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Animal Rights Activism

 87. What are the forms of animal rights activism?

 88. Isn't liberation just a token action because there is no way to give homes to all the animals?

 89. Isn't AR activism terrorism because it harasses people, destroys property, and threatens humans with injury or death?

 90. Isn't extreme activism involving breaking the law (e.g., destruction of property) wrong?

 91. Doesn't extreme activism give the AR movement a bad name?

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#87 What are the forms of animal rights activism?

Let us first adopt a broad definition of activism as the process of acting in support of a cause, as opposed to privately lamenting and bemoaning the current state of affairs. Given that, AR activism spans a broad spectrum, with relatively simple and innocuous actions at one end, and difficult and politico-legally charged actions at the other. Each individual must make a personal decision about where to reside on the spectrum. For some, forceful or unlawful action is a moral imperative; others may condemn it, or it may be impractical (for example, a lawyer may serve animals better through the legislative process than by going on raids and possibly getting disbarred). Following is a brief sampling of AR activism, beginning at the low end of the spectrum.

The spectrum of action can be divided conveniently into four zones: personal actions, proselytizing, organizing, and civil disobedience. Consider first personal actions. Here are some of the personal actions you can take in support of AR:

    Learning -- Educate yourself about the issues involved.

    Vegetarianism and Veganism -- Become one.

    Cruelty-Free Shopping -- Avoid products involve testing on animals.

    Cruelty-Free Fashion -- Avoid leather and fur.

    Investing with Conscience -- Avoid companies that exploit animals.

    Animal-Friendly Habits -- Avoid pesticides, detergents, etc.

    The Golden Rule -- Apply it to all creatures and live by it.

Proselytizing is the process of "spreading the word". Here are some of the ways that it can be done:

    Tell your family and friends about your beliefs.

    Write letters to lawmakers, newspapers, magazines, etc.

    Write books and articles.

    Create documentary films and videos.

    Perform leafletting and "tabling".

    Give lectures at schools and other organizations.

    Speak at stockholders' meetings.

    Join Animal Review Committees that oversee research on animals.

    Picket, boycott, demonstrate, and protest.

Organizing is a form of meta-proselytizing--helping others to spread the word. Here are some of the ways to do it:

    Join an AR-related organization.

    Contribute time and money to an AR-related organization.

    Found an AR organization.

    Get involved in politics or law and act directly for AR.

The last category of action, civil disobedience, is the most contentious and the remaining questions in this section deal further with it. Some draw the line here; others do not. It is a personal decision. Here are some of the methods used to more forcefully assert the rights of animals:

    Sit-ins and occupations.

    Obstruction and harassment of people in their animal-exploitation activities (e.g., foxhunt sabotage). The idea is to make it more difficult and/or embarrassing for people to continue these activities.

    Spying and infiltration of animal-exploitation industries and organizations. The information and evidence gathered can be a powerful weapon for AR activists.

    Destruction of property related to exploitation and abuse of animals (laboratory equipment, meat and clothes in stores, etc.). The idea is to make it more costly and less profitable for these animal industries.

    Sabotage of the animal-exploitation industries (e.g., destruction of vehicles and buildings). The idea is to make the activities impossible.

    Raids on premises associated with animal exploitation (to gather evidence, to sabotage, to liberate animals).

It can be seen from the foregoing material that AR activism spans a wide range of activities that includes both actions that would be conventionally regarded as law-abiding and non-threatening, and actions that are unlawful and threatening to the animal-exploitation industries. Most AR activism falls into the former category and, indeed, one can support these actions while condemning the latter category of actions. People who are thinking, with some trepidation, of going for the first time to a meeting of an AR group need have no fear of finding themselves involved with extremists, or of being coerced into extreme activism. They would find a group of exceedingly law-abiding computer programmers, teachers, artists, etc. (The extreme activists are essentially unorganized and cannot afford to meet in public groups due to the unwelcome attention of law-enforcement agencies.) --DG

"One person can make all the difference in the world...For the first time in recorded human history, we have the fate of the whole planet in our hands." --Chrissie Hynde (musician)

"This is the true joy in life; being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod." --George Bernard Shaw (playwright, Nobel 1925)

"Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out of his conscience, thus helping to bring the collective conscience to life." --Norman Cousins (author)

SEE ALSO: #5, #88-#93, #95

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#88 Isn't liberation just a token action because there is no way to give homes to all the animals?

If one thinks of a liberation action solely in terms of liberation goals, there is some validity in viewing it as a token, or symbolic, action. It is true that liberation actions could not succeed applied en masse, because there aren't enough homes for all the animals, and even if there were, distribution channels do not exist for relocating them. Having said this, however, one needs to remember that for the few animals that are liberated, the action is far from a token one. There is a world of difference between spending one's life in a loving home or a sanctuary and spending it imprisoned in a cage waiting for a brutal end.

Liberation actions need to be viewed with a less literal mind set. As Peter Singer points out, raids are effective in obtaining evidence of animal abuse that could not otherwise have come to light. For example, a raid on Thomas Gennarelli's laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania obtained videotapes that convinced the Secretary for Health and Human Services to stop his experiments.

One might also bear in mind that symbolic actions have been some of the most powerful ones seen throughout history. --DG

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." --Edmund Burke (statesman and author)

SEE ALSO: #89-#91

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#89 Isn't AR activism terrorism because it harasses people, destroys property, and threatens humans with injury or death?

The answer to question #87 should make it clear that most AR activism cannot be described as extreme and, furthermore, that not even all acts described as extreme could be thought of as "terrorism". For example, a peaceful sit-in is highly unlikely to put others in a state of intense fear. Thus, it is not correct to characterize AR activism generally as terrorism.

One of the fundamental guidelines of the extreme activists is that great care must be taken not to inflict harm in carrying out the acts. This has been borne out in practice. On the very rare occasions when harm has occurred, the mainstream AR groups have condemned the acts. In some cases, the authors of the acts have been suspected to be those allied against the AR movement; their motives would not require deep thought to decipher.

The dictionary defines "terrorism" as the systematic use of violence or acts that instill intense fear to achieve an end. Certainly, harassment of fur wearers, or shouting "meat is murder" outside a butcher shop, could not be considered to be terrorism. Even destruction of property would not qualify under the definition if it is done without harming others. Certainly, the Boston Tea Party raiders did not consider themselves terrorists.

The real terrorists are the people and industries that inflict pain and suffering on millions of innocent animals for trivial purposes each and every day. --DG

"If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behavior." --Henry David Thoreau (essayist and poet)

"I am in earnest--I will not equivocate--I will not excuse--I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard." --William Lloyd Garrison (author)

SEE ALSO: #87-#88, #90-#91

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#90 Isn't extreme activism involving breaking the law (e.g., destruction of property) wrong?

Great men and women have demonstrated throughout history that laws can be immoral, and that we can be justified in breaking them.

Those who object to law-breaking under all circumstances would have to condemn:

    The Tiananmen Square demonstrators.

    The Boston Tea Party participants.

    Mahatma Gandhi and his followers.

    World War II resistance fighters.

    The Polish Solidarity Movement.

    Vietnam War draft card burners.

    Martin Luther King Jr.

The list could be continued almost indefinitely.

Conversely, laws sometimes don't reflect our moral beliefs. After World War II, the allies had to hastily write new laws to fully prosecute the Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg. Dave Foreman points out that there is a distinction to be made between morality and the statutes of a government in power.

It could be argued that the principle we are talking about does not apply. Specifically, the law against destruction of property is not immoral, and we therefore should not break it. However, a related principle can be asserted. If a law is invoked to defend immoral practices, or to attempt to limit or interfere with our ability to fight an immoral situation, then justification might be claimed for breaking that law.

In the final analysis, this is a personal decision for each person to make in consultation with their own conscience. --DG
"Certainly one of the highest duties of the citizen is a scrupulous obedience to the laws of the nation. But it is not the highest duty." --Thomas Jefferson (3rd U.S. President)

"I say, break the law." --Henry David Thoreau (essayist and poet)

SEE ALSO: #89, #91

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#91 Doesn't extreme activism give the AR movement a bad name?

This is a significant argument that must be thoughtfully considered. In essence, the argument says that if your actions can be characterized as extremist, then you are besmirching the actions of those who are moderate, and you are creating a backlash that can negate the advances made by more moderate voices.

The appeal to the "backlash" has historical precedent. Martin Luther King heard such warnings when he organized civil-disobedience protests against segregation. Had Dr. King yielded to this appeal, would the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts have been passed?

Dave Foreman, writing in "Confessions of an Eco-Warrior", points out that radicals in the anti-Vietnam War movement were blamed for prolonging the war and for damaging the "respectable" opposition. Yet the fear of increasingly militant demonstrations kept President Nixon from escalating the war effort, and the stridency eventually wore down the pro-war establishment.

The backlash argument is a standard one that will always be trotted out by the opponents of a movement. Backlash can be expected whenever the status quo is challenged, regardless of whether extreme actions are employed. The real question to ask is: Does the added backlash outweigh the gains achieved through extreme action? The answer here is not clear and we'll leave it to the informed reader to make a judgement. Two books that might help in assessing this are "Free the Animals" by Ingrid Newkirk, and "In Defense of Animals" by Peter Singer.

The following argument is paraphrased from Dave Foreman: Extreme action is a sophisticated political tactic that dramatizes issues and places them before the public when they otherwise would be ignored in the media, applies pressure to corporations and government agencies that otherwise are able to resist "legitimate" pressure from law-abiding organizations, and broadens the spectrum of activism so that lobbying by mainstream groups is not considered "extremist". --DG

"My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt." --Anna Sewell (author)

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." --Frederick Douglass (abolitionist)

SEE ALSO: #87-#90

 

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