Friday, 7 February 2020

On Solidarity and Progress

Some thoughts about solidarity and progress within the vegan and animal rights movements.

I think solidarity is extremely important. Who can deny that there is safety, strength, and power in being part of a united force composed of like minded people? Being a lone voice is scary and difficult. A feeling of solidarity has been utterly vital to help keep me going all these years. I think many of us probably feel the same. We need mutual support. That’s what solidarity is in my opinion. Mutual support.

We have to be wary though, of becoming trapped in a filter bubble or stuck in a rut. Sometimes we work so hard at maintaining solidarity, that we fail to make progress in our strategy and tactics. We do that because we don’t want to upset or offend anyone. But solidarity without progress is a problem.

We have to remain open to new ideas and information, which challenges what we think we know. We must always be open to the possibility that we might be wrong about some things. We must also be wary of falling into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. This can be ‘us’ vs. ‘the speciesists’ and ‘the carnists’ or ‘the animal exploiters’, or it can be divisions within the movement.

The vast majority of speciesists, carnists, animal farmers, truck drivers, slaughterhouse/abattoir/butchery workers, fishing crews, fish ‘processors’, and all of the other animal exploiters are not evil. They are often just ignorant, confused, or conflicted. That is, they are uninformed, under-informed, or mis-informed. There are a few genuinely nasty people. But not many. Most are just ignorant.

It’s important to remember that almost all of us used to be speciesist and carnist ourselves. Some of us even worked in the animal exploitation industries. I myself was a slaughterhouse worker for about 4 years. I also trapped animals and even did a little hunting and fishing a few times. But I was not evil. I was merely ignorant. I was a product of the society I lived in, and the culture I was surrounded by. And so are all the other speciesists, carnists, and exploiters.

Our in-group solidarity is very important. Critical even. But when we start hurting people who are not evil, but merely ignorant, that can be a problem. We absolutely must oppose animal exploitation, as strongly and powerfully as we can. But with respect for our opponents. Call out the behaviour, but call in the person. Reject the behaviour, but respect the person.

Likewise, we have differences of opinion within our movement. Abolitionist vs. Incrementalist. Radical Activism vs. more ‘Tame’ Activism. Some people don’t like PETA’s actions and campaigns. Some don’t like DxE. Some hate welfare reform campaigns. Some say abolitionist campaigns are unrealistic. Some of the radical activists refer to the tamer ones as apologists and holding us back. Some of the tamer activists say the radicals are too extreme and damaging the movement. And on it goes...

Again, none of us are stupid or bad. There are just differences of opinion. It becomes quite complex because there actually are pros and cons to each approach. When we favour solidarity of the movement, and in doing so, avoid having the difficult discussions about strategy and tactics, then we prevent progress. When we push our viewpoints on strategy and tactics too hard, without respect for others, we erode solidarity.

I have been guilty of pushing the Abolitionist approach, and promoting the more radical forms of activism, often at the expense of damaging solidarity within our movement. This is not ok. It is something I need to work on. I need to be far more diplomatic and respectful of others as I promote what I believe will get us over the line the quickest.

Both are important. Solidarity is important. We absolutely need solidarity. We’re doomed without it. But the sometimes-difficult discussions about strategy and tactics are also critical. We’re trying to end a holocaust. We simply have to find the fastest and most effective route to achieve animal liberation. The slow, meandering route will not do. But we have to navigate these discussions with respect for everyone involved.

Now... If I can just remember to follow my own advice on all of that........

Friday, 29 November 2019

Incrementalism vs. Abolitionism: Solutions!

 A pig named Grace.

In my last blog post, ‘Incrementalism vs. Abolitionism: A Comparison’, I explained why I believe that welfare campaigns are not only unhelpful, but detrimental to our movement.

In this post, I want to offer some ideas for what a vegan animal rights approach, or what some call an ‘abolitionist’ approach, might actually look like. Many people, after all, have said that they agree with me on principle. But many people have also asked the question, “How?” And it's a fair question.

Historically, the NZ animal rights movement has tended to centre around groups. A vegan group or an animal rights group would be formed, and they would ask themselves, “What campaigns, actions, or projects can we undertake to advance the aims of our movement?”

So here I want to propose a different way of looking at things. I believe that a projects focused approach might be more effective. Or at least worthy of consideration.

First of all, we need to be very clear what our aims really are. Fortunately, that is not difficult. The ultimate end goal of the global animal rights or animal liberation movement has always been to totally abolish all forms of animal exploitation. The global vegan movement has always had similar aims too.

Having now established our objective, we then need to establish what the key projects or campaigns are that will help us achieve that aim. Then we can either place them in the hands of existing groups, or we can form project teams specifically for the purpose of running that project or campaign. Some of those project teams might even become organisations, but not necessarily.

Thinking globally but acting locally, in 2016 and 2017 a nationwide think tank project called ‘A Vegan Future’ (AVF) was formed. The aim was to get some of the best minds in the NZ vegan and AR movement to come up with a plan for how we will abolish animal exploitation, and achieve a vegan Aotearoa/New Zealand.

We made a lot of progress, and there was a real feeling of excitement amongst the participants. Unfortunately however, we never actually completed the process. It is my desire, and I know many other activists share this desire, that a second round of the AVF discussions will be undertaken in the not-too-distant future, to finish what we started.

We desperately need a plan. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Those who love peace must be as well organised as those who love war.” In the same vein, those of us who care about non-human animals absolutely must be as well organised as those who exploit them.

Currently our movement is operating on a very ‘ad hoc’ basis, with some groups duplicating work while other potentially valuable projects are neglected or overlooked.

So here I am going to share some of the ideas that were discussed by the AVF participants, along with a couple of my own ideas. There are simply too many ideas for one blog post, so I will stick to what I think are the key projects that have the potential to produce the best outcomes for our movement in the short to medium term.

1: Build Broad Public Support.

Currently, our movement has plenty of good resources available that support personal or individual change to veganism. These include websites, books, Facebook groups, magazines, documentaries, the work of the local and national vegan societies, and so on.

What our movement currently lacks however, are any useful resources that spell out what we believe in, why we believe it, and what that means in broader terms of social, political, and industry change.

This is a major and important gap that needs to be filled as soon as possible.

I am envisaging a Book, Documentary, Website, and perhaps other resources, that clearly articulate the moral case for veganism at the personal level, as well as presenting the case for the abolition of animal exploitation, and how we will, collectively as a nation, transition to a vegan Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The resources will focus primarily on the moral and ethical case for animal rights, but will include sections about the environmental benefits, health benefits, social benefits, and even the economic benefits of a transition to a vegan New Zealand.

Some of the questions that these resources will need to address are: Why do we need to transition to a vegan New Zealand? What does a vegan Aotearoa actually look like? What are the benefits? What are the costs? What are the challenges? How will we get there?

I am envisaging that a basic draft document will be written up, (perhaps by myself?), and then the draft will be circulated for feedback and input from other activists, academics, economists, business insiders, and other relevant people and organisations.

The final document will then be made into a book, and the book will form the basis of a documentary, website/s, and other resources.

Distributing the resources to make sure that as many people as possible are exposed to it, will present its own share of challenges, but there are ways and means of achieving that aim. With the current meteoric rise in acceptance and popularity of veganism and plant based diets, it is likely that promoting it will not be that difficult.

I envisage a specialist team will be brought together to manage this project. It may or may not also involve existing organisations, or members of those organisations.

2: Build Political and Industry Support.

To build political and industry support for a transition to a vegan Aotearoa/New Zealand, we need to develop an Academic Report and Transition Plan.

This will be very similar to the book mentioned previously. The book, documentary, and website will be focussed primarily on consumption by ordinary Kiwis everywhere. The report/transition plan however, will be more targeted at local and national politicians, business and industry leaders, and important societal leaders and influencers of all kinds.

This is probably one of the most important things we should be focussing on right now. The world is already beginning to accept the idea of veganism and plant based diets, but pertinent questions are being raised about the social and economic implications of a transition to a fully vegan Aotearoa.

Most importantly, the main objection currently being raised in media commentary, is the economic challenge. Animal agriculture and commercial fishing are currently major contributors to our economy. These industries need a ‘golden bridge to retreat across’. We can help them transition by mapping out how they will do it, and what the alternatives are that they will transition to.

The report could possibly be developed after the book is written. Alternatively, it might be developed in conjunction with the book, with the two project teams sharing information as they go.

The project team will consist of people such as academics, industry insiders, sympathetic politicians and lawyers, economics experts, and all sorts of others who have relevant knowledge and experience that they can contribute.

Perhaps those with marketing expertise, applied psychologists, media experts, and others will be able to help shape it into a truly persuasive and convincing document.

Various experts will concentrate on their field of expertise, and address the ethical, sustainability, health, social, economic, and other dimensions of the transition plan.

As with the book and other resources, the questions that will need to be addressed will include, but not be limited to: Why do we need to transition to a vegan New Zealand? What does a vegan Aotearoa actually look like? What are the benefits? What are the costs? What are the challenges? How will we get there?

As with the book, distributing the report to everyone who needs to read it will be a project of its own. But there are ways and means of achieving that objective.

3: Animal Rights Bill.

This will be a project for the lawyers and politicians in our movement. It will be a Bill which will be put through Parliament, that establishes real and meaningful protections for non-human animals in NZ law. It will focus on rights, rather than welfare, and will effectively be the piece of legislation that finally abolishes animal exploitation in our country.

We all know that NZ is not currently at the stage where we could pass this Bill into an Act. But if we start writing it up now, and then start circulating it for discussion, then by the time we are ready to introduce it to Parliament, it will already be a fully formed and credible Bill.

It will also have already received much discussion in the media, and by industry and politicians. Discussion and debate about the Bill will help us identify loopholes and weaknesses, and help us construct something rock solid and water tight.

Simply having the Bill publicly discussed will bring credibility to our movement and publicly demonstrate that we are serious and mean business.

Who will introduce the Bill into Parliament is a whole other discussion. Will we form a party for the animals? Will we try and get someone into one of the existing parties who will champion the Bill? Will we try and bring an existing politician onto our side?

Under NZ’s MMP political system, this becomes a complex debate, and there are pros and cons to each approach. But I won’t attempt to answer that question just now.

4: ‘Operation Veganise’.

This project is based on the idea of going for the low hanging fruit or the ‘easy targets’ first, and then working up to the more challenging targets. That is, we start by approaching the businesses who are most likely to change, then move onto the ones which are less likely.

The door in the face method is used to attempt to persuade people, instead of the foot in the door method. I.e. We start with the big ask of going fully vegan, and then work down if necessary.

A team of well organised, well trained, and well resourced people will approach various businesses, especially food businesses, but also clothing, health, cosmetics, and other businesses, and try to persuade them to make their business 100% vegan.

It is explained to them why veganism makes sense for animals, environment, and people. They are also told that veganism is on the rise globally and in NZ, (it is, and we cite references to prove it), and that not only will they be helping create a better world, but that there is an opportunity to gain social prestige.

We will also explain that there are economic opportunities for them, as they capture their share of ‘the vegan dollar’, along with the reduceitarian, flexitarian, and vegetarian dollar, and the dollar of those who suffer from allergies to dairy, eggs, etc.

Using restaurants and cafes as an example, they will first be encouraged to go fully vegan. If they resist strongly, then an attempt is made to encourage them to have a separate vegan menu, and to let people know they have one. (Or perhaps, to make most of their food vegan, but have a separate non-vegan menu?) If they still resist, they are encouraged to add a few, or a few more, vegan options to their menu. If they aren't open to even that, we forget them and move onto the next business.

If they are willing, mentorship and support will be provided to help them successfully transition. We will also promise that their business will be promoted by us via various means including websites, social media, and perhaps even mainstream media.

All businesses that reach a certain percentage threshold of vegan options - perhaps 50% - are listed on Happy Cow, and perhaps also on a website such as the Vegan Society of Aotearoa New Zealand’s business listings.

Fully vegan businesses will get a 5 star or perhaps ‘gold medal’ rating. Businesses that are not fully vegan, but have a good separate vegan menu, receive a 4 star or silver medal rating. Businesses that have a certain percentage of vegan options but no separate menu receive a 3 star or bronze medal rating.

Businesses who are fully vegan, will be able to receive certification under the Vegan Society’s certification scheme.

As more and more businesses convert, we can ‘cite precedent’. We can tell them, “All these businesses in our region [and list them] have converted, and it’s working out really well for them.”

So how does this help us achieve our aims?

A) It makes life easier for new and existing vegans, and decreases their chances of relapsing.

B) It becomes much easier for non-vegans who are willing to give veganism or plant based diets a try, to succeed and to stick to it.

C) Perhaps most importantly, it helps shift public opinion by gradually de-stigmatising veganism. Simply having more vegan food available, and using the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘plant based’ all over the place, helps mainstream, normalise, and popularise veganism and plant based diets.

D) It alters the supply and demand equation. Fewer animal products are sold, and more plant based products are sold. The decrease in demand sends a signal to the animal exploitation industries that support for them is decreasing, and support for veganism and plant based diets is increasing. This will encourage animal farmers to transition to cropping and horticulture, and food producers, wholesalers, and distributors to transition to supplying more plant based foods.

E) As support for veganism and plant based diets grows, and more vegan businesses thrive and succeed, it gives other businesses who are still ‘on the fence’ the confidence to change. It also gives investors the confidence to put money into these types of business.

A similar principle can be applied to food manufacturers, with a star or medal rating scheme, and certification. The same concept will also apply to clothing and footwear manufacturers and retailers, and all other types of industry and businesses.

Once we get to the point when there are only a few businesses left who refuse to change, then we can conduct pressure campaigns and protests.

I envisage this project could potentially be organised and lead by the Vegan Society of Aotearoa New Zealand (VSoANZ), if they are willing and able to, or a project team assembled if VSoANZ are unable to take it on. I can imagine local vegan societies or groups actually doing the work of approaching businesses in the towns, cities, and regions they live in.

5: Promote Plant Based Health.

In this project I envisage a team of vegan health professionals preparing a comprehensive, science based, but easy-to-read document or report that will be distributed to all health professionals around NZ.

It will make the scientific case for the health risks of animal-derived foods, and the health benefits of plant based food. It will give advice to health professionals on how to meet the needs of their vegan and plant based clients/patients.

They can also include sections on environment and animal rights as supporting arguments, or at least spell out to the health professionals why so many people are vegan and/or eat plant based diets these days.

6: Grassroots Activism.

The grassroots groups who wish to, will be able to continue the work of exposing the horror, presenting the solutions, lobbying, protesting, and all the usual things they do, but with a different message than what many people and groups in our movement have been using to date....

The new message is: veganism as a moral obligation; a demand for a complete end to animal exploitation; and rapid and urgent transition to cropping, horticulture, forestry, rewilding, and so on.

Grassroots groups can also work on issues like animals in entertainment, science, and so on, but with a vegan/abolitionist message.

As I said, these are just a few of the potential projects we can undertake. There are many other ideas which have been discussed as part of the 'A Vegan Future' think tank project. Perhaps I will write another blog post about some of them another day.

Meanwhile, I am very keen to know what everyone thinks about these ideas......

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Incrementalism vs. Abolitionism: A Comparison

A pig named Grace.

I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about the debate between the two main approaches to achieving animal liberation: Incrementalism and Abolitionism.

First let's define what I mean by these two terms. Both approaches are all about animal rights. Not animal welfare. Both approaches embrace veganism. Both approaches want the same end goal: total animal liberation, or the 'abolition' of animal exploitation.

However... The two approaches advocate for two different pathways to that end goal.

I won't be able to do justice to the complexities or reasoning behind the two approaches, but in a nutshell...

The incrementalist pathway proposes that the most effective way to reach our end goal is through achieving small gains, one, by one, by one. I.e. By taking incremental steps to the end goal. Hence the name of the approach: 'incrementalism'. These gains usually consist of welfare reforms, although they can also be about banning something outright, such as rodeo.

The abolitionist pathway proposes that most effective way to reach our end goal is through tackling the problem head on, and outright demanding an end to all forms of animal exploitation. It openly and unambiguously calls for the abolition of animal exploitation, hence the name 'abolitionist'. It also promotes veganism as a moral obligation rather than a personal choice.

There is no doubt that some of the work the incrementalist organisations do is amazing. And they are all truly wonderful people. I've never criticised the people. I would never do that. They work incredibly hard and they deserve respect.

In fact, I can genuinely and honestly say I love most of those people. I've stayed at their homes. I've worked alongside them in various activism projects. They are amazing human beings who I have the utmost admiration for.

I have always openly acknowledged that some of their work is extremely valuable. For example, the work some of them do getting the footage of animal suffering, and then getting it in front of the public to expose the horror, is critical. Our movement would be lost without that.

And to their credit, some of those groups do quietly promote veganism too. However, they usually frame it in terms of 'compassion' or 'kindness' rather than 'justice', and in terms of 'a personal lifestyle choice'. I, on the other hand, believe that what we should really be doing is presenting veganism as a moral obligation based on justice or fairness. I.e. Because it is wrong to exploit animals.

Veganism is not a personal lifestyle choice, and it is definitely not a diet! It is a social justice movement, inextricably linked to animals rights. In the modern era, veganism and animal rights are essentially two aspects of the same thing. Two sides of the same coin, if you will.

Veganism is a moral stance. An ethical position. It is about genuinely and seriously respecting non-human animals, and putting that respect into practice.

Veganism is to speciesism and carnism (i.e. animal exploitation), what feminism is to sexism.

Veganism is to speciesism and carnism, what the movement for racial equality is to racism.

Veganism is to speciesism and carnism, what the gay pride and gay rights movement is to heterosexism/homophobia.

Veganism is to speciesism and carnism, what the environmental movement is to environmental destruction.

And so on....

Veganism is a very simple concept. I can describe it in one short sentence: Because, in this day and age, there is no need to exploit animals, there is no legitimate excuse to do so.

(Note: The 'in this day and age' part is important. Some early humans actually had to exploit animals. But we don't have to. Not now.)

Even simpler: Suffering + Unnecessary = Immoral.

Yes, of course our lifestyle choices are a huge part of how vegans manifest or express our respect for animals. And yes, the food that vegans eat is a huge part of that. But it's way, way more than that. It's clothing and household products. It's our stance on animals who are abused in entertainment and science. And much more. It's also our advocacy and activism. Whether that's as simple as talking to friends and family about veganism, right through to direct action lock ons, and everything in between.

The welfare reform campaigns however, such as 'ban feedlots', 'ban farrowing crates', 'stop factory farming', 'end winter cropping', 'ban live export' etc. are not only unhelpful, they are hindering our movement.

Asking for welfare reforms does not challenge speciesism, like our movement is supposed to. They reinforce it! They don't end it. They perpetuate it.

The message that the non-vegan public and politicians receive from these types of campaign is that it's ok to exploit animals, but we should try not to be too awful about it. And that is not what the veganism and animal rights movements stand for. We stand for bringing an end to animal exploitation entirely.

Perhaps it is understandable that our movement adopted this approach in the 1970s, '80s, and maybe even the 90s, when veganism was still considered a 'fringe' thing. But why are these organisations still talking about welfare reforms in 2019?

Veganism is rapidly going mainstream. In December 2018, major international business magazine 'The Economist' called 2019 'The Year of the Vegan'. That's huge! And that's just one example. Veganism is exploding in popularity all over the world.

We have vegan pies in BP and Z service stations. Vegan Trumpet and Magnum ice-creams. Dominos, Pizza Hutt, and Hell, all offer a range of vegan pizzas. These companies openly promote their products with huge billboards proudly bearing the word vegan.

The mainstream media is talking about climate change and the link to eating animal products on a regular basis. The world is embracing veganism and plant based diets left, right, and centre. I literally can't even keep up any more.

Everyone is talking about it, it seems..... except the incrementalist organisations. The one group in society who ought to be talking about it the most. Can they not see that society has changed? Can they not see that society is ready now?

How much proof do the incrementalists need, that the world is ready to talk about veganism and ending animal exploitation? What are they expecting? An angel with a flaming sword? A handwritten letter from God? "Dear NZ animal rights activists. It's ok. The world is ready to hear about veganism and abolition now. Go for it guys! Warm regards. God."

Ok. All jokes aside... I
t's time for our movement to step up. It's time to open up a bold, confident public conversation, about transition from animal agriculture and commercial fishing, to cropping, horticulture, forestry, rewilding, etc. Not welfare reforms.

After all, welfare reforms don't actually end the horror, do they? They might reduce the suffering a little bit, but not a lot. And they certainly don't end the killing!

The disturbing irony is we actually have a more persuasive and convincing argument for transition than we do for welfare.

For welfare there's really only one key reason: animals.

For transition there's four main reasons: Animals, the environment (especially climate change), human health, and human rights. Some would even say there's a 5th reason: spirituality.

Let's just look at one example to illustrate what I'm saying about the futility of welfare reform campaigns: Farrowing crates. There's no question they are hell on Earth for the sows. I've seen them. They're horrific.


Even if farrowing crates do eventually get banned in NZ, will the replacements be much better? Or just a tiny bit better?...

The sows will still be forcibly impregnated over and over, carry their babies to term, and then have them taken away from them while they're still very young, which causes high levels of distress to both the piglets and the sows....

Pigs are highly intelligent, but the sows will still be forced to live boring, frustrating, monotonous lives for 5 or 6 years till they get killed....

The young pigs will still live in appalling conditions, crowded into small pens, living boring, monotonous lives....

Pigs are normally quite clean animals, but they will still have to live amongst their own faeces and urine.....

The piglets will still have their ears notched or tagged, their teeth clipped, their tails docked, and the males will have their testicles ripped out. All of this with no anaesthetic beforehand, and no pain relief afterwards....

The young pigs will still be killed at 6 months of age....

Given that 50% - 60% of NZs 'pork products' come from overseas, where welfare standards are even worse than ours, banning farrowing crates in NZ only partially solves the problem. Insisting the NZ industry maintains high standards simply transfers the problem offshore....

Given that some people say piglet mortality rates go up without farrowing crates (although some people have disputed that) doesn't that just shift the suffering?....

Given that, if the government even ban crates at all, it might be a 10 year phase in/out period, or even longer, before farms are legally required to use the replacements....

Given that all of the pigs usually end up dying violent, terrifying deaths....

Given that they all end up being killed, full stop!....

What does banning farrowing crates actually achieve?

Sure, it achieves a reduction in the suffering of the sows for the 4 weeks or so that she feeds her babies. Which is not nothing. It's definitely something. But it's not much in the grand scheme of things. It definitely doesn't solve any of the other extremely serious problems inherent in pig farming.

So is that really worth all the time, energy, and the thousands of dollars that are poured into a campaign like that? Are the gains worth the costs? There are far better ways we could be spending all that time, energy, and money!

And then what would the incrementalist organisations even do after that? "Hey, thanks for banning farrowing crates you pig farmers. Good on you. But now we're going to push for really high standards of welfare."

How many years or decades will that take?

Then what will they do after that? "Hey thanks for the really high welfare you guys. Great work. But now we want you to convert to crops and horticulture."

And how many years or decades will that take?

Seriously.... Have any of the incrementalists even thought this thing through?

What exactly is the benefit of going through that middle stage of welfare reforms first? Why not cut to the chase and start demanding transition/abolition now? We have to start that conversation at some point, don't we? Of course we do. So why delay it? Why not start now?

It takes time to create social and political change. So for that very reason, the sooner we start the transition/abolition conversation, the sooner we win. When's the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. When's the 2nd best time? Now!

Imagine where we might be now if we'd started 20 years ago. We didn't. But let's not delay it another day!

Asking for welfare reforms can only ever build support for welfare. They don’t build support for abolition or veganism. Our true end goals. And reforms do not effectively challenge speciesism. How can we expect other people to take animals seriously, when it seems like we don’t?

The welfare narrative doesn't propel us towards abolition. It delays abolition. It makes the horrific animal holocaust drag on and on and on. The incrementalist approach is preventing us from reaching the fullest potential of our movement. It's failing the animals, failing the planet, and failing humanity. It's not accelerating us forward. It's slowing us down.

I know that sounds harsh. These are truly good people working extremely hard, in what they believe to be the best way. I know it hurts to hear someone criticising all the hard work you do. I've been there. And as I've said, some of what they do is wonderful. But I know we can do a lot better. And we have to.

I actually don't enjoy criticising other people's work. I wish I didn't have to. I mean that. But someone has to lead the conversation about strategy and tactics. Someone has to say it: "The emperor has no clothes". Someone has to be 'the bad guy'.

Don't they?

We all want change to happen as fast as possible. The only way to do that is to stop and examine our strategies occasionally. If the strategies are working, then great! We keep using them. But if we can find a better way, then we need to do stop what we are doing and change tack.

It wouldn't bother me so much if these were just small groups. But some of these organisations are very large and influential. New vegans and new activists often look to them for guidance, and these groups aren't guiding us to where we need to go. And I can't accept that. The stakes are too high.

I honestly wish I didn't have to be so critical. I really do. It pains me. I've lost friends over this, and that hurts. This conversation is causing pain in the movement too. But it's a conversation that must be had. We musn't avoid the difficult conversations, just because they are difficult.

And I am not the only one who thinks all this. Other people are saying the same thing. I have even had people saying things to me like, "Thank you Carl. You're saying what we're all thinking. This needs to happen."

I did not create this division. The incrementalist vs. abolitionist debate was already well underway when I joined the movement in 2010.

In fact, for the first couple of years I was incrementalist myself. Why? Because I took my cues from the existing groups. I naively assumed they knew what they were doing. But I eventually realised the incrementalist approach doesn't make any sense, and that a better way is possible.

Incrementalism is a terrible mistake our movement made a long time ago. A mistake which has become entrenched. A mistake that is costing literally trillions of lives. A mistake that urgently needs to be rectified.

We need to abandon that approach, and get back to being the movement we were always meant to be.

So I intend to continue to be one of the people leading this conversation and pushing for this much-needed paradigm shift in our movement. If a bunch of people hate me as a result, then so be it. It's not much fun being 'the bad guy'. But sometimes, someone has to.

I am actually hoping that some time early in 2020, I will be able to meet with some of the leaders of these groups, if they're open to it, and have a serious discussion about all of this.

I haven't asked them about that yet, because I'm having a much-needed break from activism at the moment, then I have some other things I need to work on. But hopefully we will be able to sort this all out soon.

Because we need to. We really, seriously need to. Because trillions of animals are depending on us to get this right.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Vegans Fighting Vegans?

There's been a lot of online discussion about activism amongst the NZ vegan community in the past month or two. Some people have posted about their frustration at the lack of activism. Others have criticised - even slammed - the DxE supermarket disruption in Auckland on the 15th of September.

So I want to offer some thoughts on the matter.......

There are many, many, MANY different ways to do activism.

It can be as simple as talking to friends and family about veganism. It can be other things like posting on social media, blogging, and running websites; vegan outreach; movie screenings; public talks, seminars, or workshops; vegan cooking classes; hosting vegan potlucks to help support new and existing vegans; posters, billboards, stickering; World Vegan Day celebrations; vegan festivals and expos; vegan barbecues, cupcake stalls, or other forms of food outreach; art, music, performance; writing and publishing magazines and books; photography, videos, podcasts; lobbying businesses, politicians, and other influencers; media commentary; AV Cubes; SAVE vigils; DxE disruptions; protests like The Official Animal Rights March or Rodeo protests; and all the other types of activism right through the spectrum, to disruptions, investigations, open rescues, and direct action lock ons.

And much, much more. Those are just a few examples. Additionally, donating money to individuals (sometimes through a Patreon account) or groups doing activism, can even be thought of as a form of activism in itself.
Some people can't or don't want to do disruptions, protests, or direct actions, for a whole range of legitimate reasons. Some have physical or mental health problems. Others experience significant anxiety in social situations, especially when it involves confrontation or even tension.Others have family commitments. Some people have to be mindful how activism will impact on their careers. Others are already very busy involved with other activist causes and movements.

And that's all ok. All of us have different strengths, talents, and abilities. Each of us has something unique to bring to the table. We each have our niche within the movement. We all have something important and valuable to contribute.

But each of us must contribute in whatever ways we can, if we can. It is simply not fair to let a small handful of activists do all the work.

The problem of animal exploitation is gargantuan in scale. It is estimated that nearly 3 trillion animals are killed by our species every year. The problem is also extreme in severity. Most of the 75 billion land animals we kill annually live their short miserable existences in the hell-on-earth nightmares, we call factory farms. This means severe levels of suffering, often over long periods of weeks, months, or even years. And they all - land animals and marine animals alike - die violent, horrible deaths, usually at a very young age, and always against their will to live.

Then there is the massive and serious environmental destruction being caused by industrial animal agriculture and the commercial fishing industry. There are also the millions of people in the West dying needlessly from diseases of excess caused at least in part from consumption of animal products, while other millions in poor nations starve to death because we are giving food they could be eating to farmed animals. Animals also suffer and die in entertainment, for clothing, for scientific research, teaching, and testing, and in other ways too. There are other associated human rights issues as well.

Let's be frank about this. Let's say it out loud. We are trying to end the most horrific injustice in history. The suffering and death involved in the animal exploitation industries is not a 'problem' or an 'issue'. It is a crisis. An emergency. Every year we drag our heels, another 2.8 trillion (approximately) animals suffer and die.

We can win this. I truly believe that. And with climate change being a major issue at the moment, and with animal agriculture being a major culprit, people are finally listening.

If we're going to get anywhere, we need all hands on deck. We need as many vegans as possible to be activists. And we need every activist to do as much activism as they can, as often as they can, in whatever ways they can.

However.... This has got to be said. History has proven again and again and again, that the more confronting methods of activism, such as disruptions and direct actions are actually the most effective methods for creating rapid and meaningful change. King, Gandhi, and countless others have demonstrated that. It simply cannot be disputed.

So the bottom line is this: The more people we have doing the more confronting forms of activism, the faster we will make progress. That is an incontestable fact.

Yes, they do have to be well managed to achieve maximum impact. All forms of activism should strive to reach the highest levels of professionalism possible to achieve credibility for our cause, and to effectively win hearts and minds.

But we shouldn't let the desire for high standards stop us from getting out there and giving it a go. Everyone has to start somewhere. And while I would always encourage people to do some homework before they do something, I would also say that we shouldn't let our lack of experience stop us from getting out there and giving it our best shot. Almost all of the experienced, veteran activists made mistakes when they were starting out. I think they forget that sometimes.

We are human. We all make mistakes. It's inevitable and unavoidable. And it's ok. As long as we learn from them, and keep trying to get better as we go. I've made many mistakes in my activism. I will probably make more. But I keep trying to do better, and ultimately that's all anyone can ask of anyone. That we do our best, and keep trying to do better.

But those who can not or will not do the more radical work have no right to slam those who do. It does not (usually) "make vegans look bad". The people who express anger and outrage about radical activism also express anger at some pretty mild forms of activism. What can you do? Haters are gonna hate, no matter what we do.

We all have every right to offer respectful critiques of each other's work. But the keyword there is 'respectful'. In fact, constructive feedback is vital to us all becoming a stronger and more effective movement.

I admit, I have been harsh in my criticism of other's work in the past. And I regret that. A thoughtful comment on one of my Facebook by a fellow activist helped me see that it was not helpful, and in fact detrimental.

And while some vegans genuinely can't do activism, many of us who are active feel extremely frustrated by what we perceive as apathy or laziness by people who really, actually could be doing more. Those of us who are out there busting our guts to make progress, while others seem content to sit on the sidelines and let us do all the work have a right to feel frustrated by that, and to express that frustration. Don't we? Why should it only be a tiny handful doing everything? Is that fair?

If you know about the problems, and you understand the solutions, you have a moral duty to do something about it. That can take different forms, but we must all contribute. Being vegan is not the most we can do. It is the very least.

Some confronting comments have been made online recently, about the lack of activism. Long time, and even some new activists, in sheer desperation and exasperation, have vented their feelings in an effort to stir the vegan community into action. Urging them to do more and to work harder.

And can you really blame those people? How would you feel if you were working hard day in and day out, and all sorts of other people who actually could be helping.... aren't?

I've felt the frustration myself, and I've vented on occasion. We do our best to be respectful, encouraging, and inspiring, rather than angry, but man!... We are only human. Sometimes the frustration just gets too much. Sometimes it boils over, and comes flying out in ways that are, shall we say, less than ideal? Does that make it ok? No. But perhaps it makes it understandable.

So come on Team Vegan Aotearoa/New Zealand. Let's stop fighting amongst ourselves and beating each other up, and let's get on with the extremely serious work of saving the animals, the planet, and people.

Constructive and respectful critique? Yes. That's acceptable. In fact, it's critical. But let's not be slamming people. Play nice. Be respectful. And let's get this thing done! What do you reckon?