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Ways to Promote Alliance Politics


You'll get the irony of this fuzzy bit of culinary activism (vegan vanilla cake with strawberry filling and vegan cream cheese frosting) taken in my suburban home with the reminder of ahimsa in the background if you choose to read the remarkably tame and informative "13 Ways to Promote Alliance Politics and Total Liberation" by Steve Best. No ad-hominem attacks, just useful action steps, some of which you've probably been taking anyway.

I've been engaging in some of the steps (for lack of a better word) for about a year, beginning with reading the books and blogs of people I have come to deeply respect and for the most part agree with. I also disagree with them. And I can. I can figure out where I stand without the risk of being shunned, Amish style.

Though reading's the easiest thing to do it isn't to be minimized as it's necessary to provide context and connections (to some of us insulated, elite, white people. At least I don't hang out at "trendy cafes, upscale malls and uptown and suburban comfort zones"). The books and blogs mentioned in the post aren't for everyone in style or substance, and for me style can be an enormous hurdle. Meanwhile, I'm sure that writers whose style I have a problem with will say, "I don't have the time or the inclination to write the sort of dispassionate, tepid prose you prefer while tens of billions of sentient nonhumans are being enslaved and slaughtered for no good reason." And I understand that point.

So if you don't like someone's style, see if you can look beyond or beneath that for the meaning (though sometimes it is admittedly difficult to separate the presentation from the substance). 

And though reading is the easiest thing to do, not everyone has access to books. Chris from Beijing works to get books translated for the groups he works with, and I can say for certain that you'd never take your access to books for granted again if you heard what he has to go through to get books to China.

And they have limited Internet access, so that's another obstacle.

And speaking of obstacles, some of the people I work with who live mere miles away but it seems like galaxies when it comes to services don't have a reading level beyond sixth grade, if that. And it's not because they didn't go to school; they were moved through the system and allowed to get much of the way if not all the way through high school despite their relative inability to read. They would be interested in the content of the books, for sure, but they have learned how to talk around the notion of books and don't easily ask for help. Leaflets and books aren't the ways to get to this particular population, at least not unless you begin with adult literacy (which is an area I think I'm about to get into so I'll let you know how that goes).

Furthermore, when you read, I recommend not using your disagreement with someone about, say, the definition of violence, stop you from going out into your community and building alliances. I have been building friendships with anarchists and other activists for about a year and I have yet to have a discussion about violence. Though I have expanded my contacts, most of my conversations are still in their infancy. Most people were like me in that they had "their" issue and saw addressing "my" issue as taking time away from theirs. Getting through that initial resistance takes a bit of time and energy and it can't be skipped or rushed because it's the foundation. I also find that to be the case within the community of nonvegan, pro-animal activists, such as greyhound advocates. They don't see veganism as related to their fight against dog racing, at first (or second . . . ).

If you get to #12 of Best's list, which includes: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" and respond "I won't be doing any crime, thanks, and I don't support anyone who does" that doesn't negate the legitimacy of the other action steps, except maybe #11, which is to support political prisoners.

Finally, I appreciate this (the penultimate paragraph):

The alliances needed for a politics of the 21st century – the most crucial century in the history of humanity — will not be easy to form. It  is difficult to build a single-issue movement, to organize a local  group, and even to have a relationship with another person, let alone to build the complex alliances necessary to avert social and ecological catastrophe.

Don't let this become a discussion about what violence is or isn't (because it's not). It's about a broader and deeper vision of how we are going to succeed–if we are going to succeed.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mary – you say, "No ad-hominem attacks, just useful action steps, some of which you've probably been taking anyway."


    "We launched this group in the hope of revitalizing a vegan abolition movement mired in complacency, timidity, and dogmatic slumbers — a small but hegemonic approach paralyzed by pacifism and a cult-like following of an authoritarian leader.

    "We accurately identified this moribund manifestation as a bourgeois, elitist, single-issue, consumerist, apolitical, pseudo-abolitionism going nowhere fast.

    "We established that this insular, complacent, and pretentious lifestyle narcissism exacerbates the isolation of veganism and animal rights from other movements. It reinforces the dominant image of a movement of privileged white liberals indifferent to the social, political, and economic realities that devastate and destroy billions of people throughout the world.

    "We dispelled the disabling illusions of pathological pacifism and exposed the arrogance, aggression, and verbal violence hiding behind the mask of ahimsa and Jainism."

    Btw, the "Best camp's" attacks on me, involving Best himself, suggesting that I engage in oral sex with Gary Francione, that I am a sycophant, a "brown-noser," and in need of knee-pads, are now being described as "playful satire."

    In terms of the "manifesto," there seems to me to be fundamental flaw in the notion that a movement can engage in alliance politics while ~at the same time~ defending an "anything goes" posture guaranteed to alienate many or, at the very least, allow people an easy way of refusing to engage with its ideas.

    Surely, "by any means necessary" will only function within a mass movement which does not need to educate and can effectively "go it alone"?

    November 30, 2009
  2. Mary #

    No individuals were named, and though what I read are one person's assessment of a situation, I don't think that qualifies as an ad hominem attack even if there were names.

    It is very unfortunate that a handful of people–on both "sides" of this–engage in direct, personal, verbal attacks (and accusations).

    I don't defend an anything goes position, and I do think that we can engage in alliance politics without doing so. I am certainly not asking anyone to not question the manifesto or draw a line where they need to.
    Just like with Francione, I agree with parts and I disagree with others. And that should be perfectly acceptable.

    I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for people new to AR to read blogs and Tweets and attempt to get a handle on why it is that the enemy of "the movement" is so often portrayed as someone within it rather than people actively using and abusing sentient nonhumans or paying others to do it for them.

    November 30, 2009
  3. Michael #

    I find their tone pretty insufferable, particularly the sort of undergraduate-radicalism, "hegemonic" this and "bourgeois" that. And they really couldn't resist beginning their call for outreach and alliance with several paragraphs immaturely bashing another faction of their own movement?

    I miss Satya magazine more than ever…. I really felt they were working towards linking animal, human, and environmental issues in a way that was nuanced but down-to-earth, without sacrificing passion or commitment. I'm deeply disappointed that they didn't have a chance to continue that work and grow their influence in the movement.

    December 1, 2009

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