Recently there has been an increase in the number of people making criticisms of single issue campaigns. These criticisms have made very valid challenges to the logic (or lack of) driving single issue campaigns. I believe however, that as a growing movement of abolitionists develops and increasingly challenges the effectiveness of existing tactics used both by large national organisations and grass-roots activists, we also need to develop a critical awareness of our own tactics and the theory driving these.
At the centre of all these tactics needs to be vegan education. The arguments for why this is have been outlined elsewhere and will not be repeated. What I believe is important as a movement begins to grow and develop, is that abolitionist vegans begin to broaden our critical understanding of our own movement. Firstly, I think that it’s very possible to respond to the criticisms about vegan education having limited scope. Vegan education can take a wide range of forms – even at the early stages of an abolitionist movement there have been a huge variety of education methods used.
Despite the variety of education methods used, there can still be the criticism and indeed the feeling of ineffectiveness. I think this lies at the heart of much of the continued desire to embrace single issue campaigns. The task of vegan education offers no quick or easy rewards. Creating paradigm shifts about deeply ingrained beliefs regarding human/animal relationships is not something that can or will be achieved overnight. I believe that this is partially what motivates single issue campaigns at the grass-roots level. There can be the illusion of victories, and of actual progress occurring, that might seem to be lacking in abolitionist vegan education. I am not wishing to suggest however that this is all that motivates single issue campaigns and welfare reforms, as there are often genuine theoretical disagreements in tactics, however this may be one aspect of the appeal of single issue campaigns.
To move beyond some of the criticisms of vegan education I believe it is necessary to broaden both the theory behind veganism, and the type of activism we do. A major opportunity is available for animal rights activists who have rejected traditional welfarism and single issue campaigning.
The animal rights movement has been widely dismissed by other social justice movements. I believe there are a number of reasons for this, with a large one being the lack of understanding of the theories behind animal rights. I also believe that the combination of sexism and racism that has crept into much animal rights campaigning has greatly damaged the perception of animal rights. This combined with the misanthropic tone of some ‘animal rights’ people, especially in relation to different cultural uses of animals, has further entrenched the idea that animals rights people have misplaced sentimentality for non-human animals at the cost of care for human animals. It is sad that certain sections of the animals rights movement, both at the national and grass-roots level, find themselves sharing similar concerns with the British National Party (a far right British political party) on the issue of halal slaughter.
Seizing the Opportunity
To move away from this, and to seize the new opportunities available, the animal rights movement needs to begin actively challenging other forms of oppression. I believe by its very nature veganism should extend to concern for human animals.
Extending our concern for all animals, including human ones, means that campaigners should think carefully about the privileges they have and the message they are trying to convey. Without a critical engagement with other issues beyond veganism, the animal rights movement will continue to be unfairly marginalised in relation to other social movements.
There are many ways in which vegan education could be combined with outreach on other social justice issues. By trying to address where veganism might relate to other issues of oppression and social justice, we both extend our theoretical base and our practical effectiveness.
Daniel van Strien is a vegan abolitionist living in Glasgow, supporting various efforts across Scotland and the UK.
Daniel is planning his masters on human geography on the human relationship with animals – focusing on the effects of the humane/organic meat movement.