Single-issue campaigns in animal rights

By on May 2, 2011

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This post debuts a new feature on The Thinking Vegan: TTV Consortium. In this series, we ask vegans engaged in different kinds of activism a question, and post their responses, to show a diversity of perspectives on the same topic. This is not a forum for ‘professional experts’ and thought leaders, but a space for community voices. We hope you’ll join the discussion below in the comments.

Many vegans in the community will not support so-called “single issue campaigns” such as fur or vivisection. They feel that outreach should be focused on vegan education. Others feel that these campaigns are a way of bringing people into the movement, and they have the potential to be tactically successful. Do you support single issues? If so, please explain which issues you feel are worthy and why.

 

I support single-issue campaigns only if they (1) don’t throw other species under the bus, and (2) make it clear that any animal use is unacceptable. Don’t say that you’re against the killing of whales, dogs or elephants because they are special; it implies that other animals are not special or are less deserving of rights. Instead, focus on the fact that they are sentient and try to make it clear that you oppose the use and killing of all sentient beings.

Regarding which single issues are worthy, I believe it’s more effective to focus on ending a use or saving lives, rather than regulating a use. For example, campaigns that chip away at the edges of animal use are saving lives. The edges – the issues where much of the public is on our side – are where we can save lives right now. Suffering is suffering, but some uses are more obviously wrong to the general public than others. (Not more wrong, but more obviously wrong.) You might not be able to convince Aunt Mary to go vegan, but you might be able to convince her that fur, cosmetics testing and hunting on National Wildlife Refuges are wrong. And when enough Aunt Marys believe in something, legislators will listen.

Saving lives is not just about ending uses of animals. Other campaigns to save lives include TNR (trap, neuter, release of feral cats), protecting wild habitats, and fighting breed-specific legislation.

On the other hand, telling people to buy cage-free eggs is problematic because you are telling people to buy eggs. Let the exploiters try to convince the public that their form of exploitation is better than their competitor’s – that’s not an animal rights message. Campaigns to reform the industry are one thing, but telling people which animal exploiters to support is another.

Will incremental reforms lead to abolition? I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but with such limited resources, I believe the movement should focus on campaigns that will save lives, including vegan education.

I know that some activists feel that single-issue campaigns do not advance animal rights, but I believe that they do if done correctly. Also, single-issue campaigns give us a chance to save some animals today, before the world is vegan.

Doris Lin

About.com Guide to Animal Rights

 

I support single-issue campaigns for several reasons. First, sometimes they are winnable, which means immediate amelioration of animal suffering. Second, sometimes a single issue is a valuable way to educate the public because the facts are tangible and the images are vivid. Third, it bugs me to see animal abusers go about business as usual without anyone objecting.

Some of the campaigns I’ve been involved in over the past year include fur, foie gras, rodeos, circuses, lobster games and puppy mills.

Dave Simon

Orange County People for Animals

 

I support any action – individual or collective – consistent with the philosophy and goals of anti-speciesist animal liberation.

If a person or group of people were to demonstrate in order to denounce, and demand a total ban on, the use of any and all other animals as experimental test subjects in medical and scientific labs, I would support them. If a person or group of people were to protest against, and call for the cessation of the use of any and all other animals as sources for clothing, shoes and accessories, I would support them as well. For just as a clear, consistent and compelling argument against the use of all other animals as food can help to call attention to the pressing moral problems inherent in our use of other animals, so can a clear, consistent and compelling argument against the use of all other animals as sources of entertainment (in circuses, marine parks and on race tracks, for example).

Having said this, not all campaigns against the exploitation of other animals are or necessarily will be consistent with anti-speciesist animal liberation. An obvious example would be a campaign against the slaughter of seals in Canada that threatened a boycott of “seafood” from the Canadian markets unless the slaughter of seals was brought to an end. Clearly, this type of campaign would not be consistent with anti-speciesist philosophy; rather it would be speciesist itself. There is no non-arbitrary reason I know of which makes the lives of most of the forms of ocean-dwelling life who end up as food on our tables any less valuable to them than are the lives of seals to the seals themselves. Anti-speciesists ought not to be willing to sacrifice the lives of some other animals simply for the sake of yet others.

In any case, as part of any campaign which I would support or join, I would always make sure that the primary message I conveyed, clearly and consistently, was that any and all uses of all other animals as tools, resources, sources of entertainment, food, clothing, experimental test subjects or anything else must end. When it comes to other animals, this is the single issue I support.

Tim Gier

Administrator at ARZone.ning.com, an online social justice network of activists and advocates in the animal movement; volunteer at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, blogger, Timgier.com.

 

While vegan education is critical to changing public perceptions about animals and ultimately bringing about change for them, single-issue campaigns are sometimes necessary because they don’t fit neatly into the vegan box. Animal research is one of those issues.

Urging people to give up meat and dairy products will certainly reduce animal suffering and transform societal attitudes about animals used for food. But vegan outreach alone will do little to help those animals imprisoned in laboratories across the globe. Behind closed doors of esteemed universities and tucked away in unassuming private labs, millions of animals live lives of quiet desperation. One could argue that of the myriad ways animals are exploited, experimentation on animals is perhaps the most cruel, since animals are subjected to relentless torture for weeks, months, even years. Procedures conducted on animals in labs are horrific – animals, including dogs, cats, mice, rats, monkeys, rabbits, and more are given electroconvulsive shock, exposed to radiation, caustic chemicals, and biological agents, burned alive, subjected to addictive drugs, psychologically tormented, and deprived of food, water, and sleep.

To be effective at ending animal research, a campaign must undertake a variety of activities, such as filing freedom of information requests, conducting investigations, encouraging and building relationships with whistleblowers, developing educational materials, employing social networking, educating the public, establishing alliances with other voices, promoting non-animal alternatives, and generating media. An effort of such complexity requires a level of expertise and focus that vegan education alone simply cannot provide.

Brian Vincent

Founder/director, Stop UBC Animal Research, a community grassroots campaign to educate the public about research on animals at the University of British Columbia; founder/director, Canadian Coalition Against Animal Research and Experimentation, a network of animal advocates working collectively to end animal research across Canada. See their Facebook group page or Twitter.

 

I do support single issues and think they are absolutely necessary. I want to save as many animals’ lives as I possibly can. There are lots of people who eat meat and will continue to eat meat, but if we can get them to agree with us that purchasing fur is unnecessary, then we are saving millions of animals from being skinned alive and clubbed to death each year.

Fur is an issue that a lot of people can and have gotten behind. Yes, vegans shouldn’t wear fur/leather (though some still do: I’m stunned at vegetarians who buy a new car with leather seats), but making the world vegan as the starting point is the stopping point in logical thinking. It’s equivalent to saying that once we have world peace we can start focusing on educating people. It’s the education that needs to come first for people to see that non-violence is in the best interest of people everywhere.

Single issues are essential to make significant change happen in our lifetime. We need to each work on the areas where we are most comfortable. Being vegan is great, but we still need to figure out how to get L.A. to stop euthanizing millions of animals in our shelters. Stopping the sale of fur, eliminating animal testing, or creating more vegans – any and all of these are worthy goals. Every issue matters.

Prahbat Gautam

Co-Founder, Los Angeles Veg Society


* Editor’s Note: although we tried to get comments from activists who oppose single-issue campaigns, none were willing to participate personally. Instead we were directed to Gary Francione’s work on the subject, an example of which can be found here. Francione is a professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers School of Law-Newark.


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Comments

  1. Kait Leonard
    May 2, 2011

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    I support any cause that helps animals, as long as it doesn’t hurt any other animal cause. I think asking people to go vegan is huge, and it sometimes just turns people away because it seems impossible (from their present perspective). Get them on board any way possible. If they want to save a cute fuzzy little being — Good! Maybe as they work for the kitties (or whatever) they’ll slowly absorb more of the issues we care about and expand. I wasn’t born vegan and I didn’t get there in one step. Yet, here I am!

  2. Doris
    May 2, 2011

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    Thank you, Gary, for the opportunity to participate! I do agree with much of what Francione wrote on the subject, which is why my support of single-issue campaigns is conditional.

  3. Doris
    May 2, 2011

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    Thank you, Gary, for the opportunity to participate! I do agree with much of what Francione wrote on the subject, which is why my support of single-issue campaigns is conditional.

  4. Butterflies Katz
    May 3, 2011

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    I have been a vegan and an activist for 3 decades. I never participated in a single issue campaign. Vegan education covers everything. Vegans don’t believe or support the exploitation of animals; and that includes vivisection, food, clothing, entertainment, hunting, animal ingredients in products, not breeding or buying animals, and even beyond. I like to help inspire a changed perception in people to view non-human animals differently and then that will reflect in the individual not supporting or financing vivisection, the animal ag industry, circuses, zoos, fur, leather, wool, dairy, eggs, clubbing seals, whaling, fishing, etc. Veganism, is my single issue campaign that is all about not harming, confining, enslaving or oppressing other species for any humancentric reason. I campaign for veganism which is synonymous with non-speciesism and non-violence. It is humanity’s next evolutionary step and in order for us to become a civilized society, we need to take our evolutionary next step. Vegan education is my single issue campaign that will help everybody and everything if humans adopted the vegan way of life.

    Butterflies
    http://www.VeganPoet.com
    Co-author: Incredibly Delicious; Recipes for a New Paradigm
    by Gentle World – http://gentleworld.org

  5. Butterflies Katz
    May 3, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    I have been a vegan and an activist for 3 decades. I never participated in a single issue campaign. Vegan education covers everything. Vegans don’t believe or support the exploitation of animals; and that includes vivisection, food, clothing, entertainment, hunting, animal ingredients in products, not breeding or buying animals, and even beyond. I like to help inspire a changed perception in people to view non-human animals differently and then that will reflect in the individual not supporting or financing vivisection, the animal ag industry, circuses, zoos, fur, leather, wool, dairy, eggs, clubbing seals, whaling, fishing, etc. Veganism, is my single issue campaign that is all about not harming, confining, enslaving or oppressing other species for any humancentric reason. I campaign for veganism which is synonymous with non-speciesism and non-violence. It is humanity’s next evolutionary step and in order for us to become a civilized society, we need to take our evolutionary next step. Vegan education is my single issue campaign that will help everybody and everything if humans adopted the vegan way of life.

    Butterflies
    http://www.VeganPoet.com
    Co-author: Incredibly Delicious; Recipes for a New Paradigm
    by Gentle World – http://gentleworld.org

  6. Kezia
    May 4, 2011

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    I stole what I thought were interesting comments from a FB post to see if anyone would like to add further thoughts:

    “I fail to see why vegan education could not end things like vivisection.”

    “What problems cannot be solved by vegan education alone?”

    Two questions, same answer: vivisection is not an issue that solely depends on vegan education. It could make a dent, but it wouldn’t end it. Consumers can choose products that are not tested on animals, and purchase 100% organic products (including cotton) that don’t rely on animal tests on pesticides. Consumers can avoid food additives that might have been tested on animals.

    Consumers can stop taking all pharmaceutical drugs (unrealistic, but it’s conceivable).

    But it won’t end all vivisection. It won’t end the military’s use of animals for weapons testing. Even if people stopped taking all illegal drugs, researchers would still study the effects of addiction on animals. No amount of consumer behavior will stop animal research on diseases. (Remember Britches? He was used in experiments simulating blindness.)

    Is it believed that once the entire world is vegan, people would refuse to conduct experiments on animals? Or if all medical students were vegan, they would refuse to use greyhounds or pigs for surgical practice? Is that the theory? Vegans work in exploitive industries now – such as restaurants that sell meat/dairy, clothing stores that sell leather/wool.

    Or is the belief that once all our elected representatives are vegan, they would immediately make vivisection illegal once and for all?

  7. Peter Keller
    May 5, 2011

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    I find it interesting that no-one who was asked by The Thinking Vegan who opposed single-issue campaigns refused to answer personally. I wonder why not? Are they not confident enough in the strength of their argument to voice their view in their own words and thoughts?

    Personally, I think single-issue campaigns are a good way to get the conversation started with people who would normally not listen to a “vegan” message. While vegan education is the backbone of what we do, and is the preferred method, the cold hard reality is that the majority of people at this point simply aren’t going to listen to the vegan message, no matter how charismatic you are, how convincing you are, or how air-tight your arguments are.

    But you may be able to open their hearts to an issue that resonates with them. And that often times leads them to be more comfortable taking on another issue, and then they may then be comfortable cutting out meat, and so on as they take in more information. These are people that would be willing to take steps to something close to veganism, if not truly vegan, but likely wouldn’t give it a second thought when presented with a “you must be 100% vegan immediately” message.

    That being said, I do think that any campaign for a single-issue have the message that recognizes the abuse for all other animals. At fur and foie gras protests, say, comments like “what about leather?” and “what about the other animals on the menu?” are often offered, and it is important in messaging that consistent consideration for all animals be clear and visible.

  8. Peter Keller
    May 5, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    I find it interesting that no-one who was asked by The Thinking Vegan who opposed single-issue campaigns refused to answer personally. I wonder why not? Are they not confident enough in the strength of their argument to voice their view in their own words and thoughts?

    Personally, I think single-issue campaigns are a good way to get the conversation started with people who would normally not listen to a “vegan” message. While vegan education is the backbone of what we do, and is the preferred method, the cold hard reality is that the majority of people at this point simply aren’t going to listen to the vegan message, no matter how charismatic you are, how convincing you are, or how air-tight your arguments are.

    But you may be able to open their hearts to an issue that resonates with them. And that often times leads them to be more comfortable taking on another issue, and then they may then be comfortable cutting out meat, and so on as they take in more information. These are people that would be willing to take steps to something close to veganism, if not truly vegan, but likely wouldn’t give it a second thought when presented with a “you must be 100% vegan immediately” message.

    That being said, I do think that any campaign for a single-issue have the message that recognizes the abuse for all other animals. At fur and foie gras protests, say, comments like “what about leather?” and “what about the other animals on the menu?” are often offered, and it is important in messaging that consistent consideration for all animals be clear and visible.

  9. Monique
    May 5, 2011

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    I think a big problem is the lack of empirical data to help us decide what kind of approaches are truly effective in transitioning people to a non-speciesist worldview. Without real world feedback we have no way to evaluate real world impacts.

    Also, people are very different. Some may be able to achieve sudden enlightenment, while others are more conservative by nature and just won’t make any quantum leaps to a new worldview. Different approaches are needed for different people.

    I am not a person who can leap tall cliffs at a single bound, so the step by step approach was the one that worked for me. It was “easy issues” like circuses and fur that initially engaged my support (without any “threatening” baggage like speciesism attached). After that I was more open to other AR related ideas and eventually came to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

    I don’t beleive I am all that unique. I’ll bet there are plenty like me who can only absorb a radical new ethic in baby steps. If you challenge them too soon you lose them.

  10. Monique
    May 5, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    I think a big problem is the lack of empirical data to help us decide what kind of approaches are truly effective in transitioning people to a non-speciesist worldview. Without real world feedback we have no way to evaluate real world impacts.

    Also, people are very different. Some may be able to achieve sudden enlightenment, while others are more conservative by nature and just won’t make any quantum leaps to a new worldview. Different approaches are needed for different people.

    I am not a person who can leap tall cliffs at a single bound, so the step by step approach was the one that worked for me. It was “easy issues” like circuses and fur that initially engaged my support (without any “threatening” baggage like speciesism attached). After that I was more open to other AR related ideas and eventually came to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

    I don’t beleive I am all that unique. I’ll bet there are plenty like me who can only absorb a radical new ethic in baby steps. If you challenge them too soon you lose them.

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