Abolitionists in animal rights movement push for vegan society

Animal-welfare campaigners focus on cute creatures, but some say this isn’t working

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So what is Francione’s solution? Throughout his decades of work, his message has remained the same: as long as we socially and legally regard animals as property, there will be structural limitations on the changes we can make in our relations to them. The problem with welfare-reform approaches to animal advocacy—as well-intentioned and hard-working as those advocates are—is that they do not make explicit the notion that animals should not, in principle, be used as mere things. Francione argues that until our education and advocacy work begins addressing the fact that animals are not to be used, rather than that they are simply to be treated better, there will be no progress in the animal-advocacy movement. It’s only in eradicating the property status of animals that we make progress toward recognizing their rights.

Arguing that we can’t begin this large a change from the top down—because the economy, governments, and media respond to consumer demand—he proposes we take a simple grassroots approach, using creative vegan education to build momentum in our communities. Francione said we need to empower people with information and options until these institutions have something clearer than “we don’t like to hurt bunnies” to respond to.

“Like any other social movement, we have got to change people first; we have got to shift the social and moral paradigm first...for there to be any effective change,” he said. “You’d be amazed how quickly people get the common sense of veganism and...[animal rights] when you cut to the chase and talk about abolition—it’s very intuitive for us. I do this every day of my life: empower people with information and choices to make their own decisions. It’s like most [animal advocates] think no one can understand these issues but them. Do they think they’re special that they can figure it out and others can’t?

“I developed the abolitionist approach because the movement...was problematic....We might as well use all of the millions of dollars and resources currently used to pressure the industry and governments [and put it toward] educating and empowering people about veganism rather than educating them about demanding a higher-welfare product, because a higher-welfare product that would make a real difference for animals would be way too expensive to buy.” He said it’s the eating question that really needs our attention.

“I don’t want people wearing fur, I don’t want rodeos or circuses. But we need to start getting people to reevaluate what we do three times a day...[when we] act out our superiority over animals. We’re all partaking in this hierarchical celebration of violence. Once we see that, and once we get away from that, everything else goes with it. We need to come to a paradigm shift where we see that no animal use, however humane, can be justified.”

He is, apparently, far from being alone in his thinking. He’s published four books on the subject and his Web site is available for viewing in five languages and contains widely circulated podcasts, pamphlets, essays, and videos. “Since the onset of the Internet, the abolitionist animal-rights movement is growing like nuts...worldwide,” Francione said. “Honestly, I can’t keep up with it. And what I find interesting is the extent to which normal people not at all involved in the animal movement can understand the message. The response has been overwhelming; I’m very encouraged by it.”

So why are most animal advocates working so hard to keep the big “animal-rights agenda” a secret? With the intent of trying to ease people into it, they’re alienating most of us and further entrenching the notion that animals are ours to use. If animal advocates are sending us a message that animals don’t matter in a real way, how are the rest of us supposed to figure it out? They’re not really presenting us with all of the choices; it’s not only an insulting strategy but an ineffective one. Whether or not people are ready to respond to the information is up to them, but it’s better we all have a discussion about what’s really at stake so people consider the central issue: what it means to respect animals and their interests.

Comments (184) Add New Comment
Rae
Get's you thinking. A very good article.
Thanks!
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Frank Ronald
About time someone said it. For once a consistent message.
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Ira
So... you're telling me horses and camels are doing just fine?
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Canaduck
A very interesting and well-written article about the growing importance of animal rights. Thanks!
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Glenn
Nicely written, and some very good points.

I do wonder, though, what good for animals do articles like this do? Do they get published because they are potentially controversial? Would this space have been better filled with arguments about why people should consider going vegan instead of criticizing other activists and groups?

I also have some issues with the real lack of evidence on all sides for considering incremental change or straight -on arguing for veganism. This article exemplifies the reliance on speculation as evidence - even though there is no real data to back up any of the claims. I know that doing outreach on the street talking to people about single issues (the environment, factory farming, turkeys, etc) that I have seen people give up meat. I have seen people go vegan after reading Foer's "Eating Animals".

I really wish that an article on animal rights in the Georgia Straight had talked about animals, even a little bit. This article is likely most interesting to people who want to see division in the AR movement and people who want to find a reason to dismiss AR campaigns. And it does nothing to convince anyone that animals are worthy of concern or have rights.
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lore
Excellent article! Thank you!
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nick
that thing is so cute
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Amanda
As people who love animals we expect that the general society will have respect and compassion for animals. But mostly this does not show up in interest or behaviour. Sometimes the only way to get anybody's attention, including the media's is to do something bold. If people's hearts were based mostly on compassion there would be no need for animal activism in the first place. Unfortunately society does not hold the lives and sentience of animals very dearly and somebody must speak up for them.
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Anne Birthistle
The article raises a good point for animal advocates to consider: why try to ameliorate the suffering for animals used in industry if we could close down animal- fueled industry completely? Then it answers its own question: people really just don't get it... Not to sound elitist, but sincerely the average joe can watch a chicken slaughterhouse investigation on the 6 o'clock news and still go out for KFC... He'll listen to the possible side effects of a given medication advertised on the same news programme - a drug that was force-fed to animals mutilated, crushed or harmed in other ways by scientific research, in no way foretelling the often-disastrous side-effects of the drug on humans - and still make a mental note to himself to 'ask his doctor' .....

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ducksrock
What's the Abolitionist action plan? Go vegan and complain about what other groups are doing wrong? This is what I've been able to gather from every encounter I've had with Abolitionists. As a vegan who is not interested in complaining about animal rights organizations I disagree with (or at least not making it the focus of my activism), I find myself unable and unwilling to fit in to the abolitionist movement.

This article, like everything I've heard and read from Francione, starts and ends with complaints about what others are doing wrong. I find this approach simply counter productive.

I think a lot of lazy people use the "Abolitionist Ideology" as an excuse to not do anything for animals. I've been deemed worthless by an "Abolitionist" while giving out Vegan Outreach pamphlets because I also participate in what he considers "welfare" campaigns or perhaps Vegan Outreach is simply not vegan enough. What an easy cop out.

Most people who participate in (insert a long list of AR organizations that are not vegan enough for the Abolitionists) protests are vegans and would not wear leather. And what do you say to people who want to help animals but are in the process of "the transition"? Do you say, sorry, we can't let you protest with us because your concerns are invalid because you are wearing leather? Is that even productive? And how is this article productive?
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Cat K
The article is great. There aren't enough abolitionists groups. It's unfortunate that the one group who can open doors to do presentations on behalf of animals is our local humane society. I'm always shocked to know that a few on our animal welfare committee actuallly eat meat; they call it humane meat. NO SUCH THING!
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Roger Clarke
Before I get to complaining, let me say it's nice to see (1) a story on animal rights on the cover of the Straight, and (2) one where the unquestioned underlying assumption is that the world would be better if all animal exploitation by humans were to end. So thanks for that.

But there were a few things that bothered me. For one--partly addressed by Glenn's comment above--I had to chuckle at Professor Francione's comment that there's no empirical evidence that the campaigns he doesn't like are effective. There's no solid empirical evidence that any kind of campaign is effective! All we've got are (a) anecdotes and (b) victories and failures of limited, single-issue campaigns. Otherwise, we have to rely on the non-empirical: think about how people react to things generally, and base your strategy on that. Peter Fricker hits on a basic insight about human psychology: we're all different in lots of ways, and different things will work for different people at different times; hence, it makes sense to have lots of different campaigns in the running, provided they don't actually hurt each other.

That brings me to the second thing that bugged me. There's a big difference between, on the one hand, hiding the fact that your ultimate goal is a vegan world, and on the other, making "vegan" every second word out of your mouth. (I exaggerate; I don't mean this to be a characterization of anyone specific.) When a vegan group designs a single-issue campaign, it has to be careful about how the issue is framed, and how everything is worded.

For example, leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, Liberation BC hands out leaflets encouraging people to adopt a turkey rather than eating one. What's inside the leaflets? It's not general arguments against eating any animals, ever. Rather, it's information about standard cruel practices on modern turkey farms (conventional or otherwise). There is no conflict between saying that these particular practices are unnecessarily cruel and saying that we shouldn't be farming turkeys (or other animals) at all--but talking about specific practices is the thin end of the wedge to getting some people (not all) to listen to the rest of the argument against animal exploitation. An easy way to get many (not all) people to ignore you is to put "Vegan" on the cover of your leaflet. Packaging matters.

Finally, something I'm more bemused by than irritated: the author seems, while railing against those foolish non-Francione activists, to fall into the trap of worrying more about personal purity and hardcoreness (hardcoretude? hardness of core?) than about effectiveness for the animals. If your message is that we are unnecessarily cruel to animals in deep-rooted, systematic ways, then your message is right whether or not your shoes are made of leather. Because of the very fact that the ways we're cruel to animals are systematic and deep-rooted, the transition to a cruelty-free lifestyle isn't immediate, it's a process. You don't have to wait until you reach Level Five before you're allowed to hold a sign.

But enough griping. Again, I am glad to see such a prominently placed article on animal rights that doesn't laugh at the goal of a vegan world. That's the world we need.
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Frank Ronald
My two cents: I think that the article points to a question that the animal rights movement has been reluctant to address: what is animal rights? No other movement (to my knowledge) has been so confused about the basic ideology that underpins it, or, so unwilling to express it to the public.

Animal rights campaigns should not endorse violence to animals (even "improved" violence). I can think of no other movement that consistently endorsed violence against a disempowered group in their campaigns, or where it was such a radical notion to suggest that their campaigns should not endorse violence. Improved killing methods should have no more to do with animal rights than improved killing methods have to do with human rights.

The public is generally confused when it comes to animals already (we claim to care about animals but are violent to them, unnecessarily, on a daily basis through what we consume/wear). The animal rights movement should be working to counter this confusion rather than further entrench it.

I have seen people of all ages, socio-economic and political backgrounds go vegan. For example, I know people who went vegan when they were 11 years old by simply asking their parents where milk and meat came from. The argument is remarkably simple.
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Carol-Anne
The average person does not think beyond their last meal, let alone contemplate the rights of animals. To attempt to discuss the morality and ethics behind eating animals is difficult enough and is usually, in my experience, dismissed with a 'I don't want to know', let alone bring up the 'crazy' notion that perhaps non human animals have their own reasons to be on this Earth outside of any human interest.

The Animal Rights movement has proven to be exceptionally difficult to command wide spread attention aside from media stunts (that Lisa ridiculed) and those that want to pick apart the individual efforts of eliminating or bringing the attention to one atrocity, such as the seal slaughter in Canada, really does a disservice to the movement.

In the US right now, animal activists and organizations are labeled terrorists by government, media, and citizens alike. There is much resistance to the movement, and it's coming at us from every angle. It's no wonder your average citizen 'hates' animal activists, it's mainstream to.

Lisa, your article leaves me questioning, with the passion you've put forth in this article, who's side are you on?

Thanks for the interesting read, regardless.
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LJ
A very good article, you need to change minds and start when they're young.
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farmer girl
FYI there is humane animal farming. I practise it. As do other "traditional" farmers in my home area and they always have.

It's so absurd, this belief that we are cruel to the animals who lose their lives for us. Not one farmer that I know of mistreats them in any way. Happy animals are healthy ones, we "get" that idea. We came up with that idea... farmers did. We want healthy animals. We like healthy animals. We do whatever it takes to be sure our animals are healthy and happy. (again, not just me, but all my farmer frends)

I raise animals for my consumption, as my pets and for the market. They live good lives here from day one until they get slaughtered (not going to hide behind the word "processed" for you, because we do agree about that). Killing anything is ugly. But it can be done in good way and a bad way.

The world will go vegan when the world gives up guns, violence against women and children, when Americans turn in their guns and ammo, when Christians beome ok with abortion and ........ what else...oh, when the Atheists get everyone to join them. OK? Its not "a process".... its a radical dream. And by all means continue on.... We all need dreams.

So, dont eat meat if you dont want to. But the judgmental stuff is tiresome & you turn your potential followers against you when you judge.

Now, let's see some more articles on humane farming practices and especially SLAUGHTER practises so that people can get some education about the realities of the world.......where people eat meat like they always have and shoot guns and have abortions and dont believe religious beliefs like lambs (... and by the way Nick, that's a lamb. That "thing" that is so cute)

The Farmer Girl

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Gaetanne Leduc
Thank you for the article.

One thing I would like to add it that it is also hard on our human spirit to hurt others, whether animal or human. Throwing paint on a woman wearing a fur coat causes pain. Killing a fox causes pain. And it causes us pain to cause unnecessary pain.

Imagine how difficult it is to work the killing room of a slaughterhouse. Imagine the blinders worn to not feel anything towards the smells and sounds. These blinders stay closed towards other aspects of life.

It is not just the suffering of the animals but all our suffering that we must consider. We shut down our highest spiritual potential for caring and compassion when we have such a systematic way of killing animals. The suffering may be hidden away from our everyday lives and wrapped in plastic but it is not truly hidden away from our hearts.

There are no easy answers. But continuing to question what is possible is a great gift we share.
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Kris Dickie
An important topic portrayed with at least some thought, but as many reader's commented, perhaps the issues at hand were not properly conveyed, or dismissed altogether.

What people need to try and understand, is that AR should not be toted as having gray areas, as many subjects should not. For example, if I truly care about the welfare of the planet, then label me as an "environmentalist", if I do not care, then I am not, I cannot see a gray area here; though my actions may not always be consistent with my beliefs, I at least can strive to improve on them. Same thing for AR, if I do not care about the welfare and how humans interact with the lives of sentient beings, then label me a "speciesist", it's fairly black and white when you think about it.

So for the majority AR groups, campaigns, etc. I do believe that they make the issue black and white, which I believe we need more of, since society likes to create "gray areas" where we can choose to be ignorant and not have to think much on our resulting consequences from our actions.
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Vegan Girl
To Farmer Girl--There is no such thing as "humane" slaughter. You try to come across as someone who loves her animals so much. You probably can't convince yourself of that once your animals are sent off to slaughter so please don't try to suggest that we come up with articles on humane slaughter. It doesn't exist, we can't hug our animals to death. And I do believe that one day the world will be vegan and will look at those of you that kill them for your so called appetite as very inhumane and cruel.
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Frank Ronald
Respectful criticism is a healthy part of any movement/business/community/whatever. Cults refuse criticism. It is a sign of respect to engage someone in a sincere, rational argument. I do not think that the author thinks poorly of animal advocates or their intentions -- they are evaluating ideas and strategies. (similarly, this comment means no ill will to animal advocates)

I think the problem is that veganism is viewed as something close to "purity" or "hardcoretude". To suggest that we stop harming animals unnecessarily or wearing the bodies of an oppressed group is not asking people to live a "pure" lifestyle. It is the least one can do.

I agree that we need a diverse approach. Use diversity, but within that diversity, use a clear message that does not endorse violence against animals. There is an incredible array of ways to do advocacy without using single issue campaigns and animal welfare campaigns.

Do not give in to the defeatist attitude that people will never change and help other advocates doing non-violent vegan advocacy. I have found that engaging with people as though they are smart enough to understand an argument and decent enough to live responsibly does wonders for the effectiveness of advocacy.
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