The title includes part of a memorable phrase from the movie Viva Zapata, a portrayal of the life of the famous Mexican revolutionary, where Emiliano Zapata, played by Marlon Brando, was told he should become the new nation’s leader, because a strong leader was needed. Zapata replied, “A strong leader makes a weak people. Strong people do not need a strong leader.” I think this is quite pertinent to anyone or any group attempting grassroots change.
It is sad and makes me despair when I see the burgeoning abolitionist movement regularly torn apart, divided and sullied from within. It makes me sad when I see advocates (or anyone) sniping at each other, even if one feels it’s justified in relation to a good cause. In the last few years I have witnessed an unfortunate pattern within the abolitionist vegan movement which is so very damaging and a lot of it stems from ego. There’s really no place in a nonviolent grassroots abolitionist vegan movement (in public or in private) for inflated egos, elitism, narcissism, drama, flame wars, competition, wilful ignorance, sniping, character assassinations, distortion or watering down of the message, mocking those who do not know better or mocking those who do, envy, sabotage, slander, lies, gossip or rejoicing in the humiliation of others. There really isn’t. And if someone repeatedly needs everyone to know who they are, if they want to be “the one”, “the leader”, the person everyone looks up to, (even if they claim they are not seeking this attention yet their behaviour says otherwise) then there’s a problem. It makes us all the poorer if we engage in this negative behaviour (or are seen to be engaging in it) and it does nothing to further the rights of nonhuman animals. It IS possible (and desirable) to provide constructive criticism of groups and individuals without demeaning and humiliating others. And it should not be viewed as being unrealistic or Pollyannaish to expect civil behaviour. Some people’s idea of “civil” or “justified” behaviour needs review. I sometimes wonder if people behave in their own personal lives as they do online. If so, then that’s rather disturbing. I doubt that they do. Unfortunately being online allows some to engage and delight in cowardly behaviour like bullying which they could not get away with in their own life. That says a lot about them.
My advice (for what it is worth) to advocates or anyone who is in the grips of this ongoing negative behaviour, whether they be the perpetrators or the victims/survivors of it, is to let go. Let go. Life is short, and sometimes shorter than we realise. Move away from those who spend their time engaging in this negative behaviour and / or who seek it out, because nothing good can come of it. It doesn’t make us better, it doesn’t make us superior, running down and slandering others no matter how justified we feel we may be. It does nothing to assist in keeping the message clear and authentic by engaging in clever, subtle, overt or covert character assassinations. It is counter-productive –to say the least– where the need to prevail, to “win”, by some may drive targeted individuals to the point where they opt-out in disgust, or worse, “spit the dummy” (an Australian saying) where individuals –even against their own better judgement– adopt a welfarist position rather than be associated with anything abolitionist. That’s very sad and unfortunate indeed when people respond this way.
Let me be clear. I am not saying we should tip-toe around issues and be mealy-mouthed to avoid making others uncomfortable. Clarity and moral consistency are essential if we are to shift the understanding of the non-vegan public and of advocates (welfarists) who are promoting welfare and single issue campaigns out of their own speciesism. And if we are doing education well, we are bound to upset some corporate career welfarists and we are bound to (and it is desirable to) cause cognitive dissonance in non-vegans. But if some of us are just targeting advocates and others simply because it amuses us or because we are not getting enough attention, or because they are not referring to us enough or because we need to regularly establish we are the “vanguard of the abolitionist movement” or because some individuals might be stealing our limelight, then we have a problem. I think that behaviour belongs back at high school.
We are all human and we all make mistakes, but each moment we spend in negative personal attacks is time not spent engaging in vegan education. At any given moment we can change our trajectory. Let’s get back to the real reason (hopefully) we became vegan and became involved in vegan education and that is to end this terrible violence and injustice by promoting the abolition of the property status of animals, and ending all forms of animal exploitation.
Veganism is about nonviolence and that does not mean passivity. Veganism is about ending the property status of animals and is the rejection of the idea that it’s morally acceptable to use animals as long as it is “humane”. We should not be apologetic about our position and our aims and we should be respectful, clear and morally consistent. Engaging in vegan education is all about the rights of other animals. It’s not about “winning” by dragging others through the mud. We all lose our patience at times and may say things in anger or frustration which are unhelpful or harmful and which we may regret, but if we are sincere in our claim that we want a nonviolent movement and a nonviolent world, then we should try to do our best to behave in a manner that is in keeping with this principle of nonviolence. I have failed numerous times in my own efforts but I continue to try. And equally as important, let’s educate ourselves thoroughly by reading non-speciesist animal ethics vegan material/books and obtain a good understanding of this material so we can educate others. Let’s address our own speciesism thoroughly so we don’t reinforce speciesism in others.
A study in 2011 revealed that it only takes 10% of a group committed to an idea, and it is inevitable that it will eventually become the prevailing opinion of the entire group. The key to that success — the report concludes — is “to remain committed”. So a vegan world is definitely achievable and is achievable in the not-to-distant future. But whether it happens in our lifetime or not, we should never waiver in our commitment to a clear vision.
We have an ever-growing nonviolent, grassroots, abolitionist vegan movement, and we don’t need bloated large animal charities. Let’s avoid destroying our precious movement from within. Let’s stop behaving as if we are agent provocateurs 😉 and keep it healthy and growing. Do not despair! Despite teething problems, despite egos, an authentic, nonviolent, grassroots, abolitionist vegan movement will survive and will prevail because it has truth on its side. It will prevail and prosper in spite of the prevalence of any destructive individual/s (and despite the “happy animal exploitation” movement) because the idea is greater than any one individual. And please note, anyone who thinks this is a directed at them should examine why, and what in their behaviour may warrant them to think that. 😉