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
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
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
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.