by Angel Flinn
February 29, 2012
--I found the minds of the people strangely indifferent to the subject of
slavery. Their prejudices were invincible--stronger, if possible, than those
of the slaveholders. Objections were started on every hand; apologies for
the abominable system constantly saluted my ears; obstacles were
industriously piled up in my path' What was yet more discouraging, my best friends--without an exception--besought me to give up the enterprise! It was
not my duty (they argued) to spend my time, and talents, and services, where
persecution, reproach and poverty were the only certain reward. My scheme
was visionary--fanatical--unattainable' But opposition served only to
increase my ardor, and confirm my purpose.'
~ William Lloyd Garrison (July 14,
We live in a world where the vast majority of people consider
it perfectly acceptable to oppress and exploit other animals, despite the
fact that we have
moral justification for doing so. Every year in the United States,
approximately ten billion land animals are killed, after being intentionally
bred and enslaved, all for human gain. Worldwide, the numbers equal
approximately 56 billion annually. When we count animals who live in water,
there are tens or hundreds of billions more every year.
All of these
animals are as innocent as children, but we treat them as though being born
as a member of a different species is a crime worthy of life in prison,
often accompanied by torture, ending with the death penalty. In fact, for
the vast majority of them, the lives they are forced to live are so
unbearable that premature death --
a severe harm -- might conceivably serve as some kind of merciful release
from a life of physical, psychological and emotional suffering.
Widespread veganism is the only hope these nonhuman beings have for
emancipation from their brief, brutal existence. Such a fundamental change
in our society will only be brought about by a radical moral paradigm shift
similar to those which resulted in the abolition of human chattel slavery
and the voting rights of women.
Moral paradigm shifts, however, do
not cause themselves. They are caused by small groups of people within
society -- always considered 'radical' in their own time -- who persistently
educate others over decades about why change is necessary. Indeed, William
Lloyd Garrison founded The Liberator, a weekly anti-slavery newspaper, in
1831, and it wasn't until after 34 years and the bloodiest war on United
States soil* that slavery was finally abolished in 1865. Similarly, the
women's suffrage movement's first well-known spokesperson was John Stuart
Mill in 1865, but women were not permitted to vote until 1918 in the United
Kingdom, and 1920 in the United States.
* Note that William Lloyd
Garrison, the authors of this article, and the abolitionist approach to
animal rights reject violence, and support only non-violent education and
reasoned dialogue as a means to social justice, regardless of the cause.
In their efforts to educate and to engage in civil disobedience in the
name of noble causes, abolitionists and suffragists endured ridicule, anger,
imprisonment, and death threats, both from the establishment itself, and
also from counter-movements made up of citizens with an interest in
maintaining the current situation.
Nobody minded a quiet abolitionist
or suffragist. Respecting 'everyone's personal choice' with deferent silence
was deemed 'moderate and respectable' by those vested in the status quo.
Challenging the injustice with moral education was called 'self-righteous,'
'offensive,' 'extremist,' and 'off-putting.'
Take, for example, the
following quote from 1847, in which human slavery proponent Joseph W.
Lesesne criticizes anti-slavery advocates and the abolitionist movement:
'[The abolitionists'] conduct has been most atrocious. No language is
strong enough to denounce it. The shameless impudence with which they have
trampled the Constitution under their feet, and their mean and despicable
contrivances to deprive us of our Slave property ought to be held up to the
scorn of the whole Union.'
The more direct and unequivocal an
advocate's position, the more resistance he or she encountered.
so it is with vegans today. Despite the fact that we stand so clearly on the
side of justice for all sentient beings, we can expect to encounter
resistance most of the time. As strong vegan educators and advocates, we can
expect to be dismissed, ignored, misrepresented, and to be subjected to
whatever treatment those opposing us believe would be most effective at
discouraging our efforts. Recognizing and accepting this situation for what
it is, and realizing that other successful social justice movements faced
similar resistance and criticism over spans of decades, can help us persist
in our efforts over decades as well.
Aside from simply being on the justifiable side of a cause, a major
reason that social justice movements of the past succeeded was persistence.
Realizing that even the most effective vegan advocacy will take decades,
rather than months or years, to have its intended goals achieved can give us
the perspective we need to ultimately succeed by avoiding the burnout that
comes with obsessive activity, unrealistic expectations, and a short-sighted
focus on short-term results. We should recognize that it might sometimes be
beneficial to take a break and recharge our batteries, and that, alongside
our personal advocacy, it's important that we also strive for physical,
mental and emotional health, so that we can be as effective as possible in
our efforts to educate and inspire others.
So let us relentlessly persist in the struggle for justice at a pace we
can maintain for as long as is necessary. Let us not measure our progress in
insignificant welfare 'victories', which, during the short time they last,
only serve to perpetuate the exploitation paradigm and make consumers feel
better about their purchases of animal products. Let us instead measure
progress in terms of the increasing number of ethical vegans, the decreases
in animal product consumption, the increases in vegan alternatives, and the
gradual transformation of the collective consciousness, which, only 65 years
ago, didn't even have a word to describe someone as being 'vegan'.
Over time, the irrepressible power of justice will prevail, as we
overcome the shameful prejudice and despicable discrimination that attempts
to justify and maintain the moral status of animals as economic property and
tradable commodities. Until that day comes, let whatever opposition comes
our way serve only to increase our ardor, and confirm our purpose.
Drawing on the wisdom of another of the great voices of the anti-slavery
movement of the 1800s, Frederick Douglass,
'Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are
people who want crops without plowing the ground; they want rain without
thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many
waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never