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."*

It sure explains the class bias in what passes as the dominant form of nonhuman animal advocacy these days. Why conferences and festivals are occupied with vendors and influenced by corporate sponsors, why nonprofits push expensive restaurants and products, and why VegNews magazine focuses mainly on consumer products and avoids "confrontational" or "antagonistic" issues like challenging speciesism and human supremacy. If "real activism" means buying things, then naturally conferences should be attended by the upper-middle class, nonprofits funded by rich individuals and wealthy foundations, and magazines like VegNews are targeted to middle-class consumers.

Of course, this confusing of consumerism with activism leads to the lopsided view that nonhuman animal advocacy is a middle-class thing. After all, if you don't have a dollar in your wallet, if you don't have equal access to the marketplace, then you are not a "real activist." As a poor person who often doesn't have even a dollar in her wallet, I think this is insulting. Seeing consumers as the "real activists" marginalizes those of us who are poor and working-class activists. It privileges the marketplace and consumerism over social justice and structural change.

Regan's concept of the "real activist" is identical to the neoliberal appropriation of veganism advocated by others. The logic is, to paraphrase George W. Bush, if people stop shopping the nonhuman animal exploiters win. Of course, Bush doesn't want people acting as "antagonists in confrontation" either.

* The richest 20 percent of the population makes 86% of all consumer purchases, while the poorest 20 percent makes only 1.3% of those purchases. Source: Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People, by Anne Bishop.