Joining forces with other movements increases our ability to effect change. Animal rights is fundamental to opposing all oppression, and veganism is the ultimate health affirming lifestyle. Then, why do other social justice and life affirming movements shun us? And why are we reluctant to join coalitions? The answers are surprising, yet helpful in guiding our relationship with other movements.
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.
Coalitions may be defined by the number of common issues, the number of member organizations, and duration. The most common is a single issue coalition, with several member organizations, lasting until the issue is settled. Recent coalitions involving our organizations focused on dropping dairy from U.S. dietary guidelines and interceding on behalf of slaughterhouse workers.
Because we are among the youngest and least influential movements, we are more likely to join an existing coalition than to form one. That involves becoming familiar with existing coalitions, determining whether our own goals would be advanced by joining one, and being willing to submerge or mute our own ideology and priorities.
Animal rights is fundamental to opposing all oppression. Veganism is the ultimate health affirming lifestyle. Yet, we are not viewed as desirable coalition partners by other social justice and life affirming movements. Here’s why.
Animal Rights and Other Social Justice Movements
Many of us have joined the animal rights movement as an extension of our work with other social justice movements, or because we consider animal oppression as underlying all other forms of oppression. Consequently, we have a natural affinity for other social justice movements. We oppose oppression or discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, age, body shape, and all other traits that are beyond our control. Then, why don’t other social justice movements and organizations support animal rights in turn?
The answer lies in what I have termed “the cult of victimhood.” Most so-called social justice movements and organizations, very much like trade unions, were formed for the specific purpose of protecting the special interests of their constituents, or “victims.” They view any attempt to make common cause as comparing the moral value of their victims to that of other victims of oppression. I experienced that personally in speaking out about the animal holocaust. We have all seen this more recently with the resistance of the Black Lives Matter movement to sharing our sympathy and support with other underprivileged minorities.
Veganism and Other Life Affirming Movements
Many of us became vegans because of our opposition to all the obvious global afflictions, including air and water pollution, global warming, world hunger, homelessness, pestilence, wars, and extinction of wildlife. Then why are the leaders and officers of the movements and organizations working on these issues not vegan, or at least, receptive to vegan initiatives?
The answer here lies with what I will term “the inconvenience of idealism.” These people believe in the issue they are working on, but not to the extent of sacrificing their personal habits and convenience. It’s the same reason that most of us still drive cars and eat junk food. Moreover, they are concerned about losing any members, fearful that they may be required to do more than just sending annual “guilt money.”
But, Are We Ready?
Another key question that prevents us from joining coalitions with other movements is how ready are we to submerge or mute our own ideology and priorities in the interest of the desired outcome. How willing are we to mute the notion that all sentient beings deserve equal moral consideration from The Case for Animal Rights? Or the insistence on vegan absolutism from Rain Without Thunder?
Here are some 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 on the menus of a 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
Another 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 formed 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 Sexual Politics of Meat and a number of similar books appeal to the feminist movement
Finally, we can always support other movements unilaterally, without expecting any reciprocity. The Animal Rights National Conference has sought out feminist and African-American speakers since 2018. More recently, a number of our organizations and individual activists have expressed their strong support for Black Lives Matter.
The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement