Social movements, like all living and prospering entities, must evolve and grow, else they wither and die. In the next decade, our movement will face massive challenges with direct consequences for the lives and deaths of billions of sentient beings. These challenges impact our personal, organizational, and strategic choices. Please join me in exploring the options.
Improving Our Communication
As we grow up, parents, teachers, and bullies control our behavior through the highly effective control devices of guilt, destructive criticism, shame, and humiliation. These devices damage our self-image and rob us of our potential. They are also extremely counter-productive in situations with an equal power balance, as in dealing with fellow activists or vegan prospects.
Social media has greatly aggravated this problem. It enables us to ruin reputations, careers, and relationships with a few strokes of our keyboard, and with no way to correct errors or to make amends. We can even do this anonymously to avoid accountability.
So, our first personal challenge for the next decade is to develop effective communication skills with one another and with people we are attempting to bring into our lifestyle.
Networking Our Movement
The key elements that define a movement include common vision, publications, news service, conference, and working groups. We do have a common vision of freeing animals from all forms of human slavery. A number of books, blogs, podcasts, and videos have been created to support that vision. Plant Based News is our leading news service. Covid-19 has placed our national animal rights conference on hold.
Our collective challenge for the next decade is to consider and implement additional measures designed to improve intra-movement communication and cooperation.
Here are some options:
- Developing encyclopedic websites that list all available resources for getting folks to drop animals from their menus, including recipes, videos, handouts, and so forth
- Developing regional advocacy training seminars, or national advocacy training webinars
- Developing inter-organizational working groups on special-interest topics like video production, vegan advocacy, engaging institutions, online marketing, personnel management, and fund raising
- Focusing on our common vision of animal liberation, while attempting to set aside strategic differences and disagreements on the best way to solve other social problems
Reviewing Our Paths to Animal Liberation
Although we all share the animal rights vision of a world where humans no longer exploit animals for food, fashion, science, or amusement, we follow different paths for getting there. Here are the four most common ones:
- Hands-on animal advocates rescue a limited number of animals and maintain sanctuaries
- Animal welfare advocates focus on getting animals out of their cages and out of doors
- Animal rights advocates focus solely on promoting veganism and animal rights ideology
- Food reformers seek to save the greatest number of animal lives by getting the greatest number of people to replace animal-based foods with plant-based versions
Advocates of the food reform path observe that food decisions are based primarily on convenience, taste, and cost, rather than ethical concerns. They argue that, once people have adopted a largely animal-free diet, they will be much more likely to embrace the animal rights ideology.
The food reform path requires a massive reform of our national food system, including its components of supply, replacement, distribution, and demand. Our most likely contribution is in fostering demand for animal-free products. Some of the measures are familiar:
- Requesting more plant-based offerings in our favorite restaurant or cafeteria
- Requesting restaurant chains to offer more plant-based entrees and food processors to use animal free ingredients in their products
- Distributing plant-based food samples at events we attend
But, other measures may fall short of our ideals:
- Encouraging our schools and other institutions to engage in Meatless Monday
- Promoting items made or sold by companies generally associated with animal meat products
- Working with people who have no interest in animal rights or other social justice issues
- Accepting meat products grown from animal cells as a partial solution
Our personal challenge for the next decade is to recognize and follow our preferred path to animal liberation, while tolerating the path that others have chosen.
Supporting New Vegans
A 2015 survey by Faunalytics found that 5 out of 6 vegetarians and vegans revert to consumption of animal products, usually for reasons of convenience, social pressure, or health.
Our collective challenge for the next decade is to develop and maintain a national support system for new vegans.
Here are some options:
- Weekly emails with entertaining videos, stories, recipes
- Personal mentoring arrangements as pioneered by Challenge 22
- A searchable directory of vegan videos and other resources
- A geographically driven directory of vegan social events as in VegEvents
Reaching Our Children
One of our movement’s biggest failings has been in reaching out to children. People’s affinity for animals is nurtured by their fondest childhood memories. Toy animals were the very first objects they’ve handled. Their favorite fairy tales revolved around animal lives. Their family dog gave them unconditional love, when their playmates would not. Yet, we ask them to embrace veganism and animal rights after they’ve undergone a decade of meat and dairy industry brainwashing, with unremitting complicity by parents, teachers, and other trusted sources.
Our last, but not least, challenge for the next decade is to develop and maintain a national program of outreach to children.
Here are some likely options:
- Launching websites designed to foster humane education and animal-free eating by children, as offered by Animal Hero Kids
- Arranging classroom presentations through supportive teachers and school officials, as championed by The Educated Choices Program
- Promoting plant-based meals in schools, as pioneered by the Healthy School Food Coalition
- Promoting children’s films and videos that portray animals sharing their own feelings of affection, joy, sadness, and grief as in The Jungle Book, Lion King, Babe, Charlotte’s Web, March of the Penguins, Chicken Run, and Finding Nemo
The animals are challenging us to stop using them for food, fashion, experiments, and entertainment. We are honor-bound to accept that challenge. I hope to have provided some useful ways to do that.
I appreciate the contributions to this essay by Melanie Joy, Tobias Leenaert, Eric Lindstrom, Jack Norris, and Paul Shapiro.
The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement