By Claudette Vaughan
Q. Tell VV readers about yourself and the work that Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Centre does.
A. About me... I grew up in the port city of Baltimore. In the mid-1970s, at the age of 15, I stopped eating meat and joined the gay liberation movement. It would take more than 20 years before I would comprehend the subterranean linkages underlying the superficial concordance of those two subversive actions. Back then, it was fashionable to be vegetarian but lesbians were often stereotyped as over-sexed freaks. Today, it's fashionable to be a lesbian but vegetarians are often stereotyped as judgmental prudes. Back then, leftist criticised gay liberationists for taking time away from "real problems" like racism or poverty and now, of course, it's animal liberationists who are the targets of such criticism. I'm a little less vulnerable to such charges than other animal advocates, since my own activist career includes stints as a tenant organiser and the co-ordinator of a centre for anti-racist education. Similarly, my partner Miriam Jones, who is the cofounder of the Sanctuary, worked against rape and for disability rights. In fact, we met during a campaign against a slumlord who was discriminating against people with mental disabilities. During my years as an activist in other arenas, I always had sympathy for the animal liberation movement. If I ever had a few dollars to give away (and that was rarely!) I would donate to animal advocacy organisations. It's funny, back then my vegetarianism felt like a personal rather than political choice, even though I embraced the feminist principle that "the personal is political." I also felt like my empathy for animals was more of a personal quirk than a political stance. Even when I was teaching a university course on the theory and practice of social change activism and insisting that my students understand how racism, sexism, capitalism, and environmental destruction were all interrelated, animal concerns seemed to exist in some kind of parallel universe, unconnected to anything else. It wasn't until I was researching the psycho-history of racism, which led me to investigate the origins of sexism, that I discovered the underground connections between human exploitation of other animals and the various kinds of exploitation that exist among human animals. When I came to understand that the first patriarchal societies were all pastoral (animal herding) cultures and that, throughout history, men who have believed they own women and children have also believed that they own the earth and animals (and vice versa), well, that was like an tectonic shift in my brain -- the landscape changed and nothing has ever looked the same. Shortly after that, the happenstance of finding a chicken in a ditch led my partner and I to start what has become the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Centre and I shifted the balance of my energies to the animal liberation movement. There are so many urgent problems demanding solution. Nobody can work on everything all at once. But, since all of the problems are connected in some way, you are working on everything as long as you remember the connections when you are working on the problem on which you have chosen to focus. How to choose? I believe that we all have an obligation to do the things that we happen to be in the best position to do, whether or not those are the things we would prefer to do. At the Sanctuary, we happen to be in a good position to do certain kinds of things, and so we try to do them, trusting that our allies in the movement and in other movements are also doing their best at whatever they are in the best position to do.
About the Eastern Shore Sanctuary... The Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Centre is located in rural Maryland, in a region dominated by the poultry industry. On the peninsula where we live and work, the industry kills and cuts up 13 million birds every week. There are chicken farms on our road and the transport trucks rumble right past our front door. Often the young birds jump or fall from the trucks, and that's how we got our start, picking up chickens from the side of the road. Of the nearly 200 birds here, about a third are "broiler" chickens who managed to escape being killed by the local poultry industry and about half are hens who were formerly imprisoned in egg factories. The remainder are roosters and hens who needed sanctuary for other reasons; these range from roosters seized by authorities from illegal cockfighting operations to beloved family companions who have been forced out of their homes by zoning regulations or other human nonsense. Our long term goal is to move to a larger property in the same region. We want to offer sanctuary to more birds and also launch a demonstration project to show that its possible for farmers to convert the "chicken houses" now used for factory farming into organic greenhouses for the profitable cultivation of specialty herbs and vegetables. That's just one aspect of our long-term plans concerning local economic development. Farmers and workers in regions like this don't want to be cogs in the corporate machine. Some of them disapprove of the way that the industry treats the birds and almost all of them disapprove of the way that the industry treats people. Meanwhile, local residents who don't work for the industry are less than thrilled by the pollution and resulting health problems associated with the industry. But they, along with state and local officials, have all been tricked into thinking that the industry is good for the local economy. It's not! Not here or anywhere. It's very bad news for a rural economy to be dependent on a single crop or industry, particularly one so vulnerable to natural disasters and market shocks as the poultry industry. So, that's what we're up to locally. Nationally and internationally, we do what we can to contribute to the evolution of a more effective animal liberation movement and to help build bridges between animal advocates and other activists. For example, we are a partner in the Global Hunger Alliance, which promotes plant-based solutions to hunger and aims to arrest the global expansion of unhealthy patterns of meat production and consumption. As the co-ordinator of that coalition, I've done things like go to Islamabad to share personal observations of factory farming with South Asian sustainable development activists.
Q. Watching healthy chickens communicate and play is one of the great pleasures of life. Please talk about the life of a hen after she has been rescued.
A. You can read all about the battery cages and force yourself to face the photographs of the egg factories but nothing prepares you for your first live encounter with hens who have just been rescued or released from such facilities. The first former inmates we took in were "spent" hens who would otherwise have been trucked to a slaughterhouse or landfill after 18 hellish months behind bars. I'll never forget the moment when the first few of them stepped tentatively onto the grass, eager for freedom yet both physically and mentally crippled by the traumas they had endured. They didn't look like birds at all! With their burned-off beaks, their scrawny and nearly featherless bodies, and their deathly pale combs and legs, they looked like ghouls or monsters. It was as if their essential 'birdness' had been stolen from them. But like the marigolds in the Robert Graves poem ("Pull or stab or cut or burn, She will ever yet return"), birds bounce back. Within days of arrival at our sanctuary hens who had been confined to cages in filthy factories are fashioning nests from fresh pine needles and laying their eggs under the sheltering branches of towering trees. Hens who only days before had never seen the sky are finding sunny spots for dust-bathing. Hens who had never before set food on solid ground are tentatively wading into mud puddles or gliding over the grass. My favourite moment of every day is opening the door of the main coop at sunrise and watching the birds come running, sliding, gliding, and swooping out to greet the day, sometimes hitting me in the head in the process. The hens from the egg factories are always the most enthusiastic about everything, whether it be exploring the effects of an overnight rainstorm or digging in a freshly overturned garden plot. I've learned a lot from their ability to let go of a tragic past and have hope for each new day. Speaking of which, anyone who foolishly believes that birds don't mind being confined ought to come over to our house some morning to listen to the birds complaining if we are even a few minutes late in opening up the coops for the day. Or, stop by some evening when the weather is particularly fine and watch the ducks and "broiler" hens linger into the twilight, squeezing every last instant out of the day before retiring into the coop for the evening.
Q. You guys are the only ones I have ever heard of that rehabilitate fighting roosters. How difficult is that?
A. It's time consuming but not particularly difficult, if you understand roosters. Perhaps because of their evolutionary role as sentries and guardians of the flock, roosters tend to be highly sensitive and responsive to danger. With few exceptions, roosters fight because they are afraid -- not because they are naturally aggressive. In the wild, male jungle fowl (the wild ancestors of chickens) squabble over pecking order and territory but do not injure one another seriously. The same is true of feral roosters and the roosters here at the sanctuary. Roosters will, however, fight to the death to protect the flock from a predator. Cockfighting perverts this natural and honourable behaviour of the rooster into a parody of human masculinity. The roosters that have been "trained" as fighting cocks co-operate because they have been so traumatised that they are terrified, seeing every other bird as a potentially deadly predator. In brief, we rehabilitate former fighting cocks by teaching them that they don't have to be afraid of the other birds. We use the same principles that a therapist might use in helping a person to overcome a phobia. We also use the same behavioural principles that a person might use to stop smoking. A former fighting cock spends most of his first few weeks with us in a large cage, from within which he can see and interact with Ñ but not hurt or be hurt by -- the other birds. The cage is portable, so that he can be outside in the shade during the day and then sleep in the coop with the other birds at night. Of course, he has his own food and water inside the cage. We also sprinkle food all around the cage, which encourages the hens and younger roosters to gather around and socialise with him as they eat. He and the older roosters may posture or even try to fly at one another but are not able to fight. Several times a day, we take him out of the cage and hold him close until his heart rate is calm. Then we set him down and allow him to roam freely. As long as he gets along with the other birds in a non-aggressive manner, he is rewarded by continued freedom. But if starts a fight, he is scooped up and put back in the cage. Gradually, the amount of time he is able to be free without starting a fight gets longer and longer until we feel it is safe to allow him to be with the other birds without supervision. We feel awkward about doing any kind of behavioural training with an animal over whom we have total control but, given that that the alternative to coming here is usually euthanasia, we feel it is the right thing to do in this instance. We are, after all, just undoing the damage that other people have done to these birds. Remember, the fighting cock fights only because he is traumatised and terrified. Empathy tells us that these birds are very relieved to learn how not to be so afraid. Certainly, our observation of their subsequent behaviour tells us that they are very happy to be able to have normal relations with the other birds.
Q. You have just written an article "Mothers With Monkeywrenches: Feminist Imperatives and the ALF" for the book Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Critical Reflections on Animal Liberation. Please tell us about that.
A. Steve Best and Tony Nocella have pulled together an extremely diverse set of memoirs and commentaries about the Animal Liberation Front in particular and about non-violent direct action on behalf of animals in general. With an introduction by American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Ward Churchill and a variety of controversial viewpoints represented, the book is sure to get a lot of attention both within and outside of our movement. I want anyone who can afford to buy the book to do so, since Lantern is taking a risk by publishing it and we ought to support them. That said, anyone who can't afford the book can write to me and I'll gladly send them the text of my chapter. My chapter makes the case for ALF as a feminist project. First, I explore the links between sexism and speciesism, explaining why animal liberation ought to be on the feminist agenda and why the liberation of girls and women ought to be on the animalist agenda. Next, I argue that the principles of the ALF are consistent with ecofeminist, anarcha~feminist, and radical feminist principles as well as with a feminist ethics based on the ethos of care. Finally, since practices don't always live up to principles and since we all have room to learn and grow, I issue some feminist challenges to the ALF and to the animal liberation movement in general. The feminist challenges to the movement in general are to increase co-operation, co-ordination, coalition, and communication both among animal advocates and between animalist and other types of activist organisations. The primary challenge to the ALF is to live up to its own principles, particularly in regard to non-violence. It's not good enough to simply disclaim any actions that are violent by using the circular reasoning that "the ALF is non-violent, hence any violent actions are not ALF." If, indeed, violent actions are taken by persons inspired by or believing themselves to be ALF, then the ALF bears some responsibility, particularly when male activists purporting to be spokesmen for the ALF all but applaud violent acts even as they disclaim responsibility for them. I suggest that, since we all know that the ALF has a distributed and secret cell structure, we stop believing any man who claims to speak for "the ALF," since it would be literally impossible to do that. I suggest that ALF cells distribute their communications via people and organisations who can be trusted to stick to the message and not insert their own romantic fantasies of violent rebellion into media interviews. In order to counter the attraction of the ALF to disaffected and potentially violent young men, I suggest that we "put a feminine face on the ALF." The ALF in the USA was founded by a woman. Around the world, the majority of animal liberation activists are women and there's no reason to believe that the proportions are different in the ALF. Throughout history, women and their male allies have depended upon subversive, non-violent direct action to achieve the aims they could not achieve via the mainstream political process. We can see the ALF as simply the latest incarnation of that long-standing historical trend.
Q. Talking about patriarchy and the Movement. The macho steak is perhaps the most visible manifestation of an idea that pervades the entire western food system: that is, meat (especially red meat) is quintessentially masculine food. What are your ideas on the subject?
A. We are, I am convinced, at a kind of crossroads. These days, our movement is in the midst of an intense internal struggle that I believe will ultimately lead us to be a stronger and more diverse force for social change. A critical mass of animal liberation activists has come to believe that, if we are to have any hope of achieving worldwide animal liberation, we must become a broader and more internally equitable movement. This is pushing the movement toward strategically necessary re-evaluation and reformation. This won't be a pretty process. It never is. Think about the venom and vitriol to which black women like Angela Davis were subjected within the anti-racist movement when they pointed out that black women are black people too and that, therefore, no movement that disempowered them could ever lead to true black liberation. They were tired of doing all the grunt work while the men got all the headlines, tired of dealing with sexual innuendoes and patronising attitudes, tired of being interrupted and disrespected and ignored. When they spoke up, they were condemned for taking attention away from what the men (and more than a few women) saw as "the real issues." But they persisted and prevailed, creating a more internally stable and externally effective movement in the process. Coming from the other direction, think about how hard it was for the white leaders of the feminist movement to confront their own privilege when challenged by women of colour to address the racism within the women's liberation movement. They had to concede that, since women of colour are women, no movement that disempowered women of colour could ever lead to true women's liberation. But, it was hard for them to think of themselves as holding power or privilege over other women. They denied, they cried, they claimed that too much attention was being taken away from "the real issues." But, women of colour and their white allies persisted and prevailed, creating a more internally stable and externally effective movement in the process. Now was have a diverse assortment of animal liberation activists, pointing out that people are animals and that no movement that disempowers a subgroup of animals (such as human females) could ever lead to total animal liberation. Logic alone shows that to be self-evidently true. We point out that people of colour are the majority of the world's population (and will soon be a majority in the United States) and that our movement must grow within communities of colour at home and abroad if we are to have any hope of bringing about the worldwide changes we seek. When they think about it, most animal liberationists concede that this is true. We stress the deep practical and ideological connections between the subjugation of women and the subjugation of animals, offering a plethora of current and historical examples. Most animal liberationists are willing to at least consider that this might be true. Certainly, nobody contests the idea that children imprisoned by the sex tourism industry are just as deserving of compassion and liberation as cows imprisoned by the dairy industry. So far, so good. We have something approaching consensus concerning the need for the movement to look like the world it intends to change. We also have a growing awareness that the power of our opponents mandates that we be able to make effective alliances with other social change movements. And, being decent and compassionate people, we all agree that our movement ought not overtly discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, sexual orientation, disability, etc. The difficulty lies in putting all of that into practice. We have to expect that difficulty, be ready for it, not get too discouraged when the inevitable conflicts arise. People who are used to thinking of themselves as morally pure because of their veganism are going to have a hard time confronting the idea that they might still be contributing to the oppression of non-human animals by perpetrating, benefiting from, or colluding with the oppression of human animals. People who have worked in other movements and are used to challenging others (and being challenged about) such issues are going to face a heavy-handed backlash when they try to do that in this movement. That's already happened here in the States, where the animal movement is at least a decade behind the environmental movement in understanding how issues like race and sex interact with the primary focus of concern. It's very hard not to be dispirited because the backlash against feminists has been intense and the kinds of things that some men (and a few women) are saying indicate that they completely missed the cultural changes associated with the civil rights and women's liberation movements of past decades. The hubris! They want to tell people what to eat and what to wear but are shocked and outraged should anyone dare to suggest that they too have something to learn about how to avoid inadvertently harming others or that they, too, might have to change their behaviour in some way. So, we're in for a long, hard struggle but one that we must see through if we are serious about building a movement of sufficient size and strength to successfully challenge the industrial and cultural forces that perpetuate the subjugation of animals. I must admit that I feel tired just thinking about it. But I also feel hopeful, because we already have the skills we need to do what we need to do. All we have to do is apply those skills in a new context. We've all been through the difficult process of challenging ourselves about our relations to non-human animals. This is really just an extension of that process. I have a "four point plan" for getting through this transition. In brief, we need to challenge myths; remember that people are animals; make connections (between issues, between people, and between organisations); and then change our behaviour as needed. As we work toward the goal of a more inclusive and effective movement for the liberation of all animals, we have to have compassion for ourselves and each other. What we are doing together is very hard. We're all going to have to live with some hurt feelings and bruised egos and frustration. But, considering what the most profoundly exploited human and non-human animals live through every day, that's not such a high price to pay for the ultimate liberation of all of us.
Q. Is there any compelling reason you can think of as why fathers in particular are often aggressively hostile to their teenage daughters becoming vegan?
A. I'm so glad you asked that question! Men who have never before paid any attention to food shopping, meal planning, or cooking become instant experts on nutrition when their daughters give up meat. (It's meat in particular, not dairy or eggs, that gets to them.) While they may start off pretending that their concern is purely nutritional, their past neglect of that topic coupled with the escalating emotion of the mealtime conversations tells anyone willing to listen that these angry fathers are motivated by something other than dispassionate concern for their daughters' health. What is going on? Why do so many men feel so very threatened when their daughters give up meat? To me, this is evidence that we all understand, at some deep unspoken level, the link between subjugation of animals and subjugation of women. The girl who gives up meat is also, to some degree, giving up her deference to patriarchal authority. At some level, both she and her father know it. The mother is generally ambivalent, siding with the daughter as a fellow female but with the father as a fellow parent. The arguments can go on and on for years, ruining every holiday meal, because the real roots of the conflict are never brought to light. This is the sexism-speciesism problem in microcosm: neither can be truly understood or resolved until their tangled roots are unearthed. We can't talk about this without mentioning sexual abuse. Here in the States, at least one out of every hundred girls is raped by her biological father and the percentages are much higher for step-fathers and mothers' boyfriends. One out of every four girls is sexually assaulted before the age of 18, with the perpetrators most often being family members or friends of the family. Meat and the male organ are very closely related in the popular mindset. They even call masturbation "beating the meat." So, when a daughter refuses the meat... And let's not forget the other side of the coin. Recently, a young woman dropping off a chicken she had rescued told me that she remembered the exact moment she became a vegan: "Seventh grade. At the dinner table. My father was eating a steak and saying 'moo.' And that was it." That's pretty typical, I think. Particularly patriarchal fathers tend to do or say obnoxious or hurtful things to or about animals. Daughters who may or may not feel comfortable sticking up for themselves will somehow find the courage to stick up for the animals.
Q. Talk about your own veganism Pattrice.
A. During the 20 years during which animal and human liberation were separate issues to me, I was vegetarian rather than vegan and not even an entirely reliable vegetarian. Now I have to work hard to remember what in the world I was thinking back then. Since I've been vegan, my concept of what that word means has evolved. I think that "vegan" has to mean more than just not eating meat, eggs, or dairy; not wearing fur or leather; and shunning products made from or via the exploitation of non-human animals. The bedrock belief upon which the animal liberation world-view rests is the idea that there is no moral distinction between human and non-human animals. If something is not okay to do to us, then it's not okay to do to them. But then we have to add: and vice versa. If we really believe that people are animals, no more or less valuable than other animals, and "vegan" means that we don't participate in the abuse of animals, then we have to be as concerned about the young girls in sweatshops as we are about the young hens in egg factories. We have to care about the battered woman as much as we care about the beaten dog. We have to avoid racist language as assiduously as we shun language that implicitly denigrates animals. It should go without saying that "vegan" also must mean "green," since anything that hurts the environment is necessarily harming the habitats of animals. This kind of thinking sets up all kinds of questions about consumption, which the people who consider themselves "freegan" have done the most work in trying to answer. Which is better: cheap plastic (petroleum product) shoes that were probably made in a sweatshop? Or used shoes from a charity shop, even if they happen to have leather uppers? Which is worse: non-organic local produce or organic produce that has been trucked or flown from far away? There are no easy answers. All we can do is try to do the least harm possible and trust that our comrades are doing the same. If we feel the need to voice disagreement with someone's choices, we need to do it respectfully and with the awareness that none of us is entirely pure. One way or another, almost all of us have blood on our hands. Look at all of the paper and plastic packaging on many "vegan" products! Cutting down trees to make paper and drilling for petroleum to make plastics also hurts animals. I guess I mean to say that none of us can afford to rest easy in our veganism. While we can and should feel good about the degree to which our choices avoid harming animals and the environment, there's a difference between legitimate pride and smug self-satisfaction. If we hope to inspire other people to change their ways, we have to be always ready to rethink our own choices.
Q. Do you differentiate between the rights position and a welfarist stance?
A. I myself take a liberationist stance, for people and animals. I've never said "gay rights" or "women's rights" but, rather "gay liberation" and "women's liberation" because rights are a narrow concept defined within the mindset of the dominant culture. Just as activists taking the animal rights position worry that those working for welfare reforms will inadvertently bolster an ideological system that needs to be torn down, I worry that pleading for animals to have "rights" within a legal framework that we have defined may inadvertently strengthen the stranglehold that the ethnocentric and patriarchal legal system has wrapped around the world. But this is just a suspicion so, while I am always careful to say "liberation" rather than "rights," I would never treat people who are working for "rights" as anything other than my allies in animal advocacy. They are doing what they think is best, on the basis of the available evidence. While we can and should engage in respectful debate about our respective interpretations of the available evidence, must never accuse the other of bad faith just because we happen to disagree. As to welfare: While I believe that our ultimate aim must be the liberation of animals as a class, I also believe that we must do what we can to improve the welfare of actual animals in the interim. Animals are not abstract entities. They are real creatures who experience real pain and who must live with the results of our choices concerning whether or not to try to relieve their suffering. We all believe that there shouldn't be any such thing as political prisoners but, so long as they exist, aren't we glad that Amnesty International is working to end the worst abuses to which they are subjected? Actually, now that I come to think of it, Amnesty International offers a good model of how to work for welfare reforms within a liberationist stance. Here in the United States, United Poultry Concerns does a good job of that, never ever endorsing any kind of animal agriculture but still finding ways to work against specific cruel practices, like debeaking, so that the birds will have some relief in the here-and-now while awaiting liberation in the future. Where "welfare" goes wrong, I think, is in the context of a world-view in which animals are legitimately owned and controlled by people. Within such a world-view, bizarre ideas like "humane battery cages" seem reasonable. People and organisations who see improved welfare under continued human dominion as the ultimate aim must be distinguished from liberationist people and organisations who see improved welfare as an interim goal and may even have a theory of social change in which welfare reforms lead gradually to liberation. I don't agree with that theory but I also don't know of any evidence that welfare reforms impede progress toward liberation.
Q. I think animal welfare reform is a type of na•ve sociology. Na•ve because it acts primarily from a faulty premise which further compounds the current inequalities between human and animal. What do you think?
A. I'm afraid I'm one of those people who runs screaming from the room whenever the "rights" versus "welfare" debate starts up again. As my previous comments indicate, I'm not sure that paper "rights" would have any more actual impact than "welfare" laws. The Indian Constitution guarantees a right to food and yet starvation stalks many regions in India, despite surplus grain rotting in storage elsewhere in that country. In the United States, men no longer have the right to beat and rape their wives and yet so many do so that domestic violence is the number one reason women visit hospital emergency rooms. All of which is to say that I have at least as many reservations about the pursuit of "rights" as those who take the rights position have about the idea that welfare reforms can lead to liberation. The fact is that nobody knows for sure what will be the best route to liberation. If we did know, if the available data led to inescapable conclusions, then all of us who embrace animal liberation as a goal would have no difficulty in agreeing on a course of action. But the data are not clear. No one has done this before. There are some parallels in the abolition and women's liberation movements but undoing a few hundred years of slavery is not the same as undoing thousands of years of human dominion over animals and, let's face it, the women's liberation movement can't be declared a success in a world where women still are property in some countries and the World Health Organisation has deemed violence against women to be a worldwide public health emergency. Back when I was teaching a course on the theory and practice of social change activism, I had the opportunity to devote myself to the study of social change movements. On the basis of that research, it seems to me that change is most likely to occur when many different groups are approaching the same problem from a variety of angles, each doing the things that they think will have the most impact and, most importantly, co-operating rather than fighting with each other. (By "not fighting," I don't mean never debating; I do mean refraining from insulting or demoralising people who share your aims but have chosen different strategies.) Ideally, there is some communication and co-ordination of efforts among the different activist sectors, leading to enhanced efficacy for everyone. All of which is to say that perhaps liberationists who embrace a pure "rights" route to change and liberationists who embrace a route to change that includes "welfare" reforms ought to set aside what has become a tiresome and divisive argument (because there are not enough facts to decisively prove either position) and instead concentrate on finding points of consensus from which to co-operate. I also believe that, where possible, animal liberation activists must work in coalition with people who don't agree with them about everything but do share a specific goal, such as ending factory farming. Why? Because in the course of working together on the thing about which you already agree, trust grows and a natural cross-fertilisation of ideas occurs, leading to more and more points of agreement. That can't happen if you only work with people who already agree with you about everything. That's not to say that every action has to be in coalition. Some activities, such as open rescues are by nature the kind of thing only done by people who already trust and agree with one another.
Q. In Australia we have an appalling track record with regards to indigenous rights. How is racism shaped to some degree by animal exploitation.
A. I'm glad you asked about that, because it was my scholarly investigations into the origins of racism that led me to understand how speciesism is related various forms of oppression among humans. Basically, pastoralism (human dominion over animals) and patriarchy (male dominion over women) -- which arrived on the historical scene together and cannot be separated -- formed the template according to which all subsequent forms of exploitation would be patterned. It's not an accident that people who are going to be exploited because of their religion, ethnicity, disability, or race are first "dehumanised" -- the very act of subjugation is the act of forcing the target group into the category of "animal," which means both "being without rights" and "object to be used." You mentioned the Australian record with regard to indigenous peoples. The European conquests Australia offers a case in point concerning the use of the category "animal" to oppress a group of people. Indigenous people were, essentially, treated as just one more species of indigenous animal, to be exploited when possible and exterminated otherwise. The atrocities that were committed against indigenous peoples would be unimaginable were it not for a long history of treating living beings in exactly the same way. That history made it easy to just add indigenous people to the list of beings who may permissibly be enslaved, killed, or used without regard for their own aim and interests. As long as the category "animal" exists, it will be possible for some human animals to push other human animals over the line into it. If we are serious about ending the exploitation of people, then we have to get rid of the idea of a living being without rights, who can be exploited or killed at will. There's more -- much more -- but that's the gist of it.
We are starting to glimpse a new literature coming out now, like Mike Moore's Stupid White Men and Germaine Greer's Whitefella Jump Up, where people of colour are not denigrated but blame justly is attributed to the root cause of the problem i.e. The white mans attitude towards indigenous people and other races...
This is a step forward for the dominant culture, but there are potential pitfalls. We don't want to mistake the fiction of whiteness for something real. We must remember that "white" is a social construct, a category that was invented by people in order to discriminate among people. While the differences of power and privilege between people assigned to different races are very real, race itself is a fiction with no basis in biological reality. So, while it's a necessary step to identify and challenge the ideologies and practices associated with "whiteness," we can't stop there. We have to challenge the very idea of race, asking ourselves how in the world such a bizarre idea came to have so much power. As it turns out, the idea of "race" grew out of and remains bound up with ideas about animals. Race and racism are natural extensions of pastoralism, which is itself all tangled up with patriarchy. Pastoral peoples control the reproduction of the animals they believe they own. Patriarchal men control the reproduction of the women they believe they own. Both are rather obsessed with breeding and bloodlines. The whole concept of "race" -- as the human equivalent of "breed" in a domesticated animal -- arose in the context of those obsessions and shows the degree to which the subjugation of people of particular communities was patterned by pre-existing ideas and practices associated with the exploitation of animals. And so we come back again to the need to step back and look at the big picture, in order to see how all of the specific problems we want to fix are related to each other.
Q. In western society there is a lack of respect for non-human animal rights. It can equally be argued that different groups of people are treated identically, only varying in degree. A few that spring to mind would be the homeless, the mentally ill, and even forgotten elderly people left to rot in geriatric homes. All of these groups are portrayed as deprived of a sense of self. Lack of respect occurs when one is not seen as a full individual being whose presence matters. Who is to blame here? The invasive powers of a dominant $$$ driven culture or something else?
A. Homeless people and people with mental disabilities (two categories that overlap considerably) have both been dehumanised in the sense of being seen and treated "like animals" by the dominant culture. Indeed, one often hears animal terms when middle class people who are annoyed by beggars or who don't like the sight of ragged people sitting on their pretty park benches. Both homelessness and mental illness have a variety of complex causes, so I don't want to be too simplistic, but there are many points of intersection with the exploitation of animals. For example, the chief proximate cause of homelessness in women is domestic violence, which springs from the age-old idea that the husband is the owner of the animals, women, and children in the household. While some mental illness is organic, much is the result of trauma. Many adults with mental illness were once children beaten by parents who believed that children, like animals, were property to be used (or abused) according to whim. Other adults with mental illness are survivors of warfare, which is the same kind of conquest by force that led to the initial "domestication" (capture and enslavement) of animals. Turning to how homeless people, people with mental disabilities, and elderly people are disrespected or ignored, I think about how many people think about "domesticated" animals. Even champions of wild animals often become insulting or dismissive in relation to domesticated animals. As Karen Davis has often pointed out, what's happening there is blaming the victim for the results of their victimisation. The same kind of thing happens when homeless people (deprived of access to proper facilities) are shunned for being unclean, people with mental illness (survivors of trauma often deprived by economics of proper care) are derided for bizarre behaviour, or people locked away (often against their will) in geriatric homes are avoided because of the depressing atmosphere of those institutions. In all of these instances, just as with contempt for farmed animals, the taint of the crime sticks to the victim rather than to those who have caused the injuries.
Q. Previously, you have spoken about the need not to assume that poor and other non-mainstream people have too much to worry about to care about animals and ethics -- can you speak more on this?
A. The idea that people facing poverty or other challenges are "too busy to worry about animals" is an understandable but very much mistaken attitude that comes from a very well-meaning attempt to recognise the constraints within which other people live their lives. But think about it: What that idea is really saying is that poor people are too busy to worry about right and wrong. That's a profoundly inaccurate (and insulting) idea. With the exception of sociopaths, everybody tries to do the right thing within the constraints forced upon them by their life circumstances. People living in poverty go to church or not, depending upon what they have decided about spirituality. Like everyone else, they debate with one another about controversial cultural issues. People living in poverty are neither more nor less likely than anyone else to take the issue of animal testing into account when choosing between two equally-priced bottles of shampoo. But, they can't take that issue into account if the activists fighting against animal testing have written them off as moral agents and failed to provide them with the information they would need to make that ethical choice. Here in the United States, polls have shown increased support for animal rights among African Americans and it may well turn out to be that "non-mainstream" people are the most (rather than the least) likely to be open to our very much "non-mainstream" message. Whether or not that proves to be true, the fact remains that the "mainstream" is not the majority. The "mainstream" is, in fact, a rather narrow subset of humanity. Add up those who have been exiled from or hurt by the dominant culture -- people of colour, people living in poverty, people with disabilities, gay and lesbian people, survivors of rape and domestic violence, etc., etc. -- and you have a rather substantial majority. There are people who care about and are trying to help the animals in every community. They may not call themselves animal liberationists and they certainly do not have access to the resources of the mainstream animal welfare and liberation movements, but they are there. We need to find those people, share resources with them, and invite them into the animal liberation movement on their own terms and as leaders.
Q. In crafting strategies for vegan activists to reach out to you have named these groups in particular. Please comment on each group.
A. First, let me talk a little bit about what it takes to create and maintain coalitions. The most important thing to remember is that coalitions are relationships. Building and maintaining a coalition is as easy -- and as difficult -- as building and maintaining a relationship. All of the same skills are needed: communication (which means listening as well as talking), empathy, reliability, genuineness and a willingness to share both burdens and blessings. The easiest way to initiate a coalition is to show up to support the efforts of your potential partner on some issue about which you do not disagree (whether or not this issue is directly relevant to animals or veganism). That way, you're not a stranger when you move onto the next step, which is proposing some shared work on some issue about which you already agree. While you are working together on something that is not a source of conflict, trust grows and cross-fertilisation of ideas naturally occurs. Then (and only then) you can begin to talk about the things about which you disagree. In so doing, you must be as willing to reconsider your ideas about whatever their primary focus of concern might be as you hope they will be about your primary focus of concern. For example, a local vegetarian group might initiate a coalition with a local anti-racist group first by showing up for some of their protests against police brutality or racism in education. After a time of getting to know one another, members of the vegetarian group might propose a joint project to get soy milk into the school lunch programme, since the majority of children of colour are lactose intolerant and may have their afternoon learning inhibited by discomfort associated with milk consumption. That project will be worthwhile in itself. Furthermore, as it progresses, the activists from the two groups will get to know and trust one another. Then, the members of the anti-racist group will be more open to information about the animal abuse and health hazards associated with meat -- but only if the vegetarian group is willing to be just as open to what their coalition partners want them to hear about race.
Anti-globalisation activists: These are activists whose targets include many of the same corporations we oppose. The pharmaceutical, agribusiness, and petroleum industries have all earned the legitimate wrath of animal and anti-globalisation activists; we can and indeed must work together if we hope to have a chance against such formidable foes. Furthermore, anti-globalisation activists who have already made changes in their own patterns of consumption for ethical reasons. They're already shunning the products of sweatshops; we ought to be able to convince them to boycott factory farms or go vegan altogether. Issues about which animal/vegan activists and anti-globalisation activists already agree are numerous, including genetic engineering of animals, patents on life, and trade treaties that allow foreign corporations to challenge local environmental and animal welfare regulations.
Feminists: An alliance between feminists and animal liberation activists is thousands of years overdue. It's not an accident that the majority of animal advocates are women and girls. But that's not enough. We have to make explicit and purposeful coalitions with individuals and organisations working for the liberation of women. As my previous answers make clear, I believe that speciesism and sexism are linked at the root, and that we cannot possibly end one if we don't end the other. Feminists are already used to thinking about connections, specifically between race and sex. I think that feminists are ready to hear about the speciesism-sexism connection if we are ready to talk about it and ready to structure our organisations and our actions in a feminist way. Obviously, feminists aren't going to want to work in male-dominated organisations, just to give one example, so all of those organisations in which the one man is also the leader of the group and those organisations where the women do the grunt work while the men get the glory are going to have to change their ways. Women in the movement are going to have to start thinking of themselves as the animals that we all are and embrace their own animal rights. Men in the movement are going to have to realise that it's just as wrong to mock, insult, denigrate, or assault women as it is to mock, insult, denigrate, or assault other animals. In my view, milk is the most promising potential joint project of feminists and animal liberationists. Milk may be defined as the exploitation of the reproductive capacities of the cow in order to produce profits for the dairy industry. Cows are forcibly and repeatedly impregnated so that their bodies will produce the milk intended to sustain their calves. People then steal both the milk and the calves. The cows suffer painful physical ailments, such as mastitis, as well as the emotional distress of having their children and their own freedom torn away from them. Meanwhile, milk products are responsible for an unhealthy acceleration in the onset of menses in girls and are also correlated with breast cancer in women. Thus the mammary glands of cows are exploited in order to produce a product that harms the mammary glands of women. There are so many reasons for feminists to be interested in all of this! The only reason they aren't yet is because we've not yet done the work of framing the issue in a feminist context and then inviting feminists to work with us on it as a legitimate joint concern.
Radical disability activists: Radical disability activists have a legitimate distrust for both the medical establishment and the mainstream non-profit organisations that purport to help people with disabilities. They, perhaps more than any other group, are likely to be open to ideas about how the pharmaceutical corporations (which are often the same corporations that sell chemicals to meat and feed producers) don't want people to know about how a vegan diet can prevent disease and how animal testing is bad science that serves the researchers and the providers of animals more than it serves people with diseases or disabilities. They're already protesting the March of Dimes (for insulting portrayals of people with disabilities); we're already protesting the March of Dimes (for funding animal testing). Let's get together on that one and see what happens. Anti-colonial and agriculture reform activists: Here in the Americas, the importation of pigs, cattle, and horses caused much of the environmental destruction that resulted from the European invasion and occupation. Around the world, colonisation inevitably entailed the replacement of local subsistence farming with cash-crop agriculture. This agricultural imperialism continued long after the period of formal colonialism, as dangerous technologies such as chemical pesticides and genetic engineering have been foisted upon impoverished farmers under the guise of aid and hunger relief. The latest variation on the theme is the promotion of intensive animal agriculture as a cure for both hunger and under-development. Of course, that's absurd! As the non-governmental organisations gathered in 2002 for the global Forum for Food Sovereignty affirmed, industrial animal agriculture is one of the chief causes of hunger. The cure for under-development is sustainable development, which is the exact opposite of the fuel and water wasting animal agriculture industries. The world needs to produce and consume less rather than more meat. Speaking of consumption, there have also been industry efforts to get people in developing countries to eat more meat. And, indeed, as McDonald's and KFC have moved into the urban centres of even the most impoverished countries, consumption patterns have begun to shift away from healthy traditional plant-based diets and toward the unhealthy western meat-based diet. According to the World Health Organisation, this diet change is responsible for increased incidences of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and other degenerative diseases in developing countries. Activists in other countries are very interested in learning anything they can that will help them to resist the encroachments of agricultural imperialism and western consumption patterns. They also need resources to facilitate their work. We have the opportunity and the obligation to do whatever we can to arrest the spread of factory farming and the western diet by forging alliances and coalitions with activists and organisations in the parts of the world into which those dangerous practices are being exported.
Peace activists: Meat is the result of violence. People who say that they are non-violent cannot eat meat and remain true to their own principles. We have to learn to say that in ways that other peace activists can hear. I say "other peace activists" because we ought to be peace activists too. Wars kill animals, destroy natural habitats, and are virtually always the result of the same cultural orientation toward violent domination that is responsible for the exploitation of animals. So, we need to be at the antiwar events anyway. While we're their, we might as well explain to other peace activists why we think that veganism is a necessary component of a non-violent lifestyle.
Q. Lastly, recent theories now coming out of the movement are drawing parallels between the similarities of animal rights activists and "pro-life" people. From a grassroots orientation I tend to hear more women's support for the Pro-Choice argument in animal rights than its opposite argument. Please comment.
A. I understand why people want to make the comparison but I believe that the issues are not analogous and that the effort to make them parallel is counterproductive. There is a superficial correspondence because both controversies centre on a fundamental disagreement about the prerogatives of people in relation to a specific class of organisms. But the similarities end there. We say "meat is murder" because the meat eater is not justified in killing another being for the purpose of the pleasurable sensation of eating flesh. Proponents of meat-eating offer all sorts of justifications for the practice but no one disputes the reality that the killed animal is not the same entity as the meat eater. The argument is about whether or not the killing is justified rather than about whether or not the animal is a separate being. In contrast, self-designated "pro-life" activists call abortion murder, to which self-designated "pro-choice" activists reply: "our bodies, our lives, our right to decide." The crux of the conflict is whether or not the aborted entity is a separate being. Most people agree that everyone has the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies, provided they don't hurt anyone else. Similarly, almost everyone agrees that nobody has the right to kill another person without a justification such as self-defense. The problem is that we don't agree about when a pregnant woman and a developing foetus become separate entities. We can't reach consensus on abortion because pregnancy is a mystery. At the beginning of the process you have a single person who has the right to control her own body and at the end of the process you have two people, each of whom has the right to be free from bodily injury imposed by others. During the process the mother-child organism is precisely the kind of paradox that western culture cannot tolerate: both one person and two people at the same time. It seems to me unlikely that we will ever reach consensus on that question. The United States Supreme Court, in its Roe versus Wade decision, came as close as we will probably ever get to common ground by locating the critical moment at the point at which the foetus could (at least in theory) live outside of the womb. But even that commonsense viewpoint is very controversial because, at heart, the question is spiritual rather than technical. During pregnancy, no scientist or judge can say with certainty where or when the mother ends and the child begins. Even women who have been mothers do not agree with each other about how to interpret the experience of pregnancy and childbirth in order to answer the questions surrounding the medical procedure known as abortion. So, it's not surprising that we don't have consensus on that issue within the animal liberation movement, among women in the movement, or even among self-identified feminists in the movement. Leaving aside men -- who never have to worry about unwanted babies in their bodies and therefore don't get a say in the matter as far as I'm concerned -- we still face the fact that women do not, have never, and are unlikely to ever come to a consensus on the matter. Since we're at an impasse, I wish that both "pro-life" and "pro-choice" activists would spend less time fighting about abortion and more time doing the things that we know would reduce unwanted pregnancies, like making birth control available to everyone, making sure young people know about the ten thousand ways to have enjoyable sex without having intercourse, interfering with the cultural idea that intercourse is required to cement a relationship, ending both forcible rape and coerced sex within heterosexual relationships, and ending the sexual exploitation of girls and boys. If we actually did all of those things, my guess is that the demand for abortions would drop so low that it would cease to be such a big controversy and we'd have an easier time maintaining a fair compromise like Roe v. Wade. Let's face it: Nobody likes having an abortion. It's not as bad as a forced full-term pregnancy but it's pretty bad. It's an often painful operation that frequently leaves women feeling depressed and dispirited. Real reproductive freedom means freedom from unwanted pregnancy. Access to abortion is a poor substitute for true reproductive liberation. I'm going on and on about this because, while I don't think that the abortion controversy is in any way analogous to the animal liberation question, I do believe that reproductive freedom is central to animal liberation. What is domestication, exactly? Enslavement combined with control of reproduction. How does animal agriculture sustain itself? By completely controlling the reproductive lives of the animals under its dominion. What is the one thing that even self-designated animal liberationists feel completely comfortable taking away from animals? The right to decide when and with whom they will reproduce. Control of reproduction is central to both the subjugation of women and the subjugation of animals. Total animal liberation must include real reproductive freedom, which means no more rape, no more forcible impregnation, no more electro-ejaculation, no more forced sterilisation... in short, no more forcing or preventing reproduction without genuine consent. In my head I am hearing the justifications of the advocates of spay-neuter programs for dogs and cats. I don't disagree. All of the dogs and cats who live with me have been spayed or neutered without their consent. But we ought to have the decency to be abashed about it, to see it as an emergency use of power that we shouldn't have in the first place, and to devote at least as many resources to shutting down the breeders, with the explicit aim of one day restoring control over their own reproduction to the animals themselves. How might we do that? I have a few ideas, but what really needs to happen is for reproductive freedom to be embraced as a goal by all animal activists, so that we all can pool our creative energies to come up with strategies. In summary, I think that animal liberationists must embrace reproductive freedom for all animals. We need to deepen and clarify our understanding of the role control of reproduction has played in the exploitation of both women and animals. Then, I think, we will be ready to think of creative ways to pursue that very fundamental aim.