(Written with particular reference to the UK, but I’m sure much of it could be applied elsewhere in the world as well)
Six years ago, I wrote an article entitled “A Greenprint for Animal Liberation” about what we should be doing to create “an end to all persecution, exploitation and killing of other animals by human beings or for us to reach a situation that is as near to that as possible”.
This can be found at https://animalliberation-socialjustice.blogspot.com/2014/01/a-greenprint-for-animal-liberation.html and, if you haven’t read it already, I would urge you to do so, before continuing with this article.
“Greenprint” attempted to lay out an overall strategy or masterplan for the achievement of animal liberation, with the emphasis being on vegan education and political action.
In the six years since its publication, I have taken action on my own advice and tried to put into practice those things that I advocated in it, and this article arises out of what I have learned during that time.
Firstly, I have become much more aware of the oppression of animals caused by adverse human impact on the environment, which is something I feel I did not refer to adequately in “Greenprint”.
In the past 500 years, more than 300 animal species have become extinct because of human activity and it has caused the death of 50% of wild animals in the world within the last 40 years.
The climate crisis is already causing extinctions, and far more will follow, unless strong and rapid action is taken to combat global warming.
The roots of the crisis lie in the Industrial Revolution, and its fundamental cause is speciesism, which allowed industrialisation to take place without regard to the harmful impact it would have on the natural world. If human society had been vegan back then, the climate emergency would never have happened.
However, it does seem to be the case that many vegans have a limited view of speciesism that fails to properly include the oppression of other animals caused by adverse human impact on the environment. I referred to this in a recent Facebook post that I addressed to vegans and environmentalists:-
It’s important to emphasise that veganism is a philosophy of opposition to speciesism, not a diet (although a plant based diet is an important part of it), and that those who subscribe to this philosophy should do their best to avoid and oppose all oppression and exploitation of other animals by the human species.
Vegans have always been very good at opposing speciesism where this comes clearly in the form of persecution of individual animals, as in animals killed by the food industry, animal experimentation, hunting, the fur trade, horse and greyhound racing etc.
Where they haven’t been so good is where that persecution is not perceived as directed against animals as individuals and where it is more systemic, rather than direct, in its nature, such as when it is caused by pollution, habitat destruction, human overpopulation, transport methods and industrialisation.
Thus we have vegans hugely concerned about foxhunting and the badger cull, but showing little regard for changing our transport system (in a situation where far more foxes and badgers are killed by road vehicles than by hunting or shooting) or about combatting other forms of negative human impact on the environment that continue to kill huge numbers of wild animals.
On the other hand there is the problem of environmentalists who continue to hold a human supremacist worldview and do not value the lives of animals as individuals. For them, the environment needs to be protected primarily for the benefit of humans, and species of other animals conserved for the same reason, either so humans can continue to have the pleasure of seeing them in the world or because human wellbeing depends on the web of life of which those species form a part.
I remember being at a Friends of the Earth meeting in a pub where I commented that they were putting their drinks on “horse killers beer mats”, because these were advertising John Smiths, the Grand National sponsors at the time. My comment wasn’t met with approval but with embarrassed staring at the table by the others at the meeting. I had dared to speak out against the oppression of other animals as individuals.
In my view, two things need to happen so both vegans and environmentalists can campaign together properly for a better world. Vegans need to extend their concept of what constitutes speciesism and environmentalists need to reject speciesism and become vegan.
In “Greenprint” I spoke of the importance of active local vegan groups in spreading the vegan message and said that “what we need to do is to try to set up a large network of such groups throughout the country, so that every town and city is covered”.
I took my own advice on this and set to work in creating such a group in my own area, Wyre Forest, in north Worcestershire.
Wyre Forest Vegans now has well over 600 members (at least half of them from the local area) and in each of the past two years has organised more than 100 outreach events, both big and small.
This would not be the case though, had I not devoted a great amount of time to organising and taking part in those events, with the help of a small but dedicated team of volunteers.
I know that if I wasn’t here to continually drive the group forward, it either would not exist at all or its activism would be very much less.
This has brought home to me the importance of dynamic local leadership in the spreading of the vegan message.
In areas where active local vegan outreach groups exist, it is because there is one or a small number of people organising events and encouraging other local vegans to take part.
In areas where such dynamic local leadership does not exist, there are either no local vegan groups or those that exist do not involve themselves in active outreach.
So, merely imploring more vegans to become vegan activists, and to get involved in vegan outreach, is not enough, if there is nobody in local areas to organise that outreach.
In every town, city, and in every suburb of every city, there are people who are potential local vegan activists, but most of them are either not active or travel, sometimes quite long distances, to do their activism elsewhere, because nobody is organising any in their local areas.
This means that a huge number of places throughout the UK are without an active local vegan outreach group, meaning that many millions of ordinary people are not in sufficient receipt of the vegan message.
So we are faced with two problems; a serious one of not enough vegans becoming involved in vegan activism, and an even more serious one of not enough vegan activists being prepared to become local organisers.
The second problem is by far the biggest, because there are potential vegan activists everywhere, and because it only takes a relatively small number of activists to carry out a large number of actions, provided there is dynamic local leadership to organise those actions.
So the key to achieving animal liberation lies in the answer to one simple question: how do we help/persuade/encourage far more vegan activists to become organisers of local vegan outreach groups in their own areas?
Sadly, I feel that merely urging more activists to become local organisers is unlikely to have much effect, especially as I have frequently done this myself, with little or no positive result.
What is needed is a much more proactive and hands on approach to stimulate and aid the formation of local vegan outreach groups and to educate and encourage vegan activists to become local group organisers.
Where, though, do we find the resources to put this approach into action?
In my view, the answer lies with the national pro-vegan organisations: Animal Aid, PETA UK, the Vegan Society and Viva!.
These societies have the financial and organisational resources to employ regional coordinators, whose job it would be to go into local areas and do what is necessary to set up vegan outreach groups and to find and train local vegan activists to be group organisers.
At present much of the resources of these national organisations are committed to the production of campaign materials and the promotion of national campaigns. However, without a widespread network of active local vegan groups to distribute those materials and to take those campaigns to a large number of ordinary people, their effect will remain very limited.
What I would like to see is a vegan outreach stimulation team, consisting of one or two national coordinators and a number of regional coordinators, funded jointly by the national societies I have named (and, perhaps, also by any groups or individuals who have the financial resources to do so).
Unless resources are put in to creating a proper network for the delivery of the vegan message, for very many people in our society it will remain insufficiently delivered.
My second main point in “Greenprint” was that because we could not hope to educate everyone to become vegan, we would still need legislation to protect non-human animals, and that the best political party to deliver such legislation were the Greens.
Therefore, as well as urging my fellow vegans to get involved in vegan outreach, I also encouraged them to get involved with and to help their local Green parties.
Since, I wrote the article, however, my own experiences in promoting the Green Party, and big changes in the national political landscape, have caused me to take a more nuanced view.
It is still my opinion that a Green Party government would be the best of all possible administrations for delivering legislation that gave wide reaching protection to other animals (both directly and through protections given to the environment).
However, I have come to understand that such a government, or even a coalition where the Greens would have significant influence, has no chance of coming about unless there is electoral reform and our present first past the post system is replaced by some sort of single transferable vote. The reality, at present, is that many people who would like to feel able to vote Green, do not do so, out of fear of letting the Tories in by depriving Labour of their vote.
Thus, the priority, in terms of eventually getting a Green Party government, is electoral reform, even though that may mean giving our votes to a party other than the Greens for the time being.
This was the case at the last General Election, where the only possible outcomes were, in reality, either a Tory government (no possibility of electoral reform) or a coalition of centre/left parties headed by Labour (electoral reform a distinct possibility).
It was also vital, for the sake of animal and environmental protection, and of social justice, that the Tories be defeated, which is why I advocated that all the opposition parties should form a Progressive Alliance that would stand just one candidate in each constituency, so as to avoid the anti-Tory vote being split.
My advocacy of this in my own constituency led to me resigning as press officer for my local Green Party after they decided to stand a candidate against Labour, who, in my opinion had the best chance of beating the Tory.
As it happened, the failure of the anti-Tory parties to from a Progressive Alliance resulted in a huge Conservative victory in the General Election, when had those parties not been so bloody minded and tribalistic, all could have been so much different.
The cause of the Conservative victory went deeper than that though, and led me to make the following post on Facebook, entitled “A Failure of Education”:-
I see very many of my vegan friends posting their messages of dismay over the Tory election victory.
It was a huge blow to all of us who care about animal liberation, environmental protection, and social justice, and I totally understand and share their sentiments.
But we have to go far beyond dismay. We have to learn from what has happened, and act accordingly.
The Tories won so convincingly because almost 30% of people registered to vote put a cross next to the name of the Conservative candidate.
So the blame for the election result lies quite firmly with the mindset of many ordinary people, and the reason for this lies with our failure to educate those people to see the world in a more enlightened way.
The greatest social injustice in the world, which is also the root cause of the climate crisis and all our other environmental woes, is speciesism: the view that human beings, in their selfishness and arrogance, are somehow more important than other sentient animals.
Once people set themselves against the greatest form of social injustice, they are also likely to set themselves against all the others.
If we constantly and unremittingly educate people about the wrongfulness of the speciesist viewpoint and show them a different way of living, and of looking at the world, so that they reject human supremacism, not only will they adopt a diet and lifestyle that causes massively less destruction to this planet and the other animals that live upon it, but there is a very big chance that they will make a more enlightened choice next time they put a cross on a ballot paper.
But we have failed to make sufficient effort to educate people about veganism; and the planet, non-human animals, and impoverished and vulnerable people will pay the price.
Now we must learn from this failure and put the situation right. All vegans must become involved in vegan education as much as they possible can, and there is no excuse for any of us not to do that.
We can learn from the tragedy of the Tory victory and use that knowledge to create an eventual triumph for social justice and animal liberation.
We’re not going to succeed in educating everybody. But we don’t need to. Just 30%.
So, once again, we come back to the importance of vegan education and to putting a strategy in place that will lead to the maximum number of people being educated.
A strategy centred on the setting up of a nationwide network of local vegan outreach groups, and which requires the involvement, not just of vegan activists, but of all the national pro-vegan organisations.