Class Bias and Nonhuman Animal Advocacy

The following is from "A Discussion with Tom Regan" in Ahimsa Oct/Dec 1987; I think it illustrates the class bias inherent in well-resourced nonhuman animal advocacy:

Tom Regan: People think of activists as antagonists in confrontation, and so on. I think of activists in terms of people with a dollar bill in the wallet; that's the way I think of the real activists.

An activist is anyone who goes into the marketplace with a dollar in hand, who says "I'm going to buy this rather than that because it has something to do with the way that animals are treated."

This would mean that the more disposable income a person has the more potential that person has of being a "real activist." (Read more...)

The Need to Address Classism at Conferences, Seminars, and Festivals

I know a lot of people get excited about conferences, seminars, and festivals organized around vegetarianism and/or nonhuman animal advocacy. I wish I could get as excited about these events, but I tend to be put off by the ever present class privilege that is built into the vast majority of them. (Read more...)

'Low, Dishonourable and Cowardly'

For three years I worked at a national nonhuman animal advocacy organization that was campaigning to end the aerial massacring of wolves in Alaska. This is just one of the Alaskan government's many campaigns to control, manage, or eliminate native nonhuman animals. As the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin has the power to end these violent programs. As governor, Palin is actively supporting and promoting these violent programs. So I think it is significant that the acceptance speech Palin gave last night at the Republican National Convention was written by former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully. (Read more...)

Feminism Beyond Transphobia

I no longer feel that continued education about trans issues within women's communities would change their oppressive behaviors in any significant degree, unless they are actually willing to change. It is not the lack of knowledge or information that keeps oppression going; it is the lack of feminist compassion, conscience and principle that is. -Emi Koyama, "Whose Feminism is it Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion Debate"

When it comes to asking, "What are we going to do about transphobia among feminist-vegetarians/ecofeminists?" Emi Koyama just about sums it up. These are people who currently dominate the feminist discourse on nonhuman animals; as authors, speakers (in some cases very well paid speakers), and academic they have a vested interest in continuing the status quo. (Read more...)

For Global Justice Against Global Warming

In Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning, George Monbiot makes the case for how the United Kingdom can cut its greenhouse gases by 90 percent. Heat has been published in several editions suggesting that the strategy for cutting greenhouse gases can be applied to other capitalist countries in the Global North. In the book, Monbiot seeks to prove that the capitalist North can hold onto its privilege while "joining what must become the world's most powerful political movement."

After giving a speech on climate change, Monbiot was asked, "When you get your 80 per cent cut, what will this country look like?" To which, another member of the audience answered, "A very poor third-world country." So in the book, Monbiot sets out to show that a 90 percent cut doesn't mean we have to "ditch the comforts ... which I – like all middle-class people in the rich world – now take for granted" (i.e., privileges of racism, classism, colonialism and empire). Read more...

Pet Ownership and Police Violence

On the LA Eastside blog, Browne Molyneux posted about the "Symbolic Gestures of Nothingness" made by a PETA volunteer who targets working class people of color in downtown LA's Fashion District for illegal animal sales. In her post, Molyneux makes two points: 1) targeting "illegal" pet sales doesn't challenge pet ownership; and 2) targeting people of color working on the street perpetuates racism and classism.

Animal Protection and Capitalism

Under capitalist class relations, animals can be worked, sold, killed, and consumed, all for profit. --Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought

Expanding on what I wrote previously, Orientalism and nationalism are not the only oppressive ideologies that rely on protectionism. Capitalism is another oppressive system that is shored up by the appeals of protectionism. (Read more...)

Green is the New Green

"Green" dollars in USA "Green Movement" is the most recent topic on the Sistah Vegan Project Blog, which asks who really benefits from "green" consumerism.

I'm asking this question because it feels like being green is all about consuming green products and making companies invested in "green" products, richer. Rarely do I see mainstream ads, workshops, and lectures about looking at "green" in terms of environmental racism, or looking and critiquing its recent roots in "selling" "green". Is it me, or is "Green" these days all about "buying" and less about making systemic changes and questioning the very nature of capitalistic moral economy and systemic racism, imperialism, and neocolonialism? It just feels like "green" is all about making money from a very class privileged USA view of "ecosustainability". ... I'm beginning to think that "green" is about "green dollars" being made from a "trend" that is a one-dimensional issues for the mainstream.

The entry was posted on April 23, and I can sympathize and understand where this is coming from. Earth Day was the day before and just about everything related to Earth Day came with a sales pitch (the example for "sales pitch" in The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms is even "Let's hear your latest sales pitch for energy conservation"). We were told the answers to every (privileged) environmental issue was inevitable a product you could buy, such as a "green" cars, "green" light bulbs, "green" kitchen cleaner, "green" homes, "green" electricity, etc.

Of course these only relate to the environmental issues that effect the privileged. As the Sistah Vegan Project Blog pointed out, environmental racism and other social justice issues relating to the environment aren't covered. Anyway, what product could you buy to stop a waste incinerator from being built in a poor community of color? Since such a community doesn't have the disposable income to afford paying a premium for "green" products anyway the response seems to be, "Who cares?"

This is a problem to me because why should someone need to be "economically privileged" to guarantee that they can afford clean water, organic hemp clothing, non-toxic materials to build their "green" home, etc? And if they can't afford it, why are they looked down upon as "contributing to the global warming problem" or "not caring about their health"? What structures and systems make it so that low-income people can only afford to cloth their bodies in "toxic" clothing, or drink "toxic" water, or drive "toxic" cars?

The sturcture and system of profit is right. It's the system of capitalism and individualism. The system strips the social movement of all political, moral, and social values, which have no use in the marketplace. "Green" consumerism/capitalism assumes the "Invisible Hand" of the market, and everyone acting in their own self-interest, will take care of everything political, moral, and social. Environmental racism isn't an issues, because the system discourages people from thinking about other people.

I see a similar trend with "vegan" items, in which the product is "non-human animal cruelty free", but the packaging is often insanely "un-green" and the process it took to make it "vegan" (i.e., sweatshops, violation of human rights, etc) is questionable. But, it sells to many vegans who only seem to solely be focused on the fact that the product, wrapped in layers of plastic or whatnot, is "cruelty free" because it has been labeled as "vegan".

Whether it's labeled "green" or "vegan" what we're really talking about is capitalism. You can't buy social change. A cleaner and less exploitive world won't be created by the marketplace. You only get that through social organizing, which is antithetical to the capitalist model.

Health as Wealth

On July 19, Breeze Harper, founder of the Sistah Vegan Project, spoke at the University of Pittsburgh on connecting our diet to social justice in a talk titled, "Race, Class, Food and You!" [based on her book chapter "Decolonizing the Diet: A bell hooks approach to Nutritional Liberation for 'At Risk' Youths".]

The challenge, Harper noted, is that "America's concept of wealth and success is monetary and material based, and not rooted in the wealth of a healthy mind, body and soul." And while many people are concerned with healthy eating, Harper explained that the consequences of unhealthy eating habits for middle- and upper-income white youth "are far less life threatening than that of low-income Black and Latino boys who collectively practice junk food consumption and are already 'at risk' in achieving a healthier life." (Read more...)