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June/July 2005
Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By J. Asananda


Soon after Rodney King took his beating from the LAPD, and then gave them a beating in the courts to the tune of $3.8 million, he asked, “Can’t we all just get along?” If we venture outside of the shallow trenches in which we have dug and feel safe, we will see there are a whole host of promising questions and ideas to discover. The sentiment behind Rodney’s question seems to be most needed in the animal rights movement—or is it “movements”?

Recently, I read a letter by Joan Dunayer, a prominent animal activist and author, saying that she is pulling out of “The Foundation of a Movement,” the Friends of Animals Animal Rights Conference on July 9 and 10, in which she was scheduled to speak, because she believes the keynote speaker to be a speciesist and opponent of nonhuman rights. The keynote speaker for the conference is Mark Potok, Editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, and the person with whom Joan refuses to share the dais. His organization, kind of an anti-bias watchdog, watches groups that usually use violence or intimidation to spread their message. They started out dealing with the Ku Klux Klan, but have now extended to include groups, such as skinheads, black separatists, antigovernment “Patriot” movements, militia groups and, yes, animal rights groups that use violence as a tactic. Their magazine, Intelligence Report, is widely read, especially among law enforcement types.

Now I certainly don’t like everything the Southern Poverty Law Center stands for or does. I had often considered pulling myself out of society and taking up residence in a cave in the Himalayas, as it is only recently that I’ve come to realize that just because people have differing opinions doesn’t mean they are morons. Moreover, I have learned tremendously from all the divergent views I’ve encountered.

The Tofu Wars
This April at the Grassroots Animal Rights Conference (GARC) held in New York City, there were many good ideas shared. But there was also much dividing into smaller and smaller groups. By the time lunchtime rolled around, I was in such a panic as to where to sit—“Is that the vegan, white, gay section or is it the vegetarian, straight, black, feminist section?”—that I took my plate and ate in a bathroom stall in order to avoid the remote possibility of finding myself in an even smaller compartment not of my choosing.

For me the most interesting part of the conference was at the end, where a panel representing many differing views discussed their take on where the animal rights movement needed to go. A guy formerly of the SHAC campaign, which has been notoriously attempting to disrupt Huntingdon Life Sciences and their vivisection experiments, said that while he has been a vegan for nine years, that alone is doing nothing for animal rights. If he buys soy ice cream, when he wouldn’t have bought ice cream anyway, the dairy cow—over-drugged and constantly hooked up to pumps—is none the better.

A woman from Compassion Over Killing said that almost ten billion animals per year are being abused due to the factory farm industry and we should focus on vegan advocacy if we want to do the most good for animals, instead of vivisection, which only amounts to 25-50 million per year.

And Dr. Michael Greger ended the panel discussion asking the question, “How many factory farms have been shut down by animal rights groups?” The answer was zero. “How many have been shut down by environmental groups?” The answer was a startling 25. So, maybe we should dump our Go Vegan baseball cap for a Save the Rainforest cap if we really want to help animals. That is what we want, right? Sometimes, with all of the fighting amongst ourselves, I think we forget.

All of these different people made valid points. And I felt enriched that they were all there to express their opinions so that I could gain the benefit of all of their experiences, struggles, facts and, yes, bias, to help me better clarify my own position. I think it would have been a great loss if only one perspective was allowed to speak, because of animal rights “leaders” declaring a moratorium on attending any event which features someone with whom they don’t agree.

Of Patriots and Pamphlets
The image of the animal rights movement is shifting to one of a desperate group that has left the peaceful negotiating table in frustration and resorted to a level of violence and terror. If you ask the average person on the street what they think of the animal rights movement they will probably chuckle, thinking these activists to be low-level terrorists with a ridiculous agenda.

When I started doing fur demonstrations with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), it was usually just four or five of us handing out leaflets. Besides hostility, one of the biggest questions I kept getting was, “Do you throw paint on people’s fur coats?” This false perception of what animal rights entails is in large part due to our own actions, or inactions, coupled with the media’s desire to spin and sell their own version of the “news.”

The founding fathers of this country believed that government was inherently evil and should be chained and handcuffed—if it got loose there was no telling where and what it would do—and they attempted to do so with the Constitution. A cursory look at the bills being proposed in this arena shows that their belief was dead on—now even protest can be seen as terrorism when it becomes unpopular.

The “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” introduced in Texas in February 2003, promoted by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and American Legislative Exchange Council, would increase penalties for organizations participating in activities “with an intent to influence a governmental entity or the public to take a specific action,” defining as animal rights or ecological terrorist organizations “two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or natural resources.” The bill would also create Internet sites similar to those which register child molesters by name, address, and photo identification.

Left undefined, words such as “influence” can run the gamut, from educational leaflets to armed resistance; “deter” could range from speaking out against something to kidnapping. So who is to decide where the vegan cookie will crumble? The government? Law enforcement? Should we allow government officials to divvy up our Constitutional rights depending on their random definitions of “influence” and “deter”?

This may result in asking an already frustrated animal rights movement to rot in court trying to reclaim their right to investigate and protest while at the same time expecting this not to escalate into violence; that might lobotomize even my nonviolent frontal lobe.

Finding Union
Different organizations, as well as individuals, have their strengths and weaknesses. An animal rights lawyer may argue that only through legislation can we make change. A person advocating violence may say that we can no longer sit around on our hands while animals suffer. Some support vegan advocacy as the solution. Some target animal experimentation. What one values is usually at odds with what another values. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

This is a major problem not only in the animal rights movement but in our country, and the world, as well. Values consist of treating people and animals with respect and living honestly. Freedom lies in allowing everyone the right to voice their personal bias, not only those whose orchestrations sound pleasant to our ears. Instead of embracing our differences, we magnify them and forget our commonality, which, in the animal rights movement, is the protection of animals—not personal agendas. If there is a path for us in the animal rights movement to collectively follow, let’s do so based on hearing all the options and not by attempting to take off the invite list anyone whose agenda is not our own. Let’s not look at this as competition, but as a way to share, learn, and grow. A sharing of ideas does not mean that we have to agree or acquiesce with everything we hear. By allowing them all to speak perhaps we can best help the animals who are sitting on the outside asking, “Can’t you all just get along? Well you better, because in the meantime we’re getting killed out here!”

J. Asananda is a writer and holistic health coach utilizing his Warrior Integrated System of Health (W.I.S.H.) program. He can be reached at j.asananda@gmail.com. He dedicates all his work to his blessed guru, Sri Baba Ganesh.

 

 


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