Why I Didn’t Take the Liberation Pledge

In November 2015, Direct Action Everywhere attempted to “turn the tables,” in the group’s own words, during the holiday season by encouraging vegans to take the Liberation Pledge, which asks people to:

  • Abstain from eating nonhuman animals or their secretions;
  • Abstain from sitting at table with/being in the company of persons who are engaged in the act of consuming nonhuman animals or their secretions, and
  • Sharing the pledge widely and getting as many others to take it as possible.

As a member of DxE until September 2015, I thought long and hard about this pledge. Many of my friends took it, and frankly, it’s something that has come up in my life before; DxE didn’t invent the idea of not being around nonvegans while they’re eating. It’s something I actually touched upon briefly in my book, Until Every Animal is Free, but in retrospect, I wish I had spent a little more time on that section. I only made one or two points, omitting several others, thinking my position was relatively simple.

Since this pledge was released, I’ve come to understand it is anything but simple. I have, in fact, myriad reasons for not engaging in these types of campaigns, and since so many folks have asked me about it I thought I’d take some time here to outline what some of those are.

 

Reason #1: I don’t think this pledge will actually help nonhuman animals.

I know those who are taking the pledge disagree— that’s why they’re taking it— and their hearts are in the right place. But as I’ve said many times before, I truly believe that if we want to see a vegan world realized, we need to radically change humans’ perception of nonhuman animals. We need to convince humans that nonhumans’ lives are of value, independent of whether they look like us, behave like us, or think as we do. I truly hope I am wrong about this, and that scores of families will commit to veganism in the New Year as a result of this campaign, but I have serious doubts.

Ultimately, the best one can hope to achieve with this campaign is to convince one’s family to eat a vegan meal (more on that important distinction later: a vegan meal vs. a vegan holiday) once or twice a year (at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Thanksgiving and Hannukah, etc.) so that one— the pledge-taker— will attend. Let’s say I take the pledge and my family, because they miss me so much, decides that from now on, every Christmas we will have a vegan meal. That’s pretty awesome, but…What will they eat throughout the rest of the year? This is, I think, a similar problem to that of Meatless Mondays, except that at least Meatless Mondays asks people to refrain from consuming nonhumans once a week— not once or twice a year.

At the end of the day, the question at the forefront of every nonhuman animal advocacy campaign should be: Does this help nonhuman animals? If scores of families go 100% vegan forever as a result of this campaign, I will be delighted to have been proven wrong. But from where I sit presently, I simply don’t see that happening. I see families either being offended or agreeing to accommodate their relative, without changing their minds about nonhumans or their relationship to them on any permanent, measurable basis. I see them submitting to the will of an individual vegan, without committing themselves fully to the philosophy and way of life that is veganism.

 

Reason #2: This campaign, like so many others before it, conflates veganism with a plant-based diet.

Would those who have taken the pledge, I wonder, leave the room if their families served a vegan dinner, but their mother wore leather shoes to the occasion? What about if someone wore a fur coat?

The sad truth is that nonhuman animal abuse is everywhere. The only way to exclude oneself from it entirely is to commit to never leaving one’s house again— and even then you may still be surrounded by nonhuman animal abuse, depending on how your home was constructed, of what materials, and so forth. Perfect purity is impossible in an imperfect, impure world; so to say you won’t attend an event because there’s a corpse on the table, yet attend a similar event where there is a plant-based meal and yet people are wearing leather, misses the point of veganism, minimizing its scope to that of what’s for dinner.

 

Reason #3: DxE built its brand on confrontation— intentionally going into places of violence to speak up for the victims. That is one thing I loved about the organization while I was a member.

So why, now, are members and other vegans being encouraged to do the exact opposite— to avoid places of violence, to attempt to “speak” for nonhumans by not speaking at all, allowing meat-eaters to eat meat around other meat-eaters, thus perpetuating the notion that meat-eating is the norm and vegans are an outside, fringe group that can easily be ignored? I understand the desire to create a new norm, but I’m not sure this is the way to go about it.

 

Reason #4: Classism. There, I said it.

Not everyone can afford to eat a 100% vegan meal at the moment. Not everyone even has a choice over what they eat; many in this country are imprisoned, hospitalized or reliant on handouts. I will not stop talking to a homeless person I encounter on a bench because they are eating a cheese sandwich someone gave them. Sorry.

Rather than shame those who cannot go vegan for this or that reason, we should be empowering folks to do so, focusing on increasing access to fresh, affordable and delicious food all over the world.

 

Reason#5: When you show up and speak up in person, you redirect focus to the nonhuman animal. When you are absent, the focus remains squarely on you.

This relates very closely to Reason #3, in my mind. One reason I loved going into places where violence is committed and profited from, and especially in places like Chipotle and Whole Foods where this violence is sold as “humane” and “compassionate,” was to change the perspective, even if only for a moment, of consumers so that they would view what Whole Foods called “their dinner” as a sentient being who once lived— and wanted to continue doing so.

We used our voices to redirect attention away from selfish human desires towards the desires, needs and rights of nonhumans.

Being absent, by contrast, I fear puts the attention too solidly or strongly on the activist who is missing, and not the nonhuman whose body is being consumed. People are more likely to talk about you, the activist, and the choice you’ve made, than about the nonhuman they are about to eat— with or without your presence. Being there to speak for the nonhuman might bring some attention on to you, sure, but you will be able to actively shift that attention away from yourself and onto the nonhuman. If you’re not there, you can’t do that.

 

Reason #6: Coercion just isn’t my thing.

It’s probably one of the oldest, most difficult philosophical questions to answer. It comes in many forms, but for our purposes, I’ll use this one: “If you could force everyone to go vegan overnight, would you do it?” Everyone going vegan would save hundreds of thousands of nonhuman animals’ lives, but it would also violate the autonomy of the humans who we’ve forced to live this way.

Ultimately, I don’t want anyone to go vegan because I said so, because I made them, because they were afraid of losing me. Getting back to Reason #1, I want people to go vegan because they have truly changed their minds about nonhumans. That’s the only way it’ll stick, and the only way to prevent cheating also– people calling themselves “vegan” and then consuming nonhuman animal byproducts when no one is looking. Coercing my loved ones into doing something I want them to do will not ultimately save nonhumans, as Reason #1 denotes, but even beyond that, it simply isn’t fair to them. It minimizes the whole of who they are to this one issue, this one impediment to their vision of our unity with all sentient beings.

Suppose you have a 90-year-old grandmother. It is Christmas, and everyone in the family knows it may be her last. Grandma eats chicken. Are you really not going to say goodbye to Grandma because she might be eating chicken? What about all of the wonderful things she did for you throughout your lifetime? Does none of that count now, because she hasn’t grasped this one fundamental truth about our existence— that we humans and nonhumans are inextricably linked?

I talk a bit in my book about “meeting people where they are.” This, to me, means not letting people off of the hook, sugarcoating or even neglecting to talk about the truth. It means being patient and understanding with them, and remembering always that you weren’t born with the understanding you currently have. You had to work to attain it.

I hope this sheds some light on why I didn’t take the pledge, and that my many friends who have taken it can take this in the spirit in which it was meant— not a condemnation of them or their actions, but an explanation and clarification of my own. I believe each and every single person who has taken the pledge believes they are helping nonhumans by doing so, and I sincerely hope that they prove me wrong. N0thing would make me happier than to read in a newspaper or see on CNN in 2016 that hundreds of families went vegan as a result of their efforts.

 

 

All content © Saryta Rodriguez, 2015

Advertisements