So (as seen previously on Dispatch from the Razor's Edge), for nearly three decades, I was pretty much totally committed to being the most unassuming, unannoying, unpreachy, easygoing vegan, well, going. But then, three years ago this month, something unlikely and wonderful happened: I found my tribe. (Vegans in London, and their wild profusion of sub-tribes.) But something else happened around that time: I realised that 200 million baby animals being tortured to death, every single day, was a pretty high price to pay for me not wanting to annoy people. And I continue to abhor trying to tell anyone what to do. I just abhor the animal holocaust much, much, much more.
So I've become an animal rights activist.
Many of you will have seen posts and images to this effect on social media. This dispatch is to explain what it's all about and, even more, why I believe it's absolutely critical… for me personally, for the world, and mainly for the nonhuman victims, whose numbers and suffering beggar the imagination. (It also picks up where the prior dispatch leaves off, where I vaguely promised I'd be “joining my first protest soon”…)
The most prominent, and archetypal, vegan street outreach organisation is Anonymous for the Voiceless (*), who operate worldwide in hundreds of cities, running their “Cubes of Truth” in public locations. The basic notion is:
- A formation of (masked) activists stands holding televisions displaying undercover footage of standard practices in slaughterhouses and industrial factory farms. These are, of course, a complete and total horror show. (If you don't believe this, please watch Dominion and get back to me.)
- Members of the public walk by, stop and view the footage, and are utterly aghast. (No one with a soul can fail to be. No one is in favour of horrific violence, egregious suffering, or torturing baby animals to death.)
- Other activists (unmasked) engage with them to discuss what they're seeing. Using the Socratic method (rather than haranguing), we will ask their feelings about what they see, ask their stance about animal cruelty (everyone's opposed), and then gently lead them around to realising that as long they're not vegan, they are personally paying for the most horrific forms of animal cruelty and suffering.
And then they know. We will usually leave them with a card for more information and resources to support them in going vegan that is, aligning their actions with the values they already hold (being opposed to the horrendous evil they see on the screens).
That's it. That's what I spend most of my time doing.
It works, and I know it works, because I've had scores of people convert on the spot. I've had hundreds more at least start to consider the consequences of their actions, and the horrific effects of industrial animal agriculture, caused by their demand for animal products. I've seen people break down in tears when they begin to realise the suffering they've been responsible for.
I believe that, at this point, as an outreacher, I can move anyone some distance whether they already know what they've been doing is wrong, have been trembling on the brink of going vegan, and just need that last little bit of encouragement; or whether they're committed carnists, mocking vegans at every turn, a thousand miles from changing… but who I can pull four inches closer to considering the matter, and towards ceasing to cause this harm.
I do this with my comrades, the best people I've ever known. We are aware we're shovelling seaweed against the tide. But every day the animal holocaust goes on is another day that ends in total horror and tragedy for each of 200 million individuals, all of whom wanted to live, and all of whom have families and friends and feel pain and fear exactly as we do. This is an emergency.
And, finally, I feel strongly that, even if we converted no one, it would still be absolutely critical to do this:
TO STAND UP.
The other group I'm weepingly proud to be a part of indeed, the first one I got involved with is Animal Rebellion. They primarily conduct direct action and mass nonviolent civil disobedience inspired by and in the tradition of the abolitionists, suffragists, and civil rights marchers to compel government and industry to transition the world to a just and sustainable plant-based food system, which science is very clear is the only hope for a liveable planet for us all.
Animal Rebellion are affiliated with the climate protest group Extinction Rebellion, and come at animal rights from an environmental perspective as there is no way to address the climate crisis without addressing the catastrophe of animal agriculture. (Which is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, greater than all transportation combined, 60% of all deforestation and biodiversity loss, including burning down the Amazon to graze cattle, a third of all fresh water use, destruction of aquatic ecosystems, ocean dead zones, methane emissions, use of fossil fuels, environmental pollution due to animal waste, and mass extinctions.)
Basically, there can be no climate justice without animal justice. The not all that well-kept secret here is our belief that the moral argument might only close the last slaughterhouses by 2050, whereas the environmental argument, which for whatever reason has more traction, might get it done by 2030. And that's 1.6 trillion animals (just land animals) who will thereby be spared.
They are also a great counterpart to the street outreach which focuses on retail conversion, individual change, and holding non-vegans accountable for the suffering they cause because they are absolutely focused on systemic change, and not shaming those caught up in this toxic system. Animal rights activism is a big church, and there's room for all kinds of work. (Including cooking for people, or the “activism by dining” I often do, smashing the crazy myth that veganism is some kind of sacrifice or hair shirt…)
Finally, it's worth noting that Animal Rebellion can boast of this just unbelievably healthy and kind ethos and culture they recognise that if we are going to create a better, kinder, survivable world, we have to model it, and so come at everything they do from a place of love and they are also, absolutely, the best and kindest humans I've ever been privileged to know.
This accounting isn't really adequate, but I wanted to get it out there, to explain what I've been on about these last couple of years. I'll close with two claims:
- It is the strict moral obligation of every person to be vegan. None of us has the right to torture baby animals to death, in their billions, for food or any other reason.
- It is so easy, and great, and fun to be vegan right now. You can literally eat all the same foods you've been eating or better! so much beautiful food without the suffering and death. There is literally no excuse.
- I increasingly believe vegans should be active in the cause.
It's not enough not to be causing this horrific harm veganism is a non-action, just ceasing to take what was never ours in the first place. (*) But in the face of this horrific, unprecedented injustice if we define evil as that which causes suffering, and I do, then industrial animal agriculture is, by far, the greatest evil in the world, as well as its biggest and longest running injustice then we are all obliged to stand up and try to do something to stop it.
And that's what I'm doing. 💚
A/V is the archetypal street outreach group, but I mainly go out with a splinter group called We Stand For The Animals, and occasionally one called We The Free. The masks differ, but otherwise it's the same. (I also very occasionally do groups called the Earthlings Experience, and another called Awakening Compassion, in Trafalgar Square, who differ methodologically a bit more…)
Another formulation of the notion is: someone is stabbing a dog to death on the street. The meat-eater rushes over to help (stabbing). The vegan just keeps walking by, neither helping nor hindering. The activist rushes over to try to stop it.