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“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
– Audre Lorde
While photographing a #FreePalestine rally in NYC on July 15, I ran into many friends. That’s no surprise for me in my hometown but what does stand out is how rarely I ever encounter any of my vegan/animal rights (AR) comrades at such human rights events.
Reminder: All our grievances are connected…
Please allow me to use the aforementioned Gaza-related rally as an example: $3 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars go to the Israeli military each year with the requirement that 74 percent of that money be used to buy weapons and equipment from U.S. defense (sic) corporations.
Translation: If you pay U.S. taxes, you’re culpable.
Also, from a more strict AR perspective, do you really think the massive bombardment being imposed upon Gaza only injures and kills humans?
Bigger picture: Do you think non-humans are spared in any war?
War is unhealthy for all species
On Feb. 13-14, 1945, Allied bombers laid siege to the German city of Dresden. Within the target zone was the Dresden Zoo, run by animal trainer Otto Sailer-Jackson. To help understand how deeply embedded speciesism can be, take a moment to ponder the standing Nazi order that if human life was endangered, all carnivores must be shot.
Anyway, as the bombing commenced, Sailer-Jackson recalled the scene:
“The elephants gave spine-chilling screams. Their house was still standing but an explosive bomb of terrific force had landed behind it, lifted the dome of the house, turned it round, and put it back on again… The baby cow elephant was lying in the narrow barrier-moat on her back, her legs up to the sky. She had suffered severe stomach injuries and could not move.”
Three hippopotamuses were drowned when iron debris pinned them to the bottom of their water basin. In the ape house, Sailer-Jackson found a gibbon that, when it reached out to the trainer, had no hands, only stumps. Nearly 40 rhesus monkeys escaped to the trees but were dead by the next day from drinking water polluted by the incendiary chemicals.
For those animals that made it to the next day, the assault was far from over. A U.S. aircraft pilot came in low, firing at anything he could see was still alive. “In this way,” Sailer-Jackson explained, “our last giraffe met her death. Many stags and others animals which we had managed to save became victims of this hero.”
Modern day wars are no less lethal to non-human earthlings…
Shortly after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq commenced, the Bahrain Gulf Daily News (April 18, 2003) reported that looters had emptied Baghdad Zoo of its animals “Monkeys, bears, horses, birds and camels have disappeared, carted off by thieves or simply left to roam the streets after their cages were pried open,” the paper reported. More than 300 animals went missing — only the lions and tigers remained. And the big cats were starving.
Some five months later, parts of the zoo were back up and running and U.S. soldiers were partying with Iraqi police after hours there.
Here’s what happened next: “A group of U.S. soldiers in civvies arrived at the zoo to party, armed with guns and beer. Mendouh the tiger was shot in the head three times after injuring a soldier who was trying to feed it through the bars of its cage. Head keeper Adil Salman Musa said: ‘The tiger bit his finger off and clawed his arm. So his colleague took a gun and shot the tiger.’”
War is deadly for all earthlings…
Vegans rightfully express confusion or outright disdain when environmentalists refuse to stop consuming animal products even though that industry is the top source of human-created greenhouse gases. However, our urgent stance would be made even more powerful if we worked to broaden our own perspectives.
Obviously, within a speciesist culture, animal liberation is inherently connected to eco-destruction but (you may wonder), what does this have to do with vegans going to an anti-war rally?
From My Lai to Hiroshima, from Fallujah to No Gun Ri, from Dresden to Mogadishu, across almost every inch of the globe, the U.S. Department of Defense (sic) has been and remains responsible for atrocities, oppression, and mass slaughter — of all species.
Horrendous, ongoing war crimes aside, the Department of Defense (DoD) is also the worst polluter on Planet Earth. For example: Releasing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined while simultaneously showing callous indifference for human and non-human species like, say, whales.
FYI: Veganism, animal liberation, and environmentalism are all intrinsically anti-war issues.
This means that defending non-human animals involves much more than protesting traditional and obvious sources of abuse. Unless the entire culture is examined and challenged, transformative change is virtually impossible.
All of our solutions are also connected…
AR activists defiantly use words like rape, slavery, incarceration, and torture to describe animal abuse and can become quite indignant when triggered humans confront them about such language. However, while using those words to describe animal abuse can be semantically accurate, it’s also alienating and not very effective — especially with most AR folks only focusing on obvious examples of non-human exploitation.
Consider this: We rightfully challenge social justice activists to expand their vision of liberation across species’ lines but how many AR activists ever jump to the defense of the human animals subjected to rape, slavery, incarceration, and torture?
For example, we justifiably wonder how some humans can stand against rape culture yet consume dairy — products that require the use of a “rape rack.” Meanwhile, many in the AR movement regularly utilize sexist, patriarchal, and misogynist language and structures.
The contradictions, comrades, flow in both directions — as the animals continue to suffer and die.
If we want so badly for others to recognize and share the grief we feel for our fellow earthlings, let’s look into our hearts and express the same level of intense sorrow for tortured and exploited humans. Such a crucial journey calls for deeper solidarity, broader connections, non-stop evolution and outreach, and compassionate intersectionality as a guiding principle.
As AR activists, we can pretend the struggle against speciesism is an isolated issue or we can work to create coalitions with radical allies — teaching them and learning from them in the process.
Which side are you on?
Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on a couple of obscure websites called Facebook and Twitter. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.