Defeating Trump with Intersectional Veganism
By Tracey Winter Glover
I wrote an article a while back in which I sought to explain why I’m an animal rights activist in a world with so much human suffering, (https://www.thedodo.com/why-im-an-animal-lover-1236421957.html). The gist of that article was that I’m an animal rights activist because the scope and degree of animal suffering (especially for food) is unparalleled, but also because I believed that we as a society, not just the U.S., but the community of nations, the world community at large, shared some basic moral values in regard to humans. I argued that certain basic human rights are generally accepted by the moral community of nations, which we might define as those societies who participate in the United Nations, especially those nations, like the U.S., who have explicitly signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While, I argued, there have always been moral outliers like psychopaths, terrorists, and dictators, outside of these exceptions, I believed we shared some universal values that apply to human beings. For example, we could all at least agree in theory that violence towards women and children is wrong, right? That harm to any innocent human being is wrong, that detention or incarceration without just cause is wrong, that cruel and unusual punishment is wrong, that torture is wrong, that humans have certain basic, fundamental rights of autonomy over their own bodies, and that discrimination against others based on sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or ability, is morally unjustified. To some extent, the same could be said for the environment. There is widespread universal consensus that anthropogenic activity is driving climate change and that we must do something about it fast for the sake of all life on this planet. We all agree on these values, right? Um, no. As we’ve all witnessed with this election, apparently not.
With the election of Donald Trump, all of my prior assumptions about common values and human rights and environmental rights have evaporated. None of that seems to apply to our own society anymore. This oligarchic, ill-informed, racist, anti-environment, anti-equality, white supremacist administration denies these basic values. The progress we have made in society was set back a hundred years in one day. And it’s not just at home in the U.S., we can also see the rise of this kind of fascism spreading through Europe and parts of Latin America, including Brazil. And yet, I am not walking away from animal rights. I will call my Senators, go to town hall meetings, I will stand with the NAACP, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter, HRC, and CAIR, but I will continue to focus most of my own efforts on the struggle for animal rights.
The Women’s March on Washington and all the sister marches around the world were massive. Some say the largest protests in US history. This was true because DT has offended such a broad spectrum of groups that we all came together in an intersectional way to support each other and each other’s causes. Seemed like for the first time, feminists, anti-racist activists, immigrant rights groups, disability rights groups, LBGTQ groups, civil liberties groups, environmental groups, and workers’ groups all came together, united, with an understanding that all forms of oppression and exploitation are connected. Only, in truth, the movement isn’t quite that broad, isn’t quite that inclusive, because animals are not yet included in the struggle for justice.
If we are working against oppression and exploitation of some while we are still participating in the oppression of non-human animals, which is the most massive, and widespread system of direct oppression, exploitation, and abuse of sentient beings in the world, there’s a disconnect which undermines everything we’re doing. As long as we are doing harm to the nonhuman animals we will continue to do harm to each other. As Alex Hershaft, president of the animal rights group Farmed Animal Rights Movement (FARM), a Holocaust survivor, told me in a recent interview “eating animals is training ground for all other forms of social injustice.”
Nine billion of the 10 billion animals we kill every year in this country for food are chickens, trapped in bodies so genetically manipulated that just being alive involves tremendous pain, and they don’t even receive the minimal protections offered by the Humane Slaughter Act, which is the one protection afforded to other farmed animals. No farmed animal is protected by any federal law before slaughter. And chickens don’t even receive that.
Mother pigs spend their lives in gestation creates so small they can’t turn around. It’s no wonder these intelligent animals show clinical signs of insanity. Piglets have their testicles ripped out without any pain relief. Every day frightened pigs, cows, chickens, lambs, ducks, turkeys, and goats are separated from their families and trucked without food or water to bloody, shuttered slaughterhouses where workers are routinely caught abusing them. And really, what else should we expect in an industry that demands that human beings shut off their basic compassion and empathy in order to do a job that puts their own safety at risk, and for a miserable wage at that. No wonder slaughterhouse workers suffer high rates of PTSD and why studies show, even when controlled for other factors, that slaughterhouses lead to a steep rise in violent crime, including sexual crime, within communities. The way we treat others has a direct impact on our own psychological wellness, and when we abuse one group of beings, we are more likely to abuse other groups as well.
Right now, billions of nonhuman animals are suffering the most extreme forms of physical and psychological violence. We directly support that violence every time we eat meat, eggs, or dairy. The violence that we perpetrate against these animals is the first form of oppression and violence that we accept in our lives. We are born into a society where we learn from before we can even speak or talk or think that it’s acceptable, that it’s normal, to commit the worst forms of cruelty against fully sentient beings simply because they’re different and they don’t have enough power to successfully resist. They do resist. We just overpower them. Their own interest in being free from suffering, in protecting their families, and in preserving their lives is clear to anyone with open eyes. The fury with which a mother cow fights when the dairy farmer takes away her calf. The way a wide-eyed and shaking cow backs up to try to get away from the slaughter line. The insistent cries of the baby lambs who’ve been taken away from their mothers. The way the pigs on the way to transport trample each other in a panicked frenzy, desperate to escape because they’re smart enough to know they’re fighting for their lives.
This egomaniacal, mentally unstable, Orwellian dictator currently holding office has done more to bring together the social justice and environmental movements than any other force we’ve ever seen. That’s awesome. I do believe the silver lining of this frightening time will be that he inspires the greatest coalition of social justice movements this country has ever seen. What the Women’s Marches really proved was that together we are incredibly powerful. United, this resistance can, legally and peacefully, take this corrupt, inept, and mean-spirited empire down. But we have to be truly universal in our understanding of what’s happening, in our understanding of the connection of oppressions. We must look at the roots of discrimination and inequality and uproot them wherever they exist.
If we look honestly at what we do to non-human animals, for food, research and cosmetic testing, for entertainment, and for fashion (fur, leather, feathers), what we will see is discrimination, oppression, and exploitation. What is discrimination other than the practice of ignoring our relevant similarities with others and using our irrelevant differences as a justification for harming them, for abusing them, for taking from them what they value (freedom from harm, life itself), so that we can take what was not meant for us. When we confine a beautiful, curious, playful fox in a wire cage and then anally electrocute him in order to adorn our coat with fur trim, or we confine a hen to a wire cage where she can’t spread her wings once in her entire pain ridden life so that we can eat her eggs, we are complicit in a system of oppression.
And too, if we as vegans can’t see our own privileges, as white, or male, or wealthy, or whatever our relative privilege is, how can we expect others to see their privilege as human? If we aren’t willing to speak up for our human brothers and sisters when they are in need, how can we expect them to care about the non-human animals we love? Just as justice activists and environmentalists who haven’t embraced veganism need to extend their compassion, any vegan who has not yet embraced intersectionality is practicing a self-defeating and limited form of justice work that is just as detrimental to the animals as it is to other humans.
This current progressive resistance is a struggle in which we each need to be engaged. This is a resistance to which we all need to be committed. DT has exposed terrible flaws in our entire political process. A dictator should never have been able to get this far, but he has. He has enormous power and is already using that power to take away the rights most of us have assumed would never be threatened in our America.
All oppressions are connected. That is why we all need to support all struggles for equality and justice. If we seek a just world, the only real path forward for us is one that includes all beings, humans and nonhumans. There is a great opportunity here for us to truly come together and work to create a society that manifests the values to which we have always aspired but never fully realized. We can come together and create a world that is fair and just and compassionate for all beings but only if we can see all the invisible ways that we are still harming others, only if we’re willing to change our own behavior, give up our own privileges, whether those are over other humans or non-human animals. The current attacks we are seeing against vulnerable groups and the environment are all connected. It all comes down to a privileged, elite group who is blind to the true interconnected reality we live in, who sees itself as superior and sees all other beings and the environment itself as objects to be used and exploited. It’s all one struggle. And the only adequate response to the current threat is to dismantle systems and structures of oppression and exploitation wherever they exist. As MLK, Jr. said “[u]ntil all are free, none are free.” That is why we need to take an intersectional vegan approach if we are going to defeat the rise of fascist dictatorship in America.
Tracey Winter Glover, JD, is the Executive Director of the 501(c)(3) organization Awakening Respect and Compassion for All Sentient Beings (“ARC) based in Mobile Alabama. She is also the author of the book “Lotus of the Heart,” published through Lantern Books, and is currently working on a documentary about the intersections of oppression.