American activist Jake Conroy has been posting a series of videos on youtube on strategic issues of relevance to the animal rights movement under the banner Are We Winning? Jake is best known for his involvement in Stop Huntingdon Cruelty USA. An offshoot from the parent group, SHAC, founded in the UK in 1999, SHAC USA played a big part in bringing Huntingdon Life Sciences to hits knees. As a result he and other organisers received harsh prison sentences in 2006.
The first instalment looks at the “short attention span when it comes to the history of the movement and what it’s been doing in the past.” This is getting worse due to people’s reluctance to look back to sources around before the internet and he gives the example of a group of new activists who didn’t want to read magazines from the nineties. The importance of knowing history, Jake argues, is that we can understand what worked and what didn’t and how we can improve on what we did in the past.
Jake then gives recent examples of protests or actions which made claims that were untrue. A daylight slaughterhouse raid in California claimed it was the first open rescue in the USA but in fact such actions took place in the nineties. Rats were rescued from the Yellow Rat Bastard Company in New York in 1997 and there was an earlier open daylight rescue from a rabbit farm. Film of both actions is shown. The point isn’t to download what is happening now, Jake says, only to enable us to learn from the past and campaign more effectively.
The other reason to learn about history is its the best guide to knowing whether we really are winning. Jake says that animal rights activists love to “talk numbers and statistics and to inflate those things to give the impression we are winning”. We hear a lot about being at a “tipping point” but the reality is different and understanding the past is the key to realising that.
Some examples. A march in Israel last year which drew 25-30,000 people was billed as the biggest protest for animals ever. But a march in New York in 1990 had at least 50,000 participants, yet six years later there were just 3,000. Jake says what’s important is to focus on why there was such a dramatic drop in attendance in just years to prevent something similar taking place.
Jake then looks at the oft-repeated quote about the huge rise in veganism the UK – up 360% in the ten years to 2016. That meant there were about 1.6-1.7m vegetarians and vegans but the Realeat Survey 1984-90: changing attitudes to meat consumption found that there were then about 2.1m vegetarians and vegans in Britain. In other words from 1990-2016 there was a decrease of at least 400,000 in the numbers not eating meat or animal products. Jake asks: “Where did we go wrong? Was it society that changed or was it the culture? I don’t know but these are the things we should be looking at.”
It would seem logical if Jake came across as cynical and jaded in his video, but he doesn’t. The message is upbeat and forward looking.He’s simply arguing is the movement shouldn’t forget its past because, as we are often told, those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its errors. All in all this is very intriguing and well worth watching.
Three more editions of Are We Winning have been produced. Hall Passes asks why people with deplorable politics, such as racists, are often welcomed into animal rights because of their views on animals. Know Your History Pt 2 – The ALF examines the paradox of non-direct action groups who call themselves the ALF. Jake asks: “Are we winning when we start watering down and erasing the history of the radical animal rights movement to satisfy our current campaign needs?”
We Have to Do Better asks why sexual harassment and abuse in the animal rights movement is usually overlooked for the “sake of the animals”. Finally, We Need New Heroes poses the question: “Are we winning when we keep giving men undeserved hero status and allowing them to dictate the course of the animal rights movement?”
Hats off to Jake for making such as thought provoking series As he says: “We need to start having bigger conversations in the animal rights movement and that starts with asking difficult questions. Are We Winning? Let’s figure it out together.” I hope there will be more episodes soon.
All the films are on the Are We Winning youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTTlQEjQKByIegGc_CP2z1w/featured
Are We Winning can also be found on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/arewewinning43/