Finding Union Within the Animal Rights Movement
By Asananda X
Soon after Rodney King took his beating from the LAPD, and then gave them a beating in the courts to the tune of $3.8 million dollars, he asked, 'Can't we all just get along?' If we venture outside of the shallow trenches in which we have dug and feel safe, we will see there are a whole host of promising questions and ideas we will discover in the least likely places. The sentiment behind his question seems to be most needed in the animal rights movement' or is it 'movements'?
I read a letter by Joan Dunayer, a prominent animal activist and author, saying that she is pulling her forces out of The Foundation of a Movement: Friends of Animals 2005 Animal Rights Conference on July 9 & 10, in which she was scheduled to speak, because she believes the keynote speaker to be a speciesist and opponent of nonhuman rights.1 I have often considered pulling myself out of society and taking up residence in a cave in the Himalayas, but it is only recently that I've come to realize that just because people have differing opinions than me it doesn't mean they are morons. I am glad I didn't take this route, as I have learned tremendously from all the divergent views I've encountered (and I don't like cold weather either!)
The keynote speaker for the Friends of Animals gala is Mark Potok, Editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, and the person with whom Joan refuses to share the dais. His organization is kind of an anti-bias watchdog, which watches groups that usually use violence and intimidation to spread their message of hate. They started out dealing with the Ku Klux Klan, but have now extended to include other groups, such as skinheads, black separatists, antigovernment 'Patriot' movements, militia groups and, yes, animal rights groups that use violence as a tactic. They print a magazine called the Intelligence Report and it is widely read, especially among law enforcement types.
Now I don't like everything the Southern Poverty Law Center stands for or does. As the definition of a terrorist today seems to extend to parents who home school their children, people who value the Constitution, and anyone who smiles for more than ten seconds straight, I am not sure I want some fellow Citizen group of mine reporting my group's love for the Constitution side by side with Neo-Nazis and labeling us all troublemakers who need to be watched.I also don't think the SPLC takes full responsibility for the power of the media, of which they are a part, and how they can 'inadvertently' influence their readers with their own bias. In example, The Intelligent Reporter wrote about a 1984 'raid at the University of Pennsylvania Head Injury Lab [that] caused $60,000 in damage,'2 and neglected to mention the films that surfaced as a result of this action which showed animal abuses that violated the law and resulted in the lab being shut down and that there was no other way to get this documentation into the public view.
The Intelligence Report quoted Frankie Trull, President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, which promotes "humane and responsible" animal testing, saying, "Their temperament [scientists] is such that they don't really fight back. The ALF is like the bully in the schoolyard for them."3 The same article would read very differently if the schoolyard analogy portrayed the scientists as the snobby rich kids who do whatever they want solely thinking about themselves and not caring about any harm they are causing, and the ALF as the ones who believe in fighting for justice on the playground so much so that they are willing to be suspended in defense of it. Same facts, different bias.
The SPLC said, 'By refusing to take responsibility for any actions that harm humans, the ALF and ELF implicitly acknowledge that violence directed at people is a foreseeable result of the tactics they promote.'3 Is that accurate' What if it had been written, 'The ALF and ELF, value all life so much, even that of inhumane abusers, that they have clearly written that they don't support any actions that harm humans'? As Joe Friday from 'Dragnet' used to say 'Just the facts, ma'am.' I think the media needs to safeguard against writing bias as fact to their overly trusting audience.
The siddhas, enlightened yogis of the past and present, have known of man's tendency to react emotionally and therefore developed exercises to control these tendencies in order to help them act instead of react. As I am not yet in full control of my emotions, the most responsible action that I can offer is non-violence. This is the yogic principle of ahimsa, that by harming none and loving all one affects the whole collective consciousness. This is my personal bias of the truth and so I do my best to energize love and connectiveness instead of violence and destructiveness.
The yogis of the lineage in which I am initiated weren't just cave-sitters; they remained in society, actively fighting for change using the weapons of universal love, devotion, harmony and wisdom. In the animal rights movement, I question if calling a person wearing a fur jacket a 'fat pig' or burning down a laboratory is acting with this same integrity.In March of this year at the Grassroots Animal Rights Conference (GARC) held in New York City, there were many good ideas shared and there was also much division into smaller and smaller groups into which you were asked to pledge your allegiance. By the time lunchtime rolled around, I was in such a panic as to where to sit--Is that the vegan, white, gay section or is it the vegetarian, straight, black, feminist section?--that I took my plate and ate in a bathroom stall in order to avoid the remote possibility of finding myself in an even smaller compartment not of my choosing.
For me the most interesting part of the conference was at the end, where a panel representing many differing views discussed their take on where the animal rights movement needed to go. A guy from the SHAC campaign, which has been notoriously attempting to disrupt Huntington Life Sciences and their vivisection experiments, said that while he has been a vegan for nine years, that alone is doing nothing for animal rights. If he buys soy ice-cream, when he wouldn't have bought ice-cream anyway, the dairy cow over-drugged and constantly hooked up to pumps is none the better.
A woman from Compassion Over Killing said that almost ten billion animals per year are being abused due to the factory farm industry and we should focus on vegan advocacy if we want to do the most good for animals, instead of vivisection, which only amounts to 25-50 million per year.4Dr. Michael Gregor ended the panel discussion asking the question, 'How many factory farms have been shut down due to animal rights groups'? The answer was zero. 'How many have been shut down due to environmental groups'? The answer was a startling twenty-five. So, maybe we should dump our 'Save the Whales' baseball cap for a 'Save the Rainforest' cap if we really want to help animals. That is what we want, right' Sometimes, with all of the fighting amongst ourselves, I think we forget.
All of these different people made valid points. And I felt enriched that they were all there to express their opinions so that I could gain the benefit of all of their struggles, frustrations, facts and, yes, bias, to help me better clarify my own position. I think it would have been a great loss if only one perspective was allowed to speak, because of animal rights 'leaders' declaring a moratorium on attending any event which features someone with whom they don't agree.
Friends of Animals (FoA) has been around for more than forty years helping animals. Priscilla Feral, President of FoA, has had her own issues with the SPLC, as can be read in the correspondence letters between her and Mark Potok on the FoA website.5 But she also heeds their concern as one of the most respected U.S. social justice groups in their fear that the environmental and animal advocacy movements could come to stand for violence and intimidation before our message could be heard and understood by the general public.
The image of the animal rights movement is shifting to one of a desperate group that has left the peaceful negotiating table in frustration and resorted to the level of violence and terror. If you ask the average person on the street what they think of the animal rights movement they will probably chuckle, thinking these activists to be low-level terrorists with a ridiculous agenda.I remember when I started doing demonstration with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); it was usually just four or five of us handing out leaflets to help people become more aware of the animal abuse in the fur industry. Besides the hostility I encountered from the often infertile soil in which I was trying to plant seeds of compassion, one of the biggest questions I kept getting was, 'Do you throw paint on people's fur coats'? This false perception of what animal rights entails is in large part due to our own actions, or inactions, coupled with the media's desire to use spin and, yes bias, to sell their own version of the 'news.'
The Founding Fathers of this country believed that government was inherently evil and should be chained and handcuffed, because if it got loose there was no telling where and what it would do, and they attempted to do so with the Constitution. A cursory look at some of the bills being proposed in the arena of animal and environmental activism shows that their belief was dead on, that now even protest can be seen as terrorism when it becomes unpopular.
The 'Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act' introduced in Texas in February 2003, promoted by the pressure groups U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and American Legislative Exchange Council, would increase penalties for organizations participating in activities 'with an intent to influence a governmental entity or the public to take a specific action', defining as animal rights or ecological terrorist organizations '[t]wo or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or natural resources.' The bill would also create Internet sites similar to those which register child molesters by name, address, and photo identification.2
Left undefined, words such as 'influence' can range the gamut from educational leaflets to armed resistance; 'deter' could range from speaking out against something to kidnapping. So who is to decide where the vegan cookie will crumble? The government? Law enforcement? Should we allow government officials to divvy out our Constitutional rights depending on their random definitions of 'influence' and 'deter'?
This may result in asking an already frustrated animal rights movement to rot in court trying to reclaim their right to investigate and protest while at the same time expecting this not to escalate into violence; that might lobotomize even my non-violent frontal lobe. Kevin Jonas of SHAC-USA, which supports using intimidation tactics and destruction in order to liberate animals from abuse, quoted John F. Kennedy, "If you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable."3
The fact that a bill like this can be promoted, denouncing the 'intent to influence a government entity or the public to take a specific action,' while Political Action Committees (PAC) groups with their lobbyists buy and sell politicians every day with the promise of financial support and votes, is ridiculous.
Shell Sullivan, founder of an animal rights project called The Animal Spirit, said, 'I do not resort to intimidation, for might-means-right goes against everything the animal rights movement stands for. I do not believe the fall of the fur industry will occur because fur wearers are attacked with paint, but because enough people have come to the decision to stop supporting the fur industry.'6
The question is: how are we going to get people to stop supporting the fur industry? By suggestion? If I said, 'I believe the end of homelessness and the screwing of the lower and middle-classes will be accomplished not by complaining about these issues but by the rich coming to the conclusion to stop focusing solely on what benefits them,? I might willfully submit myself to a beating from the Reality Police. This is where a conference that contains many differing viewpoints could help bring ideas to the table.
Different organizations, as well as individuals, have their strengths and weaknesses. By allowing them all to speak perhaps we can best help the animals who are sitting on the outside asking, 'Can't you all just get along' Well you better, because in the meantime we're getting killed out here!'
An animal rights lawyer may argue that only through legislation can we make a change. A person advocating violence may say that we can no longer sit around on our hands while animals suffer. Some support vegan advocacy as the solution. Some target animal experimentation. What one values is usually at odds with what another values. But it doesn't have to be this way.
This is a major problem not only in the animal rights movement but in our country, and the world, as well. Values consist of treating people and animals with respect and living honestly, not in the worship of a savior. Freedom consists in allowing everyone the right to voice their personal bias, and not only those whose individual orchestrations sound pleasant to our ears. Instead of embracing our differences, we magnify them and forget our commonality, which, in the animal rights movement, is the protection of animals'not personal agendas. If there is a path for us in the animal rights movement to collectively follow, let's do so based on hearing all the options and not by attempting to take off the invite list anyone whose agenda is not our own. Let's not look at this as competition, but as a way to share, learn, and grow. A sharing of ideas does not mean that we have to agree or acquiesce with everything we hear. But shouldn't we allow others the opportunity to do so if they so choose?
John Viscount Morley wrote in On Compromise in 1874, 'You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.'7 But the hope in the animal rights movement seems a desperate attempt to bind and gag anyone else in the movement who has a differing opinion and then claw your way to the top. It seems becoming, instead of liberating, animals is the current fashion. And I thought, 'Compassion is the Fashion,' at least that was the mantra chanted at many anti-fur demonstrations in which I attended.
Peter Singer, a Princeton University philosopher most famous in the animal rights movement for his groundbreaking book first published in 1975, Animal Liberation, recently told the Australian Herald-Sun, "We who have an affinity with non-human animals and nature are finding it increasingly difficult to love our fellow man."3
This is where I think we have to draw the line and say we have to figure out how to love our fellow man--by any means necessary. Just as futile as the actualization of true animal rights seems to be at times to my fellow activists and me, we can never stop trying to achieve it, and never stop believing that we can achieve it. Otherwise we have not only given up on our fellow man, but on the animals as well.
But how can we keep up the fight if we keep fighting amongst ourselves? If we don't agree to at least get together at these conferences, all with our own view of how best to proceed, to discuss all the issues and ideas and see where it leads us, who will be the better for it? Like it or not, we are all in this movement we call 'animal rights.' If we can't even love our fellow animal rights compatriot, how the heck are we going to love our fellow man?
There are many aspects to our humanity, good and bad. We are all of it and we need to embrace what we are in order to hopefully make this a better world. The animal rights movement needs to see that there are many facets to us which includes more than just our personal favorite. We need to remind ourselves what our real purpose is: to protect animals and not egos.
So on the weekend of July 9th & 10th, I am planning to attend the Friends of Animals animal rights conference. I may disagree with the keynote speaker from SPLC. I may disagree with the President of Friends of Animals. But I am not so closed-minded as to think, like the goal of Socrates, that they may not stir some thoughts in my head that without their rousing I may not have had access to.
Hopefully by stimulating our minds with opposing viewpoints we will be able to join together and accomplish the goals our animal brethren and sistren deserve. If we divide ourselves and focus on the fact that we are advocates of direct action, legislative changes, vegan awareness, anti-vivisectionists, and/or female, male, gay, straight, black, white, tall, short animal rights-ists, we will weaken our movement so much that the current media bias will become true--we will be a joke of desperate, pathetic people with poor priorities. Hopefully we can utilize this conference to stimulate our minds without forcing anyone to drink hemlock as a result of their differing opinions.Asananda X is a yogi of truth. He leaves advocating for compassion or violence to others, instead seeking to inspire truth with humor. He can be contacted at AsanandaX@yahoo.com. He dedicates all his work to his blessed spiritual guru, Sri Baba Ganesh.
FOOTNOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Joan Dunayer Withdraws, in
Protest, from Friends of Animals Conference,
Letter from Joan Dunayer explaining withdrawal. Friday April 15, 2005
(Need to go to April 15 archive)
2. Friends of Animals response letter to Mark Potok, Editor of SPLC's Intelligence Report
3. 'From Push to Shove,' Intelligence Report, Fall 2002
(Type in keywords: 'push and shove?)
4. Citizens Against Animal Cruelty & Exploitation webpage
?STOP ANIMAL EXPLOITATION TODAY?
Statistics on numbers of animals killed due to animal experimentation
5. Friends of Animals Website
A listing of links of letters back and forth between Mark Potok, Editor of SPLC?s Intelligence Report and Priscilla Feral, President of Friends of Animals
May 8, 2003, June 27, 2003, July 7, 2003
6. Second Open Letter to Southern Poverty Law Center: Friends of Animals Responds to SPLC?s Criticism of the Animal Rights Movement. June 27, 2003
7. John Bartlett (1820?1905). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919.
Number 793. John Viscount Morley, On Compromise, 1874
8. 'Advocates for Justice and Equality?: http://www.splcenter.org/center/about.jsp
9. 'The Intelligence Project: Tracking the Threat of Hate?: http://www.splcenter.org/intel/history.jsp
10. Synopsis of 'From Push to Shove,? Intelligence Report, Fall 2002: 'Advanced Intelligence Report Search? on the keywords 'animal rights? (http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/search.jsp)
11. Brian Willoughby, 'Hate in the News: PETA Turns Holocaust into Pig Pen,? Tolerance.org: A Web Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, March 7, 2003: http://www.tolerance.org/news/article_hate.jsp?id=724