How Big a Tent is Too Big a Tent?

Marla Rose
Jun 28 · 6 min read

I will be vegan for a generation on February 1, 2020, which is when I officially reach my 25th year as a pain-in-the-ass to the general population. From the beginning and along the way, I have met other vegans whose views didn’t necessarily align with my own and for the most part, my approach has been to move on unless someone’s attitudes and actions are bigoted and abusive towards others. Since 1995, I have met Republican vegans, Liberatarian vegans, anarchist vegans and others of all political stripes with the understanding that just because someone is vegan, it doesn’t mean we need to be friends or agree on anything beyond our commitment to veganism: in fact, we don’t necessarily — and often don’t — share a similar motivation for why we’re vegan. It took me a little longer to realize that just because someone is vegan, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is a good person but I am abundantly clear on that now and have been for a while. (Oh, the joys of social media.) I have generally given those I don’t care for a wide berth and not paid much attention to them, trying instead to focus on being the kind of vegan I want the rest of the world to see. I don’t always succeed at this goal but that is my intention.

During this same time period, I have seen a corresponding growth of vegan and animal advocacy organizations, and as they grow, exhortations from the leadership of these organizations on the importance of creating a big tent, one where those who don’t necessarily share my background, values or motivations can also feel welcomed. Let’s be honest: While we speak of a diversity of political perspectives within the vegan and animal rights populations, for the most part, we skew to a left-of-center orientation. Research backs this up. As someone who mainly focuses my activism on local and grassroots efforts rather than volunteering for large national organizations, I have not felt a particular need to make space for those with conservative attitudes to work alongside me; I just kind of do my own thing and avoid people I don’t care to be around. It’s really not complicated.

Well, until recently.

In the last week, I have been exposed to some deeply trans-phobic, anti-Semitic, white supremacist attitudes from a few very loud and proud individuals within the vegan and animal rights world, along with the aiding and abetting from their online coterie of supporters, many of whom are also vegan and involved in animal rescue. [You will see these in the recent screenshots I have included.] Whether it’s “like” reacts or supportive comments to the hate-speech in these posts, or people who comment but don’t feel a particular urge to speak to the clear bigotry of these posts, it has been a rude but still welcome awakening, one I feel it is my responsibility to not deny. I have known about these individuals for years but they seem to have become emboldened recently. (Approximately, oh, 30 percent more emboldened over the past four years.) As a hetero woman of Jewish ancestry with a name that doesn’t necessarily sound Jewish, I have been largely spared exposure to many of the bigoted vegans that people of color and LGBTQIA+ are all-too familiar with and I am beginning to think it is because I have exercised my freedom of choice to not engage with them, a choice people in these communities don’t have the option of remaining willfully ignorant about.

Are these voices common in the vegan world? No, but they are also not uncommon. So what does that mean? It means, the bigots are here. They have always been here. They have more of a platform and capability to find each other now thanks to social media and they also have more confidence now thanks to an overall trend toward rightward extremism. Vegans certainly do not have a higher percentage of rightwing extremists than the general population. I don’t have data on this but I’d venture a guess that we have a lower one. Still, it exists and needs to be acknowledged and exposed.

Is it intolerant of me to say the dimensions of the so-called vegan tent cannot accommodate the bigoted? On the one hand, I cannot believe we’re even having this conversation. On the other hand, here we are.

Make no mistake, I am not asking if we exclude people who are more conservative than I may wish they were; I am asking if accommodating bigots is something we should do in the name of “diversity”? Do we really want more representation from racists, homophobes and anti-Semites, for example, like we lose out when we don’t have enough access to those particular points-of-view at a time when hate-crimes are real, on the rise and have an increasing bodycount? Further, what about the phenomenal people who find there is no space for them as we encourage one another to make room for bigots? Don’t they matter? Isn’t it more important to make room for decent people by committing to a hard line stance against bigotry?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, no, we don’t want or need bigots. In fact, those of us who can safely do so should do everything in our power to expose hate-speech and prejudice, warn others of it and unequivocally denounce it. I mean, the bigots will still exist, but we should not arrange ourselves to make room for them nor offer them any shred of legitimacy. In our zeal for bringing people to the vegan camp, we must not confuse “open-mindedness” with “accommodating bigots”.

There is no room in “the vegan tent” for white nationalists.

There is no room in “the vegan tent” for anti-Semites.

There is no room in “the vegan tent” for racists.

There is no room in “the vegan tent” for misogynists and sexists.

There is no room in “the vegan tent” for anti-LGBTQIA+ bigots.

It shocks me that I have to say this. There is no tent, after all: there are only people who are trying to build a more compassionate, just and sustainable world. If there were a tent, though, I would be freaking delighted to kick the nazis and bigots out of it. I wish it were that easy. It’s not, though, because all we have is a metaphoric tent. And the main thing we must do is refuse to offer bigots safe harbor here.

Marla Rose is a journalist, co-founding partner of VeganStreet.com and Vegan Street Media, and she wants you to check out this handy-dandy free guide for new (or aspiring!) vegans. If you like the work Vegan Street is doing, please consider joining our Patreon community for as little as $1.00 a week.

Marla Rose

Written by

Marla Rose is a Chicago-area writer and co-founder of VeganStreet.com, Vegan Street Media and Chicago VeganMania.