Asking the Right Questions

A call for papers has been sent out by folks "looking to anthologize the voices of queers involved in animal liberation." I think it would be wonderful to see more interaction between queer theory and veganism. But some of the questions suggested as topics for this book really bothered me, specifically:

Why do queer activists in Uganda but animal activists in the USA bear the brunt of police suppression in their respective countries? Are they similarly subversive of "cultural" practices that turn out to be critical to the maintenance of state power?

First, "animal activists" 1 do not "bear the brunt of police suppression" in the U.S. This is so ridiculous that it would funny if not for the fact that it is such a deadly serious issue.

It is overwhelmingly evident that people of color are disproportionately overrepresented in the prison system and under the control of the criminal justice system. Thus, the "brunt" of police suppression is experienced specifically by people of color; followed, perhaps, by poor people in general. Also, while I'm not well informed on the queer movement in Uganda, I do know that queer and transgender or gender nonconforming people in the U.S., particularly those who are people of color and/or poor, receive more police suppression as a collective than "animal activists" do.

Second, "animal activists" promote more police suppression than they receive. As a general group, most "animal activists" are more "critical to the maintenance of state power" than they are "subversive." The questions in this call for papers ignore how activists are manufacturing increased police suppression that targets oppressed groups by actively promoting stiffer sentencing for anti-cruelty laws, and specifically criminalizing "animal cruelty" identified with poor people and people of color (i.e., dog fighting and cock fighting). Consider these sessions from a conference of "animal activists" that took place just this past weekend:

Protect and Serve: Working with Law Enforcement
The panelists will discuss how making training and other resources available to local animal services and law enforcement agencies can help ensure that laws protecting animals are enforced. The presentation will include a discussion of the legal landscape as it applies to dogfighting, cockfighting, and farm animals—including working with law enforcement officials and the limits and opportunities of substantive animal cruelty laws and procedural avenues for taking action. The presentation will also include information on establishing and operating a humane enforcement agency for farm animals.

After Michael Vick: Combating Animal Fighting
Since NFL quarterback Michael Vick was indicted last year for his role in a large dogfighting operation, animal fighting arrests have increased, tougher laws have been passed throughout the nation, and grassroots campaigns have sprouted to tackle dogfighting and cockfighting once and for all. Yet many animals are still suffering at the hands of these criminals. What efforts are under way to eradicate animal fighting in the U.S., and what can you do to help?

"Animal activists" have long been directly involved in Humane Law Enforcement divisions of the police force, often working as Humane Officers. (The president of PETA, a former Humane Officer, is a prime example.) And Animal Planet's "Animal Precinct" is now in its seventh season. I've never heard of an equivalent LGBT Law Enforcement division or LGBT Officers, and the last time I checked Logo didn't have a "Queer Precinct" program.

The questions seem to imply that "animal activists" are somehow special targets of police suppression. So I have to say it, "animal activists" are no more "political prisoners" and any other prisoner in the U.S. While the term "political prisoner" isn't used in the call for papers, it is used often enough by "animal activists" that I feel the need to address it here. Applying this term to "animal activists" implicitly claims that there are nonpolitical prisoners. It ignores how the prison-industrial complex is a political system, and how all people within it are in fact political prisoners.

If the editors of this anthology really want to know, "Why have both homosexuality and veganism been dismissed as 'white things' beside the point of real liberation struggles?" or "Why, within the USA, are both the queer and animal liberation movements less diverse than they should be but portrayed as more white than they are?" then I think they only need to consider their own call for papers.

I would have much rather seen questions that better dealt with the problematic issues of law enforcement. For example, questions that ask: How do hate crime laws and anti-cruelty laws similarly harm oppressed groups, further state violence, and undermine movements for queer and nonhuman animal liberation? In what ways can liberation approaches to social justice like queer theory and veganism offer alternatives to the (neo)liberal strategies of well-resourced "gay" and "animal activist" nonprofit organizations that tend to favor law enforcement and marketplaces while ignoring the lived experience of people of color and poor people? How do these well-resourced "gay" and "animal activist" nonprofits perpetuate cultural practices of heteronormativity and human supremacy (e.g., "gay marriage" and "responsible pet ownership")? How does queer theory and veganism problematize these same cultural practices?

1. I put "animal activists" in quotes because it's an extremely vague term that can include anyone who is involved in any aspect of issues involving nonhuman animals. This includes "animal activists" who are involved in exploiting nonhuman animals. Popular examples include the flesh, milk, and eggs retailer John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods Market) and the slaughterhouse designer Temple Grandin (a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University).

Re: Asking the Right Questions

Damn, I want to read your anthology, that's for sure.

Reading this made me realize that one of the reasons why we even "notice" that (a handful of) animal activists go to jail is because it's like, what a minute! Educated, middle class white men aren't supposed to prison--what's going on here!? Whereas the millions of other people in prison are "supposed" to be there.... (And I feel the need to preemptively state that Rod Coronado = exception that proves the rule.)

It also reminds me of seeing one of those former prisoners speak to a 99% white audience and speak to us as though the only reason we would ever go to prison is for engaging in animal activism. Which is true! Whereas the one Black man in the audience could end up being killed by the cops for engaging in such crazy behavior as driving or walking down the street.

And finally I thought about when I ended up in the back of a police car for being an animal activist and it was at the behest of another "animal activist" group--one that a humane officer was instrumental in growing and sustaining. Plus they have the district attorney on their board of directors! Suddenly it all makes sense!

Re: Asking the Right Questions

Interesting post! I was excited by the announcement of the anthology via pattrice jones' blog but you bring up a very pertinent point about treatment of POC by police and within the "animal movement" that I wish would be discussed in additional detail.

As a vegan of color who participates in a number of online vegan/AR forums, I get a little miffed when I see posts about how you're not committed to AR causes if you don't protest, demonstrate, etc. is my talking one-on-one to other people of color about veganism, wearing a message shirt, posting fliers, etc. not "for the cause?"

I see the anthologies that jones and Breeze Harper are working on that have many areas of overlap and wish there could be a more representative body of writing on issues affecting underrepresented group within the AR movement, if you could call it a movement.

Re: Asking the Right Questions

Wow. If ever there was a poster-child for what's problematic with so many of the people who hover in and around the broadly-defined AR community, "Asking the Right Questions" is it. (And lest my words be misunderstood, I want to make it clear that I am part of that community.)

Clearly, s/he is the kind of person who seeks out chances to jump into on-going projects, twist some words around, and be self-congratulatory upon finding yet another way to divide an already divided movement. Too bad; it's clear from such things as his/her sarcastic tone, his/her insistence upon using quotation marks around the words "animal activists," and again, his/her deliberate misunderstanding of one sentence in a call for papers, that s/he wasn't interested in meaningful dialog -- s/he just wanted a chance to spew some venom.

Oh well. I just hope this person is actually doing some kind of WORK to benefit animals of all kinds (human and non-human) in addition to seeking and finding reasons to bait and undermine the other people who are devoting their lives to doing so.

This is why I generally stay away from such blogs, to be honest. If we could only stop slinging painful shit at each other, just what COULD we accomplish? Sort of blows the mind to think about.

Oh, Anonymous, you make me laugh

Oh, Anonymous, you make me laugh with your oh-so-textbook comments. Why don't we all shut up about our nasty non-white, non-straight, non-middle-class, etc. selves & just let everyone get on w/the REAL work to be done? We're being divisive! Who cares what the "real" AR folks might be doing that hurts us, screw that, let's just shut up & fall in line, right?

My eyes roll forever!

Re: Asking the Right Questions

You make some excellent points.

Regarding the prison reform movement, let's work towards more vegan options available in prison cafeterias. Prisoners shouldn't be forced to either abandon their ethical lifestyle or begin a food strike. Anyone, and I mean anyone, should have the right to choose vegan. Prisons ought to respect that right, as should schools and hospitals.

Re: Asking the Right Questions

Thanks for the clarification and sorry you were not able to make a comment by the editors of the anthology which seems very unfair. Things can easily get lost when posts are linked to linked posts and so on - somewhere down the line things get lost which is what happened here and I take responsibility for not looking further than Chris's post.

Cross posted comment from The F-Word