I was hoping for more from reading The Evolution of Veganism: Is Empowered Activism the Next Stage? by Wayne Hsiung, founding organiser of Direct Action Everywhere (DAE).

His three conclusions are:

  1. The first is that we have to move beyond simply creating an environment that accepts and tolerates vegans.
  2. The second is that a confident and assertive approach — playing offense rather than defense — is key to our movement’s growth.
  3. What we need, if our movement is to grow, is more and stronger activists.

Now, of course, I could quibble with each one of these three points but it’s the absence of a much larger point that I find troubling: the exclusive reliance upon individual action to make institutional change while ignoring the democratic, political process.

Yes, which vegan wouldn’t want to have to campaign for an environment that embraces us?

Yes, haven’t vegans been playing offence since they became, er, vegan?

Yes, of course, we need more and stronger activists.

As I discuss in my book, Growl, I do not believe everyone is going to go vegan, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try; nonetheless, the reality is that not everyone will care about animals as much as we do. Moreover, not everyone will understand animal rights within a progressive agenda of social change.

This is why we need to think beyond animal rights as an optional lifestyle choice. Yes, I agree with DAE about what we do to animals is violence. Nonviolence is one of my four key values in animal rights. We need to challenge the institutions that perpetuate the violence toward animals as the social norm. Yes, their campaign targeting is Chipotle is fine, and I wish them every success in all that they do.

But there will never be enough individual vegans to challenge the thousands if not millions of enterprises like Chipotle across the planet.

Of course, we must try, and that is essentially what animal rights activism is all about: fomenting the same change in others we experienced in ourselves whereby we have a personal transformative moment when animal cruelty is no longer hidden from view, and consequently we boycott products of animal exploitation by going cruelty-free, vegan.

But individual change will only go so far. We need also institutional change.

We can no longer naively believe individual vegans and animal advocacy organisations will change the world.

We have to work within the mainstream politics to embed the values of animal rights within their culture. They are the people and the organisations who we elect to represent us, form governments, and pass laws.

In short, the single greatest challenge we face is making animal rights a mainstream political issue.

Of course, anarchists and those who have written off the political process will disagree with this premise. There’s nothing I can say or do to change their minds. We will just have to agree to disagree.

Take note, however, of how gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people organised not only as a social movement (coincidentally, as disparate as ours) and worked within political parties across the world to achieve significant lifestyle and political change as a legislative issue.

As public sentiment moved to accept those who were previously considered as outsiders, informed and sympathetic public policy makers and elected representatives fought for and won legislation protecting them, thereby bringing together public education and public policy into legislation and its enforcement. While there’s still work to be done, G/L/B/T folks presently enjoy legal protection as never before. Further, individuals who do not respect these laws are liable for prosecution.

A case in point is Britain’s Hunting Act 2004. Now, I know is far from perfect; however, it had the effect of criminalising those who previously enjoyed the protection of the law when they legally chased and killed wild animals for fun, and it reinvented in part the role of hunt saboteurs as hunt monitors to help ensure the law is enforced.

This combined strategy of public/political and individual/institutional is the message that I look for from not only DAE but also the entire social movement for animals. So far, I don’t hear it very much.

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