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Welfarism

"An Opiate to the Conscience": Welfarism as a Step to Animal Liberation?

"An opiate to the conscience": welfarism as a step to animal liberation?

By Brian Burns

The American Colonization Society said that its moderate message, which sought to bring slaveowners and abolitionists closer together, would  eventually  lead to the end of legal slavery in the US. Why do modern historians say the opposite?

The American Colonization Society said that its moderate message, which sought to bring slaveowners and abolitionists closer together, would eventually lead to the end of legal slavery in the US. Why do modern historians say the opposite?

Advocates of welfarism often claim that while the “humane” use and murder of animals is not the end goal, advocating for welfare reforms while not challenging the notion of animals as property will make the public more sympathetic to animal rights, and thus move us towards animal liberation. Whole Foods CEO and self-professed “ethical vegan” John Mackey, for example, unapologetically frames Whole Foods as a groundbreaking progress-maker for both animals and public consciousness in response to an open letter by James McWilliams calling for the company to stop selling meat.

Is this correct? Is there historical evidence showing that a moderate message which appeals to those in the “middle of the aisle” will eventually push them closer to one end? To examine this question, I discussed trends in the antislavery movement in the US from the mid-1810s through the 1830s as part of a DxE open meeting on welfarism . Most of the information presented was gathered from Paul Goodman’s book, Of One Blood.

“An Opiate to the Conscience” - The American Colonization Society of the Early 1800s

From the early 1800s, the antislavery movement in the United States was dominated by a large, government-backed group called the American Colonization Society (ACS). As Paul Goodman writes, “The most important function of the ACS was to ensure sectional harmony by offering a platform sufficiently broad and vague on which both slaveholders and nonslaveholders, professed abolitionists and anti-abolitionists, North and South, could stand” (Goodman, 18). Despite its stated purpose - to improve the welfare of slaves in the South and convince their masters to free them to an ACS-created colony in West Africa, “the ACS renounced any intention of interfering with slavery in the United States. (Goodman, 16).” In fact, the society was extremely hostile towards those agitating against slaveowners: “It insisted that any agitation that placed masters under moral scrutiny or political pressure or questioned their Christian benevolence would chill the inclination to manumit … Nor must one ever speak too harshly of slavery itself, the suffering of the victims and the cruelty of the master, lest slavery become a moral issue for public discussion” (Goodman, 18-19). 

The American Colonization Society, far from pushing the public towards abolitionism, reduced both Southern and Northern tension surrounding the issue of slavery. From our talk on the psychology of welfarism, we know that discomfort and cognitive dissonance are essential to motivate people to change their deep-set beliefs - and the ACS was extremely efficient at reducing both of them. Goodman writes, “In the North, apathy and indifference toward slavery were the toughest barriers… For most, until abolitionist agitation pricked their consciences, [slavery] was a distant abstraction” (Goodman, 124). Despite the organization’s widespread popularity both in the South and North and consensus at the time that it was pushing towards abolition, the resolution of tension and feel-good consciousness created by the society were, according to Fogel and many others, some of the “toughest barriers” towards the end of legal human slavery in the US. 

The Importance of Agitation

By “abolitionist agitation,” Goodman refers to the explosion of grassroots antislavery activism in the 1830s. Sparked by activists who felt silenced by the ACS (many of whom were former members of the society), independent chapters of self-styled “immediatists” began to pop up around the country, learning from each other via long letters and word of mouth. The action taken by these activists was radical and dangerous: William Lloyd Garrison’s public burning of the US constitution, which he called a “covenant with death”, almost left him dead after a lynch mob attempted to murder him (ironically he was saved by the police, who seized him and threw him in jail for his protest). Goodman writes that “Abolitionism grew, by contrast [to the ACS], in the teeth of elite hostility, intense popular prejudice, and physical violence, and it required an exceptional organizational and ideological commitment.” 

Despite these obstacles, however, the radical abolitionist movement was extremely successful, growing from four to 1348 independent chapters in just six years - a 34,000% increase in activism (Goodman, 124). This exceptional growth coupled with a strong message and provocative activism had extreme influence on public dialogue and political action on slavery, pushing public tension to ultimately to the brink of the Civil War. And as the antislavery societies rose across the US, the ACS was put on the defense, eventually discredited as a racist organization opposing rather than acting for progress.

What Can We Learn? 

Despite its profound power, agitation can be extraordinarily difficult as social animals. The nice, middle-of-the-road approach is often much more appealing, and often may seem to be the more effective way to enact change, since it does not elicit backlash. No surprise then, that companies such as Whole Foods have capitalized on its appeal to consumers by offering the same products of violence - meat, dairy, and eggs - sold in a more “compassionate” way. 

Unfortunately, the appeal of “moderatism” is precisely the reason behind its failure; in order to motivate people to reconsider their deep-set beliefs, one has to make them uncomfortable by presenting very different alternatives, and disrupting routine to force attention to these alternatives. Sometimes, seeking to reform the periphery of the system without attacking its root is the best way to ensure it survives and thrives. Such was the case in the American antislavery movement in the early 1800s, and such may be the case in the animal rights movement today.

How PETA’s Chinese “Dog Leather” Campaign Hurts Dogs (and Other Animals)

An investigation of the dog leather trade in China showed horrifying abuse. But did it help dogs?

An investigation of the dog leather trade in China showed horrifying abuse. But did it help dogs?

How PETA’s CHINESE “Dog Leather” Campaign Hurts Dogs (and Other Animals)

The dog leather campaign fails the animals in three ways: by promoting racism, by promoting speciesism, and by promoting inaction in the face of violence. Here's what we can do to change that. 

By Wayne Hsiung

[Note: a friend who used to work at PETA wrote to me expressing concern that this post would inevitably be perceived as an attack on PETA and its supporters, and that I should therefore move the below words to the top of the post. I think this is good advice -- particularly since the issues I am discussing in this article extend far beyond a single organization or campaign. You can read a more in-depth account of the problem in a three-part series here. Anyways, here are the words: 

This is not an attack on PETA. Some of my hardest working and most dedicated friends work at PETA. And PETA’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, lives a Spartan lifestyle, devotes every waking moment to animals, and has shown true genius in understanding the crucial role of disruption and provocation in building movements. PETA is also one of the only nonprofits that has consistently shown support for grassroots activists. Rather, this is a heartfelt request for us to collectively do better...

I'd also like to emphasize that I don't think there was necessarily any intentional racism on the part of PETA employees. The issues set out here, in fact, are cultural and systemic in origin. And I know many PETA employees who are fiercely devoted to the right of every animal -- human or non-human -- to be free from discrimination or violence. But anyways, on to the blog post... ]

I’m crying, furious, and filled with a near-unbearable feeling of shame. Because, once again, my people are killing dogs.

PETA unveiled a horrifying investigation of “dog leather” in China yesterday. And the video is devastating. A little brown dog, shaking in terror, is dragged out of a filthy, dark room. She backs up against a wall and looks up in fear, as if to beg the man who is dragging her, “Please, sir, don’t hurt me. What did I do to you?” But he ignores her entreaties, lifts up a huge wooden club, and begins to smash her head with horrifying ferocity. The little dog cries out. But she is small, weak, and defenseless. Her brutalizer is massive, strong, and armed. All she can do is shriek in terror as he bludgeons her head over and over and over again. Soon she collapses to the ground. Two men cut the little dog’s throat and throw her into a huge bucket of water, where numerous corpses have already been tossed. They don’t seem to bother with determining whether she’s actually dead, so she may very well have drowned in a pool of her own blood.

Little Lisa. 

Little Lisa. 

The narrator tells us that many of these dogs are stolen from their families on the city streets. I can’t help but wonder… what if this were my little Lisa? What is the difference between the little brown dog I am seeing on the screen and the one I hug every night before I go to bed? The comparison is almost unbelievable. Just a glimpse into that nightmare brings my world crashing to the ground. Lisa, the light of my life, my favorite person, my happy child in a world so often filled with desolation, sadness, and pain…. Lisa, dragged to such a hellish and violent place? Impossible.

But it is possible, as the PETA investigation shows. Someone just like my little girl -- just as innocent, just as loving, and just as deserving of safety, happiness, and freedom -- is being brutalized at this very moment. 

So why am I disgusted… with the campaign?

1. The campaign plays on racism to draw support, and undermines our attempts to inspire Chinese activists to take action.

The PETA video, like so many other campaigns against Chinese practices, relies on an American-sounding narrator describing horrible abuses by the Chinese. It has the feel of a nature documentary, with dirty, violent, animalistic Asians contrasted with the calm, compassionate, English-speaking narrator.   

The video’s headline is the “Chinese Dog Leather industry.” Yet when was the last time an investigation of farms in the United States targeted Americans by decrying the “Brutal American Pig Flesh Industry?” 

The campaign decries the lack of animal welfare laws in China. Yet the US’s animal welfare laws are toothless and filled with exceptions advocated by industry, e.g. the wholesale removal of all birds from the requirements of the Humane Slaughter Act.

One of the thousands of dogs rescued from slaughter by grassroots activists in China. 

And the campaign fails to include a positive Asian face to counter-balance the horrible acts of cruelty. Yet the video ignores the fact that, as a product of PETA-Asia, Chinese activists almost certainly played a role in this investigation. Or the fact that recent grassroots mobilizations have inspired countless Chinese to travel great distances to block trucks delivering dogs to meat factories -- at significant personal risk in a nation where civil disobedience is often met with violent oppression. The movement has saved thousands of dogs from slaughter through these courageous acts of nonviolent direct action. When did we last see any similar action taken in the United States for the millions of dogs killed in experiments or “shelters” including, distressingly, many thousands killed by PETA itself? Those Chinese, it seems, could attack “barbaric Americans” (and “barbaric animal activists”) for their heartlessness, cruelty, and cowardice toward dogs.

All of that, however, is ignored. And with such a biased framing, it’s no surprise that the public’s reaction to the video is filled with hate against the Chinese. One of the top comments (approved by over 200 others) is as simple as it is antagonistic: “I hate China.” Many people state that they will boycott the entire nation for the faults of a few.  “[E]veryone should boycott chink made goods!” As usual, the strangest attacks are made by those who decry the Chinese as “not human”: “The more I learn about China the more I have come to believe that culture is for the most part not civilized - in fact, not even human at all,” says one. “Disgusting China. Filled with monsters, not humans,” says another. Why is being “non-human” used as an insult among advocates for non-human animal rights?

Perhaps most troubling are the many comments endorsing racial violence. Someone replies by advocating a nuclear attack: “China is the worst country in the world… nuclear bomb please!” Another commenter suggests replacing the dogs with Chinese: “lets have some chinamen hats… made from their mean slant eyed mother fuckers skins!” It’s enough to make even a fairly well-adjusted Chinese person, such as myself, a little shaken. What are the people on the streets of America actually thinking about the Chinese? What are they actually thinking about me?

You might reject this as paranoia, but discrimination is part of our historical experience as Chinese. We remember that a shocking 68% of Americans express unapologetically negative sentiments towards us, including a recently-viral, profanity-laced anti-Chinese rant in SF. We remember that Vincent Chin, blamed for the declining auto industry, was brutally bludgeoned to death for the crime of being born different. (The men who murdered him did not receive any jail time.) We remember that ludicrous rumors involving our integrity and loyalty continue to be spread even by the flagship “progressive” media outlets of our day, such as The New York Times or ABC. And we remember that far more Asians have been killed by the US government in the past 50 years than the people of any other continent. And we are understandably concerned.

Campaigns such as PETA’s, which incite terrifyingly-violent rhetoric, contribute to this fear. And perhaps the worst part of all is that the animals -- including those poor dogs in rural China -- are being undermined in the process. Because we know that, to effect change, we have to start in local communities. This is not just ethical but effective; sociological research shows us that our ability to impact those outside of our local communities is weak. We have to find Chinese supporters if we want to save the animals of China. We have to inspire people of all nations and continents, and all cultures and creeds, to solve the global problem of animal exploitation.

We have to represent the world to change the world.

At Direct Action Everywhere, we avoid ethnic targeting for exactly this reason. There are countless Chinese who have cried just as many tears, and felt just as much anger, over the murder of dogs and other animals. There are Chinese people risking their lives to help animals in need. There’s a Chinese kid out there -- who has faced despair, bullying and violence himself -- who is just as desperate as any one of us to save that little brown dog in the video. To reject these potential allies would be a disservice to the movement. To allow a Chinese kid with a big heart for animals to be subjected to racist threats is an incredible betrayal to the animals we represent. We simply have to do better.

2. The campaign is speciesist, i.e. it privileges dogs over other animals, and thereby reinforces the notion that human beings can arbitrarily decide which animals matter.

But what of public support? The dog leather campaign has mobilized a truly astounding level of public attention and outrage. In less than one day, PETA’s video has been watched by nearly a million people and shared by over 50,000. Many say that focusing on industries such as dog leather, marginal though they may be, is strategic because it is the “low hanging fruit” -- easy to garner opposition to, and just as easy to destroy.  

This confuses the basic function of the activist. We are not here to be popular. We are not here to cater to existing views. We are here to challenge and change those views. And focusing thoughtlessly on a single species, based on human perceptions of special worth, reinforces the species prejudice that feeds the entire system of animal abuse.

Shooting stink bombs at foreigners may give Westerners self-satisfaction. But does it help whales? 

Shooting stink bombs at foreigners may give Westerners self-satisfaction. But does it help whales? 

Anti-whaling campaigns are perhaps the greatest example of this. As the Japanese activist Tetsuhiko Endo points out, with a global budget of $25 million, anti-whaling NGOs (most notably, Sea Shepherd) are nearly as large as the entire whaling industry, which has annual revenues of $31 million. Yet whaling levels are twice as high as they were in 1990. Over that same time period, violence against other animals has continued its rapid increase in the very countries that have been most heavily targeted by anti-whaling campaigns, including Norway and Japan.

There is irresistible logic to this. When I was a child and first learned that dogs were being killed for food in China, I was horrified. I screamed and cried and begged my parents to stop my friends from being murdered. But they quickly dismissed my concerns as performing whiteness. “Americans do the same. Don’t you love bacon and baloney?”

As I child, I rejected this comparison. But in my adulthood, I now recognize that my parents were right. If we are going to break the species frontier, and grant rights to certain animals, there is no logical reason to stop with a single species. And if we are going to deny rights to one species, on the basis of their non-human status, who are we to object to the abuse of other animals?

The Japanese, Chinese, and others can see this logic as well, and immediately dismiss our single issue campaigns as hypocrisy, or worse yet, cultural imperialism. Local Asian activists who otherwise might be supportive of our efforts, in turn, are dissuaded from joining the movement for fear of being decried as hypocritical race traitors. The losers in all of this? Cultural understanding. Movement solidarity. And above all, the animals.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge dog lover. They were my entry into the world of animal rights. I am therefore the first person to say that dogs can be a window into the bigger picture of animal rights. However, to effectively serve as such a window, we have to give the public -- and indeed, animal activists, too -- a gateway into anti-speciesism. We have to hammer home the notion that concern for dogs without similar concern for animals killed by Westerners is both racist and speciesist. We have to have the courage to push our dog-loving, whale-loving, orangutan-loving friends to move beyond the low-hanging fruit -- marginal campaigns that the public is already willing to offer token support to (since they’re not involved in the abuse at issue anyways) -- and toward the root of the problem: the mentality of human supremacy. A mentality that people in our own neighborhoods are complicit in, most obviously, in who (not what, but who) we choose to eat. 

{Note: To PETA’s credit, the video does mention cows specifically. And the petition asks viewers to pledge to boycott all leather, not just the tiny amount of leather from dogs. But the campaign otherwise makes the abuse of dogs in China the subject of special ire, e.g. by emphasizing in bold type, “There's no easy way to tell whose skin you're really in.” But why does it matter whose skin you’re in, as long as it’s someone else’s skin?]

3. The campaign asks too little from us, when we have so much more to give

We need not travel great distances to find horrific abuse of animals. It's happening right next door. 

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the campaign, however, is that it asks so little of the online activists who rush to support it. The action page has two options: donate or sign a petition. But what in heaven’s name does this do for the dogs who are being brutally murdered across the world? (The deeper and more troubling critique -- that the campaign uses horrible abuse of animals as a fundraising device while seemingly making no effort to actually help the animals abused -- will be developed in a future blog post. The danger of the “animal abuse industrial complex” is one of the primary reasons behind DxE’s soon-to-be-announced Open Rescue Network.)

I have walked in places of violence for nearly 10 years, and I can tell you that animal abuse is everywhere, and easy to find. We need not cross a gigantic ocean to find men doing horrible things to animals. We can fix the log in our own eye before picking at the speck in our neighbor’s. But to do that, we have to take action.

And the “we” in that statement is important. We need each other to succeed. We need to be organized, ambitious, and unified. The greatest movements in history have always been products of collective grassroots mobilization. While they have elevated figureheads to speak for them, their power has stemmed from their ability to inspire ordinary people to come together in waves of nonviolent direct action. To be the change they want to see in the world.

Single-issue campaigns that demonize foreigners do the opposite of this. They offer Westerners a pat on the back for their own moral beliefs and behaviors, and give us license to return to “normalcy.” But this sort of self-satisfied clicktivism is the opposite of what we should be shooting for, if we are seeking real and permanent change for animals. And it’s so far short of what we can achieve. We don’t have to settle for being cogs in a nonprofit machine. We don’t have to relegate our activism to being mere names and emails in a donor database or registry. We can save our animal friends, and, with the right support and community, we can do it now.

Undercover investigations, particularly of foreign practices, are, too often, a form of moral voyeurism. We watch. We shake our heads. Sometimes, we even condemn. But we never act. This failure to act, however, is as big of a problem as the violence itself. Peter Singer is known as the author of Animal Liberation, the father of the animal rights movement. But he made his name as a philosopher with another idea: namely, that the suffering of the oppressed is the result of both acts and omissions.

If you came across a child collapsed in a pond, what would you do?

The point is best illustrated by a simple example. Suppose a man walks by a little girl playing in a pond. He notices the child holds a quarter in her hand, and decides to strangle her to take the quarter.

Now let’s consider another man. He also walks by a child playing in a pond, but sees that the child has bumped her head and fallen unconscious in the water. She will drown if he does not step into the water and take her out. But he thinks to himself, “Washing my pants will cost at least 25 cents. That’s too much to ask” And so he leaves the child to drown.

Singer makes the quite sound point that there is no moral difference between these two men. In both cases, they have chosen 25 cents -- and their own self-interest -- over the fundamental rights of someone in need.

This example shows that the responsibility for suffering lies in the hands of both those who commit affirmative acts of violence, and those who sit quietly while that act of violence is being committed. Those who elevate privilege, comfort, and popularity over the terrors of the oppressed. Yet, too often, our campaigns ask for only that: to be mere bystanders to violence. We have to do better. We want to do better. We can do better. But to do that, we have to completely rethink what it means to fight for animal rights. We have to envision, not a consumer marketing campaign fed by flash-in-the-pan single-issue campaigns, but a global community of activists fighting with every ounce of their energy for the animals who have so little power to fight for themselves.

We do this at DxE. When we look at our campaigns, and measure our progress, we ask ourselves: have we built something that will survive? Have we built institutions, norms, and community? Have we created empowered networks of animal rights activism?

Summing Up

Let’s make no mistake. I would never express solidarity with those Chinese engaging in violent acts against innocent animals. What they are doing is truly an atrocity, and one that justifies immediate action to end. But the same industries, practices, and traditions that allow certain Chinese to terrorize dogs with impunity also oppress the Chinese people themselves. The government’s failure to act to protect animals, for example, is logically connected to its failure to protect human rights. This is a nation, after all, where hundreds of millions languish under the weight of one-party rule.

This is also not an attack on PETA. Some of my hardest working and most dedicated friends work at PETA. And PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk, though justifiably criticized, lives a spartan lifestyle, devotes every waking moment to animals, and has shown true genius in understanding the crucial role of disruption and provocation in building movements. PETA is also one of the only nonprofits that has consistently shown support for grassroots activists.

At DxE, we focus on building campaigns that are robust over the long haul. Join our next day of action on January 11.

Rather, this is a heartfelt request for us to collectively do better in three important ways. First, we need to start focusing on the big picture back home, rather than pick on secondary issues or marginal communities. We can’t afford to lose allies in the largest nation in the world, a nation with the fastest-growing animal abusing industries. Second, we need to start taking animal equality seriously -- in our campaigns, in our actions, and even in our words. We can’t rely on speciesist messaging if our goal is to end species prejudice. Third, while the temptation to wallow in clicktivism is strong, we have to ask more of ourselves than signing an online petition. We have to remember that that little brown dog is not just a pixel on a screen, or an unfortunate story in a land far away. She is a window to the desperation, terror, and suffering of animals who are imprisoned right next door. And we have to take nonviolent direct action to ensure that their lives are not forgotten.

Bridges and Walls

Bob Linden, once one of DxE's most vocal supporters, has now become its fiercest critic. What can this teach us about building bridges and walls? 

Bob Linden, once one of DxE's most vocal supporters, has now become its fiercest critic. What can this teach us about building bridges and walls? 

Bridges and Walls

by Wayne Hsiung

One of the first times I spoke with Bob Linden, we were driving to a circus protest organized by Pat Cuviello’s group, Humanity through Education. We had just finished up our biggest mobilization to date, the Earthlings March, in which 41 cities, 17 countries, and thousands of activists participated. And we were on a high about the possibilities for bridge building in animal rights activism.

As we drove to the circus protest, with my friend Kara from LA in tow, I spoke to Kara and Bob about DxE’s role in the movement -- to build a unified network on behalf of a strong and uncompromising message; to tap into the latent potential of animal lovers everywhere to create a powerful movement for change; to adapt best practices and insights from some of the greatest scholars and activists in history to strike at the foundations of animal exploitation; and perhaps most important, to empower animal rights activists, especially from underrepresented or unexpected communities, to speak confidently for what they truly believe: the right of every animal to be safe and happy and free.

Thousands of activists across the world took to the streets as part of DxE's Earthlings March in August 2013. 

One of the things that struck me most about this conversation was that the three of us, though from completely different backgrounds, cultures, and areas of the world, all felt so strongly about these basic ideas. Kara was a younger activist from the Los Angeles scene, where there were a number of promising pressure campaigns thriving in the face of legal repression. Bob was an older activist based in the Bay Area, whose unrelenting focus on vegan education has served as a moral compass for our movement. I, in turn, was a long-time Chicago activist from an immigrant family who had been a part of virtually every animal rights campaign available for over a decade, from vegan outreach to SHAC, before settling on DxE’s current path: creating empowered networks for change. The bridges that were built on that day, across the world, and within a single car, were inspiring and powerful. And I had high hopes that they would sustain themselves over the long run.

But bridges are hard to maintain, and they sometimes fail. Even worse, the collapse of a bridge often leaves such a mess of debris that what was once a bridge is now replaced by something more intimidating than empty space: a wall. And while bridges allow us to connect, to unify, to strengthen ourselves and our entire movement through solidarity, walls do the exact opposite. They block us from, not only working together, but from even accurately perceiving what is happening on the other side.

I think that is sadly what has happened between myself and Bob, with his recent criticisms of DxE (and the similar criticisms raised of DxE by Gary Francione). A bridge has collapsed and turned into a wall. I like and respect Bob. He is brave and passionate, and he dedicates virtually every moment of his life to working for animals. We have had countless conversations about the problems the animal rights movement faces -- the constant pull of the “mainstream” to suppress not just our sadness and outrage over atrocities, but even the content of our beliefs; the intoxicating allure of money and power in subtly reshaping the activism of even the most principled individual activists; the cynicism and hopelessness that leaves activists uninspired and burned out. I still agree 100% with all of these criticisms. I still agree nearly 100% with Bob. Where I disagree is in how to change that.

California's Prop 2 in action. According to the New York Times, the hens are "living the good life."

Bob believes that working with industry is undermining our movement. Bob is right about this, not just on moral grounds, but because the history of welfare reforms is a terrible one, and because there’s no clear evidence that welfare reforms have, well, actually reformed welfare. The colony cages that are set to be introduced in California, to replace the battery cages that were used before, are one such example. Cages of wire have been replaced by cages of flesh.

But there is a much broader literature in moral and social psychology on the issue of “moral credentialing” -- how institutions such as Chipotle (and others before it, such as Enron or BP), which offer up meaningless badges of their so-called integrity, use their new-found moral credentials to engage in even more brutal acts of violence. I have seen these with my own eyes in working on rescues from genuinely pasture-raised farms. New forms of brutality and violence pop up to replace the old, as industry adapts to reform to ensure their astonishingly low costs are maintained. And even where reforms are not evaded or undermined, animals still live such atrociously horrible lives that it’s not clear if there are any genuine benefits. (A similar point is made in the research on human poverty alleviation. If a poor child is oppressed ultimately by institutional causes -- discrimination, inequality, and corruption -- then addressing one minor symptom, such as lack of malaria nets, might not do much to solve the problem.)

Bob also believes, however, that animal advocates who take the “welfarist” path, despite the moral and factual reasons to think it is a wrong turn, are traitors to the cause, and as bad as animal abusers themselves. And I understand this position. William Lloyd Garrison, after all, set out to undermine the mainstream “antislavery” group of his day, the ACS, because of its false compromise with slaveholders. Emmeline Pankhurst unrelentingly attacked not just the institutions of power that denied women the right to vote -- but also those women who rejected her militant tactics to force the issue with the public at large. And even Martin Luther King, Jr. decried “moderates” (who rejected the disruption of mass nonviolent direct action because it made civil rights activists seem extreme and crazy) as the great stumbling block in the nation’s stride toward freedom. There is, in short, room for harsh criticism … and, indeed, we should encourage such criticism because, as with every social justice movement before us, the debate will illuminate the path to liberation.

But that is the key -- winning the moderates over through debate, rather than destroying them. William Lloyd Garrison’s Antislavery Society was filled by one-time supporters of the ACS. Emmeline Pankhurt believed that her dream of a world where even women were free to vote was so powerful and compelling that even conservatives would eventually understand the need for direct action. And Martin Luther King, Jr., even as he angrily criticized moderates, was always animated by love and hope, rather than hostility and hate. He was humble enough to entertain criticism, and optimistic enough to believe that even the staunchest conservatives could be changed.

The danger of corporate capture of our movement is a real one, as demonstrated by this hen's bloody, deformed leg. 

And in this hope, he was correct. The infamous racist and segregationist George Wallace, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement’s tumult in 1963, hatefully ranted, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” And yet, within a few years, after it became clear that the cultural waves had turned against him, Wallace went on a speaking tour throughout the state of Alabama… but this time to beg forgiveness of the black families that he had so violently antagonized as a candidate for President. Wallace's story should give us hope.

And this hope, more than anything else, is perhaps where Bob and I truly disagree. Bob believes that groups such as MFA, HSUS, and Farm Sanctuary have shown us their true colors… that they are unrepentant animal killers who serve only their self-interest and bottom line. Whether accurate or not, this is a cynical view that, if not complemented by an attempt to build bridges, will only serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the moderates and conservatives in animal advocacy see our grassroots movement for animal liberation as motivated by cynicism, they will have no reason to heed our calls for change. If, in contrast, they see in our criticisms a genuine and heartfelt and even desperate call to rethink our most basic strategic and moral assumptions (and an equally genuine interest in listening to criticism ourselves), then we can begin to build bridges rather than walls.

To be sure, fierce voices such as Bob’s help drive all of us to greater understanding. They push us to have dialogue -- whether within the community of radicals or between radicals and moderates. They help us identify that a gap exists, that a problem is unacknowledged, that a bridge must be built. But the fiercest critics, to be effective, must be complemented by activists just as fiercely committed to generosity, humility, and hope.

It has been said that Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that twenty percent of his work was activism. Eighty percent was dealing with internal divisions within the movement. While this is the reality of dealing with passionate people in a desperate cause, those divisions can only be healed and addressed if we talk. I hope that Bruce Friedrich and I continue to talk, despite our disagreements. I hope that Bob and I continue to talk, despite his feelings of betrayal.

But above all, I hope that all of us (including Bob) continue to speak strongly and confidently for animals, even where our voices may be unwelcome… to build bridges with even animal eaters within our communities, not to compromise our vision of a better world, but to spread our vision of a better world, with strong and committed allies, to every corner of this planet.  

Because without such bridges, those who oppose us, whether in the halls of power or in a Chipotle down the street, will never find the path to the other side... the path to liberation.

 

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase (and Other Reflections on the Chipotle Campaign)

by Wayne Hsiung

Activists at a recent Chipotle protest in San Francisco. 

We set out the case for the Chipotle campaign in a recent talk: Chipotle's Seven Deadly Sins. But for those of you who want to dig a little deeper, here is a Q&A with some information about our campaign's strategy and goals. Enjoy! 

 

What do you think of efforts to increase humane treatment of animals and increase vegan options, as compared to an overall strategy for achieving animal liberation?

Incremental reforms are necessary, but they should be sustainable and part of a long term movement strategy. Unfortunately, that's often not the case. Consider the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. The Act, which is far more ambitious in scale and scope than any animal welfare legislation considered by Congress since, was passed with widespread public support, so much that President Eisenhower is reported to have said, "If I went by mail, I'd think no one was interested in anything but humane slaughter." But, without a broader liberation movement behind it, the Act has had little effect in stopping violence against animals. Violations of the HSA are routine, inspectors often feel powerless to enforce it, and there has been a massive increase in animal abuse since its passage.

The difficulty is that the world we face, as animal advocates, is like a sticky staircase rather than a slippery slope. Incremental reforms are easily reversed or ignored -- the strands of the sticky staircase pull you back to the last step -- because prevailing norms and structures undermine a reform's continued relevance. Whenever we consider a reform, we have to ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Is this reform sustainable in a speciesist world (or, instead, does it depend on institutions and actors -- such as the USDA or Chipotle -- that have an interest in undermining our movement's momentum)?
  2. Does this reform help build a movement for animals that will foster new progress (or, instead, does it pacify outrage about animal abuse and lead to institutional backsliding)?

When we ask these two questions, I think we'll find that conventional efforts to improve treatment and increase vegan options are problematic precisely because they lack any strategic long-term mooring. The two efforts, incremental reform and long-term strategy, must go hand in hand for either to be effective.

 

What is your response to Chipotle's claim that the company shares some "common ground with your group"?

The classic distinction between direct action and other forms of activism is the distinction between confrontation and compromise. As advocates of nonviolent direct action for animals, we have to be vigilant about compromising our values to the status quo. We have to, as William Lloyd Garrison put it, be as "harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice." The truth is there is little common ground between animal advocates and a multinational corporation that murders millions of animals. We want the world to someday see animal abuse as equivalent to human abuse, and we can only do that by calling out corporations such as Chipotle for what they truly are: engines of violence.

 

What is your response to those who say that animal rights activists should not protest companies like Chipotle because it is making an effort and has vegan options--in short, that activists should protest the bad/worse companies and that Chipotle is better?

The first response to this question is that Chipotle is not a better company. Indeed, that is exactly the point of the campaign! Chipotle is the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world. It is increasing its violence against animals faster than virtually any other corporation on the planet. And it profits immensely off of claims of humane treatment. For example, it instantly doubled its sales of carnitas after it switched to a supposedly "natural" supplier, and began marketing its meat as "responsibly raised." 

But as industry reports, mainstream media, and even independent class action lawyers have found, Chipotle's marketing claims are a fraud. In fact, brutally violent acts such as debeaking and castration are standard practice in "natural" or "humane" farming. The company still sources from so-called factory farms, which drive animals insane from confinement. And, most importantly, killing can never be a "responsible" or "humane" act. Killing is not a kindness; it's horrific and brutal violence. 

When you look at Chipotle's cultural impact (i.e. its effect on memes), the picture gets even worse. Chipotle is leading the world in spreading pro-meat propaganda -- financing a documentary called American Meat, putting up billboards that simply say "MEAT MEAT MEAT", and hosting huge festivals with hundreds of thousands of attendees who hear about how we can cultivate a better world by killing animals. Fifty years of research in psychology and social change has shown us that ideas matter. And Chipotle, perhaps more than any other company, is laying the ideological foundation for the mass murder of animals. In short, even if all of the marketing claims were true -- and they're not -- that would not make Chipotle a "good corporation." It would still make Chipotle one of the worst.

The second response to this question goes to a fundamental question as to what the animal rights movement is about: is it about helping vegans perpetuate a consumer lifestyle? Or is it a social justice movement focused on stopping violence against animals? If the latter, the vegan options at Chipotle are irrelevant. Chipotle is one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world, regardless of whether it has vegan or humane options. Indeed, if the so-called humane options are offered as part of the prevailing "What we eat is a personal choice" narrative, then those options can actively undermine our momentum. Instead of being inspired to protest companies like Chipotle, potential activists and allies are pacified by the vegan bribe. "You choose meat. I choose tofu," they say to themselves. Left unspoken, however, is the stolen choice of the individual whose body was violently and involuntarily taken to sustain that compromise.

There is a long history of corporate interests attempting to co-opt a movement with false concessions, and it is often the companies that engage in moral posturing (the Enrons and BPs of the world) that have the most to hide. We can't allow our movement to be co-opted or deceived by cheap marketing tricks. If all it takes to convince us to put down our signs and our bullhorns is a cheap vegan burrito, then our movement will never muster the mettle it needs to succeed. But the momentum behind our campaign, in a very short period of time, tells me that our movement does have what it takes. We're tired of apologizing and compromising and begging for even the most meaningless reforms. We're ready to speak and act directly for what we believe: the right of every animal, human or non-human, to live a life free from violence.

Third and finally, it's important to note that campaigns are not collaborations. They are adversarial in nature. You would not stop to praise your opponent in an election campaign, the moment you scored a political point. Neither would you back down in an important lawsuit , simply because your opponent made a minor concession or change. There is this quite admirable notion in the progressive left that all activism (indeed, all politics) should be done with a friendly face. But this has little basis in the science or history of social change. Indeed, it is contradicted by the example of successful animal rights movements such as Israel's, which has jolted an entire nation and tripled the population of vegans in merely one year. To succeed, we have to be, not meek and accommodating, but strong, confident, and unrelenting in pursuit of our goals. (Bill McKibben makes a similar point about climate change activism. The plague of the climate change movement is that it has never, until now, had an enemy.) 

Corporations are not sensitive souls that need constant praise to continue on the right path. They are ruthless, profit maximizing engines that are legally obligated to focus only on shareholder returns. To sustain any concessions -- and even more importantly, to sustain public dialogue -- we have to keep their feet to the fire. Indeed, if you are concerned about the vegan option, then our campaign is perhaps the best way to ensure that it stays on the menu

 

Some people say that protesting against companies like Chipotle -- i.e. companies who have embraced humane treatment of animals and offer vegan options -- will confuse the public.  What is your response?

The truth is that our entire movement's message is too often confused. We say that we believe in animal rights, but we are not confident enough to say that we believe in a world where every animal -- even those that are traditionally ignored such as farm animals -- is safe and happy and free. We yell and scream when defending one species that is cute and cuddly, but smile and apologize when advocating for another species that is even more brutally abused. And, too often, we compromise our mission and our values for the sake of temporary and superficial victories.

The irony is that, if we stick to our basic values, the message is powerfully clear. "It's not food. It's violence." That's not a difficult message to appreciate. And in the context of human oppression, no one would argue that being opposed, for example, to Apple's sweatshops is "confusing" because Apple also sometimes sources from non-sweatshop conditions. (In fact, Apple is one of the most responsible corporations on ethical sourcing.) Doing one good deed, for manipulative marketing reasons, does not absolve a company from responsibility for doing many other bad ones.

In short, the confusion over the Chipotle campaign is a product of our lack of presence and confidence. But if we can develop a real presence in progressive politics -- by saying clearly and strongly and constantly that violence is wrong, period -- the message of our movement suddenly becomes very clear. Indeed, inspiring that dialogue within our movement is one of the most important (albeit unstated) objectives of our campaign. As a movement, let's take on our opponent's strongest case and still be confident that we can win. Let's be absolutely clear about what we believe: that violence against animals is always wrong.

 

Are you calling for people to boycott Chipotle?  Why or why not?

Boycotts are a tactic and not a value, and they are a tactic that is only effective when you have sufficient support to either affect a company's bottom line, or trigger public dialogue.

We did some preliminary estimates that suggested that, even in a best case scenario, a boycott would affect less than 0.05% of the company's revenue. There are simply too few animal rights activists to make any dent, via boycott, on a company this big. And while passively deciding not to buy from a store can be a meaningful symbolic action (I personally do not eat at Chipotle, or any other restaurant that serves dead animals, for this reason), it's a small part of what makes a great campaign great. As a tactic, it lacks the emotional impact, drama, and energy of a truly inspirational campaign. 

So I would much prefer that supporters speak or act against the company. Organize a protest. Tell your friends about humane washing. Or even just mention to the manager that you're an aggrieved customer, if and when you buy a burrito. Staining the company's reputation in the public sphere -- through creative and nonviolent protest -- can affect not just the tiny handful of activist consumers but the millions of non-animal rights activists who shop at Chipotle all over the world and, more importantly, trigger a much-needed dialogue on the status of non-human animals. 

Buying our Movement

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I'm known for being a skeptical vegan. I'm committed to the lifestyle, for sure, and have been for  years (at times, it was perhaps counterproductive. There was a time when I refused to ride in buses or cars because of the stearic acid in rubber). But I've also publicly declared my misgivings about the vegan consumerist approach -- that is, celebrating, advocating, and enhancing the lifestyle of the vegan consumer -- to animal liberation. There are sound reasons for thinking that vegan consumerism is not a good frame for achieving animal liberation. But sometimes, I go further and describe it as an obstacle to the movement's success and growth. Why might that be the case? I'm reposting a recent discussion below: 

The danger is the same one that William Lloyd Garrison pointed to in advocating for (human) slaves almost 200 years ago. Transforming an urgent social justice movement into a tawdry consumer movement ("Please buy fewer slaves! You'll be such a good person if you do!") re-establishes the "anchoring point" for the movement from "We have to stop all violence" to "let's reduce violence a tiny bit -- but realistically, maybe not at all -- because we can't really expect anything more." 

That normative anchoring point, in turn, will transform the number and type of social messages that are circulated in local communities by activists, i.e. the crucial conversations on the ground between friends, relatives, and co-workers. They're suddenly not talking at all about (much less judging their peers for) the horrors and injustice of animal holocaust -- but instead about adding a vegan option, or a "humane meat" burrito, to the menu at Chipotle.

The movement's demand for change for animals is lost in a spiral of vegan self-indulgence. And individual supporters of the movement are dis-empowered from speaking more confidently against animal abuse. "Don't be one of the militant vegans," people say. "After all, you got your vegan burrito, didn't you? Stop complaining!" 

The lost normative framing -- and the cascading impact this has on effective meme spreading in local social networks -- is the most important casualty of a shift towards vegan consumerism. But there are a number of other detrimental effects:

- Public dialogue is dampened or eliminated because the changes demanded, and controversy generated, suddenly become less compelling.

"Protesters storm into the streets to demand freedom" is an inspirational story and effective meme. "Protesters make polite request for a vegan burrito" is not. 

- To the extent public dialogue is created, it fails to sustain itself because multinational corporations and other institutions manage to convince the public, and even activists, that the problem has been resolved by offering humane alternatives (vegan or otherwise).

Campaigns, just like any good story, require conflict and continuing tension. Indeed conflict and tension are what feed an effective campaign/movement cycle. Efforts to mediate these sorts of conflicts douse the fire of a movement with cold water. Vegan consumerism, by offering faux alternatives and compromise, can have exactly that effect. 

- Even to the extent that alternatives ARE necessary, those that are created under the umbrella of vegan consumerism are susceptible to backsliding.

Whole Foods is perhaps the best example of this. It started out as a vegetarian grocer. Now it's one of the largest animal killers in the world. Alternatives that don't have sufficient structural and institutional separation from current structures and institutions are easily reshaped to serve status quo interests. The most obvious way this is true: the USDA regulates all food, not just meat production, and it has a long history of being controlled by Big Ag interests that have no incentive to implement genuine reforms for animals. The less obvious example is the countless successful vegan businesses that eventually sell themselves to Big Ag interests. (I see Native Foods going down this path, for example -- they recently hired Chipotle's former CFO and are no longer owned by animal advocates. It would not surprise me at all if, within 5 years, they start selling dead animals.)

The upshot: this isn't a consumer movement for vegans. It's a justice movement for animals. And don't let the trappings of vegan consumerism distract you from our central message and goal: not a vegan consumertopia but a world where every animal is safe and happy and free. 

The Open Model

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. Even where there are ideological disagreements, tactical differences, or personal inhibitions, we do our absolute best to include every activist in our communities in campaigns, in a way that empowers us all. 

The New Frontier

The New Frontier

Chipotle is one of the largest and fastest-growing restaurant chains in the world. Its market capitalization is over $15 billion. (A single share of the company’s stock, as of today, is a whopping $511.) And in its most recent 3-month quarter, it took in an incredible $827 million (18% growth from the year before), at a time when comparable restaurants are struggling (e.g. Ruby Tuesday’s comparable store sales declined by 11.4%). In the words of the prominent investment report, The Motley Fool, it was a “killer quarter” for Chipotle.

The investing community is right to describe Chipotle as “killer” – but in a decidedly less metaphorical way.

Here is the truth. Chipotle, despite its professed concern for animals, is on a genocidal mass murder spree

This weekend at Chipotle, we had six cities across the country participating in a dramatic and provocative “die-in” against violence. We need many more cities and activists, however, to create the national dialogue that the animals so desperately need. The humane myth can be popped. But only if we come together, in a strong, confident, and uncompromising message for animal liberation.

Gateways

Gateways

If we can avoid the pitfalls of single-issue campaigns -- if we can use particular species as gateways, rather than losing our message in them, as black holes -- they can provide immense benefits. We just have to be strategic, smart, and above all, focused on the underlying message: total animal liberation.  

Peter Singer: Then and Now

Peter Singer: Then and Now

Singer prefaced the the first edition of Animal Liberation with rousing words: "tyranny," "struggle," and, of course, "liberation."

But, like so many  other activists, Singer has moved away from these strong condemnations of animal exploitation. Why?