuary.  They cut off a piece of the ear of at least one pig.  They said this was necessary to do a DNA test to determine if this pig was one of the ones who was removed from a farm.

Many of my fellow activists rescued a number of animals from farms.  The animals were either dying from diseases or they would have been killed, if they weren't rescued.  Unfortunately, some of the activists are now facing criminal charges.  They are being sued by public officials in Utah and North Carolina.  Their trials in Utah are beginning this week.  Some of them may have to serve up to 70 years in prison.  This is another example of the many serious obstacles that we face as activists.

However, by talking to this Indian gentleman at the charity event, I saw that we have a real chance to succeed.  Despite the many obstacles, we potentially have enough support from the US population to create real change.  I saw that my fear of my ineffectiveness in helping animals in any meaningful way was largely unfounded.  I felt relieved.  I also felt regretful that I have been living with this fear for many years.

After the charity event, I deliberated on the comparison of animal agriculture to human trade, a system where people could buy other people.  Many Americans don't realize it, but human trade had existed in Russia as well.  I'm originally from Russia and studied Russian history.  At one point in time, wealthy Russian nobles were able to buy peasants and serfs. 

  "Time of harvesting," painting by Grigoriy Myasoyedov, 1887.

"Time of harvesting," painting by Grigoriy Myasoyedov, 1887.

However, in 1861, the czar enacted the Emancipation Reform.  It freed the serfs and the peasants from being owned by nobles.

There were several forces that worked together to bring about the Emancipation Reform.  The first force was the Russian intellectual community.  It was a minority of the population.  Three prominent thought leaders in Russia were writing about the need for the emancipation of serfs.  They wrote about human rights.  The Russian intellectual community rallied behind them.

The second force that brought about the Emancipation Reform was the accumulation of smaller reforms to improve the welfare of serfs.  The czars prior to the one who enacted the Emancipation Reform passed smaller laws that improved the welfare of serfs.  Some of these laws were not enforced at the time.  Nonetheless, the consistent efforts of the prior czars paved the way for a more sweeping measure.

The third force that enabled the reform was examples from other countries.  The Russian czar at the time, Alexander II, witnessed his Eastern European neighbors abolishing serfdom.  That legitimized his bold reform in the eyes of the Russian nobility.

Similarly to the way people in Russia could buy other people, we in the US today can buy (non-human) animals.  Also, similarly to how the forces in Russia synergized to end human trade, the forces are growing here in the US to end animal trade.

We, animal rights activists, are akin to the minority of the population in Russia in the early 1800s who rallied behind the several thought leaders to end human trade.  Similarly, we are one of the forces that will end animal trade.  The way Russia achieved human liberation, we can achieve animal liberation. 

Since the time of the charity event for the hospital in India, I have taken the Animal Liberation Pledge.  I'm letting my family, friends and acquaintances know that I will share a meal with them only if they eat vegan food with me.  I'm looking forward to getting more people to think about animal liberation and to see their thoughts and feelings about it.  At the next charity event, I will declare much sooner that I'm an animal rights activist.