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Using Single-Issue Events as a Focal Point for Vegan Education.

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Q: Can single issue campaigns (SICS) or wedge issues related to animal rights be used as a way to reach people who reject our vegan message outright? If we succeed in having others believe that supporting the circus or rodeo is wrong on ethical grounds, can we not expect some of these people to progress to veganism?

Gary Francione:

I have long been against single-issue campaigns because they encourage the false belief that some forms of exploitation are worse than others. I am not saying that you should not engage in peaceful demonstrations at a circus or whatever; I am just saying that you ought to be distributing literature and educating people about why ALL animal use is unjustifiable. Using an event like a circus as a focal point for vegan education is not necessarily a bad idea. As a general matter, however, I see single-issue campaigns as problematic, whether they are regulatory (making practice X more "humane") or whether they purport to be "bans" or prohibitions. They convey the impression that some forms of exploitation are worse than others and confuses people.

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I have struggled to understand why SIC's are a bad thing - or not a positive thing. I don't believe that by protesting at the circus that makes the statement that zoos are ok or that the work of the Sea Shepherd says that minks in fur farms aren't as important as dolphins. I believe that every single action done on behalf of any animal is worthy. I don't think people necessarily want the vegan message especially if they have never had anything to do with veganism. I think people are more likely to get the vegan message if they can see that their beloved dolphin is no different to a hen in a cage or an elephant in a circus. I also know, as sure as the heart beats inside my chest, that a hen wants out of a cage. She doesn't want me to hand out Why Vegan pamphlets out the front of her cage with the hope that her abuser, her captor, will get the message

What about this single-issue campaign?

WHEATFIELD, NY - Hundreds of people spent a good portion of their day protesting outside of the Niagara County SPCA Saturday. The animal shelter has gotten plenty of attention this week and was the site of some outcry, just as an investigation is about to get underway.

Is it a bad thing that hundreds of people take to the streets to protest on behalf of other animals? Is it really the case that unless activists do it exactly right, according to what one theory says is right, that such a protest actually makes things worse? 

If a person thought that what was needed in a protest such as this was an anti-speciesist vegan message, wouldn't the right thing to do be to show up at the event with signs in hand? 

Roger, your comment (elsewhere) on the difference between single issue campaigns and single issue events clarified this issue for me. I now have a better understanding of which issues to support.

Sharron, I can only speak for myself, but I find most single issue campaigns to be problematic. An example I have used before is the SIC based on ending (for example) dolphin slaughter in Japan. 

Advocates may get together to protest the slaughter of dolphins, which is a worthy cause, of course. No slaughter should ever be seen as insignificant. But, where I think the problem begins, is that these advocates, whilst protesting the slaughter of dolphins, will be wearing leather, eating other animals, and making claims that dolphins, and only dolphins, are worthy of their protection. They will stop at KFC on the way home from their protest, believe that their actions are sufficient to make significant changes in the world, and not think about other animals, other than how they can exploit them (except for dolphins in Japan) again, until the same protest the following year. 

I believe SICs like this can be confusing and send a dreadful message to the general public. I believe these campaigns also make advocates look like hypocrites and dismiss the seriousness of advocating for other animals, and according them the respect and dignity they deserve. 


Tim, many people who organise these events don't allow protesters to turn up with signs, leaflets or even a voice for veganism and equal consideration of other animals. 

I've been told that I wasn't welcome at a PeTA organised circus protest here in Brisbane unless I was willing to hand out literature and speak out about circus animals, and only circus animals. This is not uncommon at all. I was also recently told the same about another protest in Brisbane, as that is not what they are asking for, they are ONLY asking for a certain thing and they believe the public will be confused if they don't keep the focus on that campaign, and nothing else. 

I agree Carolyn, and I think the same approach was used for Ban Live Export.  It was a single issue campaign, not single issue event (my new favourite description!)

See I don't see a problem with handing out literature about circuses at a circus protest. We have to chip away at the abuse bit by bit. Obviously getting people to go vegan is the ultimate goal but on the way to veganism getting them to stop going to the circus is a step in the right direction. Then perhaps after that they may start to think about other animals in a different light. 


Carolyn, It sounds to me like you are saying the individuals that make up the campaign are what make it problematic, not the campaign itself, which are two quite different analyses. Our vegan friend went over to Japan with some other vegans on this campaign. They definitely weren't wearing or eating products derived from animals (they even survived the tsunami and aftermath maintaining veganism). I understand that some of the main organizers are not vegan and thus speciesist - but does that make the campaign speciesist? I think there are valid concerns about whether or not the message is speciesist, or whether or not is speciesist (or just inefficient) to fly 1/2 way around the world when there are 100s, if not 1000s, of animals being killed and consumed in your home town every day.

Carolyn, don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't do (unless it is the police and you don't want to be arrested). We show up with our own signs and own literature all the time. We tell the groups offering us signs/literature that say, "Elephants Suffer in the Circus" or "End Unnecessary Animal Testing", "No Thanks, we have signs/lit." We did this even before we formed a group. While you seem to be dealing with a more hostile crowd there, I urge you to tell them you have just as much right to be there as they do!

I was just using dolphins in Japan as an example, Mark. It's one of the most popular campaigns in Australia, along with SSCS, particularly at this time of year. 

I have absolutely no problem with people protesting against Taiji. Ric O'Barry is a friend of mine and I have enormous respect for him, along with Paul Watson and many others who spend their time trying to end the Taiji massacre. 

What I have a problem with, and it's not uncommon in my experience, is when people elevate dolphins (as an example) above other species, because they are "cute", "intelligent" or "more like humans", or for any other reason.

I've experienced campaigns in Brisbane that are incredibly speciesist, ridicule vegans, and demand that dolphins be the sole focus of their advocacy for the above reasons, and more. 

I applaud anyone who is willing to defend other individuals, but I believe the hypocrisy and refusal to acknowledge the facts that I've experienced in many of these campaigns is damaging to those who are advocating for an end to speciesism and respect for all other individuals, equally. 

I'm not sure if it's the campaign or the organisers that I find more problematic, I will give that some thought.  

Thanks, Mark! :) 

I don't think we should generalise about single issue campaigns - each should be judged on it's own merit.  Imo a grassroots initiative to highlight local animal rights violations can't be put in the same category as PeTA's fundraising anti-fur campaign, for example. On a grassroots level in a speciesist society, it's not single issue campaigning, it's multiple issues campaigning - getting out there demonstrating against each and every animal rights violation that is local to us and also obvious to our neighbours who aren't vegan yet.  

People love other animals but get stuck in denial and disconnect because of society's speciesism.   'Prevegans' ;) involved in SICs are very receptive to the vegan message because they have made their first step toward seeing society's, if not yet their own, hypocrisy and violations.

SICs can be a vehicle for promoting veganism as a longer term goal but primarily their effectiveness in protecting and saving the lives of individuals on a local level is so very important.  

I think Francione creates confusion about SICs by saying  they convey the impression that some forms of exploitation are worse than others and then covers his social networking site with the single issue of adopt/foster DogsOnDeathrow.

Does that make him a Moral Schizophrenic or a New Welfarist?


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