Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Does Anyone Go Vegan After Being Yelled At?

Does Anyone Go Vegan After Being Yelled At?
Considering Why We Need To Be More Mindful With How We Protest


Last weekend, Vancouver-based activists from Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and new Victoria group The Critical Cat (formerly The Raging Kucing) allied for a number of actions, including a protest of the downtown restaurant 'pig'.

You can view the 'viral video' from the perspective of a 'pig' patron:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdexwwpBD8Y

CTV's report:

http://vancouverisland.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=498026

Jordan from The Critical Cat also produced a video from his perspective:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjmzg1e27Bg

For some, this might be an upsetting or frustrating article. For others (likely more introverted), this could be a more refreshing perspective.

Image Source
Let's begin with the title: does anyone go vegan after being yelled at?

Has anyone gone vegan after finding themselves in a situation like this? Anyone at all? Alternatively, has anyone gone vegan after seeing footage like this? (Part of the goal of the action is to have it 'go viral' on social media, which is unreliable, but in this instance succeeded locally.)

I've been an activist for a fairly long time - since 1996. In that time, I've coordinated and seen numerous people in Victoria participate in demonstrations similar to this, and after a few events end their public activism, or switch to different methods of activism. Very few people spend more than a few months or sometimes years participating in activities like this. Fewer still continue on this path for an extended period, and perhaps there's something we can learn from this.

Carol Adams addresses this form of activism in her book 'Living Among Meat Eaters'. Carol describes how a meal or restaurant setting is just about the worst time to address the issue. When someone is sitting with animal flesh in their hands and mouths, they aren't really in a position where they can be open to this topic. Take a moment to think about it - if you were eating a vegan chocolate treat, and someone told you that this particular chocolate is made with human slavery, are you really going to be in a mindset to be receptive to that message? Or if you're snacking on some So Delicious ice cream, would you want - at that moment - to learn the company was bought in September by WhiteWave, who owns a massive organic dairy company? It's probably not the time you're going to want to hear about this, and it's no different when someone is consuming animal products.

This approach, while proper in fact, is poor in timing. It creates an environment of polarization and judgement. From the perspective of the patron, it's awkward and leaves them defensive. This situation is not conducive to compassion and education, which is what is needed to be effective in outreach.

The media fall-out from these PETA-esque actions are also often unhelpful to our goals, here's a Facebook posting from Victoria Buzz Media:

https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaBCBuzz/posts/405205696293626

It's overwhelmingly negative. To vegan readers, the comments are abhorrent. They're grating, ignorant, hurtful and insulting. The commenters are empathizing with the restaurant patrons, not enslaved livestock. There is a young girl in the first video who appears traumatized by the event. I don't believe any of this is helpful in getting people to reconsider what they're eating.

Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals
I would implore groups to reconsider these actions. There are times and places vocal protest is appropriate and necessary, but it is a tool that should be used with consideration. Outside the Vancouver Aquarium or across from the downtown horse-drawn carriages would be better received and considered by passers-by. They are not yet committed to the concerned practice, have a choice to opt out, and can reasonably approach the activists for more information. A peaceful, non-aggressive demonstration outside the restaurant would be an improvement. Activists could present thoughtful messages on signs that people can consider in that moment. Gently offer literature. Become a kind representative of other species that restaurant patrons will want to approach.

Also worth considering: signs like "It's Not Food, It's Violence" might be too abstract. Many vegans understand what it means, but most will be unsure what it is referring to. Patrons will be asking themselves: what is 'pig' doing that's violent, did they have some kind of animal abuse event here? Is there a patron in the restaurant who has done something? Is it violence to vegetables too? Is a lion violent, and do they need to be stopped too?

We need to consider that to the uninitiated, 'violence' is obviously not an association with 'hamburger'. Yelling it doesn't help with this comprehension either. And perhaps even further out of the realm of their understanding is a sanctuary rescue. It is unlikely any patrons will be familiar with what an animal sanctuary is, or the life of a sanctuary pig. Further, they won't even know what a non-sanctuary pig has gone through. There is no point of reference for most, short of fantasies like 'Old MacDonald's Farm'.

This begs the question: is the demonstration an effort to educate, or vent? What draws people to these actions? Activists are upset that this injustice is occurring in several buildings (restaurants) on nearly every block downtown. And that is a justified feeling! But is the action for the activists to blow off steam and satisfy their catharsis, or to try and create dialogue and understanding? Is activism an outlet for our frustrations, or a means to effectively inform the ignorant of a hugely important issue?

Please know: I am not trying to paralyze, stifle or stagnate activism. In my experience it's relatively easy to embolden a group and participate in something like this. Yelling is easy and lazy - at least, it was for me and many I know. What's not easy is devising effective ways to garner attention that is actually well-received. It is not so easy to offer a digestible message that is contrary to the upbringing of most people in a way they can consider. It is hard work, but our movement deserves it.

'pig' is a horrible restaurant. Not only do they celebrate and glorify the murder and consumption of animals, they do so unashamedly, and smash you in the face with it. It reduces a smart, sensitive being into a fleeting fancy (unnecessary food). It's easy enough for a vegan to walk by McDonald's and not blink, but 'pig' is obtrusive and combative. I would ride my bike up Johnson several times a week, and even after a year I couldn't help but feel ill seeing their sign on the corner. It's a despicable sight.

I want to see it go away as much as the next vegan. But if we're going to target it or their cohorts, please, let's do it in a way that will actually result in patrons changing their minds, not provide them with fuel to denigrate veganism.

==

I want to give credit to Almira Tanner of DxE for her participation on CFAX Radio this morning (podcast link.) She was very well spoken, and had the savvy to return the conversation to the topic of animal rights and veganism when it was derailed by aggressive callers. She did a great job of representing vegan and animal rights values, and I hope we get to hear more from her in less hostile settings, where she can converse rather than defend.

UPDATE #1 (11/27) - Here's the November 25th CFAX Terry Moore radio show featuring Almira from DxE, Corie from The Critical Cat, and myself to hear different angles on the issue: https://soundcloud.com/terry-moore-cfax/november-26th-4pm#t=7:05

UPDATE #2 (11/30) - Almira from DxE has kindly responded, please scroll down to the Comment section. Thank you, Almira, for continuing this discussion, I will respond shortly as well.

Dave Shishkoff, Editor
Twitter: @Victoria_Vegan & @VeganCyclist (personal)
NEW: Facebook Page: Facebook.com/TheVictoriaVegan
Facebook Discussion Group: /groups/TheVictoriaVegan

6 comments:

  1. I totally and completely respectfully disagree.The very,very best time to get someone to think about the violence they are consuming is while they are consuming it.They are being shamed, as so they should be.When we get to a place in society where the oppressors are SHAMED, we will break the chains of the oppressed.These protests are tyhe beginning of the end of Animal enslavement.Only the most digusting and horrible will continue to consume Animals in the New World.Its Happening Now.Watch from the sidelines or be a part of History

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My experience has been the opposite. When people are engaged in the exploitative but - to them - enjoyable and socially rewarded act is when they're most defensive and least likely to listen to challenges. For example, the most effective anti-circus action I ever attended was at a popular non-circus event attended by the demographic most likely to go to the circus - families with young children. The difference was almost night and day. At the circus, people are already vested in seeing the circus; they fight off criticism. At the non-circus event, people put up almost no resistance and we conveyed tons more information and had way more productive conversations.

      FWIW, I find that almost always, my advocacy works best if I offer people alternatives that appeal to them. Offering food is amazingly persuasive. Perhaps this is one reason: People tend to already agree with the core principle of refraining from avoidable harm. But they fear that vegan alternatives to their meat and dairy will be unsatisfying or otherwise deficient, and they cling to their deeply habituated behaviors.

      Delete
  2. Note: This is Part I of II of my comments.

    Hi Dave (and Victoria Vegan readers and CFAX-radio listeners),

    I’m writing to address some of the concerns raised about myself, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), and our recent demonstration at pig restaurant in Victoria, BC.

    Currently, our primary aim at DxE is to create, connect and inspire activists. While I think we can both agree that our ultimate goal is to see an end to the exploitation of non-human animals, we at DxE feel that in order to achieve this we must first create a strong and confident animal rights movement. So while, yes, some people do go vegan after witnessing a disruption (Jude, one of the most active members of the San Francisco East Bay chapter was a customer at a Chipotle during a disruption), the immediate “conversion” of the patrons at pig is not our primary goal.

    So, how are we doing with respect to creating a strong animal rights movement? In just over a year, DxE has grown to be one of the largest grassroots animal rights networks in the world and the largest in the United States. We span 6 continents, 17+ countries, 70+ cities, and thousands of activists. We focus on creating close-knit local and international communities, not only because it is effective, but also because it combats burnout and isolation – common issues in all types of activism. I believe this sense of community, along with the support to stand up and say what we truly believe without watering down or sugarcoating our message, is what draws people to DxE.

    But, back to pig. Instead of focusing on the relatively few people inside the restaurant (or any place of violence), we are interested in the broader views of society. In order to create lasting change for animals (not a foie gras ban that gets overturned within a few years), we need to first question and then change strongly held beliefs, norms and practices. This is tough. This is unsettling. And people understandably get upset. But, activism is not about making people comfortable, it is about raising awareness and speaking out against injustice. When we see violence, we will call it out. When we witness oppression, we will raise our voices. When the animals whose bodies are literally being consumed are being ignored, we will bring their perspective to the table. That is why we disrupt. Disruptions demonstrate the seriousness of the issue and our commitment to the cause, and they force people who have historically ignored us to think about the issue and take a side. Harnessing media (both social and mainstream) allows us to spread this message way beyond the dozen customers at pig.

    That being said, I wouldn’t expect Victorians to automatically agree with me and change their position overnight, and I am therefore not surprised at the negative comments on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. I don’t really feel it’s any worse than other highly controversial pieces posted in public space. (And don’t we know to not read the comments). As for the potential increase in pig’s sales, I’m not all too concerned. We have no immediate goals of shutting pig down. Pig is no better or worse than other flesh-serving restaurants and an increase in their sales likely means a decrease somewhere else. If we backed down every time we heard “For every animal you don’t eat, I’m going to eat three”, there would be no animal rights activists left.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Note: This is Part II of II of my comments.

    The reality is that no one knows for sure how we will achieve animal liberation. Taking lessons from previous social justice movements though, we can be quite confident that it will require some degree of confrontational non-violent direct action and a variety of different tactics. No massive social change has ever come from gently leafleting alone. DxE employs a number of tactics and collaborates with various other animal rights and social justice groups. What happened in Victoria was one style of action. Currently, we are getting ready to launch a new campaign that will highlight another style. We also typically leaflet during our disruptions and have noticed that, in these cases, people actually want the leaflets. They want to know what the commotion is about and are willing to have serious and challenging conversations with the leafleters.

    So what I want to end on is that it all works together. I obviously feel that disruption and non-violent direct action is a critical part of our movement and an appropriate response to the heinous violence faced by so many non-human animals. But if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, that’s fine. We want people to be active, to do something, to get out there and speak for those who have been silenced. Yes, criticism is important. We all have something to learn, we can all become better activists, and there are definitely problematic things happening in our movement. But I feel there is a time and a place for criticism, and constructive dialogue is usually two-sided. I’m glad we had a conversation about this and I’m glad you were willing to have me write this post. I hope all the activists in Victoria, Vancouver, and the rest of the world can work together and push each other to be better. We have a long road ahead of us, and we won’t stop until every animal is free.

    Almira

    ReplyDelete
  4. Excellent comment Almira, Thank you for your wonderful work! It is inspiring SO many!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Almira, that is a powerful explanation of the rationale behind nonviolent direct action. Thank you for sharing it!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, comments will be reviewed before posting. Use our comment page if you'd like to contact us directly.