Are we “winning”? What are we winning?
by Steve Hindi, founder, Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK)
It was phrased a few different ways, but that was the claim from the Hillary Clinton camp in the weeks before her stunning loss to Donald Trump. Now we can look forward to four years with a habitually lying, racist, tax evading, cheating, misogynistic, bullying sexual predator in the White House. Trump’s tenure will make the disaster of the George W. Bush presidency look like the good old days.
Hillary Clinton is no hero for animals, despite her 91% rating on the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s scorecard during her tenure as a U.S. Senator. But she lacks Trump’s massive character flaws that will forever diminish both the presidency and our standing as a nation.
Like any candidate, Clinton was imperfect, but she doesn’t have offspring who qualify for animal serial killer status like Donald Trump’s sons, who have been only half-comedically compared by comedian Bill Maher to Uday and Qusay Hussein, the murderous, psychopathic sons of the late Saddam Hussein.
As vice president-elect Mike Pence said, “Buckle up.” What Pence didn’t say is that the ride we will all be forced to endure only goes down. Welcome to our new position on the world stage: that of a laughingstock.
What has this to do with the animal protection movement? The premature declarations of “We’re winning” from the Clinton camp were hauntingly similar to what I’ve heard for the past two years at the annual national animal rights conventions sponsored by the Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM).
“We’re winning” claim is absurd
“We’re winning!” was in fact the title of the closing plenaries for 2015 and 2016.
The “We’re winning!” claim is so patently absurd that I can only surmise those willing to utter it are either habitual liars, or are hold only a tenuous grip on reality. My efforts to bring about a fact-based review of where we currently stand, as opposed to spewing nonsense, was repeatedly ignored.
“I feel bad for Hillary”
Regarding the election, I feel bad for Hillary and worse for the country. Given the closeness of the vote, I think the outcome might have been different if there hadn’t been hubris ahead of the final battle.
I feel far worse for the fate of the animals who will suffer and die because there are those in this movement who, for the sake of marketing or to boost attendance at next year’s conferences, and for fundraising purposes, are willing to make preposterous claims of victory.
Analysts now tell us that many people just didn’t come out for Hillary. That’s a danger of telling people “We’re winning!” before the battle is waged. In the battle for animal protection, the status of our struggle is clear. Nonhumans are suffering and dying on a level that can’t even be perceived, so why would anyone minimize the plight of the animals by claiming “we’re winning?”
“Spend time on the front lines”
If you don’t know where you are, it is impossible to successfully chart a path to where you want to go. If someone tells you to get to Chicago, and you have no idea of your current position, how do you chart a course? Worse yet, what if someone claims you are starting from San Diego, when you are actually in New York?
Those who claim “We’re winning!” have either been away from the front lines way too long, or they were never there at all. In any case, they have lost their way, and are in no position to chart a course going forward.
Spend time on the front lines, and you will know how dismally we are failing our nonhuman friends. This movement needs activists who are fired up and motivated to make significant change, not settling back and relaxing with false assurances that “we’re winning.”
“Front line action is a vital component of change”
Just take a look at the news, and you’ll see that activists for other causes understand the need for frontline action, whether they be for gun rights with the National Rifle Association, women’s rights, civil rights via most recently Black Lives Matter, gay rights, or native American rights such as the recent actions regarding the Dakota Access pipeline. In the real world, it is understood that front line action is a vital component of change.
A relative few grassroots activists still do, but the big corporate groups eschew the notion of getting out of their suits and leaving the comfort of their offices. Just send a generous check and perhaps sign a petition to build an organization’s mailing list, and pay dearly to attend the next gala or conference, and things will turn out fine.
Unfortunately, things aren’t fine at all.
“Sitting on collective butt”
Attendees of conferences and the movement as a whole don’t get a crucial sense of urgency as they sit in a fancy hotel. This movement is sitting on its collective butt when what is needed is strong, intelligent, strategic action.
The animals are losing everything, and much of the abuse is unopposed. When SHARK publicly invited some of the largest, loudest and most wealthy animal protection organizations in the so-called movement to join us on three separate occasions in 2016. Not a single one of those groups came through. Not one. Apparently only the grassroots groups are willing to stand up, but they lack resources.
“Raising & counting money”
I wouldn’t mind that these leaders and their groups didn’t join our front line efforts if they had some of their own, but they’re apparently too busy raising and counting money, and falsely declaring “We’re winning!” to be saddled with actually getting out in the real world to make real change.
We’re winning? That’s not just nonsensical: it’s shockingly delusional. With Trump in office, it will be much worse.
“Stop lying, stop bragging, & step up”
It is time for the so-called leaders of this movement to stop lying, stop bragging, and step up. Let’s see them personally get out on the killing fields and show some real leadership. This struggle is too important, the stakes are too high, and potential activists need to understand the gravity of the situation.
Do we want real, positive change for animals, or just the illusion that allows us to sleep better at night and feel good about ourselves? We should decide carefully, because kidding each other is the kind of behavior that has just slapped the United States with Donald Trump as our next president.
And now for something completely different
by Merritt & Beth Clifton
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi, in his commentary above and several similar commentaries he has issued since the AR-2016 conference in Los Angeles, is to be sure speaking about much more than just advocacy for farmed animals, the leading edge of animal advocacy over the past decade-plus.
Galas & consumer choice
But the cause of farm animals is most effectively addressed by consumer choice at restaurants, supermarkets, and yes, the gala banquets of animal advocacy organizations, at which local humane societies in particular continue to feature meat and fish with dismaying frequency and indifference to the animal suffering caused by the meat and fish industries.
Far too often the sole concern of “humane society” gala organizers is bringing in the bucks, with little if any concern for the ethics of how this is done.
Evolving cause foci
Hindi has addressed animal agriculture and the hypocrisy of humane societies serving meat, among many other issues in his nearly three decades of activism, but has primarily addressed recreational animal abuses, including captive bird shoots, hunting in many forms, bullfighting, and rodeo.
Hindi’s present frustration comes in part because animal advocacy, in taking up food issues, has tended to turn away from other longtime abuses, including his focal concerns, many of which continue little abated, let alone halted, and do respond more to front line activism.
Two of Hindi’s most recent campaign foci, killing predators to promote an abundance of “game” and purging “invasive species” in the name of conservation, are barely addressed by the present generation of animal advocacy leadership, even though more animals than ever are killed on these pretexts.
These are issues of great concern to ANIMALS 24-7 as well.
Eating birds vs. recreational killing
Nonetheless, the recent runaway public success of vegan and vegetarian advocacy is not to be denied.
For the first time since the introduction of factory farming made meat and dairy consumption at every meal possible for people of average income, American meat and dairy consumption per capita has been heading downward, irrespective of economic trends.
A cultural transition away from eating animals is underway.
Perhaps, once eating chickens and turkeys is no longer almost universally practiced, shooting cormorants in the name of protecting salmon runs and shooting doves and pigeons just for the hell of it will no longer be accepted by the public either.
“The American vegan movement was always its own worst enemy,” argues Chase Purdy in the current edition of Quartz magazine.
“Members of the movement made their first impressions bellowing into bullhorns, desperate to make a difference by willing it with a loud enough voice,” Purdy recalls.
“But actual engagement was a weakness, as people tended to ignore the passionate subculture with a rigid gospel prohibiting use of any and all animal products. For the most part, the only marks left by their efforts throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s were those scuffed into their shoes as police officers dragged them off the streets.
“And then, with little warning, something changed.
“A 2001 schism splintered the vegan community into two camps: absolutists who tout veganism as an all-or-nothing moral imperative, and pragmatists who quietly advocate for incremental change.”
Purdy spotlights the success of the pragmatists, including those at the Humane Society of the U.S., Mercy for Animals, Vegan Outreach, and Compassion Over Killing, in having “figured out an ingenious way to change the food system, without having to plead or fight directly with meat and egg companies.”
This has been accomplished partly through ballot initiatives, Purdy assesses, in which people “vote for their chicken, beef, and pork to be raised without cages,” effectively issuing “a mandate to the farms and agricultural companies in middle America to change their husbandry practices.”
At the same time, Purdy explains, such campaigns create a niche for “companies such as Perfect Day (cow-free milk), Beyond Meat (plant-based meat), and Hampton Creek (eggless condiments),” who have developed alternatives to milk, meat, and eggs that have rapidly won space in major supermarkets and are claiming growing shares of the fast food market.
Absolutists vs. pragmatists
“From the absolutist point-of-view,” Purdy acknowledges, “the pragmatists diminished the importance of fighting for animal lives by concentrating their energies on farm animal welfare.”
At the same time, however, the pragmatists have in 15 years accomplished more to change American diets, by far the greatest cause of animal suffering and exploitation, than front line activism has since the early 20th century heyday of vegetarian food pioneers Sylvester Graham, C.W. Post, and the Kellogg brothers, John Harvey and Will Keith.
Grocery line activism
Front line activism is important, especially to put issues on the table for public consideration. But developing grocery line activism is critically important too, to transform gains in awareness into the lifestyle changes that represent not just “victories” over specific abuses, but lasting progress.
ANIMALS 24-7 does not do either front line or grocery line activism. What we do is report the news of animal advocacy, including evaluating the results from a perspective that incorporates the experience of having lived for more than 60 years the philosophy that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.
From that perspective, despite many frustrations and frequent setbacks, the animal cause is winning, not least because several thousand leaders of animal advocacy organizations worldwide will have the opportunity to participate in this discussion. We remember when it might have reached perhaps a few dozen, all seated around the same table, and then only if free food was served.