49. 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.

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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