Abolitionist Vegan Nation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA new vegan abolitionist group started earlier this year,Animal Rights & Rescue of North Texas. It has been instructive, to say the least, as to the energy, time, and money necessary to get a grassroots campaign off the ground. First expenses included meetup fees, business cards, and a few office supplies for members.  Then there was the first Kickoff meeting – with sixteen people expected. It started snowing lightly in the late morning, and despite the number planning to attend, the result was a disappointing zero in attendance. We even had the film,Bold Native, to be shown, with permission from the director. All in all, a big disappointment.

Kickoff Take Two and Beyond

Our Kickoff Take Two had a much better showing, with at least a few people in attendance. The energy was very high; every single one of us had been or continues to be in another form of animal activism, so the experience and vision were a plus.  Our first project was selected — to host a vegan sampling table.  After the meeting, I followed up by contacting the grocers who carry vegan fare, but to no avail. They were not interested in having our volunteers due to liability or for other reasons. We are currently researching other possibilities.

Undeterred, we scheduled support for an animal adoption event and then scheduled another meetup, this time at the new Loving Hut that just opened in Arlington, Texas.  This meeting was very positive, with two new members and lots of great ideas to share, along with the wonderful food.  It was like finding long-lost kin in some ways, so rare are we in these parts. Gratitude was expressed about the formation of the group; at least three members drove quite a distance, with one even taking off work to attend. Such devotion!

Promoting Peace For All Beings

Our next event, a garage sale benefit, will hopefully keep us alive financially for another year, until we can participate in an upcoming event and begin to do vegan outreach.  Our plans to become rescue ready are still on the table, but on the back burner until we increase our membership. Realizing we are in our infancy and still need a more substantial number of members, we nonetheless came up with many ideas for future projects. There is work to be done!

We now have a vinyl banner for tabling events that reads, “Animal Rights & Rescue of North Texas – Promoting Peace For All Beings” and even have a potential venue for tabling. We are part of theFederation of Abolitionist Vegans, a new collective that owes its genesis to Chris Poupart of Canada. This federation will help struggling groups like ours survive by offering support, shared resources, and forums for discussing ideas. One of the challenges for those of us in the DFW metroplex is the distance between cities, making it difficult to remain united and to plan events within a reasonable driving distance for all members. Having an international home like FAV really helps the group to feel part of something larger, to feel supported, and to feel like there are others around the world who are working on similar issues. We know we are not alone. United, we can increase our ability to reach out to our respective communities more effectively.

Vegan Pioneers and a Vegan Abolitionist Nation

A recent article (Hello Donald) by Dr. Roger Yates,  activist and sociologist with years of experience in the field of animal rights, mentioned that we are vegan pioneers.  Out here on the prairie, it can indeed feel like we are in our metaphorical covered wagons (we pull our own, though, and do not use animals), slowly traversing the unknown lands ahead of us.  But with more experienced pioneers such as Dr. Yates to help guide us, and the energy, enthusiasm, and dedication of our members, we are sure to succeed in building an abolitionist vegan nation.

Us & Them

As animal advocates, we can clearly recognize that the world is divided, in the minds of most humans, into two separate categories: us and them.  ”Us” includes all the varieties of human beings, and “Them” includes every insect, aquatic, land, and avian animal. This divide allows the human beings, the name labelers, to distance themselves from them and use and exploit them as they see fit.  It is tempting for those of us working towards a vegan world  to further demarcate humans into still further categories: those who are vegan versus those who are not.

PC or Mac?

Within the human category are more categories still: men and women, young and old, various nation-states, ethnicities, tribes, religious beliefs, color, appearance, height, talent, abilities, ages, languages. Once the Other is categorized, they may become feared or misunderstood, which leads to more labels: Radicals, Terrorists, Communists, Jihadists, Extremists, Fascists, Nazis, Murderers and Thieves. Rather than increasing understanding, the label is only the beginning of an ever- increasing gulf. Current advertisements also use this gulf to promote their products. In the past we were asked: are you part of the Pepsi Generation (or do Things go Better With Coke)? Now we have one campaign that emphasizes this gulf: PC or Mac? The PC is portrayed as older, stodgier, boring, more limited, where the younger Mac is more amiable, more functional, more slender, more appealing, and much more hip.  Guess what game Apple is playing? Group identification and Otherizing. The Apple folks are hoping you will want to identify with the slimmer, hipper Mac and spend your money on their product.

Back to the activists  – we also have our subcategories: welfarists, regulationists, utilitarians, protectionists, conservationists, abolitionists, neo-welfarists. We actually have very different goals from one another, though. Whereas a conservationist group such as Sea Shepherd is focused on a specific subset of animal life (whales, dolphin, fish), a welfarist may enlarge the category to improving the current standard of living for several categories of animals via legislation. Abolitionists believe that working with animal exploiters is always problematic; it is important to work towards shifting attitudes that will stop the demand for animals as commodities, as property, and allow all animals to live their lives as free beings. Regulating horror is unacceptable and not a goal that respects animal lives.

There Is Only “Us”

Looking at this another way, there is really only “Us.” Life on a finite planet emphasizes the interconnectivity of all forms of life, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. As Martin Luther King has said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Catastrophes such as the recent tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes fell equally upon all who were present, and everyone of us is likely to be impacted to greater or lesser degrees by climate instability in the future. Human beings rallied and, for the most part, selflessly helped their fellow man (while a few opportunits preyed upon the vulnerable, just like in the rest of life). As activists, it is important that we realize the power of collectivity while still espousing and working for our own individual goals. I am an abolitionist, and as such am not likely to be distracted into single issue causes, nor will I collaborate with those who exploit animals. I will, however, collaborate and discuss issues with other animal activists where our shared goals intersect and challenge what appears to me to be failed policies where they diverge. We must become and remain part of an ongoing conversation about change in order to understand our world and why people believe and think as they do.  If we are hoping to educate the public that we are all part of the animal kingdom, that there is really only Us, then we need to start right here, in the world of animal activism. This does not require a theoretical shift, but rather an attitudinal shift, as we discover the commonalities we share with all other animals, both human and nonhuman. If we can discover our commonality with fish and foxes, with pigs and parrots, we should be able to find something to keep us at peace with fellow vegans, too.

World Vegan Day

caterpillar-224x300We advocate peace, ahimsa, non-violence.

We believe that veganism is a philosophy, not a diet.

We believe in the interconnectedness of all living beings.

We believe in the right of sentient beings to be treated with respect, not be property, and be allowed to live their lives.

We believe that the domestication of animals has created misery and death for most domesticates. We believe we have a responsibility to domesticates as far as we are able to help them, since we created them.

We believe that the current use and abuse of animals is not only morally wrong but unsustainable; it must stop.

We believe that respect for all living beings will help heal the earth.

We believe in doing the least harm towards others.

We believe that treating all sentient beings with respect is the morally right thing to do.

We believe that veganism will help heal the individual person; feeding upon death and suffering is in no way healthy.

We believe that human animals must control their own population.

We believe that we must allow natural areas for animal habitat, where nonhuman animals may live unmolested by human intervention.

We believe in a vegan world, in its possibilities, in its potentials.

Please, join us.  Please, go vegan!

Why I Am NOT a Veg*n

Recently, on a vegan forum, I commented on the use of the term “vegetarian”  or “veg*n” rather than “vegan” while promoting animal rights.  It seemed to unleash a storm of criticism and ad hominem attacks: “Someone is VERY NEW….,”  ”so fundamentalist in nature,”  ”is there ANY evidence base whatsoever…? ”  My comment was in response to the posting of a Huffington Post article by Bruce Friederich, Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as a suggestion to develop the inclusive “veg*n” culture on the same forum.  Mr. Friederich has stated before that he no longer advocates in vegan tee shirts, because people respond better to the vegetarian message. That may be, but it is not a message that will help animals. In fact, it may even create more suffering for the animals. How can an animal advocate promote the dairy industry?  I think of the abuse of babies, little newborn calves; and mothers who are forced into servitude of being milk machines, with distended udders, infected and dragging the ground.  Then there are all those newborn chicks ground alive in massive machines because they cannot lay eggs.  THAT is something for animal advocates to support?

The message Mr. Friederich was giving was that it is indefensible to eat meat. Unfortunately, his last  line reads,

Put another way: If we believe that people should try to protect the environment, OR we believe that we should try not to cause people to starve OR we oppose cruelty to animals, the only ethical diet is a vegetarian one.

Wrong. This following many salient points in Friederich’s article is so disappointing.  Why is there such a great fear of the word “veganism?”  It is a simple word, much more simple and clear than “vegetarianism.”  There is so much ambiguity in the term vegetarian that it leaves people thinking giving up meat for dairy products will somehow be less cruel. Even if one is focusing solely on the dietary aspects of veganism, then why not support incremental veganism? At least doing so would leave a clear impression in the minds of the audience that veganism is the goal, not vegetarianism.

Mr. Friederich has another contradiction or two on his hands. It is difficult to be accepted as someone who values animal life while working for an organization that kills a higher proportion of animals in their “shelter” than most other shelters. It is also an organization that owns stock and profits from animal agriculture, gives awards to slaughter house designers, and uses some questionable tactics which diminishes the level of dialogue regarding the significance of animal rights.  Again, so disappointing. One young animal rights advocate, Beckah Sheeler, recently posted on the site Animal Writes an article titled, PETA: A Hurdle for Vegan Advocacy:

What we are faced with is the split between abolitionists and welfarists, and this will always exist; however, (as cliche the saying as it may be) with the amount of power Peta has, comes a great amount of responsibility, meaning the lives and welfare of animals, the planet, and the indirect meals able to be fed to the hungry due to this lifestyle, are resting in its hands. Bruce Friedrich, VP of Peta, also has stated in a recent post that being an absolutist is the worst way to attract people to this cause. The members of Peta should, of course, not give up their strong convictions of remaining not only meat free, but egg and dairy free, but being that Peta is so big, I believe that it is the organization’s responsibility, with all of its money, resources, and recognition, to advocate in such a way that helps the most amount of animals being that this is its perceived cause.

Ms. Sheeler then goes on to support widening the appeal rather than clarifying the message that PETA spreads.  However, Dan Cudahy, on his blog Unpopular Vegan Essays, reports on the failure of such tactics that are contradictory at the root (from the article PETA: A Corporate Tangle of Contradictions):

PETA’s contradictions in philosophy, rhetoric, and activities – which have led to profound public confusion and fortification of the utilitarian-welfarist status quo that has been in existence since Jeremy Bentham – have been a barrier to progress in advancing animal rights, and will continue to be a barrier as long as they continue as an animal welfare organization.

For a clear look at the problematic nature of the confusion in such welfarist rhetoric, Professor Gary Francione states in a post on his blog, Animal Rights: The Abolionist Approach (Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a Gateway to Veganism):

It is clear: if you explain that there is no distinction between flesh and other animal products and why we should go vegan, and the person with whom you are talking cares about the issue, she will either (1) go vegan immediately; or (2) go vegan in stages; or (3) not go vegan and adopt some version of vegetarianism (or “happy” meat/product consumption). But she will at least understand that veganism is the aspiration toward which to work. She will understand that the line between flesh and other products is entirely arbitrary. If you maintain that going vegetarian is morally meaningful and that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products, then you increase the chances that her progress toward veganism will be impeded.

In other words, you do not need to advocate vegetarianism. It is completely unnecessary, morally meaningless, and, as a practical matter, it impedes transition to veganism.

While I appreciate the sincere motives of individuals like Mr. Friederich and do not challenge them, it does seem important to continue looking at the tactics of the animal rights movement. This is very different than disparaging individuals.  I fully admit to many shortcomings and work on them; I have my own blind spots. Assuming that all animal advocates sincerely want what is in the best interest of nonhuman animals rather than promotion of their individual animal organizations, then looking critically at tactics and contradictions that may become barriers (Dan Cudahy) or hurdles (Beckah Sheeler) or impediments (Gary Francione) would seem a positive way of helping advocates learn to help animals achieve true rights as living, feeling beings. While listening to a podcast today, I heard someone interrupt a speaker discussing vegetarianism and interject “a lacto-ovo vegetarian — that is pretty much the same thing as a vegan.”  No, no, no.

Another way of stating this was posted by Tim Gier in an article titled, Is Half A Loaf Better Than None?

If you do intentionally participate in the subjugation of nonhuman animals, it does not matter that your participation is infrequent, or irregular, or occasional. Whenever you eat the flesh of a nonhuman animal, a life is ended for your pleasure, and for nothing else. The same is true whenever you wear the skin of another as clothing, or you patronize the zoos and circuses that cage others for life, or you support the medical, scientific or commercial experimentation on others as well.  Cutting back on those things, while better than not, still amounts to participating in them. There is no “half loaf.”

By spreading vegetarian education rather than vegan education, we collaborate in the subjugation (however unintentionally) of nonhuman animals.  The baseline is veganism. The fact that it is not immediately appealing for 100% of all people everywhere is not the point.  Veganism is the goal. It can be incrementally achieved, but it remains the goal. To ask for anything less, anything with wider appeal, anything that appears to be a more popular message, is to sell out the rights of animals. Want to make veganism more popular? Start by talking about it.

Farewell Welfare – Podcast #010

When I first learned that the products of the dairy industry resulted in endless suffering and animal death, I went from vegetarian to vegan and began to learn all that I could about what was happening to animals. I began listening to podcasts all day long as I worked and I learned a lot during that time. I listened to Colleen Patrick Goudreau of Compassionate Cooks, Dino Sarma of Alternative Vegan, the folks on Vegan Radio and Bob and Jenna Torres of Vegan Freaks. After that, I read and listened to anything I could get my hands on. Meanwhile, I was learning that some of the animal protection organizations to which I had sent money in the past were not helping animals the way I always assumed they had.  In fact, some of them were making things much worse, profiting from animal abuse by owning stock in some of the worst animal abuse industries and promoting the status quo by asking for regulation of the existing structure of domination and abuse rather than trying to abolish it. Some were participating in sexist, violent campaigns. Some were promoting flexitarian or vegetarian campaigns rather than veganism.  At the same time, I was getting an education online via some abolitionists, including Gary Francione. I was also becoming the object of some very snarky individuals and got caught in the crossfire between abolitionists and welfarists on more than one occasion. Good grief!  Then I started to really catch it; I was called divisive and told that I wasn’t  DOING anything for animals.  Those who believed in ending animal abuse by tackling one problem at a time saw those of us who wanted to end the domination of animals altogether as nothing but TROUBLE!

Opposing Theories or Personal Attacks?

I was shocked and disturbed to see the personal attacks on people in the movement, in particular Gary Francione. Rather than debating him, or challenging the abolitionist ideas, there is a  deterioration into ad hominem assaults on occasion.  Many of us respect Professor Francione immensely because of the clarity and consistency of the message he ends, because of his tireless work for animals, and for his stand for ahimsa or non-violence.

Anyone who finds his message resonating within them is then accused of being a cult member, which is rather humorous in light of the theoretical basis of his view of animal rights. What these misguided people see as a fanatical attachment to a personality is, in fact, admiration and respect for a theoretical approach which seems to offer the only hope for peace and the end of commodification of animals.  Personally, there are many welfarists that I admire for their optimism and tireless work on behalf of animals. I love their hearts and know how sincerely they want to end all animal suffering. I deviated from the path they were on, and here is why:

Why I Left Welfare Activities

  1. First, welfare reform is ineffective.  As long as animals are property, they will be difficult to protect. They will be considered commodities and will be subject to the whims of their owners. Despite decades of protesting the clubbing of seals, elephants in the circus, shooting of wolves, the fur trade, hunting, the killing goes on. Until a large proportion of the population adopt a vegan attitude towards animals, little will change.
  2. Second, it supports the status quo. The current situation for animals is precarious because they are considered property and some humans benefit financially from their commodification.  Since working within the given structure reinforces the subjugation, it is doubtful it will ever change without a change in attitude towards animal life.
  3. Third, it sends a very confused message to the public. Few of the animal protection organizations support veganism; some support veg*n, veggie, vegetarian or other such terms. This is confusing because if one is not vegan, one is still supporting the commodification of animals. Asking people to send money to an organization whose own members are consuming animal products is a sign of moral confusion. Owning stock and profiting from animal abuse causes confusion, as does campaigning for measures such as Controlled Area Killing (CAK), free range eggs, and humane labeled meat. There is some evidence that these campaigns have actually increased the demand for meat and eggs; it has definitely confused the public.  Let’s not add to it.
  4. Fourth, it detracts from the energy and resources that could be going towards clear and consistent vegan education. HSUS  and PETA both take in millions of dollars each year. Imagine if they clearly promoted veganism. Imagine rather than using celebrities, many of whom are inconsistent and unclear about the meaning of veganism, if PETA promoted vegan education with their considerable PR machinery and funding.
  5. Fifth, individual causes reinforce speciesism by gaining momentum based on emotional appeal. Baby seals, dolphins, cats and dogs all appeal to many human beings, but lobsters, turkeys, and pigs need non-speciesist individuals to fight for them, too. Animal welfare organizations tend to promote animals that are appealing to humans as a priority. It is no more just to work on protecting only certain species than it is to protect only certain human beings. It reinforces speciesism.

First, We All Need a Vision

One of the problems between welfarists and abolitionists is an inability to dialogue and debate. Many welfarists, sometimes referred to as New Welfarists, actually say they are abolitionists but believe the road to the abolition of animal use must be paved with welfare regulations first.  Believing they are being pragmatic, they view abolitionists as doing nothing, while abolitionists regard welfarists as spinning their wheels and wasting energy better spent on vegan education.  I would like to suggest that all of us need to expand our vision to what we would like to see happen and stop voicing that it is impossible. It is not. In my lifetime I have seen changes in women’s rights and civil rights that led to a female presidential candidate and an African-American president in 2008. But it took the vision of a man who went to the mountain top before it could happen.  Things change, if we can envision it, if we can imagine…..

It is doubtful that welfarist and abolitionists will ever see eye to eye, because there are two distinct views of how to end the subjugation and injustice towards animals.  In one vision, we must work within the existing power structure to effect change by using rules and regulations.  In the other viewpoint, animals should never be considered as property, must have a right to their own personhood, should be allowed to live their lives in the way they were intended rather than being used to benefit another species. This also means clear vegan education.

Many say abolitionists are dreamers, but the vision is very important towards achieving success.  It doesn’t take a preponderance of individuals in a movement to make it successful; in fact, it is usually a minority of people that effect change.

The Dancing Guy and Starting A Movement for Change

There has been a You Tube video going around called Leadership Lessons in Starting a Movement (by Derek Sivers) about how a dancing guy at a concert represents the start of a movement. There is just a single guy, dancing alone, with people giving him a glance as if he is a bit odd.  But after a while, a second guy gets up and starts dancing, too.  This second guy changes everything, because now the first guy looks like a leader  and not a crazy guy – he is just ahead of the pack.  After awhile, more and more people get up and  begin dancing, until the hillside is alive with dancing. At first it might have just been Gary Francione, dancing solo, getting hit from all sides.  But now, more people are joining in. We already have two teen abolitionist podcasters in New Zealand alone – imagine if there were teen abolitionist podcasters all over the globe! It will be wonderful when there are people joining us in the dance all around the world. As Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”  All we need to do now is just dance!

Animal Rights People to Know

Tim Gier mantains an excellent animal rights blog. He is on Twitter and Facebook, too, and provides a lot of relevant information and articles for other people.  Tim has an engaging style of writing that is sure to win you over and get you thinking.  His Facebook page says it all, “I am not trying to be better than anyone else; I am just trying to be better than I was before.” You can find his blog at timgier.com. Be sure to bookmark it because you are going to want to come back to it again and again. Tim is a prolific writer so check back frequently – you do not want to miss any of his posts.

Another important contributor in the animal rights field is Sandra Cummings. Sandra has a facebook page called the Vegan Starter Kit that has more information in a small space than you can find anywhere.  She also posts lots of positive articles relating to justice, animal rights, and veganism.

An excellent writer is Angel Flinn of Gentle World. Angel writes for Care2.com and maintains her own blog, The Vegan Solution. Don’t miss her article, Being Vegan is a Speciesist World and Free Range – Not Free Enough.

Trouble by Elvis Preseley

Trouble by Over the Rhine

Imagine by John Lennon

Just Dance by Lady GaGa and Colby O’Donis

Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy by Derek Sivers

Tim Gier

The Vegan Starter Kit by Sandra Cummings

The Vegan Solution by Angel Flinn

Cultural Narcissism

Narcissism and sociopathy share traits, including  a lack of empathy. Narcissism allows the person to detach from concern for others and allows them to focus solely on their own desires and needs.  People with these disorders are usually experts at manipulation, denial, and callous disregard for the consequences resulting from their choices and behavior.

Trademarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are:

  1. inflated self-importance
  2. deflation of importance of others
  3. lack of empathy for others
  4. a sense of entitlement
  5. interpersonally exploitative*

As a society, we have behaved in similar fashion in our treatment of animals. Every imaginable excuse, justification and denial have already been expressed; they all represent a horrendous injustice.

Pitfalls in Imperfect Abolitionist Animal Advocacy


I describe myself as an imperfect vegan because I have not yet reached the level of theoretical knowledge where I feel assured  my every move is the right one. I support the abolitionist movement and believe that animals deserve personhood, that a major paradigm shift needs to happen to move people away from the exploitation of animals and earth towards justice, and because non-violence is an important component of doing so. I hope to see a day where humans can respect the natural world and see themselves as part of it, not in charge of it.

As a therapist, there was a tale about a man who was walking on the beach that was told to us as interns.  The man found millions of starfish, dying, having washed up on shore. A man stood there, throwing one after another in the water.  Another man walked up and told him, “What are you doing? You cannot save them all!”  to which our man replied, “No, but I can save this one,” as he saved another life. The story was to help us avoid being overwhelmed by the need and suffering we were soon to encounter. It was also to remind us that, although we could not “save” every single client, each one was worth the effort. We would do the best we could.

I make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. I do not invest time in urging for larger cages for chickens but rather to free chickens from being commodified. I used to support some of the animal protection groups, but now think that vegan education is the single best thing anyone can do to help the most animals in the quickest fashion. No two advocates offer the same combination of perspective, energy, experience or education; that is what makes us a community. We need all of us to pull together to get this done.

Here are some of the ideas I have been learning about activism as well as the activists that keep me sane.