Am I Still Vegan?

By Michele Kaplan

Image by Claudia Hafner Watercolor

Image by Claudia Hafner Watercolor

There was a period in my life
where I devoted
My heart. My soul. My time.
Passionate. Vegan. To Animal Rights.
I would stand there in the freezing cold, some winter nights.
bundled up like I was going on an arctic expedition
with my activist family by my side
What do we want? Animal Liberation! When do we want it? NOW!
all with my camera, raised fist or a protest sign,
#ForTheAnimals! #ForTheEarth! #ForTheMovement!

and then. my wheelchair. stopped.
working
and no longer was I able to attend,
the many and various AR events.
And because sometimes shit happens consecutively,
my physical health also went sploot.

*sploosh*
It all began to unravel.

I began to share less and less vegan articles on social media
because I just lacked the energy to engage
in the sometimes defensive and hostile conversations, as I tried to explain.
why veganism

I began to share less Animal Liberation events
because I was already feeling isolated from not being able to attend,
because I lacked the heart space required to further face isolation.
backlash. that can occur from advocating
for a cause that goes against the norm.

No more energy to give
to the long draining internet conversations
with the single issue activists
who felt that veganism gave them some sort of free pass!
to discriminate.

No energy for the long draining internet conversations
for the activists who cried out
“vegan apologist!!” “sellout!”, accusing me of distracting from the cause.
for when I told them that it didn’t.

No more energy to write the intersectional articles in response,
desperate to do damage control because what. if. someone
outside of the movement
read this (what they posted) and thought
THIS represents the movement as. a. whole!
That this deters them from going vegan!
Oh no! Quick! We have to do… something!
#ForTheAnimals! #ForTheEarth! #ForTheMovement!
No more energy to spare for the urgency.
No more energy to spare…

No energy to spare for the anger in the movement,
lacking mindfulness, driven by ego rather than the cause.
No energy, not even for the intersectional anger, driven by compassion.
No energy to spare to be angry.
There was no energy to spare…

And when people would turn and say to me (almost demanding)
“Go ahead. Convince me. Why should I go vegan” (as you have done before)
a voice in my heart and head would cry out
“I don’t fucking care if you go vegan!!”
I am overwhelmed. I am drained. Thirsty soul.
I am just trying to survive.
get though this.
I have nothing to give.

And as time went on, and I became
isolated from the community
(which I say without resentment.
For this is the nature of the activist family.
The cause is the glue)
I began to rethink my devotion
Once married to the cause, I had no choice but to now map out:
Just who am I (when I’m not the hardcore animal rights activist, taking photos at the events)?

Quiet and aching from the times,
searching for a sense of community.
I began to rediscover a life beyond the movement.
And because the majority of people who stood by me during this time,
happened to be the folks I knew before I went vegan.
I began to question ideas of compassion
I began to question ideas of priority
Just what is important to me in this life?
And what is worth my devotion?

But if this was in question.
Yes.
I am still vegan.
#ForTheAnimals. #ForTheEarth.

 

Author’s Note:

This poem is in no way putting down or trying to get people to not get involved in the AR movement. Like any activist movement in society, there are problems within the movement. This is not an animal rights thing. There are issues of privilege. But there is also a growing intersectional side to animal rights. This poem wrote was written in regard to my experience. It’s not to say that I will never return to the movement. I probably will. Activism is a part of me. But it talks about defining veganism for yourself. Not in the sense that you occasionally eat vegan food but still call yourself vegan, but in regard to the idea that a “real” or true vegan is out there in the streets, fighting for the animals but sometimes that’s just not an option. And that doesn’t mean one should stop being vegan, because veganism is not about a human run movement. It’s about the animals and the earth.

This is also not to suggest that no one in the AR movement stood by me. While there is a difference between activist friends and friends, I have made good fiends in the movement as well.

 

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on May 17, 2015.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

whyveganism.com

Dealing with Sexual Abuse in Our Community

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses sexual harassment and assault.

Not Safe for Work: Contains one sexually suggestive photograph.

I want to preface this essay by clarifying that I am not a medical professional, nor am I licensed in counseling or anything of that nature. I specialize in gender studies, feminist theory, and social movement theory with an emphasis on politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights space. This essay intends to share wisdom based on this expertise and is not meant to offer psychological or medical advice. 

Let’s start with context: the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is 80% female. A large percentage of these women are college age, and the movement specifically targets college age persons. The movement is also male-led and adheres to patriarchal norms. Masculinized violent tactics like aggressive confrontation or property destruction tend to be celebrated. As are patriarchal tactics like sexual objectification, whereby female-identified activists are pressured to sexually objectify themselves “for the animals.” So, what we have here is a very toxic situation where men are elevated for violent, patriarchal, and sexist behavior, and the movement is predominately populated by young women (a group that is especially vulnerable to sexual assault, rape, murder, and other forms of male violence) who are valued primarily as sex objects.

Group of scantily clad, sexualized women barely covered with vegetable underwear, their breasts covered with PETA stickers

Men enter the Nonhuman Animal rights movement with the expectation and understanding that female-identified activists exist primarily as sex objects. This also creates a movement culture where activists of all genders may find it difficult to believe survivors who speak out about their experiences.

The unfortunate result is that violence against women in our community is extremely common. Please review our victim services page to learn more about what constitutes violence. Readers may also want to check out Emily Gaarder’s 2011 Women and the Animal Rights Movement, which includes an ethnographic survey of violence against women. I also recommend The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (Chen et al. 2011). Abusers take advantage of social justice spaces where they know young women will be easily accessible, where survivors will be afraid to come forward and the movement will be unwilling to hold abusers accountable in an effort to protect the movement’s image.

Based on this context, activists who come across violence in our community should consider the following hierarchy of concern:

1. The victim or survivor

2. The movement

3. The abuser

Given that we live in a sexist society and our movement is a microcosm of that sexist society, advocates tend to default to victim-blaming, victim-shaming, dismissal, disbelief, etc. We need to overcome this internalized sexism and always keep the survivor first and foremost. It is tempting to be swayed by redemption narratives, especially when the abuser owns up to their abuse (which is rare, making their openness all the more alluring). But keep in mind that this is a movement with a majority demographic consisting of vulnerable persons (women), and men are, as a matter of course, elevated to positions of power and prestige. Survivors must come first, as should the safety of other women.

Activists lined up outside of Whole Foods holding an animal rights banner. Man in front of them is yelling the message to the public.

In a movement that celebrates aggressive tactics and elevates male activists to “heroes” and leaders, a culture is created that endangers women. Groups like DXE and ALF epitomize this hyper-masculinized approach. Image from Direct Action Everywhere Chicago.

Many also pressure victims to keep it hushed because of fears about the movement looking bad. Keep in mind, however, if we have a movement where women cannot be granted basic guarantees of safety, and if those victims come forward and are not believed (or, worse, they are insulted or threatened), this makes for a very weak collective. We must put the vulnerable first, not the abusers.

So where does this leave the abuser? Given the tendency for men in female-dominated spaces to abuse their power (this has been documented in the feminist movement as well), we need to be extra vigilant about male-on-female violence in this movement. There must be accountability for interpersonal violence. For those who own up to their behaviors, that is a good start, but we should engage the admission with caution. The redemption narrative can easily be used to protect male privilege, especially when a discouraged movement desperately wants to maintain hope that a just world is possible and also wants to keep a positive outlook for purposes of sustaining morale and attracting new members. But, remember who we must keep at number one: the survivor, not the abuser. Perhaps abusers should begin to exit the movement out of respect for the safety and well-being of others. The community should support this departure. For the sake of social justice and movement integrity: survivors first; abusers last.

Those who prioritize the movement might balk at such a suggestion. Indeed, many claim we need “all the help we can get,” so anyone and everyone is welcome to participate. But there are other ways for individuals to help animals that will not involve them being in direct contact with vulnerable persons in the activist community. If we do not maintain an accountable and safe movement, we are unnecessarily weakening our movement. This is serious. Survivors can experience severe mental health issues following the incident(s) like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Some even kill themselves. Many drop out. We support incredible suffering and we lose valuable activists when we refuse to take violence seriously. If this truly is a movement that values peace, nonviolence, and social justice, we need to keep our priorities in check. Survivors first.

 

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and graduate student at Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.