Of Activism and CAPERS IN THE CHURCHYARD
CAPERS IN THE CHURCHYARD: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror, by Lee Hall, the Legal Director at Friends of Animals, should be required reading for individuals interested in abolishing our use and abuse of nonhuman animals.
As a vegan who gets many e-mails asking about my possible connection to the Animal Liberation Front, due I can only imagine to some kind of reaching theory that says: people who engage in sarcasm-by-day are likely to be militant-activists-by-night, I found Hall’s book affirming. It was an easy read, for me, because I found much of it familiar, but I do understand why some vegans have found it wanting.
Because of a combination of my upbringing and my education, I never entertained strategies involving fear, intimidation, property damage, or violence. They were always anathema to me, with the exception of open rescues, which allow the public to see abuse that they didn’t know existed, and maybe challenge using (or at least exploiting) animals. And though open rescue might be effective at . . . something . . . I don’t think it’s going to make anyone become an abolitionist.
When animal-welfare groups focus on the horrendous, the cruel, and the barbaric, they aren’t attending to the underlying problem of domination; and in some sense they are ensuring that the everyday domination continues unnoticed (39).
For people who still aren’t on board with the idea that regulating institutionalized animal use isn’t EVER going to lead to its abolition, Hall provides a great analogy in Sister Helen Prejean, who inspired the film Dead Man Walking.
. . . Prejean does not make agreements with the prison-industrial complex, or give advice on how to kill prisoners, or act as an undercover informist. Prejean has, instead, kept the focus on educating about the need to abolish the injustice that puts all of the individual cases in common context. The concern, the goal, is not to make capital punishment seem less harsh; it’s to end the killing of some human beings by others (43).
Domination is the issue at the core of animal rights, not suffering. Suffering is the core of animal welfare and protection. If animal rights is to get back on track, education about veganism should be the priority, including dissuading consumers from investing in businesses that use animals. If Hall can be said to have two main premises, this is one.
Hall’s other premise is that violence, fear, and intimidation only hurt the cause of the animal rights activist. That was clearly the case, in my experience, 20 years ago when I was straight edge, complete with black, Victorian lace-up boots (I found combat boots made a military statement I disagreed with–and yes, they were leather, and no, I don’t wear leather anymore, now that I have alternatives). There was definitely violence, intimidation and property damage all around (I went to Queens College for my BA and MA, and then NYU for my PhD), and what came out of it wasn’t the word terrorist, like in 2007, but the word crazy.
And I’m not sure what’s worse.
Though I was labeled fanatic and extremist (and I thought I was just being consistent!), the militants were thought to be completely bonkers. And all that did was subvert my efforts, as I’d be unjustly lumped together with the crazy people. Now, crazy, bonkers, nutjob, these aren’t my words. These are the mainstream’s perception of people who stooped to the level of the exploiters by waging a war of their own–using the same weapons. That was their mistake. If you’re going to argue that war is wrong, engaging in a war to prove that point is illogical and counterproductive.
But don’t believe my personal experience. In CAPERS, Hall examines actions of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), Earth First!, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, as well as actions of some of the leaders and leading organizations in animal rights (and also welfare), and demonstrates how ineffective they have been in working toward a goal of ceasing domination of the Earth and its nonhuman inhabitants by humans. Furthermore, one direct result of their actions is new legislation (the culmination of which Hall’s book doesn’t address as it was written before this occurred) here in the US called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which passed in November of 2006 (and only Dennis Kucinich spoke against it).
Violence, property damage, fear and intimidation have no place in a movement that is supposed to be about peace and liberation from domination.