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intersectionality

Connecting with the Cause

Connecting with the Cause

By Abraham Santamaria

Abraham Santamaria speaks about animal rights with other inmates after being thrown in prison and violently assaulted at a circus protest.

Abraham Santamaria speaks about animal rights with other inmates after being thrown in prison and violently assaulted at a circus protest.

Original, unedited submission (translation below):

nunca me habia sentido tan solo y privado de mi libertad, me iso sentir mas conectado con la causa que  estoy luchando, cada sonido y grito que escuchaba abeses eran de miedo, y aunque no se compara por lo que los animales pasan, me imajine el terror que vivien cada segundo de su vida,  a acada minuto preguntas y metomaban mis huellas, puerta tras puerta, de un cuarto a otro, privado de mi libertad y ay no acabo todo, cuando me dijieron que me desnudara no lo pude kreer, y no solo eso tube que exponer cada parte de mi cuerpo, me senti violado de mi privasidad, ni si quiera puedo imajinar lo que sienten los patos conejos y cada animal que son desplumados y arrancados de su piel, cuando todavia todavia estan vivos, que horror an de sentir, y al final de pasar tantas puertas y estar enserrado, lo unico que que me dio algo de felisidad fue los gays que estabas encarselados, no pude kreer que tengan energia para sonreir, pero cuando estaba empesando a sonreir, llego la primer comida yu no pude evitar derramar mi lagrimas, solo me imajine lo que estas personas me ivan dar para comer, cuando me dan mi plato exactamente lo que me imajine, ub pedaso de carne medio raro ni siquiera pude imajinar que animal seria, con leche y pankekes, oatmel y una naranja, mi companero de carcel se comio la carne y los pankekes y la leche y me regalo su naranja, nunca boy a olvidar esas fueron las 2 mejores naranjas que comi en mi vida, despues abrieron la puerta de la celda para salir con los demas presos, para mi sorpresa todos fueron muy amables,. cuantas historias que no se an contado, y que algunas nunca se contaran, pero cuando pense que las cosas se estaban calmando, el guardia nos grita ala pared es hora de comer, lo primero que me bino ala mente fue boy a morir de hambre, solo imajinaba lo que nos iban a dar de comer,  cuando nos dieron los platos no pude contener mi llanto y asco, el cuerpo de otros earthling leche que no nos pertenesia a los humanos, y jelatina que probablemente tenia huesos de animales que fueron torturados, lo peor que todos los companeros ansiosos esperban que les diera mi comida, lo unico bueno que me dieron una copa de frijoles, y los tube que lavar con agua x que no sabia con que los abian cosinado, fue una tortura no poder levantarme y comer solo, tube que aguantar con horror mientras todos comian, an pasado un par de anos que no me abia sentado a comer,  con alguien que comiera el cuerpo de animales inosentes en la misma mesa que yo,. Espero que sea la ultima bes que tenga que pasar esa esperiensia, aunque sorprendentemente cuando nos trajieron la comida varios de los compañeros de carcel me empesaron a preguntar que es lo que iba acer, incluso algunos empesaron a decir que si iba a ser una protesta ai adentro de la carcel, o que si me iba a amarrar con cadenas asta que me dieran vegan food, o que nos dieran a todos vegan food, y la reaccion de los que se sentaron en la misma mesa que yo fue muy sorprendente la forma que reaccionaron,  cuando les empese hablar de la realidad de sus platos, y sbre todo el sufrimiento que pasaron desde que nasieron asta el ultimo dia de sus muerte, asta incluso un compañero que tubimos una comversasion sobre los animales y que a el le daban carne especial por que uno de sus apeidos es judio, le tenian que dar kosher meat, y como el tenia control de las comidas que le traian a el, y despues de la comversion que tubimos le pregunte, que si a el le gustaba estar enserrado en la carsel, me dijo no kreo que aya nadie en este mundo que le guste estar enserrado, fue la mejor respuesta que me pudo dar, y le conteste EXACTAMENTE¡¡!!!!!!!!!!!! EXACTAMENTE!!!!! TU LO AS DICHO NADIE PERO NADIE LE GUSTA ESTAR ENCERRADO Y PRIVADO DE SU LIBERTAD, NADIE!!!!! LOS ANIMALES SE SIENTEN DE LA MISMA MANERA, Y ELLOS SON TRATADOS DE UNA MANERA TAN HORRIBLE QUE DESDE EL MOMENTO QUE  NACEN CADA MOMENTO DE SUS VIDAS ASTA EL DIA QUE LES QUITAMOS SUS VIDAS,  Y LO PEOR QUE ELLOS NO ISIERON NADA MALO, SU UNICO CRIMEN DE ELLOS FUE NACER DIFERENTE,  TU PIENSAS  QUE ELLOS LES GUSTA PASAR X ESO, ME RENPONDIO NO KREOO QUE LES GUSTE, LE RESPONDI  TTIENES  TODA LA RASON, A ELLOS NO LES GUSTA, Y ELLOS NO MIRAN LA LUZ DEL TUNEL, ELLOS NUNCA SON LIBRES DESPUES QUE FUERON TORTURADOS TODA  SUS VIDAS, ELLOS NUNCA  TIENEN  O VAN  A TENER ESE MEMENTO DE FELISIDAD  Y SER  LIBRE, al terminar la comversasion  le dije CADA VEZ QUE TENGA QUE COMER PIENSE EN LA MISERABLE VIDA QUE ESTOS ANIMALES VIVIERON, as lo que otros quisieras que isieran  x ti si ubieses  vivido una vida  asi, y cuando estabamos comiendo, se acerco ami y me dijo que si queria su cabbage, quee no tenia ningun dresing solo cabbage, le dije que muchas gracias la puso en mi pllato y que cuando yo saliera de la carcel que no se como la carne y que se coma la cabbege, y para ser honesto no boy a negar que senti temor antes de ablar y decierles que lo que estan asiendo no esta bien y que  que injusto lo que le asemos a estos animales,  la mayoria de ellos an estado en la carcel mas de 3 veses, pero asta parece broma de la vida, que la jente que a sido mas violenta son los que estan afuera de la carsel y no adentro.  let's not forget that what happen to me does not compare to any animal that is raised by the meet industry, or any animal that his skin has been stolen from them, or a animal that lives a whole life forse to entertain people,  or a dog and cats that never found a forever home, or the one who lost their family and never found them back, and cats and dogs that try to survive every day on the streets, and every animal that is surviving in this planet, that we are destroying, we have to make the best of every action, and not to ever give up,  siempre luchar, por que si nos asemos las víctimas los animales pierden.

Translation:

I had never felt so alone and deprived of my liberty, but this made me feel more connected to the cause for which I am fighting. Every cry and scream I heard…At times they were of fear, and although this did not compare to what nonhuman animals go through, I imagined the terror they live in for every second of their lives, wondering every moment as I made tracks through door after door, from one room to another, deprived of my freedom— and that’s not all. When they told me to take my clothes off I could not believe it; I had to expose every part of my body. I felt my privacy being violated, and I can’t even imagine how ducks, rabbits and other animals who are plucked and skinned feel, as this happens to them while they are still alive.

What horror I felt. At the end of passing through so many doors and being imprisoned, the only thing that gave me any sense of joy was the gays who were incarcerated. I couldn’t believed they had the energy to smile, and just as I was starting to smile my first meal was served to me and I couldn’t help but cry. I imagine what these people were going to give me to eat, and when I get my place it is exactly what I imagined—a piece of medium rare meat which it is hard to believe was once a serious animal, with milk and pancakes, oatmeal and an orange.

My fellow prisoners took the pancakes and milk, and one gave me his orange. I’ll never forget it; those were the two best oranges I’ve ever eaten.

The door was opened so we could exit the cell and, much to my surprise, everyone was really nice. So many stories that have not been told, and some that will never be told. Just as I was thinking things had calmed down a little, the guards scream at us to line up against the wall because it’s mealtime. I was starving, but imagined what we would be served, and when we got the dishes I could not contain my tears and disgust. It was the body of another earthling, and milk that does not belong to us. The gelatin probably had the bones of tortured animals in it. Worst of all, my companions were hanging around, eagerly anticipating that I would give them my food.

The only good things they gave me were a cup of beans and a tube to wash them off with water (I didn’t know what the beans had been cooked with). It was torturous for me to not be able to get up and eat alone; I had to take it, with horror, as everyone around me ate. It had been a couple of years since I’d sat to eat with anyone who was eating the body of an innocent animal at my table. I hope that’ll be the last time I ever have to do so.

Surprisingly, when they brought us the food, some of the other inmates started asking me what I was going to do. Some even suggested that I might protest inside of the jail, asking if I was going to tie myself up in chains until they gave me vegan food, I was also surprised at how some of the inmates began to discuss the reality of their dishes, and above all, the suffering the animals had to endure from birth until the day of their deaths.

There was one inmate with whom I had a conversation about animals to whom was given special meat because his last name is Jewish, he had to have kosher meat. We talked about how he had some control over what was given to him. I asked him if he liked being in prison and he said he didn’t think anyone in the world liked being in prison.

I responded: EXACTLY! EXACTLY! No one likes to be imprisoned and denied their liberty, NO ONE! Animals feel the same way, and they are treated so horribly from the moment they are born until they day on which we take away their lives—and the worst part is that THEY DID NOTHING WRONG, their only crime was being born different! They are never free after they are tortured for their entire lives, they never have or will have a moment of joy or liberty.

At the end of the conversation, I told him, “Every time you have to eat, think about the miserable lives dead animals have lived, and imagine if you had to live a life like that.”

As we ate, he offered me his cabbage, saying there was no dressing on it. I said “Thank you very much” and put it on my plate. I asked him to eat the cabbage and not the meat when he got out of prison.

I’ll admit that I was afraid before I spoke and told everyone that what they were doing was not good, that they were committing an injustice against animals. Most of them had been in jail more than three times, but it seems like one of life’s jokes that some of the most violent people are found outside of prison, not in it.

Let's not forget that what happened to me does not compare to what happens to any animal that is raised by the meat industry, or any animal whose skin has been stolen, or an animal who lives a whole life forced to entertain people, or a dog or a cat that never finds a forever home, or ones who lost their family and never found them, and cats and dogs that try to survive every day on the streets, and every animal that is surviving on this planet that we are destroying.

We have to make the best of every action, and not ever give up.

Siempre luchar, por que si nos asemos las víctimas— los animales— pierden.

Always fight, because if we don’t, the victims— the animals— lose.

Comparing Social Justice Movements

Comparing Social Justice Movements

By Saryta Rodriguez

 

The raised fist to the right dates back to ancient Assyria, and has been used by many different human groups to signify solidarity and resistance in the face of violence. Its use above, in my view, honors those humans who have used it in the past rather than diminishing them.

The raised fist to the right dates back to ancient Assyria, and has been used by many different human groups to signify solidarity and resistance in the face of violence. Its use above, in my view, honors those humans who have used it in the past rather than diminishing them.

Earlier this year, Christopher Sebastian shared with us some great tips on how to have effective conversations about intersectionality, the first of which was to focus on comparing systems of oppression rather than oppressed individuals. Today, I’d like to talk about another intersectional discussion that can be tricky to navigate: comparing social justice movements.

There are those who object to the use of images, quotes and other tools from past social justice movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement, to emphasize the importance of specific tactics in the Animal Liberation Movement. A common response amongst liberationists to such critiques is to cry speciesism: They [the person or persons taking offense] are just offended that they, as humans, are being in any way likened to nonhumans—the very definition of speciesism! I empathize with this sentiment, particularly when it comes to rhetoric depicting violence against nonhumans; for instance, I have a really hard time calling what happens to dairy cows “artificial insemination,” as artificial insemination in the human realm is an act to which a mother-to-be consents—indeed, one the mother-to-be requests— whereas dairy cows have granted us no such consent.

That said, there is historical precedent, both with respect to comparing oppressed individuals (which is why it’s best to just leave this one off of the table) and comparing social justice movements as a whole, for certain comparisons to trigger offense. The chronology of social justice progress in some places is one reason. In Ishmael Reed’s Blues City: A Walk in Oakland, Ishmael writes:

According to a report from Pacifica’s KPFA, the police in Berkeley were cracking down on the homeless, while on January 14, 2003, Berkeley became the first city in California, and only the seventh in the nation, to issue a proclamation that farm animals have feelings and deserve to be protected, which gives the impression that Berkeley’s city council cares more about the feelings of chickens than about those of the African-American veterans and others who are living on the streets of that same city.

This is a prime example of both how unnecessary competition among struggles against oppression—Oppression Olympics— is fueled and how human members of oppressed communities may have come to feel excluded from and/or overlooked by the Animal Liberation Movement.

The slides from the Color of a Movement meeting at DxE House display instances in which rhetoric that already degrades one group has been employed to degrade another—from the 1940s, in which President Truman wrote of the Japanese “When you deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast” (implying both that the Japanese alone, as opposed to the rest of humanity, are “beasts”—animals—and that animals deserve to be treated badly, ergo so do the Japanese) to the twenty-first century, in which a Tea Party demonstrator referred to Mexicans as “filthy, stinking animals” (degrading both Mexicans and animals by implying that both are consistently filthy and stinking).

One way we can go about comparing social justice movements sensitively is to focus on effective strategies that were employed in past movements in order to strengthen the Animal Liberation Movement. Just as talking about systems of oppression is preferable to talking about oppressed individuals, so too might it be more beneficial for us to focus on systems of liberation rather than specific icons.

After the murder of Trayvon Martin, the phrase Black Lives Matter emerged as a demonstration of solidarity with and within the African-American community. It was, in the words of Alicia Garza, one of the people who coined the phrase: “…a call to action for Black people.” Unfortunately, it was not long before others started to appropriate the phrase. All Lives Matter emerged as a catch-all phrase that, while this may not have been intended by every single person who employed it, nevertheless served to distract from and downplay the plight of African Americans. Yes, all lives do matter—but the time has come for us to talk about, stand up for, and protect specifically BLACK lives. Black people are dying, and many of their murderers have not—will never be—punished.

(Not sure why All Lives Matter is racist? Read this and this.)

The Animal Liberation Movement is also guilty. There is now a Facebook group called “Vegan because All Lives Matter,” and the popular nonprofit organization EVOLVE! Campaigns recently started selling t-shirts with this phrase on them. Fortunately, after myself and many others complained to EVOLVE! about the shirts, the organization posted a public apology and stopped selling them. The folks at EVOLVE! listened, and they learned. Who could have asked for more?

It is important to be sensitive in talking to our allies about appropriation, and to take their lead. In response to EVOLVE! Campaign’s decision to remove the shirt, many people commented angrily on social media: “But all lives do matter! Vegans have been saying this forever! How does it take anything away from black people?!” I for one am proud of EVOLVE’s decision and grateful that it was not swayed by these comments. Even when we “don’t get it,” as many of these people claimed not to, we should take it upon ourselves to read about the issue, watch and listen to talks about it and engage with allies as much as possible.

It’s not anyone’s job to teach us these things; it’s our job to learn them.

(And, in the end, even if after all of your reading and listening you still somehow “don’t get” that All Lives Matter is racist, ask yourself: What have I got to lose by not using the phrase? Aren’t there a million other ways in which I can make the exact same point? Why do I feel so entitled to this one?)

It’s appropriative for animal liberationists to use something if it would be appropriative for one group of humans to use it instead of another. For instance, All Lives Matter would be appropriative for us to use just as it is appropriative for white people to use, because the Black Lives Matter Movement refers specifically to black people and white people are not affected by police brutality in the way that black people are (i.e. they are not being gunned down or beaten in droves). The difference here is not just species, but also race. By contrast, using a social justice tactic employed by the Civil Rights Movement to fight for nonhumans is no more appropriative than it would be—has been— to do so in order to fight for homosexuals, women, other persons of color, transgendered persons or any other marginalized human group. There’s nothing appropriative about learning from history.

National March for Lesbian/Gay Rights, National Gay Liberation Day, July 15, 1984. San Francisco, California.

National March for Lesbian/Gay Rights, National Gay Liberation Day, July 15, 1984. San Francisco, California.

March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights, 1970. New York, New York.

March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights, 1970. New York, New York.

When endorsing a specific tactic, I think employing examples from more than one past social justice movement is worth consideration. For instance, in talking about the importance of nonviolent direct action, rather than consistently employing images and rhetoric from one social justice movement—Civil Rights—we should use these alongside the same tools from gay rights initiatives, women’s suffrage, and so on. This should clarify that animal liberationists seek not to appropriate any particular struggle but rather to learn from all previous struggles for justice to achieve maximum effectiveness on behalf of nonhumans.

This also serves as a valuable guard against inciting Oppression Olympics as, by focusing on the similar tactics of just one movement, we leave ourselves open to the critique that we have positioned the Animal Liberation Movement as “the next Civil Rights Movement” or “the next Women’s Rights Movement.” Such framing is appropriative; the Animal Liberation Movement is not the “next Insert Movement,” but a social justice movement in its own right.

In the end, as sensitive as we try to be, we must be prepared for the inevitability that some critics will merit the popular liberationist retort that they are complaining because they are speciesist. This certainly isn’t true for everyone, and as I said in my previous post concerning cooperative learning, we have a responsibility to consistently challenge ourselves by asking what we could have said differently. Still, some humans just don’t want to hear that their struggles, in any way, shape or form, mirror the plight of nonhuman animals—in spite of the simple fact that we, too, are animals.

What this means is that there’s work to be done. We must challenge all humans, regardless of race, gender, or any other human-constructed category, to understand and accept their oneness with nonhumans. At the same time, we have a responsibility to be aware of these historical triggers when talking to human members of oppressed groups.

Perhaps most importantly, whenever possible, when comparing systems of liberation, a member of the group that has been “liberated” by a movement should do the comparing. (When it is not possible, because no such person exists in your activist circle, it's time to challenge yourself and your group to create a safe space for the missing marginalized persons. Don't just shrug it off.) These individuals may be able to preempt critiques, relate to them, and clarify the systemic comparison being made while ensuring that critics do not feel dismissed or disrespected. This is one of many instances in which, in order to be an effective ally, the best thing you can do is…Nothing. Let someone more qualified make the comparison while voicing your support from the sidelines.

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

In recent weeks, DxE has been bullied, bludgeoned, and even betrayed. But the Chinese word for crisis shares a common character -- ji or  -- with the Chinese word for opportunity. Following that ancient parallel, here’s how we can transform crisis into opportunity.   

by Wayne Hsiung

Punched in the face at a demonstration in May 2014, but still smiling! 

Nearly one year ago to the day, I was slugged in the face by an angry man at a Chipotle protest in San Francisco.

The man was not initially violent, laughing and yelling “Meat! Meat! Meat!’ as he passed our #ItsNotFoodItsViolence protest. But when one of my co-organizers, Priya, began to film him, he became irate.

“Turn that camera off!” he screamed. Priya ignored him.

The man then proceeded to shout at virtually everyone around him that he wanted the camera off. He yelled at passers-by, who scurried away from him. He yelled at the building security guard, who had until that point been quite hostile toward the protest. He even went inside the Chipotle and yelled at store employees, apparently failing to realize that Chipotle management would have no control over…. protesters.

And so he came back outside and proceeded to scream his head off at Priya. But Priya continued to quietly record the man. And before we knew it, he charged her head first, tackling her and throwing her against the plate glass wall of the Chipotle as he fought to get his hands on her iPhone.

I had been talking to a group of 3 passers-by about Chipotle’s humanewashing when it happened. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the incident was about to escalate. And when things went bad, I was immediately ready to rush forward, as one of the individuals at our protest who was designated to nonviolently defend our protesters. I pulled the man off of Priya, and did my best to secure her iPhone, which the man had seized from her hand.

“You can’t do this, friend,” I repeatedly said.

But he was in no mood to listen, so after a brief tussle, he threw the phone at me, shattering it when it hit the ground. As I reached down to pick the phone up, he slugged me in the face. He then ran off down the street.

Astonishingly, the first person to run up to me was the Chipotle security guard.

“You want me to go after the guy?” he asked.

“No, no. It’s all right,” I replied.

For the rest of the protest, the security guard, who had been aggressively harassing us and demanding that we leave, became our defender, patrolling back and forth along the protest line with a watchful eye on any potentially violent passers-by. “Is everyone ok?” he asked.

Our adversary became our protector.

Priya, who was unscathed from the incident other than a shattered phone, went right back to protesting. As for me, other than a fat lip and a little blood, I was good to go. I walked back to the three people I had been talking to before the incident and said, “Where were we again?” Mouths agape, they listened even more intently than they had before.

While crisis poses three serious challenges to our network, it also offers 3 important opportunities.

There have recently been far more serious incidents of violence, misconduct, and even betrayal in the DxE network. Activists have been attacked, deceived, and harassed by employees or the police (and, more distressingly, by one another). At moments like these, it’s important to step back and ask, as we asked after the Chipotle incident last May, “How do we handle a crisis?” While crisis poses three serious challenges to our network, it also offers 3 important opportunities.  Let’s break things down.

Challenge #1: Keeping activists safe.

Whether violence at a protest, or misconduct by a member of the community, crisis threatens to cause immediate harm. The first challenge we face, therefore, is to protect those who have been, or will be, victimized. At DxE, we recommend that all chapters have activists trained to be legal observers/representatives, lawyers in place in case something goes wrong, and nonviolence-trained “defenders” in the unlikely event that a protest becomes dangerous. (It's important to point out that, out of hundreds of protests across the world, only a tiny handful, significantly less than 1%, have resulted in violence.) We also have a conflict resolution team, including two members designated to receive misconduct concerns, to immediately intervene in the event a conflict between community members takes a downturn.

The truth is that no matter how good your culture and policies are, crisis will still erupt. When our activists in Southern California were attacked (twice in the past two months), all of them were following standard protocol that we at DxE have been using for over two years without incident. When one of our organizers admitted to a serious breach of trust, even those closest to him were stunned by the confession. In such cases, all we can do is move quickly to ensure that those who are harmed are immediately given support and defense.

Challenge #2: Maintaining confidence in the network.

Crisis also threatens a network’s culture and integrity. As grassroots activists, we rely entirely on the faith that activists hold in the network, and one another, to sustain our commitments. When activists feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or distrustful, we lose our movement’s most important asset: confidence. The key to maintaining this confidence, in turn, is integrity and transparency.

At DxE, we focus on integrity by asking all of our organizers to sign a strong statement of values. These values, along with a clear conflict resolution process, help us ensure that our public faces and voices maintain the honesty, responsibility, empathy, and humility -- the integrity --  that are so key to maintaining confidence within a network.  

We further insist on transparency in all our decisions. Every week, we check in with our community members and ask them for critical feedback at our DxE Meetup. We do the same on an international basis on monthly strategy calls. We open ourselves up to private feedback. And when we become aware of conflict, we do our best to directly and openly address it (while respecting privacy concerns), rather than let it fester in rumor and innuendo.

Challenge #3: Mitigating conflict.

Crisis, because it involves pain and emotional intensity, often leads to conflict even among once close allies. Because we are vulnerable in a moment of crisis, we look for support from our community and friends. And if they do not respond as we would like them to respond, the hurt caused can be both significant and difficult to overcome. Disagreement quickly becomes perceived betrayal.

Did my friends respond swiftly enough? Did they respond strongly enough? Could they have done something to prevent the crisis from happening? These questions naturally go through our heads. And the discord sown by such thoughts can be fatal to a movement.

Jacob Ferguson was an informant who incited his fellow activists... then turned them over to the FBI. 

Worse yet, crisis is a moment of opportunism for those who seek to bring a network or movement down. The classic example is infiltrators. Whether on the payroll of a corporation or the government, a few rumors by a well-positioned activist can send a conflict spiraling out of control. (One of Cointelpro’s specialties in the 1960s was sexual innuendo, e.g. claiming that various activists were gay, which was seen as a mark of shame in that time period.) Others may use crisis to defend or deflect from their own behavior. It’s notable that, in recent controversies involving sexual misconduct, many of the loudest voices condemning other activists have been those who have something to hide, e.g. prior histories of misconduct. (We know this because community members have privately raised concerns about some of the most ostentatious critics.) Finally, even the most well-intentioned activists can sometimes devolve into hatefulness when caught up in a fit of righteous indignation. The New York Times wrote a wonderful piece on this phenomenon just a few days ago, When the Cyber Bully is You.

Some of the greatest activists in history have noted that their movements rose or fell largely on the basis of their ability, not to confront the oppressor, but to productively resolve conflict. (King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail was a response to an attack, not by opponents of civil rights, but allies in the anti-racist struggle!) The beauty of grassroots movements -- their ability to scale up by attracting ordinary people from all walks of life-- becomes their curse when the lack of centralized authority allows conflict to rage throughout the network. Instead of focusing on collective action against systems of oppression, activists devote their time and energy to trying to destroy one another, whether due to real or perceived slights. A large nonprofit, of course, can simply fire discontented employees and force everyone else to get back to work. Grassroots movements have no such power.

So how do we prevent in-fighting from destroying us? There are at least three important mechanisms we use at DxE. First, we focus on creating a culture of nonviolent communication and restorative (rather than retributive) justice. Instead of assigning blame and “calling out,” we focus on restoring harm and “calling in.” No matter how terrible the transgression, we always offer to sit down and talk. Second, we ask our organizers to use private dispute resolution, pursuant to pre-agreed polices, as a first step in managing any conflict. When they deviate from this, we ask them to look to the values they’ve agreed to, and ask them whether they’ve lived up to those values. Third and finally, we always emphasize our shared purpose. The truth is that some conflict cannot be resolved. Whenever you bring together a large group of people, many will have tactical, strategic, or even ethical disagreements that endure despite our best efforts. Learning to live with conflict, by emphasizing shared purpose and opportunities for collaboration despite conflict, is key to effective organizing in the grassroots. (Sometimes, this means stepping apart from one another and working in parallel, rather than as part of the same network or team.)

Rising up to these three challenges -- keeping activists safe, maintaining confidence, and mitigating conflict -- is absolutely crucial to a movement’s vitality. But while the work we do to overcome these challenges can often seem frustrating, depressing, or pointless, it’s important to also see that crisis can also provide opportunities that, in the long term, benefit a movement’s strength and growth.  

Opportunity #1: Crisis teaches us.

One of the most famous mantras of the startup world is that you have to fail to succeed. The idea is quite simple -- that the only way to avoid mistakes is to avoid doing anything at all. The key, then, is whether you learn from a mistake. Indeed, some of the greatest success stories in history, e.g. Steve Jobs and Apple Computer (which was brought to its knees in the 1990s by Microsoft before being revitalized in the 2000s with the iPod and iPhone) were grounded in terrible mistakes.

Crisis presents a powerful teaching moment for us, both individually and collectively. Our attention is paid to an issue. We can look back through time and ask if we could have done anything better. And we have the energy and willpower to change our practices and policies. The physical attacks on activists, for example, have induced us at DxE to make knowing your rights and security culture a more prominent and accessible part of our activist resource database. We’ve made concerted efforts to develop a network of volunteer lawyers across the country. Sexual harassment in the network, in turn, has caused us to put together a clear and visible process for handling sexual misconduct. We’re also offering training and resources for both women and men in handling such difficult situations. Perhaps most importantly, crisis offers a moment for all of us, individually and as communities, to reflect on our own behavior. In the long term, the learning from these moments will help us build a stronger movement.

Opportunity #2: Crisis tests us.

When I was a child, I played basketball on a five foot hoop across the street. While scoring was incredibly easy, it also provided no challenge -- and no proof that I was actually any good as a basketball player. (It turns out I wasn’t any good. I never made the basketball team.)

In times of difficulty, it’s important to remember this. If we don’t face challenges, then we won’t have any opportunity to prove that we can rise to the challenge. This is important not just for the learning function a challenge provides, but because it builds our internal confidence and our external credibility. After recent incidents with violence and police misconduct, for example, my hope is that our activists in Southern California and Tucson feel even more confidence in our ability to swiftly provide support in the event that something goes wrong. Similarly, Priya, who took the lead in handling recent sexual misconduct within the network, has heard countless encouraging stories from women who feel empowered by the fact that DxE took action when we learned of sexual misconduct. While crisis hurts in the short run, then, it also presents an opportunity to test our mettle, and bolster our confidence and credibility, if we can rise to the challenge.  

Remember, if movement building were easy, it would have already been done!

Opportunity #3: Crisis ties us in bonds of solidarity.

Journalist Sebastian Junger, who has reported on war zones across the world, makes a startling observation that individuals who go through horrendous episodes of violence (leading to depression, anxiety and PTSD) often enthusiastically return to the war zone even in the face of debilitating fears. The reason? The shared experience of facing crisis together creates powerful bonds of solidarity. Individuals who have experienced war together feel compelled and even inspired to return, because they care so much for their team that they are prepared to risk their own lives to support their friends.

The attack on DxE activists in Southern California helped us build our confidence, perseverance, and solidarity. 

This is, in fact, one of the most powerful mechanisms of nonviolent direct action. Enduring a difficult situation with fellow activists ties us together in a way that less challenging activism simply does not accomplish. When we collectively speak in difficult social environments, we feel we’ve accomplished something that we would not have been able to do on our own. That empowers us, and our community. And, in a movement that suffers from astonishing rates of burnout, this is a powerful and important effect.

The support shown for Abraham (the gay person of color who was assaulted with homophobic slurs and targeted by the police)  in the wake of the physical violence in Southern California has been absolutely inspiring. We’ve united against a common adversary -- animal abusers -- and offered our moral, physical, and economic support for activists who have been wrongly targeted in a time of crisis. These ties will hold us together as we face even more difficult challenges in the future. And while the road is bumpy -- and some may even drop out on the way there -- taking the difficult road together will ultimately make all of us stronger and more committed to the movement, to the animals, and, yes, to one another.

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The first time I was attacked a protest about a decade ago (by a police officer, no less), I was shaken to the core. I was at a one-person demonstration on a cold Chicago street, outside of a fur store. And when my face was shoved down onto the cement, I could hardly even believe what had just happened. When I sat in an isolated jail cell afterwards, nursing my scratches and wounds, I could hardly hold myself back from breaking down into tears. I was uncertain about what I would be charged with, stunned by the seeming corruption in the police department, and hopeless about the prospect of continuing as an activist in the face of overwhelming odds.

When I was slugged in the face last year at Chipotle, however, things could not have been any more different. Both Priya and I received immense support and comfort, not just from fellow activists at the demonstration but from the entire DxE network. We talked openly within the community about what we could do to prevent such a future occurrence, or at least ensure that those attacked would be prepared in the face of violence. And instead of pointing fingers at one another -- “Why did you incite him?” or “Why didn’t you move to help more quickly?” -- we focused on our shared purpose, even as we discussed what steps each of us could have taken to ensure that such an incident would not repeat itself.

In the long run, getting slugged in the face in May 2014 became one of the most positive experiences of my activist history.

The Chinese word for crisis shares a common character — ji or 机 — with the Chinese word for opportunity.

This is a more general principle. The Chinese word for crisis shares a common character -- ji or -- with the Chinese word for opportunity. And there is truth to this ancient parallel. If we can rise up to the challenges of crisis, and see them as opportunities to teach us, to test us, and to create ties of solidarity, we can transform even the most painful moments into opportunities to learn, grow, and flourish. 

Linking the Struggles for Liberation: LGBTQ and Animal Rights

Linking the Struggles for Liberation: LGBTQ and Animal Rights

By Hana Low

 

Open meeting about LGBTQ and AR intersectionality at DxE House. Photo by Jeff Vivero.

Open meeting about LGBTQ and AR intersectionality at DxE House. Photo by Jeff Vivero.

At a recent DxE open meeting, four LGBTQ-identified members of the DxE community, all of whom were people of color, came together to discuss their views on how nonhuman and human liberation struggles are connected. The presenters all recognized the importance of furthering the nonhuman animal liberation movement in a way that does not appropriate the struggles of other groups or otherwise perpetuate parallel forms of oppression. Following the set of presentations, attendees engaged in a thoughtful 45-minute Q&A session with the four panelists and later received updates and provided feedback about DxE’s latest campaign against humanewashing and consumer deception. Without further ado, please find summaries of and links to each of the four talks, which run about 10-15 minutes in length each.

 

“Respecting Gender Identity” - Pax Ahimsa Gethen 

In their presentation, Pax discussed how to respect human and nonhuman animals’ personhood and identities by using appropriate pronouns. Although some human beings intentionally choose “it” as a personal pronoun, most prefer “he,” “she,” “they” or other gender-neutral pronouns as their personal pronouns. “It,” a pronoun used to refer to inanimate objects, has been used to remove the personhood of transgender people and reduce nonhuman animals to object status. Pax also talked about the appropriateness of using gendered words such as “girl” and “guy” that are typically reserved to describe human beings, and gave members of the DxE community concrete tools for respectfully and conscientiously engaging with people of all genders. (Note: In the Q&A, presenters and attendees discussed advantages, disadvantages, and ethics of assigning gender to nonhumans on the basis of their biological sex, given that such practice is not acceptable behavior for humans.Those interested in this topic should check out the work of Joan Roughgarden, who is a transgender woman, ecologist, and evolutionary biologist and has written about possible sexual and gender identities of nonhuman animals.)

 

“LGBTQ + Animal Liberation” - Dominique de la Loza

In her presentationDominique discussed how understandings of “natural” and “unnatural” behaviors are used to oppress and justify violence to human and nonhuman animals. Speciesist acts of raising and using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, “science,” and other purposes are constructed as normal and natural, while non-reproductive sexual and romantic experiences are constructed as unnatural, even though they occur in nonhuman animal communities. Referencing queer animal activist and cofounder of VINE Sanctuary pattrice jones, who prefers that the name not be capitalized, Dominique argues that by denying that nonhumans have sex for pleasure or form non-reproductive pair bonds, scientists and scholars perpetuate the harmful naturalistic myth that animals don’t have complex emotional lives and agendas of their own. By reframing conceptions of “natural” and “unnatural” behavior and dismantling heterosexism, cissexism, and speciesism, we undo the harm that these systems cause to nonhumans and queer people, and allow everyone to exist for their own purposes--with the freedom to pursue pleasure and joy, and express themselves however they see fit.

 

“Trickle-up Queer Animal Liberation” - Hana Low

After opening with a short reading from an anti-speciesist trans woman, in their talk Hana presented a model for critically examining representation strategies and messaging in the mainstream LGBT and animal rights movements. To build ethical and effective liberation movements, we should focus on the plight of the most oppressed individuals within marginalized groups (in this case, LGBTQ people or nonhuman animals) rather than the most privileged within those groups. Hana stressed that all beings exist for their own purposes, and the worth or value of particular individuals shouldn’t depend on their ability to fit neatly into a heteronormative and human-centric world. They also advocated that activists focus on telling stories of liberation, resistance, and resilience, and abstain from presenting LGBTQ people and nonhuman animals only as victims of tragedy and violence rather than empowered subjects.

 

“You are Only Responsible for Your Identity: Being an ‘Ally’” - Zsea Beaumonis

In his presentation, Zsea aimed to redefine what it means to “ally” so that those who act in solidarity with liberation movements are accountable to marginalized communities for their actions. Simply because someone is sympathetic or believes in a cause doesn’t mean that they are effectively supporting that cause and acting as an asset to the movement rather than a liability. “Activists” who seek to dismantle one oppressive system or another should seek direction from, and elevate the voices of, people most targeted by violence. Self-identified “allies” who do not listen or hold themselves accountable may end up overpowering the voices of those who they are trying to serve or hamper the liberation work. In addition, Zsea named a deep process of unlearning speciesist biases that we all must undergo. We should engage in our liberation work starting at home, and allow our nonhuman companions to live in a way that is fulfilling to them, so long as they are not at risk of harming themselves or others.

 

Funnily enough, a great deal of the exposure that the talks received resulted from their having been excerpted into a six-minute video and posted on self-described “citizen journalist” Dan Sandini’s blog, Daylight Disinfectant. I won’t link to his summary blog post here, because of the utterly disrespectful way that he talks about LGBTQ people and animal rights activists (including misgendering, references to “lesbian chickens” and insinuations of bestiality); but he did manage to garner us over 11,800 views at the time of this writing.

He seems to have watched the videos quite closely, summarizing some of the key points that each of us made, though he did describe us as “liberals” when I know that several of us would describe ourselves as queer radicals instead. Similarly, Glenn Beck’s mocking treatment of Kelly’s speak-out featuring Snow a few months ago caused her video to go viral with 700K+ views, which sparked a national public conversation about speciesism, commodification of and violence against animals. Hearing conservatives mock us and insult deeply held identities is painful; but, as long as we speak our truths firmly and compassionately, and root them in our communities’ experiences of violence, more public exposure to our total queer and animal liberation commitment is only a good thing, in my mind.

 

Articles and related links:

10 Myths About Non-Binary People It’s Time to Unlearn

Hello Pronouns stickers (for purchase)