Vegans participating in acts of civil disobedience seems to be on the increase.
Social media has romanticised it and is encouraging more to do similar acts.
Thought should we be participating in it, and if we aren’t what other options are there?
What Does It Actually Achieve?
Unlike other movements where those who were being oppressed were the ones disobeying the laws, “animal activists” are doing it on behalf of someone else.
There are those who say that civil disobedience is essential because it gives us a chance to tell the animal’s story.
While this may sound all warm and fuzzy, the reality of things is very different.
These stunts are live-streamed on social media, so people can see how much these performers do “for the animals”.
Industry supporting words like “humane”, “cruelty” and “suffering” are used continuously.
When push comes to shove, these performers display minimal resistance and leave with a fine or a summons.
The story of “the animals” is then disregarded, as the story of the performer takes centre stage.
They ask the public to help pay their fines or court costs, making it all about them, and not “the animals”.
If there is a court case, the performers are once again the focus, with “the animals” getting a token mention.
We Shouldn’t Choose Which Laws Are Ours To Disobey
Those who support performer focused stunts that masquerade as civil disobedience say that we have a “moral responsibility” to disobey unjust laws.
Depending on who you talk to, every law could be labelled as unjust. And therefore able to be disobeyed.
If this were to happen, what would society become?
Let’s say that for a minute, that laws are passed etc, to make it illegal to consume animals.
What if a group disobeys that law as “morally irresponsible” because their ancestors ate animal flesh, and they need to do it to feed their family?
Do we accept that?
Or do we bring down the “full force” of the law onto them, in a way that we haven’t had?
It Hurts The Movement
While these stunts get praise and accolades from those within the performer focused echo chamber, outside it, they do very little to help “the cause”.
These stunts are presented with a very biased view by the media who thrive on sensationalism, fear and division. I am yet to see one protest, regardless of what it is about, portrayed positively by the media.
With most of society being inundated with stories from the media, and that view influencing their opinion, we should be aiming to stay out of it as much as possible.
Something that isn’t able to be done with mass “civil disobedience” stunts.
Public relations aside, these stunts hurt the movement for other reasons.
It shifts the focus away from the animals, and their plight, and places it on the performer.
The focus is on their “record”, rather than their knowledge and understanding of veganism and animal rights.
It becomes about what they are seen to be doing “for the animals”, rather than what they actually are doing.
It also takes money and resources away from the movement.
Take a recent court case here in Queensland.
Three performers were caught stealing animals due to bragging about it on social media.
They played on the sympathy of others and crowd-funded around $20,000 to pay their legal bills. (This is despite being able to access legal aid, and offers of pro-bono advice).
That money could have gone to any number of areas that would have had a better outcome “for the animals”, and the movement.
That amount would have paid for a training facility and food for over 200 people for a weekend to learn about actual animal rights, and how to engage with those who aren’t vegan.
It could have paid for the sponsoring of 16 pigs for a whole year at a local sanctuary.
It could have been used to buy over 400 “The Case for Animal Rights” books to help activists understand what animal rights actually is. (Think how much better the movement would be with that many books in circulation?)
Instead, that money went somewhere that will be of no benefit to “the animals”.
What Alternatives Are There?
If we shouldn’t be engaging in civil disobedience stunts, what else is there?
This depends on what you want to actually do, rather than what you want to be seen to be doing.
First of all, I would be staying away from any sort of “mass message” approach.
It won’t work.
And the ROI is likely to be negligible, to say the least.
Instead, focus on becoming better yourself.
The better you become, the more likely that those who aren’t vegan will notice what you do. (I’d also stay away from goals of wanting to “go viral”, and instead focus on one person).
Remember the following quote from Seneca in Letters from a Stoic
Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob. Otherwise, we shall repel and alienate the very people whose reform we desire; we shall make them, moreover, reluctant to imitate us in anything for fear they have to imitate us in everything
You could organise a weekly bbq for a few neighbours, making sure that only vegan suitable food is served. This has the triple purpose of exposing your neighbours to other things, showing them (by making it) that vegan-suitable food isn’t that much of a challenge, and it shows them that vegans are normal members of society.
You could become politically active.
By this, I don’t mean jumping on the bandwagon of one party and signing their song. I mean actively engaging with your elected representative.
Any, and every time they do something that isn’t giving other animals equal consideration let them know.
Write them a letter (I prefer this option over email, and still think it has a greater impact), organise a meeting with them to talk to them face to face.
Organise others in the electorate to do the same thing. (Do all this individually, rather than as a group. It is easier for politicians to dismiss a group of 20 rather than 20 individuals).
You could start your own blog, and write articles about veganism.
While they may not have as much glory and social media cred attached to them as a sit-in live-streamed, they are still useful maybe even more “effective”.
Remember, the less the media know about what we are doing, the harder it is for them to portray us in a negative light.
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