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Ready to Attack Animal Rights Activists? Consider This First

By Stephanie Ernst

December 16, 2008

This is an impossibly busy week for me in my work world outside Change.org, allowing little time for even sleep and meals, and so I am struggling with the fact that there are several detailed, thoughtful posts that I want to write–and that I want to write right now–but that I cannot and should not write just yet because I cannot in the next few days give the depth of thought and attention that they require and deserve. So I will leave them for another period of days.

Today I’m not going to write about the animals; I’m going to write about the activists, the ones so many animal rights detractors and commenters on this blog get their kicks criticizing.

This blog receives its share of sarcastic, offensive comments (worry not–there will be a whole post on this topic soon). And these days, the comments appear both here and on the pages for the various ideas in the Animal Rights category of the Ideas for Change project. I could devote entire workdays to responding to them; I already spend too much time reading them. I will have some things to say about those comments and what they indicate in another post. But this post is about the advocates whom those opposed to, or made uncomfortable by, animal rights enjoy attacking so much (and I am referring not just to commenters on this animal rights blog and others, but to detractors in general).

Here are some simple truths: There is no glamour in sanctuary work. There is no money in grassroots animal advocacy. There are no health care benefits and long paid vacations in vegan outreach. There is no corporate ladder to climb here.

And animal rights advocates have (and are) sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, friends, coworkers, partners, and spouses. We have responsibilities, struggles, jobs, bills, dreams, plans, hobbies, and interests. We have joys, sorrows, frustrations, and lives just like you.

There are thousands of things on which we could spend our time and our money–traveling, fixing up the house, taking in every art show or museum exhibit, visiting family, catching up on movies, writing that novel we’ve always wanted to write or learning that instrument or taking that class or getting that degree. But many animal rights advocates don’t do a lot, if any, of those things; many of them–like advocates working to eliminate injustices in other areas–eat, sleep, and breathe the work they do, sacrificing much for it.


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So the next time you’re geared up to tell animal rights advocates to get a life, to ridicule their activism and way of living, or to dismiss what they’re trying to say to you, stop. The next time you’re ready to presume that you know more about animal issues just because you’re in the majority, and the people who devote everything they can to learning about and speaking for the animals just must be crazy, stop. Stop and ponder whether you really know what you’re talking about. Consider that many, if not most, of us were once where you are in terms of how we lived day to day and how we saw animals–that we were as certain as you about the way things should and could be–and that we must have realized something extraordinary to get to where we are now.

Consider that all the time and energy we’ve put into learning about animals, considering various perspectives, questioning our assumptions, digging through the layers, reflecting on the truths and implications, and fighting on the animals’ behalf just might give us a little clearer, deeper perspective on nonhuman animals, their experiences, and their place in this world than someone whose beliefs and habits are simply inherited, unquestioned, and what they’ve always been–just the beliefs and habits handed down from and reinforced by parents and society. Tradition–even centuries-long tradition–doesn’t make something right or true. And a new way of thinking and living isn’t inherently wrong just because it’s new to you and different from what you’ve known before.

When your instinct is to attack and ridicule, instead stop and ask yourself why we’re doing what we’re doing, what we’re getting out of it. Why alienate ourselves from friends and family who don’t understand our stances? Why subject ourselves to ridiculing remarks, name-calling, and "extremist" labels? Why willingly struggle each day to change this world instead of sitting back and taking life easy, instead of doing all the other things we’d love to be doing? There are even dozens of other noble causes to which we could devote our time and energy and be commended rather than ridiculed. So why choose this? Mustn’t we have seen and learned things impossible to ignore? Mustn’t there be overpowering reasons for making the changes we’ve made and for taking on this fight?

Animal rights advocates spend their time, energy, and resources speaking out for animals not because it’s fun, not because it’s lucrative, not because we get lots of praise for it. We are compelled to engage in this struggle because it’s right, because what’s happening every second of every day to millions of animals is wrong, because it has to change, and because we were once where you are, and we know that you have kind souls and the capacity to get where we are now, to a place of compassion, a place where you can envision a more peaceful way of living.

The struggle for animal rights, for animal liberation, isn’t about winning something for ourselves. The heart of animal rights is not about power, politics, or money. It’s not about exerting control, violence, or superiority. It’s certainly not about what people think of us. This struggle on behalf of nonhuman animals is about love and compassion and living in a way that is peaceful and just and without contradictions. It’s about opening our eyes and hearts to the possibility of a new and better world, new and better not just for the nonhuman animals on this planet, but for us too. There is a better, less violent, more loving and peaceable world out there, and we’re just trying to get to it. And maybe that is a possibility and a goal worth considering and investigating rather than attacking and dismissing.

Stephanie is a vegan, a tree hugger, a freelance editor and writer, and an animal rights advocate. She lives in St. Louis with a motley pack of three dogs and two cats as well as the world’s most adorable foster pit bull.

To further your sociopolitical education, strengthen your connection with the radical community, and deepen your participation in forming an egalitarian, just, ecological, non-speciesist and democratic society, visit the Transformative Studies Institute at http://transformativestudies.org/  and the Institute for Critical Animal Studies at http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/ .