Gary Francione, Rutgers law professor and co-founder/director of the Rutgers Animal Rights Law Center, is among the most ideologically-committed professionals championing abolition of all institutionalized animal usage. In this speech -- delivered before the World Vegetarian Congress at the University of Pittsburgh (at Johnstown) on August 3, 1996 -- Francione offers an empowering dictum on the need for ongoing individual/collective action to halt injustices toward animals, humans and the environment.
There are more people than ever before who claim to identify with the "animal
rights movement." More and more people are giving up meat and dairy products;
more and more reject the use of animals in biomedical experiments; more and
more now accept that whatever educational benefits are provided by zoos cannot
justify what zoos really are: prisons for animals. Recent surveys show that
a majority of the population expresses some endorsement of the animal rights
position, and most people are horrified when they become aware of the details
of exactly how that steak got to their dinner plate. But at the same time there
are more animals being used in more horrific ways than ever before.
In the United States alone, over 8 billion animals are consumed for food every year. These animals are transformed into meat through a process known as "intensive agriculture," which is shorthand for rearing practices that cannot be described as anything other than barbaric. Pigs live their lives in stalls, unable to turn around or to escape the suckling of the constant streams of litters that they are forced to have; calves live confined in small crates in dark, windowless buildings; laying hens are confined four to a cage measuring 12 inches square; broiler hens are confined so severely that cannibalism and disease kills many of the birds. Animals continue to be used in bizarre and often horrific experiments in which they are confined, shot, shocked, burned, and otherwise mutilated. The law says that anesthesia need not be used if anesthesia would interfere with the results of the experiment. And it is the researchers themselves who are entrusted with the decision about whether pain relief would interfere with their "science."
Researchers claim that animals are like us, and we need to use them in order to understand and treat our diseases. But these same researchers claim that animals are unlike us, so that we need have no moral concern about our exploitation of them. And, despite almost universal social acceptance of the notion that we ought not to impose "unnecessary" suffering on animals, we continue to use animals in all sorts of contexts in which we cannot even claim the pretense of benefit. For example, every year on Labor Day in Hegins, Pennsylvania, shooters pay about $100 each for the privilege of shooting, crippling, and ultimately beating to death about 8,000 pigeons.
The Pennsylvania courts have thus far refused to hold that such conduct violates the state anticruelty law. Many animal advocates understandably feel a sense of defeat. The system does not seem to be responding, even though there are more of us than ever before, and even though those who support animal exploitation have yet to come up with any justification of animal use other than it is "traditional or "natural' -- the same vacuous explanations that have been offered throughout human history to justify virtually every form of social oppression. Perhaps animal advocates have failed to appreciate the enormity of the problem.
The plain fact is chat this country and other industrial countries are deeply dependent on animal exploitation to sustain their present economic structures. The plain fact is that we are more dependent on animal exploitation than were the states of the southern United States on human slavery. Animals are property, and many animals, such as cows, horses, breeding "stock," transgenic animals, and racing horses, are particularly valuable forms of property. Although there are laws that supposedly protect animals, these laws almost always require that courts defer to the interests of human property owners. After all, animals are our property, and what sense would it make to allow our property to prevail in a conflict with us!
So, although there are more people concerned about animals and the environment, little progress has been made because those who profit from animal exploitation and the governments that exists to serve their interests have a lot to lose and are not budging -- not an inch. But there are signs that the pendulum may, as a general matter, be swinging back.
People are starting to realize that democracy has been hijacked by corporate special interests. People are getting tired of the resurgence of racism and anti-Semitism. People are getting tired of the rampant and disempowering sexism that pervades our culture. People are becoming increasingly aware that our "representatives" in Congress are nothing but pawns of the highest bidder, and are so devoid of integrity that they will attack "welfare mothers" as a financial drain on an economy that spends more money on a few new war toys than it spends on the entire system of welfare on a yearly basis. People want change.
More and more people are becoming concerned about matters of social justice and nonviolence generally. Many people opposed the Gulf War; we just were not told about them by media that just happened to be controlled by the same corporations that make the bombs that we dropped on a lot of people and animals. Change will come, sooner or later. We can only hope that it will be sooner rather than later. We can only hope that it will be nonviolent. We must ask ourselves, however, whether that hope is itself morally justifiable in light of the violence that we have caused and tolerated to be caused by others who claim to act on our behalf.
If the animal rights movement is to survive the backlash of animal exploiters, and if the movement is going to harness both its own internal energy and the general level of political dissatisfaction, the movement needs to re-strategize and re-organize in light of the New World Order. Now is the time to develop a radical nonviolent approach to animal rights as part of an overall program of social justice. The solution will not be simple, but we must make a start. Consider the following suggestions:
1. We must recognize that if animal rights means anything, it means that there is no moral justification for any institutionalized animal exploitation. Many people believe that as long as a person "cares" about animals, that caring makes someone an advocate of animal "rights." But that is no more the case than merely "caring" for women makes one a feminist. If animals have rights, then the interests protected by those rights must receive protection and cannot be sacrificed merely because humans believe that the beneficial consequences for humans of such sacrifice outweigh the detriment for animals. We cannot talk simultaneously about animal rights and the "humane" slaughter of animals.
2. We need to reshape the movement as one of grassroots activists, and not "professional activists" who populate the seemingly endless number of national animal rights groups. Although it is important to give financial support to worthy efforts, giving money is not enough and giving to the wrong groups can actually do more harm than good. For the most part, support local groups that you work with or that operate in your area. Significant social change has to occur on a local level.
3. We need to recognize that activism can come in many forms. Many people think that they cannot be good activists if they cannot afford to have big, splashy campaigns, often involving the promotion of legislation or big lawsuits. There are many forms of activism, and one of the most potent is education. We were all educated, and we need to educate others -- one by one. If each of us succeeded in educating five people per year about the need for personal and social nonviolence, the results multiplied over ten years would be staggering. Those of us inclined should reach out to greater audiences -- on radio or television talk shows, in print media, in the classroom, or in the context of peaceful demonstrations to teach about nonviolence as a paradigm of justice. But it is important to realize that these issues are too important to leave to anyone else. We -- each of us -- has an obligation to seek justice for all persons, human and nonhuman. And we -- each of us -- can help effect that justice on a daily basis by sharing our ideas with those with whom we come in contact. Never underestimate the power of the individual and of small groups.
4. If we decide to pursue legislation, we should stop pursuing welfarist solutions to the problem. Animal welfare seeks to regulate atrocity by making cages bigger or by adding additional layers of bureaucratic review to ensure that the atrocity is "humane." We should pursue legislation that seeks to abolish particular forms of exploitation. Animal advocates should always be upfront about their ultimate objective, and use all campaigns as an opportunity to teach about nonviolence and the rejection of all institutionalized animal exploitation.
5. We should recognize that there is a necessary connection between the animal rights movement and other movements for social justice. Animal exploitation involves species bias or speciesism, and is as morally unacceptable as other irrelevant criteria such as race, sex, sexual orientation, or class, in determining membership in the moral universe.
6. Animal advocates should stop worrying about being "mainstream." How long will it take us to understand that the mainstream is irreversibly polluted. Animal advocates -- indeed, many progressives -- are afraid be labeled as "extremists." But what does it mean to an "extremist" when people like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh are revered by millions! When a man of color in Harlem has a lower life expectancy than a man living in the poorest of nations! When millions go without health care or even minimal shelter or adequate food in the wealthiest nation on earth! When billions of animals are slaughtered yearly for absolutely no reason other than "it tastes good!" Perhaps it is time that animal advocates learned to be proud called "extremists."
In closing, I emphasize that the most important point is that we can no longer look to others to solve the enormous problems that we confront. We must work with other like minded people, but we can never ignore or underestimate the ability or the responsibility --of each person to affect significant change on a personal and social level. And we cannot wait any longer for "moderation" to work. Time is running out for us, for nonhuman animals, and for the planet.