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Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

The following is an adaptation of something I wrote in March of this year in response to a proposed boycott of the State of Alaska. Friends of Animals, an animal protection group, promoted the idea of the boycott as a way to induce Alaska to halt its scheduled killing of some wolves. As proposed, it was the quintessential “single-issue campaign”. It focused on a particular group of animals of a single species, it was highly visible, it was designed, at least in part, to increase donations to Friends of Animals and it did not include, as I recall, any deliberate focus on either veganism or the rights of all nonhuman animals.

Here is, with minor modification, what I wrote at the time:

It’s been suggested to me that vegans are currently boycotting those companies that utilize domesticated farm animals. Therefore, this reasoning goes, the additional boycotts against states like Alaska that utilize or kill undomesticated animals are consistent and desirable.

I believe that both the premise (that vegans boycott the suppliers of animal products) and the conclusion (therefore other boycotts are automatically worthwhile) are incorrect.

Boycotts are organized political actions against the commercial interests of an entity with the goal of changing the behavior of that entity. By that definition, vegans don’t boycott the commercial food industries that supply animal products, because there isn’t any new behavior those companies could adopt to satisfy vegans, ending the boycott. For example, the only behavioral change by Tyson Chickens that would satisfy a vegan is for Tyson to cease their chicken killing operations altogether. So vegans are not using collective political action against these companies in order to change their behaviors, they are refusing to do business with them at all, under any conditions. So the premise is false, vegans aren’t boycotting the producers of animal products. (I believe that nonviolent protests against the producers of animal products can be worthwhile, but that is a separate question.)

But what if it were true that some boycotts by vegans against some commercial interests were being successfully undertaken? It doesn’t necessarily follow that a boycott against Alaska to protest the killing of wolves would therefore be desirable.

Here’s why:

The stated goal of the boycott is to stop the killing of animals. This presumably would be accomplished because the threat of a successful boycott, never mind the boycott itself, would cause Alaska’s tourism industry, among others, to lobby the state to cancel its wolf kill program. According to the plan, the two effects would be no wolves killed and tourism, at least, unaffected.

Would it work? Only in the sense that certain individual animals might not be killed right now and in certain ways.

The problem is that in 2009, Alaska issued 269,955 non-resident Sport Licenses to tourists, including 14,099 Hunting Licenses. The state also issued 12,180 Big Game tags to tourists in 2009.

The proposed boycott against the Alaskan Wolf Kill relies on the interests of the tourism industry of Alaska – which itself is helping to perpetuate the slaughter of thousands of land animals and hundreds of thousands of sea creatures. So, this proposed boycott sends the message to the public, and to those who are exploiting animals and facilitating the exploitation of animals, that the lives of a relatively small number of wolves are more important that the lives of all the other animals who are being killed, and who will continue to be killed, in Alaska. How could it be otherwise? If the tourism industry, to protect tourism itself, lobbies the government to end the wolf kill, then the effect is that thousands and thousands of other animals are going to be killed in Alaska. Why would an animal protection group protect the lives of a few wolves only to ensure the slaughter of thousands of other animals? From a rights-based perspective, this doesn’t make sense. From any perspective, this doesn’t make sense.

An effective boycott aimed at saving the lives of the most animals would be directed against the tourism industry, not enlisting its aid. The proposed Alaska boycott is not consistent or desirable; the conclusion that a boycott of Alaska would be worthwhile is false.

There may well be ways to effectively boycott industry and government to change their behaviors with respect to animals. The boycott of Alaska did not appear to be one of them.

Originally posted here:

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Comment by Susan Cho on November 7, 2010 at 0:05
Where's the "Like" button? Oh that's right. Only Facebook has that. Tim, that's a good point about the definition of a boycott (which it looks like Dunayer does not share). Have you heard about a call to boycott Canadian maple sugar?? Because the makers of maple sugar have so much clout with the government that they will strong-arm the politicians into stopping the seal hunt. Which decades of international pressure have not been able to accomplish.
Comment by Tim Gier on November 1, 2010 at 23:44
Hi Kate:

Thanks for posting the additional quote from Dunayer's work. I agree with what she says. I am talking now as well with someone who is working through these same sorts of ideas - how to conducts a Single-Issue-Campaign that doesn't have the usual problems associated with them. Coincidentally, I saw a comment by Steve Best the other evening where he seemed to suggest that "demos" are a thing of the past as the MDA crowd has realized that they are ineffective. I don't know the full context yet of his remarks and I will need to read more to understand the issue, but it is interesting to see that the problems with SIC's exist no matter who is undertaking them.

There's lots to think about!!


ps: Please post anything you like, whenever you want to, in any thread to anything I ever post here. More information is better than less, and I am always trying to learn.
Comment by Kate✯GO VEGAN+NOBODY GETS HURT Ⓥ on November 1, 2010 at 15:24
Hi Tim. Thanks. I'd be very interested to read any thoughts you may have on how we can carry out creative nonviolent nonspeciesist vegan education in the context of a campaign against vivisectors. I recognise and respect you as an independent thinker, and like Viral Vegan and many others I find everything you write (that I've read so far) to be interesting, and also progressive. Whilst I realise that campaigning against vivisectors may be problematic for a variety of reasons, I can see that its always useful to consider what else we can be doing that is consistent with abolition. I think there's a tendency for many fellow abolitionists to stick within what they know to be acceptable to their abolitionist peers, rather than attempting to analyse abolition itself which may allow them to think outside the box. As a framework for understanding abolition I find Dunayer's work tremendously useful and inspiring for helping me to work out what is and isn't consistent within abolition. I hope you will consider it appropriate that I add this very short excerpt, which relates to rescuing individuals from various situations, including from being the captives of vivisectors. Although it doesn't really relate to any kind of campaign against vivisectors as such, it may be considered to be relevant. I'd be happy to offer this comment again without the excerpt if that would be preferable.

Rescue - by Joan Dunayer. Speciesism pp 151-152, Chapter 10 Nonspeciesist Advocacy.

One way to reduce the number of abused and killed nonhumans is, of course, direct rescue. Adoption prevents a cat from being killed in a “shelter” or a rat from being killed after use in a school “science” project. Liberation saves a hen from further suffering, and then death, within the egg industry. In addition to rescuing one or a few individuals, activists can maintain sanctuaries for dozens or more nonhumans.

Such actions are non speciesist, akin to saving individual Jews from the Holocaust or helping individual African-Americans escape from slavery. Providing sanctuary to those in need in no way violates their rights. It gets them out of danger and frees them from abuse.

Unfortunately, direct rescue can save relatively few nonhumans. Also, in many cases, exploiters quickly “replace” rescued animals. For example, vivisectors readily buy new animals to use in experimentation interrupted by rescue; they start over with new victims.
Comment by Tim Gier on November 1, 2010 at 12:50

That's a good piece by Dunayer on boycotts. I've been thinking about ways that direct action can be carried out in ways consistent with abolition. It seems to me that creative nonviolent nonspeciesist vegan education can take place in the context of a campaign against vivisectors just as easily as at a farmer's market vegan tabling.
Comment by Viral Vegan on November 1, 2010 at 4:32
Another great blog. Always interesting. Always thought provoking. Never disappointed.
Comment by Kate✯GO VEGAN+NOBODY GETS HURT Ⓥ on October 31, 2010 at 18:01
Hi Tim. OK, here it is. Thanks for welcoming it.

Abolitionist Boycotts – by Joan Dunayer. SPECIESISM pp 153-154, Chapter 10 Nonspeciesist Advocacy

Although they lack the force of law, boycotts can be highly effective. Through boycotts, the public takes action that legislators won't.

Like bans, boycotts aren't necessarily abolitionist. A boycott of eggs from caged hens is "welfarist." It suggests that enslaving hens for their eggs is morally acceptable, provided that the hens aren't caged. In 2003 Compassion Over Killing (C.O.K.) asked the grocery chain Trader Joe's to stop selling eggs form caged hens. C.O.K. did NOT ask the store to stop selling ALL eggs. Implicitly, C.O.K. conveyed this message: sell only "free-range" eggs. Although C.O.K. calls it newsletter THE ABOLITIONIST, such an action sanctions the egg industry rather than advancing its abolition.

In contrast, a "Boycott Eggs" campaign would be anti-slavery (abolitionist), consistent with chicken emancipation. By persuading more people to stop buying eggs, it would reduce the number of suffering chickens while increasing opposition to the entire egg industry. "Welfarists" commonly say, "most consumers aren't ready to avoid eggs." It's advocates' job to change consumers' minds. Objecting to only eggs that come from caged hens sends the wrong message.

Similar to C.O.K. Farm Sanctuary has asked restaurants not to sell "white veal," flesh from calves who were kept anaemic and virtually immobilized (confined to crates so narrow that they couldn't turn around or lie with their legs outstretched). In doing this, Farm Sanctuary implies that selling PINK "veal" (flesh from non-anaemic, uncrated calves) is morally acceptable. No animal rights advocate considers flesh from ANY calf an acceptable menu item. A rights-based campaign would call for a boycott of all calf flesh, an end to the entire "veal" industry.

In addition to boycotting particular products such as eggs and calf flesh, activists can boycott particular speciesist enterprises, such as zoos, aquaprisons, circuses, rodeos, horse racing, or "swim with the dolphins" tourist attractions. Activists also can boycott particular companies, restaurants, or stores – such as body-care companies that test their products on nonhumans, restaurants heavily focused on flesh, and stores that continue to sell pelt coats. Such boycotts are directed at a form of exploitation, not the conditions under which the exploitation occurs. By all means, boycotts can and should expose those conditions, but the boycotts shouldn't be halted if the conditions of abuse are altered. A body-care company that tests on nonhumans should be boycotted whether or not the tests are performed at an especially cruel laboratory. A restaurant built on massive consumption of flesh – such as Burger King or K.F.C. - should be boycotted whether or not it requires its flesh suppliers to confine and kill animals in accordance with so-called humane standards.

Products and institutions also can be opposed before they exist. For example, if a city or university is planning to build a new aquaprison or vivisection facility, activists can try to prevent the facilities existence.
Comment by Tim Gier on October 31, 2010 at 17:09
Hi Kate,

Yes, please add the information you've suggested, that would be great.
Comment by Kate✯GO VEGAN+NOBODY GETS HURT Ⓥ on October 31, 2010 at 16:36
Hi Tim. Thanks for sharing this.
You say
"So, this proposed boycott sends the message to the public, and to those who are exploiting animals and facilitating the exploitation of animals, that the lives of a relatively small number of wolves are more important that the lives of all the other animals who are being killed, and who will continue to be killed, in Alaska."

This is the primary reason why I would not consider a boycott of Alaska to be a worthwhile boycott.
It's apparent to me that such a boycott could reinforce speciesism, which would make it counterproductive.

If it were considered to be helpful, I could add the short section from Speciesism entitled - Abolitionist Boycotts.



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