In the Spirit of Solidarity
from No Compromise Issue 24

By lauren Ornelas and David Hayden

We hear a lot of talk in the movement today about solidarity. What does this mean? Has our movement always seemed so divided on tactics and the “best way” to go about achieving animal liberation? When you look at magazines from the 1980s, it seems as if there was a wide range of support for different tactics and there were different issues that everyone participated in.

What are the issues that seem to be dividing us? Is it whether or not someone goes naked at a circus protest, or if the Animal Liberation Front torched a dairy truck? Is it whether or not we are compromising when working on legislation or animal welfare reforms? Or is it those animal protection groups who seem to align themselves with the animal industries, versus standing by their fellow animal protectionists?

Many of these issues have always been a part of our movement, but over the years instead of getting better at dealing with them we seem to have gotten worse.

Activists in the U.S. often look at England and the huge rallies and protests and wonder why events in the U.S. seem to be so much smaller. Obviously, there are a lot of reasons for this, but one is that their events include people from all walks of the animal protection movement.

Many of these people may have a dog they love, volunteer at a local animal shelter, aid feral cats, refuse to wear fur or eat veal-- and yet they remain leather-wearing meat eaters. If we could get all of the people who care just about dogs (but aren’t necessarily hard-core, militant activists) to attend a demo against vivisection, we would have millions of people there. The animal rights movement at its core is about ending animal suffering, and if these people want to help stop one segment of that abuse we must welcome them-- we do need the numbers!

There are billions of animals enduring different forms of abuse every minute of the day, and they need us to use every tool at our disposal. We are in no position in this movement to be acting as if there is just one answer to stop all of this evil.

When we look at most social and political justice movements around the world we can see that in order to succeed (or even make a dent), it takes a variety of tactics to create change.

It might seem like old news to review, but from the women's suffrage movement, to the anti-slavery movement, to the civil rights movement, people used everything from legislation to direct action (or what some might consider violence). They used whatever they could to try to affect change.

This diversity of tactics serves an important function. Despite the confidence that so many of us have that most of our strategies and tactics are correct, we can't all be right. Taking a diverse range of approaches makes it that much more likely that some of these efforts will be productive even if it turns out we’re wrong about which ones are most effective.

Overriding our differences should be the fact that we all share the common bond of wanting to end the exploitation and suffering of animals.

Because of this we should be able to respect each other's positions and, to the extent that it's possible, work through our differences in a non-combative manner. Of course some differences will never be resolved. When this is the case we have to make a decision-- is the disagreement so fundamental that we cannot work with a person or group, or is it something we can just agree to disagree on while working together on those goals we share?

Even if our differences are so extreme that we cannot work with a group, the worst way we could deal with this would be to belittle that group’s efforts and maintain that if people aren't doing things our way, they must be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

This point is driven home in the American Medical Association’s “Animal Research Action Plan” (published in 1989). This plan describes the threat presented to the biomedical research industry by a strong animal liberation movement in general, and from underground action in particular. The solution they prescribe for this “problem” is to try and drive a wedge between the different elements of our movement by exploiting existing differences over philosophy and tactics. We must not do our opponents’ work for them.

A good place to start is simply learning to give credit where credit is due. Being humble can go a long way. Being public about appreciating each other’s accomplishments sets an important example showing that animal advocacy groups can work together despite our differences.

Another useful tip is to put a focus on the positive. If you feel it’s important to use a particular approach to activism, then talk about why that approach is effective rather than criticizing other people for choosing a different approach.

Standing in solidarity with our comrades becomes even more critical when they are under attack by the government or animal industries. The only way we can truly fight effectively for the animals is by standing together. Any hint of divisiveness must stay within our ranks. And most importantly, we must not let these basic disagreements drive us apart. We share more in common than we disagree on, and if our movement is to be successful that must be our focus. The animals need us all.