Many of us have social causes that we care about because they impact us directly or because we care about those who are directly impacted. Social justice activists stand up and advocate for protection from discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, skin color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, class, caste, species, age, or disability.
Social justice activists campaign against systems of oppression, injustice, inequality, subordination, and domination. Often they are single-issue campaigns like equal pay for women, healthcare for veterans, clean energy campaigns, fair access to education, racial equality, or marital rights regardless of sexual orientation.
Single-issue causes are great ways to educate others on issues that directly impact a group of individuals. Rarely though are complex individuals affected by single issues alone and rarely are single issues unrelated. By increasing scope, one can see that most single issues have common ground and are rooted by the same forces of power.
Intersectionality is the study and awareness of intersections between forms or systems of oppression that are interrelated and bound together in an interlocking matrix. Using intersectionality we can see that all forms of discrimination and domination are rooted in oppression. Individuals restrain others from experiencing their full freedom and design systems to oppress others out of fear of losing competitive position or power for oneself.
In a effort to campaign against oppression for ourselves and others, it is important not to be an oppressor and practice oppression. The Golden Ethic (treat others as you wish to be treated) tells us this. Sometimes as an oppressed individual, or someone who protects oppressed individuals, we fail to see how we are oppressing.
The forces of domination and oppression require the objectification of the dominated by the oppressor. The dominated individual or group becomes a “thing,” “they,” “it,” “them,”or “other” and no longer a “he,” “she,” or someone by name like Peyton or Morgan. Emphasizing differences, rather than similarities, between the dominating individual and the dominated “other” psychologically facilitates individual strategies of oppression. It would be hard to cause harm toward another to whom we can relate and in whom we can see aspects of ourself. Disconnection and distance are required and necessary to perpetuate oppression and exploitation.
Throughout human history exploited people were/are kept uneducated, poor, and powerless to more psychologically, in the mind of the oppressor, resemble non-human animals or objects that are less than human. In America the social, political, and cultural system was designed and enforced predominantly by white, Christian, upper class, straight, male humans to create and maintain power at the top of the self-created hierarchy. With each subtracted descriptor (female instead of male, lower class instead of upper class, etc.), a person has access to less power, protection, and opportunity. The lowest rung in the hierarchy and the most opposite position might belong to colored, non-Christian, poor, homosexual, female humans. The only lower one could go would be to become, in the mind of the oppressor, a non-human animal, object, or property. To be called beast, animal, dirty pig, fat cow, subhuman, rat, chicken, dog, bitch, heifer, chick, hippo, leech, sheeple, toad, snake, vermin, or ass is demoralizing and degrading because humans have positioned themselves superior to non-human animals and it allows objectified exploitation in a culture that marginalizes non-human animals.
If inequality and oppression are at the root of all dominance and exploitation, then all social justice issues have common ground in campaigning against oppression. As an activist, it would be crucial to not knowingly oppress any other being.
Humans kill over one trillion land and water animals every year, mostly for consumption. That is 7,000 times the entire human population EACH YEAR. And, as you can imagine, the process of turning living, breathing, feeling animals into objectified products and resources is horrifically violent. (source)
Violence toward anyone depends on domination, oppression, and exploitation. To campaign against oppression is to campaign against violence and violation. It would behoove any social justice activist, regardless of chosen cause, to remove and cease all known violence in their behavior, speech, and action.
Speciesism is a system in which humans have deemed themselves the most important and valuable species on Earth which allows them to give no moral consideration to other species. Because of this, humans are allowed to do whatever they want to other species. It is another hierarchy socially constructed to explain away the exploitation of another group of sentient beings. Speciesism isn’t like racism or sexism. It’s its own brand of oppression that often intersects with systems that intimately minoritize people of color or women. (source)
Speciesism is also a system that places certain animals like companion animals (dogs, cats, birds) and exotic, wild animals (lions, hippos, giraffes, seals, whales, dolphins) above work, food, research, clothing, and entertainment animals like horses, cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, deer, primates, rabbits, elephants, tigers, bears, mink, geese, ducks, and orcas. To select certain non-human animals for protection and to exploit others is as random and irrational as selecting certain humans for protection and to exploit others. Definitions, parameters, and rules of exploitation have been set by those in highest human power and not based on natural laws. We have all been indoctrinated into this system since before birth by our families, culture, communities, schools, churches, and media and many of us perpetuate this random violence unknowingly.
Oppressors align humans with non-human animals to justify violence. Oppressors align non-human animals with objects to justify violence. We need to improve the opinion and treatment of all non-human animals for their benefit and to improve the opinion and treatment of oppressed and minoritized humans. All humans and all non-human animals are unique but have relatable common ground in our will to live, our desire for bodily freedom, our inclination to socialize, and in the protection of our offspring.
Non-human animal rights is the idea that non-human animals are entitled to the possession of their own lives, and that their most basic interests – including the lack of suffering – should be afforded the same consideration as similar interests of human beings.
Humans have created an abstract, irrational hierarchy among the non-human animal kingdom as they have among themselves. There is no sound reason to favor one being or one living body above another. The freedom to live unencumbered by prejudice is a birthright that we must protect for each individual.
Oppression started with taming and domesticating animals 10-5,000 years ago which expanded through emotional desensitization into the exploitation of groups of people. To back out of the unjust social situations we now have, we must liberate all bodies and respect their right to freedom.
Humans, activist in tendency or not, have no need to breed, enslave, hunt, abuse, terrorize, or kill non-human animals. Our collective intellect has provided more sophisticated and humane methods of work, entertainment, clothing, and research while demonstrating that there is no contemporary nutritional need to consume the flesh or fluids of oppressed and exploited non-human animals.
When each of us can practice full compassion for the most vulnerable among us by keeping them (him and her) off our plates, then we can more authentically campaign for social justice for all of society, not just humans or some humans. Aren’t all activist ultimately promoting the abolition of oppression in one form or another? You can’t effectively campaign against oppression and regularly dine on oppressed minorities.
I think most of us would agree that what the world needs now is more compassion and less violence. Aggressive, bullying, and intimidation practices in organizations that campaign against oppression and violence are using oppression and violence to advance their agenda. A white, male-based hierarchical history has been enforced, perpetuated, and characterized by force, genocide, war, slavery, and greed. If we want to change history and change the system and if we no longer want these tactics used against us or others, we must stop feasting on raped, tortured, enslaved, and murdered non-human animals. We must extend our awareness and compassion to the most minoritized beings if we are to hope for and work toward freedom for all.
As long as those who gain the most from the current system can keep you oppressing other beings then you excuse and permit their oppression of you.
The role that gender plays in the interactions between non-human animal rights advocates, the public, and counter-movements has not gone unnoticed. Sociological studies have shown that many campaigns fall flat partly due to gender stereotypes that interpret female advocacy as overly emotional, irrational, and ignorant of the “necessity” of exploitation. As a result, the non-human animal rights movement has tended to glorify masculine tactics (rational suasion and direct action) and downplay feminine tactics (intersectionality and non-violence). (source)
If education, awareness, non-violent speech, and non-violent action are part of your social justice activist toolbox, then vegan needs to describe your activist lunchbox. Without non-violent sustenance, you are fueling your activism with the oppression against which you campaign. Eat peace and campaign for peace. Awaken the vegan within. Every social justice activist’s lunchbox must contain non-violence.
Intersectionality calls for veganism to protect all beings, non-humans and humans, and secure justice, freedom, and compassion for all.
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Carla Golden is a spiritual nutritionist and a massage therapist in private practice specializing in therapeutic essential oils. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Holistic Health & Healing, she enjoys helping others discover the benefits and liberation inherent in a whole food, plant-based diet. The Vegan Key™ is her newest online nutrition program based on tried and true methods which foster performance, vitality, and purpose.