How we sent mixed messages in excluding other calls for veganism

Alex Lockwood
Aug 30 · 5 min read

Today (August 30th) is Animal Rebellion’s two-month anniversary since the weekend of our first meetings. It feels like a pertinent moment not only to celebrate how far we’ve come in such a short space of time, and reflect on our successful launch and our part in protesting the Amazon fires, but also to recognise our shortcomings and failings.

We were woken up by the success of Extinction Rebellion, who recognise that our social and political systems are fundamentally broken. Their focus on system change as the fastest way to respond to climate breakdown really resonated with us as a tactic to use for animal justice, as we know that for every individual trapped inside animal agriculture, every individual caged in a lab, every individual exploited for entertainment or clothing — our social and political systems are also broken. They don’t work to protect animals. At all. So we need to challenge and change the system for them too.

We felt that a campaign leveraging the urgency of the climate crisis, and how animal agriculture is one of its leading drivers, could really add to our movement, because the reality is: we cannot fix the climate emergency without first ending the animal emergency. We felt this was an opportunity to launch a new action focusing on calls for immediate top-down system change. For change to be immediate within our current system, it would require policy, legislation and parliamentary authority. So the target of our campaign was clear: the government and politicians.

© Amy Jones / Moving Animals

Anti-speciesism is at the heart of Animal Rebellion. It is our first and foremost principle and value. All of us in Animal Rebellion are staunch vegans and abolitionists. For us, veganism is the only just and moral way of life, but too few people — and too few people in power — currently agree with us. (There are a few.) In the context of climate breakdown and mass extinction, the current rate of individual lifestyle transition to veganism is not fast enough in the short space of time we have. We have to put mass pressure on the government to bring about immediate system change.

Extinction Rebellion have done this to great effect. They’ve forced Parliament to declare a climate and ecological emergency; they’ve shifted public consciousness on the need to act now; they’ve inspired a change in the Labour Party’s policies on climate breakdown; and they’ve instigated a growing worldwide movement. And they’ve done this not by demanding individuals change consumer habits (e.g. driving less or flying less) or by demanding corporations reduce their impact (by switching to greener processes) but by keeping their focus determinedly on the government. So when Animal Rebellion wrote our mission statement, we included the line — “We don’t exist to ask individuals to go vegan” as a way to explain our own approach to system change — which has been met with a lot of criticism in the animal justice community.

So we want to take the time to clarify our intention. We are not here to replace calls for individuals to go vegan. Our intention was to add to the individual programmes and campaigns that urge, help and support people to go vegan (such as Veganuary, Challenge 22+, Cubes of Truth, etc.) — programmes that are bottom-up processes enacted one person at a time. We want to add to these with a new, top-down mass movement demand focused on the government for immediate system change. And we want this mass movement to be made up of all animal justice activists from every campaign and group there is.

We realise now that we should have worded our initial statement differently. Not because we’ve changed our campaign; our focus remains on the government, demanding of them to urgently and fully respond to the human and animal emergency we face. We should have worded our initial statement differently, because we are here to support and work with all animal justice campaigns and groups who are calling for individual consumer and industry sector change. (For example, through September we will be standing alongside Animal Justice Project and the Save Movement in a series of protests outside DEFRA, entitled Dining on Destruction.)

So we want to make our message clearer. We stand by our ambition for this project: we will be successful in forcing the government to transition the UK to a just and sustainable plant-based food system. If our government actually starts telling the truth about the crisis we’re in, it has to change our destructive and exploitative food system. There’s no other choice. We have a moral duty to speak this truth. And they have the moral duty to listen.

Animal Rebellion is demanding this transition not just for the planet and the future of humanity, but for animals. For the animals trapped in exploitation, the animals caught in Amazonian fires started by cattle ranchers, the animals losing their habitats to climate breakdown. We’re demanding justice for them.

We have a clear goal: a plant-based food system. Our means for achieving that in the immediate term? Demanding the government acts now, tells the truth, and instigates processes that will lead to this, such as massive investment in fruit, veg, grain, pulses and other plant-based crops in our agricultural system. (And hey, look at this: our first UK commercial crop of chick peas!) A massive investment in environmental stewardship and rewilding. The banning of ecologically destructive animal products and agricultural processes. New laws to recognise justice for all animals.

© Ella Phillips

Our campaign focus remains on government, and system change.

And yet… our fate does not rest solely in the hands of government. It rests in ours. From today, Animal Rebellion is making much clearer our support for all of our sister campaigns to bring about a fully vegan world. We support Veganuary, Challenge22, Viva! Recipe Club, The Vegan Society, and every group asking individuals to go vegan.

We are trying to be open, democratic, and to listen to criticism. Because Animal Rebellion doesn’t exist as a separate, independent entity. It is formed of animal justice activists from all backgrounds, it’s supported by a whole range of animal justice organisations, and it is learning from the history of the entire animal justice movement.

We want to see a world where all life is respected and protected. Where our food system doesn’t result in the death of billions of sentient beings and doesn’t destroy the only home we all have. We see a global plant-based food system as the largest possible first step to full animal liberation. Freeing animals from labs, and all other forms of exploitation, will, we hope, follow once we stop exploiting animals for food. And we’ll continue our campaign to make sure that happens.

To make it happen, we know we need to work together with others. We need to look beyond differences and stand on common ground, where we can. We need to support each other. We are here to represent animal life in this new Movement of Movements alongside Extinction Rebellion and others.

So join us from 7 October, and let’s make a better world together.

Animal Rebellion

Demanding the government transition the UK to a plant-based food system, for the animals

Alex Lockwood

Written by

Author of The Chernobyl Privileges (out March 2019) and The Pig in Thin Air (Lantern Books, 2016). Working on a memoir of his missing father, due 2020.

Animal Rebellion

Demanding the government transition the UK to a plant-based food system, for the animals

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