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Our Intersectional Quandary

Many of us claim that animal oppression lies at the root of all oppression. Some of us come to animal rights advocacy from participation in other social justice struggles. We invoke intersectionality as our natural milieu. But, do we really understand the meaning of that concept and its likely impact on our own struggle for animals?

What It’s All About

The concept of intersectionality was originally developed in 1989 by American social activist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to explore how various social and political identities combine to create different modes and perceptions of both discrimination and privilege. It broke away from classic feminism, which was based largely on the experiences of white middle class women.

In the past four years, elements of the animal rights movement have appropriated the term to mean that animal rights advocates must support other social justice movements, particularly racial equity and feminism. Some, in the AR “woke” cult, have resorted to ostracizing and defaming anyone who disagrees. Crenshaw feels that this represents a distortion of her work. “It’s not identity politics on steroids,” she notes in a recent TIME interview, “it is not a mechanism to turn white men into the new pariahs.”

United We Stand… Or Not

As the old saying goes, there is strength in numbers. Forming coalitions with other movements brings additional resources, personnel, contacts, information, and overall influence. It greatly increases our ability to effect social change.

Except when it doesn’t. Other social justice movements don’t really like us. And they have ample reasons.

Here are some:

  • Most social justice movements are well established, with a substantial following, and see joining animal rights as more of a liability than an asset
  • Most social justice organizations realize that animals are the ultimate victims of privilege and oppression, but they view it as a bridge too far
  • Most social justice organizations were formed to protect specific human victims and view alliance with animal rights as degrading the moral value of their victims
  • Most life-affirming organizations (peace, hunger, pestilence, environment) realize that veganism is the ultimate answer to all, but view it as a bridge too far
  • Most movements require only a small annual contribution and participation in an occasional march as evidence of support, whereas we require a lifestyle change

But, Are We Ready?

Another key question that prevents us from forming coalitions with other movements is how ready are we to submerge or mute our own ideology and priorities in the interest of collaboration. How willing are we to put on hold the moral guidance of The Case for Animal Rights? Or Rain Without Thunder?

Here are specific questions that illustrate this point:

  • Are we ready for non-vegans speaking at our conferences?
  • Are we ready to work with an Indian vegetarian society that condones dairy?
  • Are we ready to work with a wildlife organization supported by hunters?
  • Are we ready to promote vegan items at McDonald’s or Burger King?
  • Are we ready to support meatpackers in promoting plant-based food products?
  • Are we ready to support slaughterhouse workers victimized by meatpackers?

There Is Another Way


One way to reach out to other movements is to position our organization on the interface between ours and other social justice and life-affirming movements. A number of organizations have filled that role since the mid-1970s:

  • The International Primate Protection League and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society were formed in 1973 and 1979, respectively, on the interface with the wildlife conservation movement
  • Jewish Veg and the Christian Vegetarian Association were formed in 1975 and 1999, respectively, to appeal to their corresponding religious denominations
  • Food – Not Bombs was launched in 1980 as an interface with the peace and anti-hunger movements
  • The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine was formed in 1985 to reach out to the medical establishment
  • The Food Empowerment Project champions the cause of farm workers
  • The Sexual Politics of Meat and similar books appeal to the feminist movement

A Closing Note


Of course, we should all care about social justice, peace, food security, health, housing, environment, and all other worthy life-affirming causes. Most of us do. As vegans and animal rights advocates, we can certainly see the commonality. In fact, we can and do use this commonality to persuade other advocates to join our ranks.

However, our movement’s interpretation and application of intersectionality does not serve our movement or the animals well. 

Let me count the ways:

  • Other social justice and life-affirming organizations don’t like us, for valid reasons, and attempts to form alliances are destined for failure
  • No other social justice or life-affirming organization has ever shown any concern for animal rights
  • Despite its broad mandate, the intersectionality practiced in the AR movement focuses narrowly on orthodox solutions to issues of race and gender
  • Anyone who does not share these narrow views is immediately flamed, cast out, and shunned, damaging morale, and losing effective activists
  • The intersectionality practiced within the AR movement is rejected even by its founder – Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
  • At best, our preoccupation with intersectionality distracts from our work of saving animals

The animals and their unspeakable tragedy deserve much better than a movement that acts like an exclusive social club. They deserve a movement that is a big tent, where all people of different color, religion, social class and religious and political beliefs can work together under the banner of animal liberation from all forms of human exploitation. Where the only key for admission is saving animal lives. Nothing less will do.

Disclaimer 
The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement

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14 thoughts on “Latest Post”

  1. I have to disagree with you this one time. The last medical school to use animals for teaching, Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga, finally moved into the 21st century and stopped using animals in 2016.
    https://www.pcrm.org/news/news-releases/last-remaining-medical-school-use-live-animals-training-makes-switch-human
    As a side note, when I was confronted with this barbaric practice (AKA “The Dog Lab”) in medical school, I refused to participate on moral and ethical grounds. The head of the Physiology Department pointed out that shoes and belts were leather. When I showed him that I was wearing synthetic shoes and a web belt, and explained that I had stopped using animal products to the extent practicable twenty years earlier, he accepted my refusal. Things can change, on an individual, and institutional level. Thank you for your good work, helping to make the world a better, safer place for all sentient beings.

  2. Mrs Julie Gaudry

    Hello, yes Thankyou so very much. This write up truly amazing. Yes, all killing must be halted. For true peace to ever achieve, On this earth, and people do justifiy ,that they are above the animals. That the animals, are for them. For all, they want. I am a good person vegetarian. Perhaps to more and more, reachvegan. ? I wear my animal Justice tShirt. And peta necklace, the sheer hate? I have always believed ,animals are way above us. Before I die, The hope this will finally, be stopped? To my animal, friends all. God Bless all. And esp the animals. Sincerely, Julie Gaudry

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  4. Alex, while you have chronological seniority on me by some distance, I have been reporting about animal advocacy for just about as long as you have been involved, more than 50 years now, and I don’t “remember a time when we did not fight about our differences.” Worse, I don’t remember a time when animal advocacy did not constantly commit self-sabotage by, on the one hand, demanding a higher standard of morality from fellow humans toward animals, a demand to which most humans are at least superficially sympathetic, while on the other hand displaying and tolerating from leadership a frequent disregard for morality as most fellow humans understand it. One cannot effectively preach morality on one topic while not demonstrating morality across the spectrum of human values and behavior. There are few of the Ten Commandments, unfortunately, which many of the most prominent leaders of animal advocacy have not frequently and flagrantly broken, often thereby alienating the very people who need to be persuaded. Animal advocates must not tolerate such conduct, especially from highly visible leaders, if the cause is to advance, instead of shrinking back into a self-isolated cult. Accordingly, Beth & I, through ANIMALS 24-7, give emphasis to exposing those who rob, steal, and embezzle from animal advocacy, who sexually and otherwise exploit staff and volunteers, who neglect or otherwise harm animals in their care,
    and whose tactics include violence and threats of violence. Certainly persons accused should always get a fair trial and the opportunity to defend themselves, but in the same interest of fairness and decency toward all, victims and witnesses must not be intimidated and dissuaded from testifying in the name of the sort of group unity that is the mark of self-cannibalizing cults, not of dynamic, successful, growing movements for social change.

  5. Thank you for this bold post. I hope we can move past call-out culture and unite on the issues that matter. Fingers seem to be pointing in the wrong direction!

  6. VIVIENNE BEN-SHIR

    What an excellent article. I stopped going to animal rights protests a few years ago because of all the political insults being thrown at people from the left and the “wokists”. Animal rights should be a separate, compassionate issue for all.

  7. I think you’re skating over the history somewhat. In relation to welfare vs abolition, it was the “small group of friends” (Shapiro, Friedrich, Ball (1)) that decided to unilaterally divide the vegan movement because they believed that lowering standards would make it more “effective” and inclusive. There were plenty of issues here, as related on the humane myth website (2). But in the end it was an abuse of power from nonprofit professionals in relation to a more radical grassroots movement they sought to manipulate to serve their preferred agenda and careers.

    With Open Philanthropy, Lewis Bollard was given control of resource distribution, he was formerly of HSUS and mentored by Pacelle and Shapiro, and his favoured authors happen to be Singer and the conservative Scully. It’s not too surprising what that meant in terms of which projects (gassing chickens, slow growing chickens, “cage free eggs”, tech approaches) and organisations (like The Humane League, CiWF) would get a huge boost in funding, whilst leaving others to struggle to be heard in a woefully underfunded movement.

    Even in terms of your criticisms of “woke” culture, this to me is also largely about power. Some years ago I thought it seemed that FARM was on a slightly more promising path, but unfortunately no one could keep to it.

    The animal rights movement is about fairness, justice and respect. The arrogance of the most prominent leaders (who also mostly happen to be white and male, which is hardly a coincidence) that find that too demanding (Singer included), with their “pragmatism”, meant that many of the people that ought to have had higher standards in their relations to other people failed miserably, and much harm was done to the movement, or “civilians” as some of the professional “thought leaders” refer to us.

    1. https://qz.com/829956/how-the-vegan-movement-broke-out-of-its-echo-chamber-and-finally-started-disrupting-things/

    2. https://www.humanemyth.org/

  8. I’ve been talking about intersectionalism and woke cults for almost a decade.
    For the mere fact of defending nonhuman animals, I have been told I’m a nazi, a fascist, and other similar things.

    The ideology of breaking off into tribes based on immutable characteristics, fuels the hundreds of millions of narcissists on social media and bulldozes over working toward rights for actual victims. Cultural marxism, moral relativism, and postmodernism, will essentially destroy everything. They get into every organization, group, recreational activity, business, and leisure hobbies, and start dissecting everything until everyone with any dignity is forced to leave.

    I appreciate your effort here. Hope you’re ready for a bunch of lunatics to call you a litany of names, such as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, and any other ridiculous label these creeps use to shut others up.

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