I’m a vegan. You’re a vegan. We don’t always have to agree.
Within every social movement, there exist different organizations with different goals, and sometimes those organizations or grassroots efforts conflict with each other. This is considered completely normal, and a necessary way to keep a movement in check. Older members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People might see young Black Lives Matter organizers as extreme in their methods, and those same BLM protestors might feel betrayed by their older counterparts. The Human Rights Campaign spoke at length, and for years, on behalf of gay marriage, but far left members of the LGBTQ community occasionally look upon the organization with disdain. They believe it has not gone far enough to protect transgender people from discrimination and threw most of its backing behind marriage and not much at all behind, say, youth homelessness. Political parties themselves exist in factions, and even though the same common goal is held in high regard, disagreement is not only expected, but encouraged to keep the party from growing complacent.
There’s only one movement that currently comes to mind that doesn’t hold members in such a standard, and that’s the one I hold closest to my heart: animal rights. As an opinion writer for a vegan publication, occasional readers seem surprised, floored even, that I don’t place every animal rights organization on a high pedestal, and God forbid, sometimes I even criticize them.There is so much anger, so much vitriol when this happens, that I find my head spinning over it. In no other activist circle that I’ve ever taken part in have opinions been handled so dismissively, and with such a concentrated anger at the individual expressing it. The unspoken rule of “do not offer a dissenting opinion” has grown far too powerful within the vegan movement, and I think it’s time we really examine that line of thinking for what it is: dangerous.
Over the last few weeks, here’s a short list of things I have been accused of as a writer: I am a secret fur trapper, am an anti-animal activist, I am a bully, I am “too vegan,” I am a purist, I am negative, I am a “Gary Francione worshipper,” I am judgemental and seek only to put other people down, and my personal favorite, I am “anti animal.” Where the fur trapper one came from is a total mystery to me, but what can I say? Folks get excited about their conspiracy theories. I’m sure someone out there has some wonky ideas about me being present at the fake moon landing. I’ve been heavily involved in other activist circles, and have never watched, taken part in, or been the subject of hysterical name calling over a disagreement.
I feel very strongly that, if something pisses you off to an extreme, perhaps find something else to read that suits your tastes. Life is too damn short to lose one’s shit over a snarky aggregate article. This is your beautiful freedom in a world that has a wealth of information ready for you to take in. What I want to defend is that vegan activists must be allowed to disagree, and disagree publicly, with not only other vegans, but the organizations that have reached positions of power within the movement. I can only speak for my own opinions and writing here, but I’m quite pleased with the work I do, and don’t feel the need to be validated by folks who have already decided that they absolutely hate me. I’m less fearful of mean commenters, and more afraid of what they mean for a movement that absolutely must criticize itself, sometimes in a way that reads as less than kind, in order to grow. Veganism cannot afford to take on an attitude that we all band together, no matter what, at the expense of free-thought.
The idea that we all need to hold hands and be in agreement, to me, is offensive. I’m appalled that taking stands within the vegan community that edge away from the status quo mean that I “worship” a theorist, as opposed to having ideas of my own shaped by a myriad of writers and thinkers, some I agree with, some I don’t. I’m horrified that refusing to stand behind organizations like PETA mean that I am “anti-vegan,” and against progress. It’s not that, and it’s silly to suggest that my stance is based in wanting to alienate others. I am pleased as punch to offer guidance to new vegans or those making the transition, and I fail to see how criticizing organizations with millions of dollars and thousands of members is at all alienating. Hey, when my word is seen as law, then we’ll talk, but for now, let’s just take a collective deep breath and try our damnedest to deal with the fact that not everyone thinks the same.
Our movement has seen excellent victories in the form of growing vegan numbers and exposing certain atrocities, but in the last few decades, slaughter has only grown by the billions. Is it unwise to suggest that our methods and conversations around convincing people to protect animals needs to change? Is it foolish to stress the point out that debate and criticism are an imperative to cause real growth and success in any social movement?
No. It’s a resounding no, every time, and I’ll stand by that. I am unimpressed by complacency. I refuse to take part in it.