A few thoughts on elitism in the animal movement

collapse-diceOne of the central tenets of veganism is how the vegan lifestyle should be generally accessible to all.  This is to say that emphasising animal rights ought to lead to a way of social organisation that includes foundational ideas of justice, solidarity and equality that would allow for that to happen.

The present animal movement contains many groups with approaches that rely on privilege and inequality as a strategy to alter treatment for non-human animals in such a way that animals may suffer less.  This approach neglects the vast system that is responsible for subjugating non-human animals whilst it maintains the supply and demand for exploited bodies, and this is one consequence of an approach that has prioritised an appeal to the elite in society.  So instead of a focus on veganism and animal rights where people are supported to make changes, with those ‘barriers’ to a vegan lifestyle objectively examined, their message instead reflects a campaigning style that favours an appeal to those who have accumulated and maintained a vast amount of power and influence at the expense of human / non-human animals and the environment.

This conventional campaigning approach from mainstream groups has allowed the fundamental issue of power to remain largely unchallenged.  Indeed, it purposefully neglects to examine the issue in order to encourage and reassure those potential ‘allies’, whilst concurrently promoting such methods of advocacy in the grassroots movement, commonly articulated around the dichotomy of ‘professionals’ (bearers of ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’) and the ‘civilians’ (those that have not thought through their approach to advocacy).

This also presents a reflection of the animal movement itself, where the top layers of the movement accumulate and recycle money within their own organisations rather than seeking to distribute wealth amongst advocates, this appears to be viewed as money they have earned, rather than money to be used to end the system of animal exploitation.  Another common theme is how they share their own work or that of their close associates, intentionally overlooking that which other people do, unless there is a way to gain from sharing that work.

This is the case for the vast majority of larger groups (often termed ‘non profits’), and it is indicative of how intrinsic rights for animals have been de-centred from mainstream activism, whilst those same animals are concurrently used for promotional campaigns.  These situations notoriously focus ‘help’ for animals in ways that don’t emphasise attitudinal or behavioural change in a way that would reflect a vegan philosophy and lifestyle, whilst appropriating the effects of grassroots vegan activism as an inherent part of their own success (increased supply of vegan products for example).

It is worth emphasising that a justice approach brings animals into the community, it brings environmental and human consideration into our ideas.  Where we fail to connect these issues we do a vast disservice to the interconnection of justice movements.  Whilst we create our own spaces that can include a broad critical analysis of society and injustice, we ought to also reflect on the many groups that stand on the backs of animals in the name of ‘effectiveness’, their power, money and influence working counter to our own activism.  Whilst they have claimed we are all in this together heading in the same direction, we should be clear their framing of non-human animals does not reflect a justice approach, and instead reveals a patronising ‘compassion’ associated with the elite.

So with this in mind we can instead seek out alternatives to the (speciesist) corporate approach that diminishes ‘rights’ based campaigning.  We can focus our efforts on nourishing the grassroots rather than transferring resources to the higher echelons of the animal movement.  We can seek out excellent work that reflects a rights based approach created by individuals and grassroots groups, where we encourage people to learn about veganism and animal rights as part of a social justice approach that is an inherent part of the broader social justice movement.  In so doing we can utilise these ideas to inform our activism.


Further reading / resources:

From Animals to Anarchism.  By Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll.

Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights.  By Bob Torres.

Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective.  By Casey Taft.

Protest, Inc.  By Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron.

‘Veganish’ or vegan? An Animal Rights Perspective.  By Kevin Watkinson.


Some groups / organisations / pages to look for:

Black Vegans Rock

Chilis on Wheels

Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary Ireland

Food Empowerment Project

Free From Harm

Project Intersect

Resistance Ecology

Sistah Vegan Project

Striving with Systems

TAVS – The Advocacy of Veganism Society

The Philosophy of Animal Rights by Dr. Tom Regan

Triangle Chance for All

Vegan Feminist Network

Vegan Information Project


Vegan Publishers (and the blog)

VINE Sanctuary


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