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Obstructionists: Identifying and Handling Them

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Obstructionists: Identifying and Handling Them
from No Compromise Issue 4

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's greatest stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advised the Negro to wait until a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will." - Martin Luther King Jr., excerpt from his April 16, 1963 letter from Birmingham City Jail.

Infiltrators, informers, and agent provocateurs are not the only threats our movement faces. There's also the obstructionists: activists who prevent others from doing the actions necessary to bring about real and significant change.

Obstructionists can be found in every movement. Martin Luther King Jr. called them "moderates" and Malcolm X called them "Uncle Toms." As King's quote from above says, obstructionists hinder the movement more than its opponents.

Their harm arises out of the fact that they are "one of us." Because of this, good activists often capitulate to the obstructionist's demands of inaction or ineffective action to maintain movement unity. Movement unity is an important goal to strive for, but it should not be achieved at the expense of the animals. In opposing most actions, obstructionists also tie up good activists' time and energy in argument. These repeated and unproductive verbal fights frustrate and dishearten the good activists, and can drive them to burnout.

Because of the harms obstructionists cause, it is important we recognize them and deal with them appropriately. The following is a list of characteristic traits of an obstructionist.


1. Despise many non-violent tactics. Obstructionists pretend to hate controversy and ill-will leading them to argue against direct action like civil disobedience. They fear protests might get "out-of-control" so they take precautions to ensure it doesn't. They might not allow chanting, or they might appoint protest monitors to keep activists "orderly". The police and other authorities are often their best friends. Obstructionists obey all commands of the police and have no problem giving them whatever information they request.

Strangely enough, although obstructionists act like they oppose controversy and ill-will, they only seem to hate it when directed at animal abusers, for they typically have no problem verbally thrashing good activists who suggest the group take other, more effective actions.

2. Overly concerned with image. One of the obstructionists main arguments against effective actions includes their desire to maintain a "good" image. They fear direct action makes them look "extreme", and "radical." They have volumes of anecdotal evidence which they recite to show that direct action harms our image.

Certainly there is some room and need to discuss image. We don't want us, as messengers, to distract from the message. But at the same time, we must not let concerns of image unnecessarily waste precious time. When considering the impact of an action on our image, we should ask the question: Does this action make us look committed, determined, sincere, and unwilling to tolerate animal abuse? or does it make us look weak, apathetic, and apologetic? By answering this simple question we can determine whether to do the action, or work on organizing a better one.

Furthermore, the animal rights movement is not a public relations firms. We are educators, and in order to educate we need to agitate. Only by waking people out of their slumber of complacency will we be able to get their attention and show them the horrors of animal abuse. Large animal- abusing, environment-raping, human-oppressing companies need P.R. Firms because they have to cover-up their destructive practices and sugar- coat their atrocities. We, on the other hand, have nothing to hide. So don't spend too much time worrying about image, and be wary of those who do.

3. Must have total control. Obstructionists must always have their way. Non-participation with actions they disagree with is not good enough for them. They have a burning desire to ensure those actions don't happen. Yelling, crying, guilt-trips, abuse of power, lies, back-stabbing and playing on your sympathy are some of the artillery obstructionists use to get you to obey their will.

Certainly everyone has a right to their opinion, but compromise between activists should be a give and take proposition. You will find obstructionists always take and never give.

4. Sabotage good activists. Obstructionists often try to minimize the effectiveness of good activists. They do this for a variety of reasons. Good activists make them look bad by making more sacrifices for animal, which results in more positive change for animals. Unfortunately, instead of trying to do more to help animals, obstructionists prefer to degrade good activists in an attempt to make themselves look better. Other reasons for obstructionists to sabotage good activists includes they are jealous, power- hungry, or have an overly-developed ego.

Obstructionists attack good activists in many ways. They prevent them from getting the resources they need to be effective, kick them out of the organization, paint their successes as tragedies that hurt the movement, spread damaging rumors about them, and use other under-handed ploys to regain control and get their way.

5. Weak on issues. Although this is not always the case, they are often weak on the issues. They argue against veganism, make excuses for animal abusers, and despise direct action activists more than animal abusers.

Unfortunately, not all obstructionists are as clearly defined as the descriptions given above. They definitely work on a continuum and sometimes it is hard to tell if they are an obstructionist or just a naive activist. Therefore, the below rules on handling obstructionists can be applied when working with all activists. These simple rules will help minimize the negative effects of obstructionists, while encouraging movement unity.


1. Work together when possible. Work with other activists -- obstructionists or not -- on issues and actions that you agree with. Don't be afraid to work with them and support their actions which help animals. Hard-core obstructionists will often refuse to work with you, treating you like some kind of slime mold instead of graciously accepting your help. Regardless of their unwillingness to work with you, continue to offer your help and support for their effective activities. It should be the obstructionists who prevent movement unity, not you.

2. Expect compromise to go both ways. As animal activists in a diverse movement, we must realize that not every activist can get their way all the time. When working with other activists be prepared to make compromises (on actions NOT Animals!!!), but make sure they are willing to reciprocate. If they are unwilling to do this, it might be time to part ways.

3. Follow your conscience. The best advice when dealing with activists is to follow your conscience. Even if it leads you in directions that are uncharted or scary, it will not lead you astray. If the group you started has been infiltrated by obstructionists, your conscience might tell you to leave it and start over. It might not always lead you in an easy direction, but it will lead you down rewarding paths. Don't fear following its lead.

4. Speak the truth, but don't get hostile. Obstructionists are quick to anger. Respond to their yelling by calmly stating your ideas, arguments, and opinions. Their inaccuracies and distorted half-truths must be confronted and corrected, but don't meet their hostility with similar anger. Our actions need to show that any disunity in the movement is not caused by direct action activists. We must always be willing to work with others, even those we disagree with. However, we cannot let ourselves become obstructionists' doormats.

5. If you are an obstructionist . . . Some people reading this might recognize some or all of the traits of an obstructionist in themselves. If this is the case, it is a good time to evaluate your involvement in the movement and your relationship with other activists. However, since all activists should strive to better themselves, I invite all readers to take some time
and answer the following questions:

What are your priorities?

Where do the animals fall into those priorities?

How much are you willing to sacrifice for the animals?

Do you treat other activists with respect?

Why or why not?

Does your involvement with the movement stem from ulterior motives?

What personal fears do you have about your involvement with the movement or direct action?

If your fears are realized, would life really end?

Do you spread damaging gossip about other activists?

What three promises could you make or actions could you do to become a better activist?

After taking some time to answer these questions, please take action to make yourself a selfless activist for animals who treats other activists with the respect they deserve.

Merritt Clifton: Obstructionist Extraordinaire Clifton is a perfect example of an obstructionist. He vehemently denounces being an animal rights activist (which is true), even though he has no problem giving activists "pointers" and explaining to them their "mistakes". Instead of an activist, he claims to be an unbiased "journalist" who believes in the humane ethic.

Clifton's paper Animal People has spread his obstructionist ideas to all corners of North America's animal movement. In it, he defends businesses like Proctor & Gamble, McDonalds, and Sea World; rants about the "psychotic" A.L.F. activists; and pleads for activists to work with abusers to bring about change for the animals.

Clifton, with the help of his paper, has helped lull the movement into a complacent slumber -- our outrage was pacified, ineffective campaigns were looked upon as the animals' salvation, and direct action was dismissed as extremist and ineffective. This is a good example of the potential dangers that obstructionists pose to our movement.

In accordance with obstructionist tendencies, Clifton opposes the non- violent direct action of the A.L.F. Clifton's fanatical hatred of the Animal Liberation Front is legendary. He considers the A.L.F. to be "nightriders", "psychopaths", and "terrorists". He compares them to the Ku Klux Klan, saying they operate on the same principle that "might makes right".

He down-plays the A.L.F.'s successes and assumes the worst. When the A.L.F. liberated 1,200 animals from the University of Arizona in 1989, he argues that the A.L.F. torched the labs -- mice and all! Not even the vivisectors entertain such a ridiculous idea. Clifton still doesn't seem to understand that members of the A.L.F. believe in animal rights, and would not harm animals.

True to obstructionist's principles, Clifton's main argument against the A.L.F. is that they hurt our image. Clifton argues this image problem makes: abusers less willing to implement humane changes, the media less willing to run stories on animal issues, and the public less willing to adopt humane lifestyle. In Clifton's words, "[coverage of A.L.F. activities] tends to increase the perception that animal rights activists are terrorists, crazy, and dangerous."

Clifton, although willing to bend over back-wards to speak well of the abusers, apparently has no problem trying to destroy good direct action activists. As any educated activist knows, you do not spread rumors that other activists are infiltrators without hard evidence (read War at Home; Covert Actions Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It by Brian Glick), or rumors linking people with illegal activities. However, he has publicly argued on the internet that two people involved with the production of No Compromise are agent provocateurs on the basis that they support direct action. Clifton has also publicly suggested that three No Compromise activists, whom he mentioned by name, were involved in certain specific A.L.F. actions which none of them had been arrested or convicted for. I have not repeated the names of the people he has tried to denigrate because those rumors are nothing more than damaging lies which must be buried.

As someone who claims to have been involved with environmental, peace, and animal issues for over two decades, Clifton should know better. I think he does know better. And it is precisely because he knows how harmful these rumors can be that he uses them. Direct action threatens his perceived "empire" that he has created with Animal People and he wants radical actions stopped. Since he doesn't recognize the fact that direct action stems from committed people who demand change now, he is attacks the messenger that reports on direct action, No Compromise, by attacking those people involved in its production.

Clifton is also weak on the issues. For starters, he admits to not being vegan while traveling. Equally egregious, he defends Sea World, Proctor & Gamble, and McDonalds. He argues that Sea World has the world's largest tanks, rescues dolphins, promotes environmental education, and has not captured animals from the wild for over a decade. I guess we should just ignore the fact that the animals are still imprisoned and that any tank, no matter how large, is still a toilet when compared to the ocean.

When defending the vivisectors, Proctor & Gamble, Clifton argues that P&G have donated $45 million to developing alternatives to animal tests, reduced animal use by 56%, and in 1984 made a corporate commitment to phase out all animal tests as quickly as possible. But if P&G is so good why is it that more than a decade after their "corporate commitment", they continue to slice, dice, and sacrifice animals for profit?

And how could Clifton possibly defend McDonalds? Because the golden arches signed an agreement to only purchase brutalized carcasses from factory farmers that meet the humane standards set up by some meat promoting organization. Well, hooray for the largest animal killer in the world! Hey Merritt, sign me up for the Humane Auschwitz Now campaign!

With friends like Clifton, the animals don't need enemies. There are many obstacles in our way towards animal liberation -- the abusers, the authorities, infiltrators, and agents. But we must also remember that even those who claim to be friends of the animals can also be obstacles. Just be sure to always place the interests of animals foremost in your mind and follow your conscience when determining what is right and wrong. Think for yourself and don't be afraid to rock the boat if that's where your conscience dictates.

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