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Theories of Change

Theories of Change

DxE's Theories of Change

By Zach Groff

DxE’s first principle is that we believe in, and fight for, total animal liberation. With this goal in mind, we have built communities, exposed horrific violence, and taken direct action wherever animals are harmed. Many people ask us, and we ask ourselves, how what we do will achieve animal liberation. We’ve set out on the challenge of trying to check that we are achieving what we hope to achieve.

To figure out how we are doing at our goals, we are going to develop metrics - simple things that could range from the number of people at our actions to the engagement in our network. In order to refine our measurement, we are first specifying what’s called a “Theory of Change” (ToC) - the concrete way in which what we are doing will achieve animal liberation. In order to refine our Theory of Change, we wanted to present the main ways that nonviolence may bring about the sort of change we want to see. There is clear evidence that nonviolence works - the question is how, and we want your comments.

A Theory of Change is a specific description of a social change initiative that forms the basis for strategic planning, on-going decision-making and evaluation. A Theory of Change should be specific and should tell us how what we are doing will help to produce the outcome we want: a Species Equality Act or other major act of government enacting equality for all animals.

We’d also like to note is that as important as the Theory of Change is, it’s important to consider the ways different strategies might backfire. Undermining other activists, leading to public stasis, and creating a reaction stronger than our movement are all risks any activist must beware. We’ve made changes in the past on the basis of important criticisms, such as our decision to begin including animal imagery after avoiding it in our early protests and our revisions to blog posts after discussions with others in the movement. We welcome all theories and criticisms.

Here are a few theories worth considering. Feel free to suggest others!

Theories of Change:

1. Motivating activists to influence those around them.

In an influential study on the Tea Party, researchers suggested that Tea Party protests had a dramatic impact on public opinion not through their direct effect but because participants went home and spoke to their family and friends in a way that moved them in support of Tea Party policies. The first way DxE actions work is that activists go home and talk to people in their own lives in a way that moves them in the direction of robust support for animal liberation. This could include awareness, sympathy, or simply acceptance of the idea of animal liberation among activists’ friends and family.

2. Building a movement that can change the future.

One of the key things past social movements have had is a strong network -- such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or ACT UP -- and a underlying community - from the Black church to gay and lesbian community centers. Our movement lacks both a grassroots network and a supporting community, and one of DxE’s aims is to work with other groups to build networks and communities, as well as the other elements of a social movement, so we can effect change in the future by persuading, compelling, and leading the public and public officials to adopt liberationist policies.

A key question we are interested with this aim is what a network or community capable of producing change would look like, so we can know that we are building the right sort of institutions.

3. Creating a movement that can take advantage of political opportunities.

Aberrant events - from the fall of the Soviet Union to the Great Depression - powerfully change the course of history. Successful movements can take advantage of these events to powerful effect. Amid the tragedy of the AIDS crisis, gay rights activists got a seat at the public policy table that allowed major gains in the coming decades while #BlackLivesMatter turned the killing of Trayvon Martin into a national crisis that has changed police policies around the country. DxE could aim to create a movement, as with our previous theory of change, but one with the key attribute of being able to seize on unexpected opportunities.

4. Creating a fierce backlash that moves public opinion in support of animal liberation.

Past movements’ success has ridden in large part on the back of ugly reactions by their enemies. Despite their realistically slim numbers, the abolitionists scared the South into seceding, a doomed effort that ultimately freed the slaves. Civil Rights era protests sparked a violent reaction, famously symbolized by Bull Connor’s fire hoses and attack dogs. One way the DxE model could work is by sparking such an angry reaction that the rest of the country moves in the direction of supporting animal liberation. This could operate by changing each person’s opinion of animals, but it could also create pockets of sympathy with animal liberation that become useful in pushing policies.

5. Directly changing people who witness protests.

This perhaps the most obvious theory. People who witness DxE protests are forced to confront the issue and leave more aware and perhaps more sympathetic to animal rights. It’s important to note that there could be benefits to alienating people who witness DxE protests - an ugly reaction can generate sympathy - and that immediate reactions to protests are often unreliable indicators of their effectiveness. Nonetheless, this is an important theory to consider.

6. Directly changing people who encounter DxE actions in the media.

This theory is very similar to the previous theory. People who encounter DxE via press gain a heightened awareness and sympathy with animal rights. It has the same drawbacks, too, at least in the present term. An ugly reaction can be good, and the effects of press can vary widely depending on the tone of the story, the size of the crowd, and the particular media outlet.

Ultimately, it’s likely there are several ways our activism works, and multiple risks our activism should avoid. For that reason, we’d like to hear refinements to the above theory and the thoughts, concerns and suggestions of those inside and outside of DxE on how we can achieve animal liberation.

Should I Move... for the Animals? Lessons from Occupy Wall Street

Should I Move... for the Animals? Lessons from Occupy Wall Street

The original call to action in Adbusters. 

When it comes to effective activism, where you live might matter as much, or more, than what you do.

By Wayne Hsiung

On September 17, 2011, a few dozen protesters gathered on Wall Street. They were responding to the call of a Canadian anti-consumerist magazine, Adbusters, to challenge the corporate greed that nearly led to a global economic meltdown in 2008. While a major depression had been avoided – job growth slowly began ticking up by 2011 – the benefits of the recovery were mainly going to the richest of the rich. The vast majority of the people on this planet continued to suffer quietly, with poor health care, stress, and even displacement or death.

The beginning of this protest movement, however, was interesting in that the call was not to Occupy Your Local Bank. Rather, the call went out for activists across the world to Occupy… Wall Street. For those of us who see financial greed and misconduct as a widespread, global practice – as it surely is – this might have seemed a strange decision. After all, there were bad actors in not just Wall Street but also in LA, Chicago, and San Francisco. Moreover, it seemed unrealistic to ask activists against inequality, who were politically weak, geographically dispersed, and few in number, to uproot their lives and travel to New York City. Yet that is exactly what Adbusters did.

The rest, of course, is history.

Perhaps the most powerful movement against inequality in a generation was triggered, leading to tens of thousands of protesters not just in NYC, but also in dozens of cities (and eventually, countries) across the world. Public discussion of inequality skyrocketed, and serious policy changes were sustained (e.g. Obamacare) or enacted (extended unemployment benefits) as a result. And it all started when just a few dozen activists gathered in Zucotti Park.

Occupy Wall Street is just one small example of the power of concentration to cause growth in a movement.  In areas ranging from technological innovation to improved health care practices, concentration has been instrumental to giving marginal ideas the boost they need to survive and ultimately flourish.

Yet within animal rights circles, we often take the opposite approach. We say that we have to disperse widely to get the broadest reach. We stretch ourselves thin to reach schools, neighborhoods, and cities that have the lowest concentration of animal rights sympathy. We even sometimes move to far-flung regions of the world in an effort to spread our message far and wide.

The story of Zucotti Park (and the extensive research into geographic concentration in sociology, political science, and economics) suggests flaws in this approach. From sociological research into the spatial clustering of social movements, to recent breakthroughs on the importance of high-density cities to innovation, to Paul Krugman’s now canonical work on economic geography, there is a convergence around a simple idea: concentration matters. And it matters for three principal reasons. First, concentration allows for shared resources, knowledge, and commitment. Second, concentration provides a stronger foundation for growth. Third, concentration creates political opportunities that are out of reach for a dispersed movement. 


Many of the resources in a grassroots movement – e.g. community spaces, protest equipment, or even a website – can only be acquired through group effort. For example, a community of three people probably does not have the ability to rent out a community space. But if there are clusters of activists in the same area, they can share in the expense and acquire resources that previously had been out of reach.

This clustering is particularly important, as Mancur Olsen pointed out many years ago, when the resources are “public” in nature, i.e. they benefit the community as a whole rather than specific individuals. While public goods are vital to community development – and innovation – it can be difficult to secure contributions for such resources because every individual can “free ride.” That is, since securing the resource probably does not depend on their individual contribution, and they can’t be excluded from utilizing the resource once it is secured, it often makes sense to let others do the work. But if everyone takes this approach, then even public resources that we all want may end up underfunded.

Geographic concentration helps us combat this problem in two ways. First, it allows for better coordination between activists to ensure that public resources receive commitments from individuals. It’s a lot easier to check in and ask someone for help when you’re seeing them physically on a regular basis. Second, once a resource has been secured, e.g. a community space, geographic concentration allows for more people to benefit from it. Instead of having to rent ten different community spaces in ten different regions, we can rent one – and everyone gets to use it!

What’s true of material resources is just as true of knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm. It is well established by scholars of technological innovation, for example, that geographic concentration greatly benefits new industries such as the car industry in the early to mid 20th century, or the computing explosion in the early 2000s. Particularly with technology such as software, this might seem puzzling. Why should everyone cluster in Silicon Valley, for example, if all the work can be done remotely (and far more cheaply in regions of the country with far lower property costs)? The reason is that knowledge has a way of spilling over when innovative people are all in the same city, neighborhood, or even room. Instead of each re-inventing the wheel, participants in a movement – whether technological or moral – can learn from and enhance one another’s insight and experience. The result, very often, is an innovative explosion.

Perhaps the most important sharing, however, is of commitment and enthusiasm. Doug McAdam at Stanford identified social influence as the key determinant in movement participation many decades ago, and we know that social influence spreads more powerfully when people are geographically close to one another. (See, for example, how geography can surprisingly have impacts on loneliness or happiness.) Maintaining and growing our commitments to social justice, in short, may be as simple as moving closer to one another.


DxE is an international network that has now had participation in an astonishing 130 cities and 27 countries. Indeed, our founding mission was to inspire direct action… everywhere. Not just in one geographically concentrated region. And, indeed, the international scope of our network is one of the most inspiring aspects of our activism. Doesn’t concentration defeat this purpose?

The answer, surprisingly, is no, and for three primary reasons. First, if a movement is truly a movement – rather than just an organization led by a few key people – then concentration and growth go hand in hand. One of our most important values within the DxE organizing group is emergent leadership: the notion that leadership is assessed not by individual talent or success but by community empowerment. The mark of a great leader, under this philosophy, is the creation of other leaders.  Emergent leadership (which is all the rage in the tech circles that are most focused on innovative forms of organization, e.g. Google) is the only way for a movement to effectively grow. We can’t compete in the battle of dollars and cents. We can’t hire our way to liberation. But we can inspire leadership in the grassroots, where we trade in the power of ideas rather than dollars.  

If this is our model, however, then we need not worry about individuals moving towards greater concentration. It is the culture and community that will lead to sustained international growth, after all, and not any particular set of leaders. If our movement is strong, then new leaders will step up. That is exactly what has happened, in fact, in cities such as Vancouver and Chicago. When Wilson left Vancouver (or Almira left for a two-month stay in the Bay Area), you might have thought that the chapter would fall apart.  In fact, it became even stronger because it gave new leaders an opportunity to step up. Similarly, when Katie left Chicago, it might have been seen as a blow to the Midwest. But again, new organizers such as Linzi and Ernesto stepped up (and Katie started a new chapter in Tucson).

This brings me to the second reason that growth is sustained by concentration, however: the power of symbols. We know that talking about numbers, for their own sake, has limited impacts. A million is simply a statistic, they say, but the story of one suffering child can change the world. What is true of suffering is also true of inspiration. The key to mobilizing a network is to have powerful symbols of success. In short, strengthening key hubs that have been important to the history of social justice can have impacts that resonate across the globe.

This was the power of Occupy Wall Street. It was one regional cluster, for sure. But it was a regional cluster that had symbolic importance across the world. And when thousands took over the Brooklyn Bridge, the world – and not just NYC – paid heed. The result was that Occupy encampments sprouted in dozens of cities across the world.

Of course, there are ways to maintain geographic concentration while fostering an international network. We encourage organizers to maintain relationships throughout the network, but especially in cities to which they once had a geographic connection. (Chicago will always be close to home for me personally.) Regional or international convergences, moreover, can help spread the strength of the big urban centers to smaller cities with less active movements. But at root, it’s important to remember that this strength comes from concentration and connection – not dispersion – and this is as true, surprisingly, as in the remote regions of the country as in its urban hubs.  

Political Opportunity: Banning Meat in Berkeley?

The third and perhaps most important reason for concentration is that it expands our movements’ opportunities, and allows us to achieve incredible political change. One of the central findings of social science is that changing institutions – the formal and informal set of rules and understandings that guide every human decision – is absolutely key to creating real and permanent change.

Imagine a world where eating animals is banned in Berkeley. The city would quickly become a hub to expand animal rights across the world.

The problem is that institutional change is hard and uncertain. How do we change cultural conceptions of animals, for example, so that they are seen as persons and not property? While we can’t say, for sure, what the specific solution to this problem is, we can make some general observations about social change in the past. And one key strand in our understanding of social change, from history, is that collective political action is absolutely vital. It allows even marginal social interests to get their issues on the agenda.

Imagine, for example, if every animal rights activist in the world suddenly moved to Berkeley. What has, until now, been a fairly marginal issue – even in a progressive hub of the United States – would suddenly have real political power, the power to change both formal and informal institutions. Legislatively, we could achieve incredible results such as a wholesale ban on the killing of animals. Socially, we could create entire neighborhoods, communities, and even professional associations that believe fiercely in animal rights. Culturally, we could suddenly transform our social norms so that eating animals would be seen as the species bigotry that it is. Establishing systemic change in one region, moreover, would not only prevent movement erosion and recidivism but also give the movement a powerful political bulwark upon which to expand its political reach. It is no surprise, for example, that the UK played a vital role in stopping the slave trade around the world; the moral movement against slavery first gained success in Britain. Progressive hubs for animal rights can serve the same function, but they are only possible if we can reach the critical mass to achieve real political change.

Should I move for animals?

There are compelling reasons for our movement to seek concentration. First, it allows for shared resources, information, and commitment. Second, it benefits international growth, ironically, by establishing symbols for success. Third, by expanding the political opportunities, concentration fosters sustainable change in institutions.

In short, moving to an activist hub is a powerful way to fuel the engine for change. Indeed, even moving locally near other activists can have powerful effects for activism, as geographic distance can serve as a huge barrier to activist collaboration and solidarity. Like the hundreds or even thousands who left their homes to take camp on Wall Street, moves of this sort can be costly or even physically risky, but they also present incredible opportunities for the movement. So the next time you ask yourself, "What can I do for animals?", seriously consider this: 

Move to Berkeley. 

Francione and Hsiung debate Direct Action Everywhere (Audio)


Last Sunday, Bob Linden from Go Vegan Radio invited Hsiung and Francione to discuss the tactics of Direct Action Everywhere. Did you miss the show? Want to listen to it again for good measure? We've attached an audio file below:

Why activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline

Activists across the world took action this weekend for animals as part of the international event: #LightThePath (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

Activists across the world took action this weekend for animals as part of the international event: #LightThePath (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

Why activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline

In the aftermath of the Francione debate, DxE’s cofounder explains why veganism is not enough.

by Wayne Hsiung 

In yesterday’s discussion, Gary Francione repeatedly stated that DxE is “anti-vegan” – implying that we condone the use of animals. This is false. At DxE, we believe that it’s important to avoid personal contributions to animal exploitation, and we have strong norms against using animal products within our community. (Indeed, many of our organizers – including me – take this a step further and refuse to eat with others who are eating animals. Here’s Lauren Gazzola explaining why at last year’s AR conference.)

The difference between DxE and Gary is that, at DxE, we also believe that our personal actions are not enough. That if veganism is a political principle and not a personal choice, we must live out that difference in action.

Let’s use a hypothetical to explain the difference.  

Suppose you come across a mob of people beating a child with a stick.

In the face of nightmarish violence, a global movement for animals grows. #LightThePath to liberation.

“Join us,” they say. “It’s fun.”

The first response to the mob is, “Everyone else is doing it, so I might as well, too. And who knows, maybe they’re right that it’s fun.” This is the unthinking reaction that most people give to the brutal violence raging against animals. While we often condemn them for this choice, moreover, it’s important to note that most people don’t make a real choice. They never say to themselves, “Between torturing and slaughtering billions of gentle baby animals, or not torturing and killing… I choose torture.” As with other historical participants in atrocity, they simply accept the way things are; they are products of the system to which they were born.

Our most basic perceptions of the world – even something as simple as the length of a line – can be hugely distorted by cultural or social influence. And it’s difficult for ordinary people to see atrocity as atrocity, when it has been “made normal.” So yes, participating in mass violence is a shameful and unethical choice, but let’s always keep in mind that, ultimately, this participation is a systemic and not individual problem. (See the recent talk we gave at Northwestern for more on this distinction.)

The second response to the mob is, “I’m not comfortable with beating a child. It’s wrong. So I’m not going to join you.” This is veganism – non-participation in a violent practice. And while it’s certainly preferable to beating the child ourselves, it still falls far short of the moral baseline. Because where we have the power to take some action to help someone who is being abused – whether a human or non-human child (and note that virtually all animals killed by humans are, in fact, children) – we have a duty to do so. Indeed, many jurisdictions make it a crime when we fail to act to assist a helpless person in need.

This is especially true when we have benefitted in some way from the victim’s abuse. For example, while ordinary citizens do not have a duty to intervene in or report violence, if someone joins and partakes in the benefits of such a criminal conspiracy, the law requires them to take action to stop that conspiracy.  For example, suppose that you have been paid to be the getaway driver in an armed robbery. It’s not enough to say, “I won’t participate” after you’ve already been paid. After all, if you have benefitted from the crime, you have a responsibility to stop it.

As beneficiaries of 10,000+ years of human supremacy, and of continuing violence against animals both in captivity and the wild, we are all in this position. We are beneficiaries of a violent conspiracy. Our homes, our gadgets, our streets, and, yes, even our vegan food are products of violence against animals.  (For every animal humans kill for food, there are perhaps 1,000 who suffer and die to habitat loss and climate change.) And simply attempting to remove ourselves, when we continue to benefit from this system of violence, falls far short of our moral duty. So yes, participation in violence is shameful and unethical, but so too is inaction in the face of violence. So too is veganism without action.

But then what is the moral baseline? This brings us to our third response to the mob: action.  “Hey, stop what you are doing!” we might say to the men who are beating the child. Those of us who can muster the courage might try to physically shield the child from the blows. We might call 911, or try to rally other neighbors to help us save the child. We might even use physical force to defend the child and take away the stick. But if we truly seek to fulfill our moral duty in the face of the largest atrocity in history, we must do something beyond inaction.

But if activism is the moral baseline, why do so few vegans take action? There are at least three important reasons. The first is that they have not been taught to do so. Partly due to pseudo-scientific research, our movement is so focused on personal consumer behavior that it loses sight of its reason for existence: not vegan food, but the animals. I’m distressed by the number of conversations among AR activists that start with the tone and color of justice, and end with the tone and color of a vegan cupcake. But this is not a personal but a movement flaw. We need to collectively stop talking about where we can get vegan French fries, and start talking about animals and their lives. We need to make action for animals, not vegan consumerism, the unrelenting focus of our movement.  If people are not taught to act, they will not.

The second reason is that people have no idea what action to take. There is extensive research showing that, if people are presented with too many options, and those options have uncertain effects, they will often be paralyzed by indecision. “I want to help animals, but how?” Anyone who says they have a 100% clear answer to this question “What action?” is deceiving us, but there are big picture insights, from both the practice and scholarship of social movements, that should inform our decisions. One of those big picture insights is that movements rise or fall on the basis of their ability to mobilize and sustain nonviolent direct action. It turns out doing so is rather hard because early movement adopters face ridicule, rejection, or even repression. But it’s not nearly as hard as one might think. In fact, all you need is 3.5% (and probably far less). If you can mobilize 3.5% of the population in sustained and nonviolent civil resistance, you win. Every single time.

DxE's model in one simple infographic. 

This is the reason for DxE’s existence. We don’t need to convince 100% of the public to “go vegan.” We need to inspire those who are already vegan to take action. To give people the mentorship and support they need to speak and act strongly and publicly for animals. To build the organizing capacity, the social institutions, and perhaps most importantly, the culture that our movement needs to change the world in one generation. To create activists, connect them in networks, and inspire those networks to take nonviolent direct action.  

But can we actually succeed? This brings us to the third reason for vegan passivity: hopelessness. Recall the hypothetical we started this discussion with, of a mob attacking a child. While morality requires us to intervene, where we can, it does not and cannot require us to intervene if there is no way to actually stop the violence. Morality cannot require the impossible.

If the raging atrocities against animals are unstoppable, then, we have no obligation to take action. Action requires hope. And hope, in our movement, is seemingly in short supply. Many advocates suggest that the end of animal exploitation might occur hundreds, if not thousands of years from now. They say, with confident regret, that people will most likely always exploit animals. We’ll never get to 3.5%.

But this is nonsense. Indeed, it is a cognitive bias that a distinguished psychologist at Harvard calls “The End of History Fallacy.” Because it turns out, change does happen, and it happens far faster than any one of us can predict. Just a few decades ago, marriage equality would have been unthinkable. Only 1 in 4 supported it, and even progressive politicians rallied to “defend marriage” against the insidious influence of “the homosexual agenda.” A professor of mine in law school, one of the most distinguished progressives in the legal academy, said that, when he started as a professor decades ago, the term “gay rights” sounded like a criminal conspiracy. Yet 20 years later, the tides have turned. Over 60% of the population now supports marriage equality (and a much higher percentage of young people), and it has been enshrined as a constitutional right. Gay rights is no longer a criminal conspiracy. It’s what every upstanding American citizen believes.

We will achieve the same progress for animal rights. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll showed that 32% of the populationhigher than the percentage who supported LGBTQ equality in 1996 – currently believe that animals should have the “same rights as people.” Moreover, this percentage is increasing quickly…. while animal exploiting industries get smaller. (Agriculture, for example, is a vanishingly small percentage of the American economy, and our calculations show that it would take a mere 1-2% of US GDP to rescue every single animal currently in captivity and place them in a sanctuary for the rest of their lives.) Further, animal issues are blowing up in our broader culture. The Dodo founders have pointed out that animals are among the most shared subjects on social media, and an astonishing 79% of people in America say they must be protected from “all suffering and harm.” As Frank Bruni of The New York Times points out, windows into the world of animals are growing, both big and little. And the more we see of animals, the more we realize: they are us. They are our family members, our children, our friends. And when we see they are us, we see, too, our duty to defend.

In the face of all these incredible reasons for optimism, it’s time for us to discard our cynicism and doubt. It’s time for us to be inspired, not to lonely inaction, but empowered activism. And it’s time for our movement to take a new and more confident tone: That we are strong. That we are smart. And that we are inspired.

And we will succeed. 



Why are we afraid of radical change?

A DxE investigation in January showed us the truth of cage-free eggs, suffering and death, but also presented a radical path forward: openly rescuing animals from violence. 

Why are we afraid of radical change?

Bill Maher’s problem is not hypocrisy or ignorance. It’s something deeper: a fear of the radical.   

by Wayne Hsiung

Earlier this week, comedian and talking head Bill Maher wrote in The New York Times that Costco needed to free its hens… by switching to “cage free” facilities. Those of us who have actually seen so-called cage free facilities were dismayed by the idea that some people would read Maher and get the idea that cage-free means “free.” In fact, cage-free facilities have the same confinement, abuse, and mutilation of battery cage facilities. (And add a host of new problems, too.) The mortality rates are often even higher than battery facilities, as the hens attack and cannibalize one another in the disgusting concentration camp conditions.

In today’s New York Times, my co-organizer Priya Sawhney brought Maher’s – and the public’s – attention to the horrible conditions in even “cage free” facilities. Priya’s letter makes the point that if our concern is over abuse, shouldn’t we be ending animal agriculture entirely, rather than making a minor modification (with uncertain benefits) to a system of mass violence?

Radical change is within our reach, but only if we are ready to openly defend it. 

Radical change is within our reach, but only if we are ready to openly defend it. 

But there’s a broader phenomenon at work here. Maher and others are not uninformed or hypocritical. They legitimately seek to end abuse, and that is a laudable sentiment. But they are also highly influenced by their social environment – including the environment within the animal rights movement – that goes out of its way to accommodate to conventional norms, including norms relating to the use of animals. We are told that enslaving and killing animals is “normal” and that we therefore can’t challenge this violence too aggressively. Rather, we should calmly present information to the public – and celebrities such as Maher – and happily slide down the slippery slope to animal rights.

The problem is that societies don’t change because we’re educational or nice. And individual people do not change because of information or rational argument. (A recent study shows this is true of even moral philosophers. A whopping 60% of them say that eating animals is wrong, many times the rate in the population at large. Yet their behaviors are shockingly no different than the public at large.) They change, first and foremost, because the norms around them change.

And how do we get these norms to change? Advocates so often say to us that we can’t push too far, or ask for too much, because the only way to achieve success is to get our foot in the door. But this directly contradicts decades of research into social movements showing the power of disruption and confrontation to generate attention and shift social norms. On everything from women’s right to vote to environmental protection, the biggest and most fundamental change has been caused by radical moral and political movements. (Don’t believe me? Listen to Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel.)

The trick, of course, is that the “early adopters” of such a strategy face humiliation and embarrassment precisely because of their supposed radicalism. Cambridge Professor Thomas Taylor laughed at Mary Wollstonecraft when she suggested the radical idea of women’s equality. The British ridiculed Gandhi for daring to push the radical concept of self-determination. And people laugh today at the radical divestment movement growing on university campuses (even Harvard!) to extricate our economy from fossil fuels. But the laughter and pushback were not reasons to stop. To the contrary, they were reasons the movement absolutely needed to push on because, in the face of such laughter, if they didn’t keep pushing, who would?

The moral of the story? We should be encouraged by statements such as Maher’s. They are a sign that our movement is on the cusp of a breakthrough. But the way for us to achieve that breakthrough is not to sit back and rest on our laurels. We need to keep pressing society – keep pressing figures such as Maher – to take us down the path, not to bigger cages or better deaths, but a radically different world. One where every animal is safe, happy, and free.

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.


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. 

Empowering Youth

Empowering Youth

By Zach Groff


Cynthia at DxE Vancouver's "Free Range Fraud" demonstration, January 2015.

Cynthia at DxE Vancouver's "Free Range Fraud" demonstration, January 2015.

Animal activists often think of activism as something that involves two parties: the activists and our audience. We do the outreach, and the audience, ideally, receives and internalizes our message. A better model for activism, though, is one that involves a limitless number of people, in which the activists generate controversy and discussion among the audience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of this than compelling conversations between parents and children.

During Connecticut's first day of action in September, we entered a T.G.I. Friday's, chosen specifically because, as a family restaurant, it sells an image of violence as wholesome and kid-friendly. As I delivered the "Disrupt Speciesism" speak out, one that intentionally avoids gore and makes clear that we are targeting the system people have bought into rather than shaming customers, a mother stood up with her daughter in her arms and said to us, "You should be respectful of children."

This is a criticism I've heard repeatedly since then, one I hear from people I know as well. If we care about children, then animals on farms, who are often killed as babies, need us to speak out for them more than anything, but there's more to respecting children than that. As our movement grows, I suggest there is a way to take this message to heart, though in a very different way from what the mother in the restaurant envisioned. We need to demonstrate our respect for children by recognizing their vital importance in the future of our society and the future of our relationship with animals.

A favorite attack on the gay rights movement for several decades has been the accusation that activists were feeding children homosexual propaganda. In 1977, Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign targeted teachers in the fear that gay teachers would recruit children. Gay rights advocates, in turn, vigorously denied the claim that gay teachers would recruit children. The ironic truth, though, is that children did, in some sense, receive homosexual propaganda. Millennials grew up seeing openly gay figures on TV, and progressive schools organized programming around the notion that "Love Makes a Family." This, in turn, led to a generation that is overwhelmingly supportive of rights that had previously been denied to gay men and lesbians.

Hilli  at DxE Vancouver's "Free Range Fraud" demonstration, January 2015.

Hilli at DxE Vancouver's "Free Range Fraud" demonstration, January 2015.

Perhaps more importantly, this generation generated debate around dinner tables across the country. As a result, support for gay rights is increasing even among members of older generations. Reaching children with a liberationist message does not only change the minds of those children, but also forces their families to reconcile themselves with the views encountered by their children.

We in the animal rights movement have to mimic this strategy. Paolo Freire, a pioneering theorist of critical pedagogy, showed that not just the content but also the form of education is deeply connected with systems of oppression. The traditional view of education is a "banking model" in which children are passive recipients of knowledge. As the mother who confronted us in TGIF would have it, the traditional model of education avoids provocation and simply gives children the knowledge they need to uphold the status quo. A liberationist model of education instead works to develop critical consciousness, avoiding the "culture of silence" in which students passively listen to instructors and replacing it with one in which students are a part of their education, just as the oppressed must be a part of their own liberation.

Nolan and others  at DxE Vancouver's "Free Range Fraud" demonstration, January 2015.

Nolan and others at DxE Vancouver's "Free Range Fraud" demonstration, January 2015.

Creating questions and upending preconceived notions is not disrespectful of children - instead, it is a key part of an education and a campaign that empowers children. As Steven Pinker documents in The Better Angels of Our Nature, for most of their history, the animal rights movement and the children's rights movements have been deeply interconnected. This interconnectedness was no coincidence - those who have historically recognized animals' independence and personhood have naturally recognized those of children as well. It has often been noted that children enter this world with a natural sympathy for animals that their grown guardians choose to silence.

Julia Carpenter  of DxE MA/CT.

Julia Carpenter of DxE MA/CT.

Many of the boldest leaders in the DxE network are under 18 - from Zoe in San Luis Obispo to Sophia in the Bay Area - going into places of horrific violence and exposing the truth that their elders seek to ignore. In my local chapter, Julia Carpenter has started organizing a network of teen animal rights advocates, creating an empowered community at local schools of activists who are willing to take nonviolent direct action for social change.

Animal liberationists must empower children to ask these questions. We must generate controversy by enabling nonhuman animals to tell their stories and have their stories heard.  Respecting children is not indoctrinating them in the ways of a violent society; it is enabling them to think critically and ask why the world denies animals the lives they deserve. To respect children is to make them vital participants in a public debate that will lead to the day when every animal is free.

Tech Tools for the Modern Activist

Tech Tools for the Modern Activist

By Wilson Wong


Activists today have yet another front to fight on– the Internet. Massive multinational corporations have long recognised this, and have ranks of engineers and PR staff for this very reason. We may not have this, but we have the truth, and with a lot of passion and cleverly designed tools leveraged strategically, we can become a real force for effective organising.

Below are a few of the lesser-known web tools I regularly use to increase the time I spend challenging oppression rather than my email service. Know of any other tools that I should have mentioned? Message me and I may include them in another blog post.

RSS Reader – Feedly

What is it good for? Easily keeping track of topics you specify, finding potential protest opportunities, and finding media coverage of your actions.

What is an RSS Reader? Imagine you’re at a party, and there’s a giant fountain spewing thousands of Skittles. Since the green ones are clearly the best – you just wish there was a magical way you can filter out only the green ones and then automatically fill your own personal bowl.

If that Skittle fountain was the Internet, then that magical filter is called an RSS Reader. An RSS Reader constantly scans the Internet for news articles, posts and pages for whatever keywords you tell it to. It digests all of this information and presents it in a summarised format to you via a dashboard.

Feedly is one program of many that are RSS Readers, and one I prefer personally. See here for other highly rated RSS Readers.

As an example, with regards to DxE organising, I’ve told my RSS Reader to search for the following keywords:

  • Humane meat
  • Chipotle
  • Free range
  • Whole Foods

I’ve set it so that all of the results for these key words go into a tab I labelled “HumaneWashing” (see red arrow in image below). When this tab is selected, I get a digest of the latest articles around the Web that include those keywords:

TBD Wong 1.png

You can see I also have a tab entitled ‘Animal Rights’ and it basically contains keywords that pull out news articles covering animal rights in general. The nice thing is, you can define what and how your tabs work for you.


What is it good for? Communicating quickly and efficiently on team projects. Protest coming this weekend? Need to sort out who has signs, who can print leaflets, and agree on the plan of action? Use Slack.

What is Slack? Slack is a smartphone and PC app that is sort of the hot new thing amongst start-ups right now.  It’s been getting a lot of rave reviews for optimising the way teams communicate. Think of it as a program that has all of the search and sorting functionality of email, yet the fluidity, naturalness and ease of use of a chatting app.

There are channels that are designed to contain conversations related to a specific topic. For example, in our local Bay Area DxE chapter, we have the following channels:

  • #general – for general work related messages
  • #random – for casual non-work banter and bad jokes by Chris