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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.