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What Animal Rights Activists Can Learn from the Failures of the War on Poverty

What Animal Rights Activists Can Learn from the Failures of the War on Poverty

by Wayne Hsiung


We have seen massive economic growth, globally, in the past 50 years. Yet, for the poorest and most oppressed, little seems to have changed. As Thomas Pogge, Director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, points out, this is especially galling because those of us in the developed world would have to shift such a tiny amount of our income, 2.7%, to totally alleviate severe poverty. 

But despite significant attempts by do-gooders to increase, and make more effective, charitable donations, the long-term problems remain unsolved. Why? Pogge offers an answer:

[A]id on its own cannot overcome the powerful headwind generated by a supranational institutional order designed by the rich for the rich... Only by changing the rules that generate and maintain vast global inequality can we actually realize the proclaimed ambition of our political leaders to end severe poverty by 2030. We must address its root causes, rather than treating its symptoms under the guise of charity.

Aid that goes to the poor, in a world where the rules of the game are skewed against them, ends up getting swallowed up by inefficient bureaucracies, corrupt dictators, or impossible on-the-ground problems (e.g. saving a child from malaria only to have her die the next day from cholera). Without an effort to change rules -- the many forms of which social scientists call "institutions" -- even promising symptomatic interventions are doomed to fail. 

There are lessons here for animal rights activists. Too often, we focus on symptomatic efforts -- changing one person, reforming one form of abuse for one particular species -- without thinking about the root causes -- political, social, and cultural -- of species oppression.

And there are tensions between systemic and symptomatic interventions, not only because resources spent on symptoms cannot go to cures, but because the very way we frame a problem will influence our conception of what it means to find a cure. A physicist will find answers that sound in physics -- she will look at the interaction of atoms and molecules, the operation of basic forces of physical science -- even if the right answer can only be found by looking to biology. 

Similarly, a vegan consumerist will find solutions only in vegan consumerism, even if the right answer can only be found by looking to animal liberation. If we focus too much on individual-level interactions (How do I create an individual vegan?), we may miss out on other variables of our system -- so-called emergent properties -- that are more important if we are to create real and permanent change (How do I create legal, moral, and social rules that condemn violence against animals?). The strategies, messaging, and tactics to affect these latter variables, in turn, might be very different from what we would seek if we were focused only on individual-level change. 

The upshot? As with the war on poverty, creating real and permanent change for animals will require us to change, not just individuals, but the rules under which those individuals operate. And that effort requires far more creativity, strategy, and yes, even radicalism than the mainstream animal rights movement currently acknowledges. 


Allies, Not Saviors

Allies, Not Saviors (by Kelly)

Original photo by Farm Sanctuary, photomanipulation and text by DxE.

Original photo by Farm Sanctuary, photomanipulation and text by DxE.

They have voices of their own, but they are being silenced, so we are here to carry their voice. They have agency of their own, but they need help.

We are their allies, and we are here to empower them in their struggle for liberation.

We are here to open windows in the walls of speciesism that hide them and their personhood from human eyes -- windows for their voices to shine through.

We are not here to tell other humans what other humans do to degrade our nonhuman brothers and sisters, we are here to assist those nonhumans in expressing their desire for liberation to their human oppressors. We are here to share their stories of love, excitement, wonder, fear, pain, desolation, desperation, and hope. We are here to force their voice onto the table beside their bodies, no matter how belligerently our human brothers and sisters try to mute them.

All movements are led, fought and won by the oppressed rising up against their oppressors, not strictly by members of the oppressing class "saving" the victims of a discrimination. The oppressed need allies in the oppressing class, and those allies were, are, and will be there to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, to pry the oppressor's hands off of their mouths and release their suffocated voice, and to fight behind them in whatever efforts they need from us. Perhaps nonhumans cannot organize in the same human political terms as disenfranchised groups of human animals have, but they are the people leading this fight, for this fight is for them, and we, their allies, are here fighting with them because we have heard their battle cry.

We are not going to tell other humans how desperately she wants to be free, we are going to help her tell them how desperately she wants to be free.

How Two Nobel Prize Winners (and one Iron Giant) Shaped DxE

PALS (Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad) interviews Wayne Hsiung on the Origins of DxE, Creative Disruption, and How Two Nobel Prize Winners (and one Iron Giant) Shaped the DxE Model

by DxE

PALS organizer Saryta Rodriguez is writing a book about the animal rights movement. But she recently published a sneak preview of an interview about DxE.

In the interview, Saryta explores the origins of DxE, the importance of "disrupting business as usual", and the influence of two Nobel Laureates in establishing DxE's model of activism. 

Here's an excerpt: 

SR: What inspired you to start this particular coalition? Why not just join any of the many pre-existing animal liberation organizations out there? What did you hope to bring to the table that others perhaps do not?

WH: There are a million animal groups out there; but what makes us different is primarily that we are squarely focused on movement building. Most animal rights groups attempt to shift particular actors (whether corporate or state) or the public. While we don’t neglect those objectives, we also are keenly aware of the importance of building a stronger and more robust movement to effect real change. I was influenced in this by my studies of intervention into human rights causes. It turns out that most attempts to fix problems have little to no effect. The reason, as Nobel Prize winner Douglass North found, is that institutions—particularly “soft” institutions, such as culture and trust—are the ultimate cause of (and solution for) most social ills.

Check out the full interview here

The Story of Duo Duo

After being forced into multiple surgeries to "train" veterinary students, Duo Duo was abandoned to starve in a back room in China. But then Andrea Gung took action, feeding him through a window until she could find a way to get him freed

The Story of Duo Duo

Despite the common portrayal of the Chinese as animal-abusing monsters, there is a grassroots movement growing in China, as with the rest of the world. The Duo Duo Project, and its conference this weekend in San Francisco, are powerful examples of this growth. 

by Wayne Hsiung

I've said before that being Chinese in the animal rights movement is a lot like being a Dodgers fan at a Giants game. There is this vague sense among many that you just don't belong. People almost always assume that you're a passerby rather than a participant. And some even show active hostility. There are so many campaigns directed against East Asians that it's hard for even the most non-racist people to not be affected. So much of discrimination -- including speciesism -- is not even conscious. And studies have found that even arbitrary visual classifications, such as wearing a different colored t-shirt, can create biases among young children. "You're different, so you're bad." The effect is even more pronounced when there is active conflict between "us" and the "other." 

This is problematic for two reasons. First, the targeted class is often not, in fact, any more likely to engage in the problematic behavior at issue. Studies have shown, for example, that people are far more likely to shoot at a black man, even if there is no reason to think the black man poses a danger. Second, given the incredible importance of local and peer influence in effecting social change, we need buy in from targeted communities to actually have a positive impact. We can't change the Chinese -- or any other group -- if we don't have Chinese voices in our movement. 

This is why I am so excited to see the Duo Duo Project get off its feet. While not an animal liberation project, it shows that, even in countries and among communities that animal rights activists typically see as an "enemy," change is happening. Andrea Gung, the tireless founder of the Duo Duo Project, will be holding a conference this weekend at Golden Gate Law School to share the stories of activists in China and Taiwan and, even more importantly, the animals they rescue. 

Duo Duo himself is a powerful example of this. Abandoned after repeated surgical procedures in the filthy backroom of a veterinary school, Duo Duo was fed by Andrea through a window for days until she could find a way to see him freed. Today, he is in a happy home in the Bay Area. China is the largest and most populous country in the world, and there are many more people like Andrea doing everything they can to help our animal friends. And to have a balanced perspective on China and animals, I think it's vital for all of us to hear Andrea and Duo Duo's story -- and the many similar stories you'll hear at the conference this weekend. 

So please join us and the Duo Duo Project this weekend in San Francisco. Because it is when activists all over the world come together that our movement is strongest. 

$1 billion reasons to protest... but all we need is one

$1 billion reasons to protest... but all we need is one

by Wayne Hsiung

Chipotle shareholders lost over a billion dollars yesterday, as the corporation announced disappointing earnings. This was a bit of a shocker to the market and press, which have been using terms such as "unstoppable" to describe the company's astonishing growth. Could the market -- and the public -- finally be catching on to Chipotle's house of cards? Could the vulnerability the corporation disclosed in its 10-K filing (of activist groups tarnishing their brand by revealing the brutal truth about its corporate practices) finally be coming into fruition?

But as we prepare our protest this weekend, let's remember that we do not need $1 billion reasons to protest the company. We only need one.

Because even if the company were "merely" torturing one animal, that would be more than enough reason to join our protests. Imagine, for a moment, that the company had kidnapped one human child, or one puppy. Imagine that they stole her from her crying mother, placed her in a dank and dirty pen, mutilated her as she cried out in unfathomable pain, and finally, slit her throat, after days, weeks, or months of misertable imprisonment, on the day she was designated to die... to die for the crime of being born "different." Imagine that just one child had to live through a life of utter desolation, and sadness, and pain, in order for this violent corporation to earn its bloody profits. 

Wouldn't one be enough? 

And yet Chipotle has transformed not just one, but tens of millions of acts of brutality, into something to be supported, praised, and even ethically lauded. And in doing so, it is leading an entire industry -- an entire nation -- down a nightmarish path to a world where killing innocents is not just accepted but positively celebrated.

There are so many well-meaning people, even within this movement, who have been duped by these corporate lies. They tell us that Chipotle is "making progress." That it's "one of the good guys." Or that "they're doing something for vegans."

But none of those rationalizations can face up to the power (and trauma) of one tortured soul. And it is for her, that we will speak tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Until our movement frees itself from the tentacles of a duplicitous industry.  Until the public wakes from its centuries-long blindness to the atrocities raging all around us. Until our friend, that helpless little pig, is finally free from her torment and pain. It is for her, and not for the $1 billion in damage, that we will speak. And it is for her, that someday soon, our movement will win. 

RGB Vegan Interviews Ronnie Rose on DxE's Origins, the Dangers of Corporate "Values Integration," and Advice for New Vegans

Ronnie (on the right) at a recent It's not Food, It's Violence demonstration. 

Ronnie (on the right) at a recent It's not Food, It's Violence demonstration. 

Ronnie Rose on RGB Vegan

by DxE

Ronnie Rose, co-founding organizer of DxE, is not a name you'll necessarily know. But he did the remarkable video work that launched DxE into the world, with a splash, in early 2013. And it was conversations with Ronnie that shaped, and created the momentum for, the formation of our grassroots network. 

Since that time, Ronnie has been, in many ways, the theoretical voice of DxE. You might have read his powerful piece, The Soul of the Animal Rights Movement is Up for Grabs, or heard about DxE's graphic images study, which we commissioned in part because of a relationship Ronnie struck up with the brilliant political scientist Tim Pachirat. But in more ways than one, Ronnie has continued to be a key contributor to not just DxE's growth but, perhaps even more important, its anti-speciesist integrity. Ronnie has helped us maintain our strong commitment to animal liberation -- in our words, in our practices, and (especially) in our tactics and strategy. 

Ronnie recently had the opportunity to give a wonderful talk about the It's not Food, It's Violence campaign with our Phoenix chapter, PALS. And afterwards, one of the attendees, Joshua at RGB Vegan, was so impressed that he interviewed him for his podcast. In the interview, you'll hear about: 

- DxE's founding story
- the sinister marketing strategy -- "values integration" -- used by Chipotle and other humane washers to twist popular values in favor of eating animals
- some simple advice for new vegans. 

Check it out, and make sure you subscribe to RGB Vegan on iTunes

On Emotional Authenticity


On Emotional Authenticity (by Kelly)

Whatever action you take on behalf of the oppressed, be emotionally authentic when you carry it out.

(My personal position and advice is to be entirely authentic at almost all times if not actually all times, but I write here specifically with regard to how important it is FOR THOSE WE LEND OUR VOICES TO that we communicate our emotional -- not just intellectual -- truth.)

Sure, when our grief over this atrocity the magnitude of which history has never seen manifests as rage, channelling and constructively directing that emotional response is a wise thing to do, but repressing our emotions to favour the "well-mannered" (authority-indulging), calm (expressively indifferent) rationality of a gentle "educational" approach over the compelling force of emotional authenticity is TRIVIALIZING.

Don't give me any patriarchal humanshit about how we look weak and dismissible if we're being emotionally open or how humans are moved by information and rational arguments, you know that's all nonsense. Change is catalyzed by powerful emotional experiences (including, significantly, experiences of social pressures), not by verbose Vulcan chit-chat over cigars and whisky.

The Enlightenment model of human cognition is wrong. We know that the vast majority of humans -- and moreover, humans as collective units -- do not come to decisions by making rational cost-benefit analyses. We selectively accept what information confirms our identities and existing values, and simply reject conflicting information. Really, information isn't actually worth much. (And that's coming from someone who really values knowledge, learning, evidence and reason -- I just know that no matter how much I care about those things, they ultimately only matter at all because by whatever cause, I have developed an emotional attachment to rationality.) Ultimately, people are moved by emotionality, not rationality. So we have to motivate people emotionally.

If all it took to change people's perceptions and behaviours was rational argument, the whole world would end speciesist enslavement and atrocity within a day. Maybe two, for those places the Internet doesn't reach. "These animals want to live, and they don't need to die for us to live." Voila, vegan planet, right? Evidently not. Our emotional investment in the social norms that define our identities and make us comfortable is too strong.

It's worth noting that when we are hurt, we cry and scream, we don't dispassionately give the person hurting us the rational reasons that they should stop. Frak, we don't even need words to communicate when we're in pain -- and actually, when we're really upset, we tend to be at a loss for words because we're not even thinking (in any coherent, verbal, logical way at least). In our moments of deepest pain, we're just feeling -- probably like whichever particular animals (including infant humans) who can't "rationalize" pain away experience all of their emotions. When someone is deeply pained, we know it from their authentic physical expression, not from their reductive verbal translation of their emotional experience. Emotional authenticity communicates so much more than indifferent words.

We can (and should) be honest about this: We're fighting a Holocaust of literally unfathomable scale. (As in, there's no way that I, with my human privilege, can have any idea what it's like to be dragged onto a kill floor, much less conceive of what that's like 58 billion times over -- trillions of times over if we include [which there's no nonspeciesist reason not to] the fish who we suffocate every year.) Is any crime worse? Do the stakes get any higher than this? We can NOT afford to fail to communicate that imperative.

But when we talk about consumer "choices" (making nonhuman's suffering have anything to do with human convenience, taste, health or whatever to do with anthropocentric self-interest) we make the stakes as low as the stakes of choosing a favourite band. And if we just disinterestedly (or smilingly) educate people about facts, we don't compel them to give a damn about the reality we're trying to make them aware of.*

Actually, I wouldn't even call something like "kidnapping" or "castration" or "confinement" or even "murder" the reality, per se, of those animals. Their reality is grief. Their reality is excruciating physical agony. Their reality is confusion and depression. Their reality is fear and desperation. And that's what we need to communicate.

If our objective is to speak up for the animals, we need to communicate not what external processes we can see being imposed on them, but what internal, emotional experiences they are going through (which is what they are trying to communicate with their cries). People can only understand that things like "confinement" and "murder" are bad if they are empathizing with the experience of the victim in question, and that experience is one of suffering, so when we communicate on behalf of the animals, the details of the violent act should be secondary to the emotionally impactful stories that make it clear that the violence is wrong.

As liberationists, we are obviously empathizing with oppressed animals' emotional experiences to some degree if we feel the need to speak up for them. Witnessing their suffering makes us suffer -- no, no one is saying that our simulated/empathized suffering comes anywhere remotely near what the actual victims go through, but evidently we feel enough of their pain that we feel compelled to fight back for them -- and we shouldn't hold back on expressing whatever of their experience we are able to feel. If we can emotionally communicate anything of their struggle, we really do need to. We need to encourage others to empathize with the animals, not to just rationally acknowledge that discrimination is wrong. We need to make other humans not just intellectually see that nonhumans' lives matter, but emotionally feel that their lives matter, just as we do.

When we hand people the rational arguments we all know off-hand, detailing in flawlessly logical terms "why" they should care, if our words aren't carried by the force of our emotional truth, they're not going to get us very far at all. People don't need a reason, they need motivation.

And here I am just trying to communicate that to you in words, which you are reading through a computer monitor, with whatever emotional articulation you're projecting onto them. Well, right now I'm tired and don't feel compelled to cry and scream, because our minds are super skilled at defending us against pain that would otherwise drive us genuinely insane, so right now I can just type down some emotionally neutral words. But next time I feel like crying, I'm going to cry, whether I'm in a comfortable space with my liberationist family, or having a heated argument with a bully of a speciesist, or beside the stolen infant's milk section of the grocery store with my mother. Next time I feel enraged, I'm going to figure out what the most effective way to channel that emotional response constructively is and follow through. (I'll probably decide to do a direct action -- insert silly face.) When I talk to people about vivisection, I'm not going to respond to any of the distracting anthropocentric hypothetical things they say without maintaining an uncompromising focus on the simple truth that I feel (yes, I'm putting "feel" before "think" here, for the "reasons" [how ironic] stated above) that the discrimination and violence and atrocity and injustice of it is wrong. BECAUSE EMOTIONALLY, INTUITIVELY, THEY ALREADY AGREE WITH ME, SOMEWHERE UNDERNEATH THE HEAVY BLANKET OF SPECIESISM THAT THEIR CULTURE HAS SWADDLED THEM IN. So I need to draw that out of them by letting them empathize with my "righteous indignation." No matter how it manifests or how I guide it into expression, I will not repress my grief any more than I need to to stay sane in the midst of this ceaseless massacre. And actually, I think I'm being both intellectually and emotionally authentic in what I'm saying to you here, even if I'm not crying and screaming like I know some part of both of us deep down really wants to at all times -- that impulse just isn't bubbling up to my skin at this particular moment.

That being said, as liberation activists, we all feel so deeply and intensely for the animals and yet we hardly even share our emotional experiences of bearing witness to this global atrocity with each other. Telling each other the stories of the emotionally impactful experiences that lead us to becoming liberationists, and being open and authentic (being vulnerable) with each other, will bring us closer together, making us stronger together -- and being authentic in our interactions with speciesists will make us more sure of our own convictions and more confident in our activism, making us stronger still. And for them to experience you being real with them will make their interaction with you leave a stronger impression on their memory.

I think we can all see that apathy is a HUGE problem in this privileged society (though I don't think we're actually all too unique among humans, since human privilege is the most significant and oppressive privilege of all and since most large human societies encourage individualism and selfishness to some significant degree or another). And I think we can all recognize without much difficulty that apathy is not a failure of rational awareness, it's a failure of emotional incentive. (Call that a kind of "ignorance" if you like, but I myself think that kind of identification reinforces false Enlightenment conceptions of how we think, by implying that we just need to be presented with new information to change, which we all know by now just ain't so.)

So whether your style of advocacy is direct action, one-on-one conversation, playwriting, singing, painting, novel writing, or however you lend your voice to the silenced, speak with the full, unfettered truth of your emotional devotion to those you fight for.

Be honest with your liberationist community. Be honest with everyone you interact with. And be honest with yourself.

The persistence of the speciesist system is not a problem of intellectual ignorance about the victims, it is a problem of emotional indifference towards the victims (and further, emotional attachment to the status quo). So we have to emotionally compel people to care about injustice and the oppressed more than they care about their residence in Normalcy.

So express how you really feel. The stakes are high. Show them that.

*Let me just note here that humourous expression can be an exception to this rule of not smiling when talking about a horrendous atrocity that itself gives us no pleasure or cause to smile, as humour definitely has its role in communicating truths, but while I would argue that humourous expressions are typically very emotionally authentic and can be quite powerful because of that expression of truth, if the expression is not identifiably using humour to deal with the pain of the topic at hand, smiling is misleading and trivializing.

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase

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

by Wayne Hsiung

Activists at a recent Chipotle protest in San Francisco. 

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

How the "Go Vegan" Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans


How the "Go Vegan" Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans (by Kelly)

When we use the "go vegan" message and talk about "vegan options" we immediately -- by the implicit construction of a dualism -- frame the animals whose rights are being violated as mere commodities. When we tell people to choose one product over another, we're reinforcing that the bodies of those animals who did not want to die are "products." We are therefore not challenging people to see those animals as conscious entities deserving of the same protection of their inalienable right to life that we ask for ourselves -- which is what we need to do to challenge speciesist society.

No matter what we say about those animals and their right to live and be free from violence and oppression, when we tell (or ask of) people what personal choices to make, through that consumerist framing, we're telling people to think about themselves, and we're perpetuating the idea that the animals are just other consumer commodities.

So should we even identify as "vegans"? (I put that in quotes because, let's remember, even those of us who don't eat animals or things made in their bodies still pay taxes that are funnelled into the violence, and fund an animal-killer and humanewasher when we buy kale at Whole Foods, and participate in a corporate machine that is wrecking havoc on our planet and contributing to the displacement and death of countless animals in every ecosystem whenever we buy anything at all, which is especially not particularly aligned with the apparent "vegan" ethic if it's more than we need for our bare minimal survival). I think that the label is counter-productive, since it focuses on the human instead of the animal, and since it frames the animals as the commodities they're already being treated as. Yeah, we who are trying to move society away from speciesism should be behaving as nonspeciesistly as manageable, as part of our vocal and uncompromising demand that the animals' rights be acknowledged and protected. But we should not be framing the conversation about the animals' rights in ways that distract people from the matter of their rights.

We have to demand liberation for the nonhuman victims, not plant-based options for the human oppressors. The animals need the systemic change that will come from a societal shift in perspective, not from a shifting chain of demand and supply.

We would call for an end to speciesism even if all it left our plates with was rice, because it's the right thing to do. Fruits and veggies are nice, but ultimately irrelevant. We can't make not hurting innocent animals a matter of how convenient and pleasurable it is for the human to abstain from that violence, we have to make not hurting animals -- and further, demanding that our entire society stop hurting animals -- a moral imperative. Demanding an end to injustice can't just be the easy and enjoyable and nice thing to do, it has to the be right thing to do. (Not to mention that we're not even encouraging people to do that when we merely tell them to "go vegan," to not intentionally participate to whatever degree comfortable in speciesist violence, to by-stand.) Because it IS the right thing to do. Because doing anything less than demanding justice for all is the wrong thing to do.

And when we talk to an individual about personally eating "vegan" we leave the systems that run the speciesist injustice and violence we're attempting to combat completely invisible -- and invisibility is how the most oppressive power structures remain in power.

Forget about the tasty tofu burrito, there's a baby pig screaming and writhing in the hands of a human with a knife right now. Which of the two messages will motivate people to demand action for that baby pig, and other oppressed innocents?

The stakes are extremely high. Actually, they really don't get any higher. The animals cannot afford for us to make their interests look as low in value as the stakes of someone choosing a favourite band.

Bird Brained? You Must be Pretty Damn Smart!

In everything from the motions of her head, to the tone of her calls, the common chicken is expressing intelligence, sophistication, and emotion in ways that we are just beginning to understand. 

In everything from the motions of her head, to the tone of her calls, the common chicken is expressing intelligence, sophistication, and emotion in ways that we are just beginning to understand. 

Bird Brained? You Must be Pretty Damn Smart!
by Wayne Hsiung

Scientific American recently had a wonderful piece about the astonishing discoveries in chicken intelligence over the past few years. An excerpt:

Few people think about the chicken as intelligent, however. In recent years, though, scientists have learned that this bird can be deceptive and cunning, that it possesses communication skills on par with those of some primates and that it uses sophisticated signals to convey its intentions. When making decisions, the chicken takes into account its own prior experience and knowledge surrounding the situation. It can solve complex problems and empathizes with individuals that are in danger.

These new insights into the chicken mind hint that certain complex cognitive abilities traditionally attributed to primates alone may be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought. The findings also have ethical implications for how society treats farmed chickens: recognizing that chickens have these cognitive traits compels moral consideration of the conditions they endure as a result of production systems designed to make chicken meat and eggs as widely available and cheap as possible.

Among the incredible abilities discussed by the article: 

  • Deception: Roosters will trick rivals by selectively using vocal or visual mating calls, depending on whether the rival is present.
  • Language: Chickens have highly varied and context dependent calls in response to prey, using specific vocalizations to match the particular threat faced by the flock. 
  • Empathy: Mother hens who see their chicks in duress or pain will exhibit the same signs of stress, even if they themselves are not suffering. 

Read the full piece here

But there's something missing, even, from all of these studies: personhood. I cared for two broiler chickens for a few months many years ago. They were rescued from a live slaughterhouse in Chicago. And the thing that struck me most about interacting with them was their unique personalities... the way they each defied conventional stereotypes of species and gender. 

Roosters are known for being loud, domineering, and violent. Yet Phillip was a meek soul who hardly made any noise at all. 

Marta was a hen, and significantly smaller than Phillip. Yet she would not hesitate to chase him around, to peck and scare him, when a delicious treat was presented. 

They had personal tastes -- Phillip likes greens, Marta liked fruit. They had different communication styles -- Marta was a loud clucker while Phillip would use his body and head. And they had vastly differing reactions to human contact. Phillip positively sought it out and, if Marta was not screening him, would run up and wait for a scratch, even when food was not presented. Marta, in contrast, was strong and independent, and while extremely appreciative of the treats I brought, would otherwise do her own thing in the corner of the room.

When behavior is so complex, so strategic, so emotionally expressive, and so individually varied across members of the species, I don't know how one can fail to conclude the existence of not just sentience (which I believe, following Singer, should be the criterion for moral consideration) but even a form of wisdom. The problem, however, is that people do not recognize this wisdom because it's communicated in a form that human beings do not grasp. (For example, the slight bobs of a rooster's head might seem robot-like to a human... but to a chicken, they are a way to flirt!) 

So the next time calls you a bird brain, just smile and nod you head. Even if birds were dumb, they are beautiful creatures who do not deserve to be tormented or killed, as is the fate of so many billions today. But, as with so many other instances of species prejudice, when we start seeing through their eyes, and understanding them on their terms, it turns out they're not so dumb after all.