WHAT ARE OUR OPTIONS?
"[Nonviolence] is the safe ground on which, unarmed
ourselves, we can hold our own against armed forces."--Francis De'k,
Hungarian leader in the struggle against Austrian rule during
Some activists disagree with treating the opposition respectfully. They
claim the opposition cannot be converted and will stop abusing animals
only when we make their lives so miserable that they would rather stop
their practices than deal with our wrath. Therefore, we must "make their
lives hell" by screaming derogatory epithets at them, harassing them with
hostile phone calls, damaging their property, destroying their industry's
profits through economic sabotage, and engaging in other acts which induce
fear and terror into the opposition or increase their expenses until their
business becomes unprofitable.
These tactics stress accommodation and coercion as their primary
mechanism for achieving victory, but their hostility prevents them from
being strategic nonviolence actions, and their violation of nonviolent
discipline would suggest these actions may be counterproductive to
achieving animal liberation. Let's examine how these tactics affect the
roots of our power and that of the opposition's to determine if they are
effective or not.
Our hostility can certainly make the targeted individuals uncomfortable
and fearful. Some opponents may even adopt a less controversial career,
and younger people may avoid going into animal abuse careers to avoid such
hostility. So according to our sources of power, the opposition will lose
some of their human resources and the corresponding skills and knowledge
of those people. From this perspective, it appears some form of success
can be achieved through hostility.
Economic sabotage is also promoted as a way to make significant and
immediate gains for the animals. Like hostility, economic sabotage can
also have some success. A fur store destroyed by fire cannot sell furs,
and it costs money to rebuild. More money will be spent on security
precautions, and insurance premiums will increase as repeated attacks make
fur retail a high-risk venture. All of this makes the industry less
profitable for individual furriers, and some attacked stores might
permanently go out of business. Therefore, economic sabotage decreases an
opponent's material resources, although any security they add increases
their sanctioning power by improving their chances of apprehending future
Certainly, benefits can be found in all tactics. However, evaluating a
tactic by only looking at its positive aspects, will never give us a
complete picture. We must strive to see all of its ramifications--both
good and bad--before we can truly evaluate its effectiveness. We now look
at the negative consequences of hostility and economic sabotage.
HOW HOSTILITY HURTS US
"To produce change, nonviolent action operates on much more
fundamental psychological, social and political levels than other
techniques of action. These more fundamental levels of operation in
nonviolent action, which may produce shifts of loyalties and invisibly
undermine the power of a hostile regime, often operate more quickly than
dramatic acts which might only be possible by secrecy. Therefore, it is
highly dangerous to threaten the operation of those sometimes less
obvious but much stronger forces by a secret effort to produce a quick,
temporary victory on some subordinate point."-Gene Sharp, author of The
Politics of Nonviolent Action--the most comprehensive work on strategic
nonviolence to date.
Hostility and acts of economic sabotage--another form of hostility--do
not act in a void. They produce many negative consequences which supersede
their perceived benefits. Hostility hinders the conversion process in both
the undecided public and the opposition, it decreases support for our
cause, it can alienate our troops and supporters, it encourages loyalty
within the opposition camp to their superiors, it strengthens the
opposition's determination to fight us, and it justifies the
disproportionately severe repression against activists. Let's look at
these psychological results more closely.
civil rights March on Washington drew over two hundred thousand
people. Struggles committed to disciplined, nonviolent action
attract more support than their hostile
Hostility hinders conversion of both the opposition and the public.
Think about what influences helped you gain the awareness you now have.
Was it an arrogant person yelling at you, demeaning you, or calling you
names that made you reconsider your position? Or was it a book you read, a
vegan friend, or the lyrics of a band you liked which helped you become an
animal liberationist? Most likely you learned about animal rights in a
non-threatening manner that did not make you feel personally attacked. If
animal rights activists did treat you badly, you probably became an animal
rights supporter in spite of their activities, not because of them. By
blocking people from hearing our message, hostility weakens our authority
and stifles the growth of our human resources and the proportional growth
in our skills and knowledge, and material resources that accompany the
addition of people to our ranks. And, as we have fewer people, our ability
to sanction the opposition through boycotts and other actions decreases.
If we verbally attack the opposition at protests or physically attack
their property, members of the public give their sympathy to them. They
see the opposition--not the animals--as the victims. None of us want to be
treated disrespectfully or have our property destroyed. When we see others
commit these acts for a political objective we don't already endorse, we
discourage their hostile behavior by not supporting the individuals or
their cause. Likewise, when the undecided public see our hostile and
destructive behavior, they support the animal exploiters and not us, which
bolster our opposition's authority, while further weakening our own.
Furthermore, our hostility can alienate our own troops, decreasing our
human resources and the corresponding skills and knowledge and material
resources those activists had to add. Many people join our struggle
because of their sensitive and compassionate nature. When they see other
activists engage in activity they consider hostile or destructive, some
become uncomfortable and less willing to work with the hostile activists.
All of us have a different hostility threshold--the extent of hostility
needed for us to consider an action inappropriate. Because every
individual has a different hostility threshold, strategic nonviolence
eliminates all hostility--thereby ensuring we don't lose any animal
liberationists because our actions exceeded another's hostility threshold.
Our hostility also causes the opposition to remain loyal to their
leaders. When a group of people are threatened with physical violence,
verbal harassment, emotional abuse, or hostility, they are less likely to
reconsider their position or question and criticize the ideas of their
group. Instead, their desire for self-protection encourages them to set
aside any disagreements, follow their leaders, and act in solidarity with
their peers. This further increases our opposition's authority while
weakening our own.
Moreover, when the opposition feels personally attacked, many of them
become more determined to fight back. For them, battling us now becomes an
issue of personal pride and defending their honor. The persecution they
endured at our hands strengthens their resolve to continue their offending
actions and to undermine our efforts for animal liberation.
Many activists are familiar with activists whose imprisonment for the
cause have made them stronger and more determined to fight than ever. This
phenomenon also happens to our opposition when we are hostile towards
them. Most will not succumb to our hostility and threats, but, instead,
strengthen their efforts to fight the violence and hostility that we
represent. Their increased will to fight us strengthens the opposition's
Finally, our hostility and acts of economic sabotage only serve to
justify disproportionately severe repression against us. For example,
activists who swear at the police, call them derogatory names, and shout
in their faces are more likely to be arrested. Even though free speech is
a constitutional right in our country, the activist's hostile behavior
justifies--to the police and most of the public--his or her arrest and
As our acts of hostility increase, even greater forms of repression
become justifiable against us. This explains why the FBI always try to
label us as violent terrorists. If the public perceive us as violent
terrorists then they will not be outraged when we are arrested, sentenced
to long prison sentences, and have our rights violated through illegal
wire-taps, harassing surveillance, and subpoenas to grand juries. The more
the public perceives us to be a threat to another's safety, the more
willing it will be to see our individual civil liberties violated for the
benefit of the greater public good.
If this were not true, why would the Federal Bureau of Investigations,
under their counter-intelligence operations, place agent provocateurs
within social movements to encourage acts of violence and sabotage?
Sometimes they do this to entrap activists, but mainly they do this to
justify their use of force and violence against members of the cause. When
opposing forces fight with violence, the playing ground is equal and the
public consider it a fair fight. The police, the animal abusers, and the
FBI are skilled in violence and prefer to use that weapon. But when we
choose strategic nonviolence as our weapon system, it hinders their
ability to effectively utilize violence--their favorite weapon--against
us. Using violence against loving, respectful people looks monstrous and
cruel, and public opinion shifts against them in favor of a nonviolent
group. Acts of violence or hostility, perpetuated by agent provocateurs,
helps level the playing field by justifying the opposition's brutal
treatment of activists.
Of course, animal liberationists perpetuate almost all acts of sabotage
against animal exploitation. However, these actions create the same
outcome. They justify our violent repression, thereby increasing our
opponents' sanctioning power. As animal activists, we want to use the
opponent's repression against themselves so that every time they abuse us,
they lose support and power. Later on we will discuss how maintaining
nonviolent discipline will set the stage to do just that.
In terms of our sources of power then, hostility and economic sabotage
undermine our authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, material
resources, and sanctioning power. Meanwhile, it fortifies our opponent's
authority, human resources, sanctions, and intangible factors. With this
broader view of how hostility and economic sabotage impact our sources of
power and that of our opposition's, we see that the minimal gains
mentioned above do not serve to compensate for the ground we lose.
Besides being ineffective, violence and hostility executed on behalf of
the animals perpetuate the root source of animal exploitation and all
REMOVING THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL
"Wars will never cease while men still kill other animals
for food, since to turn any living creature into a roast, a steak, a
chop, or any other type of 'meat' takes the same kind of violence, the
same kind of bloodshed, and the same kind of mental processes required
to change a living man into a dead soldier."--Feminist vegetarian, Agnes
Ryan, wrote this in March of 1943 for the publication, For the Church
Feelings of superiority are the root of all evil. Warfare, racism,
speciesism, heterosexism, environmental destruction, violence, murder, and
hostility can all be traced back to an individual or group who feels
superior in some way to another. These groups use their beliefs in
superiority to justify the brutality they inflict. Some of the reasons why
people develop an attitude of superiority can be traced to a belief in a
certain ideology or religion, because they have amassed a good education
or wealth, or--ironically enough--because they fight violence and
oppression or even because they support strategic nonviolence!
As animal activists, we must maintain constant vigilance to ensure that
animal rights never becomes a force for evil. We must never let ourselves
feel superior to others because of our beliefs so as to justify our
hostility towards them. This only perpetuates the harmful belief that
"superiority" justifies brutality--the root philosophy behind all violence
and exploitation. Because of strategic nonviolence's commitment to
nonviolent and nonhostile action, it allows us to fight exploitation
effectively, without creating a new form of oppression to replace the old
one (for example, the animal rights dictatorship described earlier).
more irritating and, in the final analysis, harmful to a government
than to have to deal with people who will not bend to its will,
whatever the consequences." --Jawaharal
The most ironic situation is when nonviolent activists exhibit
hostility towards other activists who do not share their beliefs in
nonviolent action. They allow their "superior" belief in nonviolence to
justify directing hostility at "unbelievers" in an attempt to control
their "undesirable" behavior. We--the nonviolent activists--must strive to
maintain humility, an open mind, patience, and the discipline needed to
respectfully share our views with those activists who see things
differently from us. Furthermore, when consensus is not reached by these
discussions, we need to respect their beliefs and allow them to act in
accordance with their nature. To do otherwise would only violate
nonviolent discipline, prevent the conversion process of the hostile
activist, and undermine our own authority. After all, if nonviolent
activists don't have enough faith in strategic nonviolence for it to work
with small interpersonal conflicts, why should anyone else believe this
weapon system can effectively solve widespread international social and
political problems such as animal exploitation?
By removing our violence and hostility, we prevent the public from
changing the focus so as to ignore the issue. But this does not force them
to confront the issue or to motivate them to take action on its behalf.
That is why strategic nonviolence also utilizes the strategy of
noncooperation and the tactics of civil disobedience and political
"All [people] recognize the right of revolution; that is,
the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when
its tyranny or its efficiency are great and unendurable." -Henry David
Thoreau, an abolitionist and anti-war activist.
Understanding the sources of power leads us to the uncomfortable
realization that all of us--vegan though we may be--are partly responsible
for animal abuse. It is our government and our laws that imprison animals.
It is our taxes that fund vivisection, subsidize the meat and dairy
industry, fund the Animal Damage Control programs, and the police and FBI
who protect animal abuse establishments and arrest direct action
activists. It is our participation in a system of working 9 to 5 to pay
the bills that prevents us from taking serious and persistent action
against the abusers. It is our use of ineffective or counterproductive
tactics that enables the abusers to perpetuate their atrocity.
Unfortunately, many activists refuse to recognize their role in
perpetuating animal abuse. Instead, they blame others for the problem and
make excuses for why their actions are ineffective: "The public is
apathetic," "Animal exploiters are evil and can never change," "The media
is biased against us," "Animal liberation is an impossibility," "I'm the
only one who cares." These excuses, and others like them, protect
ourselves from the emotional pain experienced when we recognize our role
in animal exploitation, but they become self-fulfilling prophesies that
disempower us. Instead, we should recognize that animal liberation is a
compelling philosophy grounded in truth and justice, and if the public,
opposition, or media don't see that, then we must not be approaching them
in the right manner. By owning our ineffective strategies, we empower
ourselves to adopt new, more effective ones.
Similarly, by realizing our responsibility in perpetuating animal
exploitation,we also acknowledge our power to stop it! This is why
noncooperation is a major strategy of strategic nonviolence.
Noncooperation is when we do what our opponent does not want us to do, and
we don't do what they want us to do. By removing our cooperation in the
abuse we weaken the opposition's power base. If enough people engage in
noncooperation, the opposition's "legs" will collapse and their table top
"Without willingness to face repression as the price of the
struggle, the nonviolent action movement cannot hope to succeed." -Gene
always encounters repression. On May 4, 1970 the Ohio National Guard
opened fire on unarmed anti- war protesters at Kent State University
in Ohio. Four people were killed and nine were
As with all components of strategic nonviolence, noncooperation lies on
a spectrum. The greater the act of noncooperation, the greater the impact
on the opposition, and the greater repression the noncooperator receives.
Legal forms of noncooperation (such as refusing to eat animal products)
will only receive small amounts of repression (such as people making jokes
about your diet or meat-eating relatives refusing to attend your vegan
Thanksgiving). More serious acts of noncooperation (such as removing
imprisoned animals from factory farms) will result in more serious forms
of repression (such as criminal charges and possible prison sentences).
History is full of situations where activists have suffered barbaric
and lethal repression for their acts of protest and noncooperation. On the
afternoon of May 4, 1970, student anti-war demonstrators at Kent State
University were protesting the presence of two platoons of the Ohio
National Guard on their campus. The guardsmen shot an estimated 67 rounds
at the unarmed crowds of students, resulting in the deaths of 4 protesters
and the wounding of 9.
Certainly the Kent State killings are an extreme case of repression, as
most protests happen without incident. But, this supports the fact that
noncooperation can--and does--result in some form of repression.
So how should we, as animal liberationists, respond to this repression?
The answer is with courage, bravery, and by reasserting our demands while
refusing to become submissive to our opponent's wishes. If we acquiesce to
the repression, we only reaffirm our opponent's beliefs that physical
force can control us. This encourages them to become more and more brutal
towards us in an attempt to get us to obey and stop our acts of
noncooperation. Therefore, we must not submit to their repression, and we
must hold true to our values, come what may.
Rosa Parks--the black civil rights activist who refused to give up her
seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in
1955--recognized how the black peoples' submissiveness and cooperation
with segregation only reinforced the white segregationist's ideas that
black people were a lower life-form who deserved what they got. Before she
was arrested, she distinctly remembered thinking, "Our mistreatment was
just not right, and I was tired of it. The more we gave in, the worse they
We need to let our opposition know that no amount of threats, violence,
and jail time will ever make us compromise our belief in animal rights.
Vegetarian and master strategist Mohandas Gandhi led the successful
nonviolent revolution that resulted in India freeing itself from British
rule. Gandhi said this about how nonviolent activists should respond to
repression: "In the code of [nonviolence], there is no such thing as
surrender to brute force."
Gandhi and his fellow nonviolent warriors practiced what they preached.
During their revolution, British troops killed nearly 8,000 activists,
permanently injured 500, and imprisoned more than 100,000 in response to
the activists acts of noncooperation. But, despite this repression, Gandhi
and his troops remained firm in their convictions and demands for an
independent India. And, although they did not injure or kill even one
British soldier, India won its independence in 1946. Gandhi himself was
arrested and jailed numerous times during the struggle, and after India's
independence was won, he continued to struggle for peace and justice
despite death threats. On January 30, 1948, Gandhi died for his beliefs
when an opponent assassinated him. Gandhi never surrendered.
Like Gandhi, none of us should surrender. However, not all of us are
ready to go to jail, endure beatings, or die for the animals. Because of
this, each of us as individuals need to honestly evaluate what sacrifices
we are willing to make for the animals, and then refrain from engaging in
acts of noncooperation or civil disobedience that will result in more
repression than we can handle.
Furthermore, we need to respect other activists. If someone is afraid
of jail or unwilling to attend protests, we must appreciate their honesty
and respect their boundaries--not condemn them for an assumed "lack of
commitment." Nonviolent activists should never be coerced or urged to
engage in acts of noncooperation which will result in repression they are
not ready to courageously endure.
However, our willingness to bear repression is not a fixed position.
Animal liberationists can help increase the levels of repression that we
as a movement are willing to endure by encouraging fearlessness, open
defiance, solidarity, and an understanding of how voluntary and courageous
sacrifice will make us victorious in our struggle for animal liberation.