Reflective Observation

When I was 9 years old I visited a battery farm with my Grandmother. I was dumbstruck by the cages, the smell, the visible distress. I became vegetarian and started to organise for animal rights. Soon I would be vegan, attending demonstrations, running local groups and later find myself in the eye of the storm of future political repression of the movement.

Leaving home at 16, I began to more intensively organise, supporting a coalition approach in the South West of the UK and giving more time and energy to the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign. In May 2007, my home was raided amongst 31 others, and I was charged with ‘conspiracy to blackmail’. After nearly two years on bail, the first 7 defendants faced a 3 month trial, in which they were convicted (three people pled guilty). Some evidence surfaced which indicated my involvement in ALF attacks against HLS targets, and I pleaded guilty in March 2009.

After 19 months on remand, I was finally sentenced to 3.5 years imprisonment, receiving a third off for my guilty plea. I had 8 weeks left to do, and then had 21 months of strict license conditions or face a return to prison. During this 21 months I was unable to talk to anyone ‘concerned with animal welfare’. I was basically divorced from the animal liberation movement, the backbone of my life and identity for over a decade.

I do not hold the vast long term view that many activists do, however my 16 year involvement in the movement does generate several observations:

  • The decline in visible movement support for militant direct action. As a young person in the movement, every demo I went on, everyone was wearing ALF t-shirts. The number of attacks on infrastructure, such as liberations and sabotage, were unprecedented. Targets were capitulating one by one. There was an arrogance in the air about our power and the fear of how we framed ‘animal-abusing’ industries.  Fast-forward 15 years, and many of these tactics are contested. Few actions are reported. There is widespread fear of prison time and more and more organisations say that they reject militancy for fear of loosing ‘public support’.
  • The growth in vegan outreach, abolitionism and general non-violence rhetoric. Promoting veganism was always part of grassroots animal rights groups work. Food at demos was vegan, it was a baseline shared politics. However over the last 5-10 years (generally correlating with the increase in repression) more and more groups are investing their time and energy in promoting veganism, most notably via events such as vegan fayres. Longstanding ALF enthusiasts, such as Ronnie Lee, now promote vegan education as the tactic they believe will achieve animal liberation.
  • The repression of vivisection-related campaigning and its impact on the wider movement. Long prison sentences, criminalisation of protest and media backlash has heavily impacted on the tactical choices of grassroots groups.
  • The growth of internet-based campaigning and the decline in local groups. Technology has reduced group-based organising and increased the adoption of individualist action and lifestyle changes.


My place in the field

I have always identified as an anarchist during my interactions with the animal rights movement (I was active with the Anarchist Youth Network when I was 14). However my analysis of intersecting forms of oppression has definitely strengthened and become more explicit following my imprisonment and time out of the movement. Mainly because I had to step sideways and focus on fields that wouldn’t return me to prison, such as anti-fracking resistance and land and food struggles. Studying horticulture and permaculture definitely influenced my strategic decisions.

At the peak of my engagement with the movement, I embraced militant direct action as my niche and felt that a low-intensity guerilla warfare approach would ultimately impact the most of industries exploiting animals. In working with SHAC, I knew that aboveground and underground resistance were necessary, and almost ineffective without each other.

Following nearly 6 years out of action in the movement as a consequence of repression, I described in a journal entry once that it felt like I was returning to a ‘wasteland’. As many of my comrades are still under license conditions, or have left the movement entirely, I now often feel like a lonely voice in my continued support for direct action, grassroots (vs reformist) campaigning and my contestation that a vegan conversion strategy will yield anything for animals oppressed by humans. I am outwardly spoken that I think the adoption of these new tactics comes from a very real fear of repression, rather than some kind of strategic thinking. I have spoken internationally at events centred around the repression of SHAC and the UK animal rights movements, and have also contributed several writings to different publications. See the supporting evidence section for further links & articles.

"Vegan consumerism fails to challenge the internalized superiority held by humans over animals (speciesism), colonizers over colonized (colonialism), Westerners over “traditional” societies (imperialism), owners over consumers (capitalism), and the like."

- Alessandra Seiter

Achieving Animal Liberation: My concluding thoughts

Following this long personal process of reflecting on changes in the movement in recent history, coupled with my extensive reading, I have come to the following conclusions (which of course, are dynamic. This are my feelings as of December 2014):

  • I think the animal liberation movement (as part of a broader struggle) will achieve animal liberation. I do not think vegans will.
  • I believe the growth in vegan outreach as a tactic correlates with growing repression of the animal liberation movement. I believe it has been part of a repressive repertoire of the state, and has resulted in the pacification of our strategies and diversion of our movements from taking more militant, direct action. This repression was experienced because the movement was effective - it was achieving its goals, winning victories and harming the industries that profit from animal exploitation. I know that repression is a very real fear and I understand why people are afraid. Other than prisoner support, defendants have been badly supported historically and the movement in the UK is very weak, vulnerable and not currently able to buffer further repression.
  • I believe veganism can play a role if it is used as a tool to radicalise people, support them to challenge their own thinking around inter-species relationships and different forms of oppression. I do not believe vegan consumerism will ‘save us’ and I think allowing vegan models that reproduce capitalism to perpetuate is dangerous and harmful. Normalising veganism in a white-privileged worldview is problematic. There are countless reasons why people abstain from consuming animal products, these are not problematic if veganism is situated as a lifestyle choice rather than a strategy for achieving animal liberation. I feel the idea that veganism saves animal lives is a dangerous myth that needs to be confronted in order to generate more effective tactics and tools.
  • To dismantle animal agriculture, I believe animal liberationists need to work in coalition with other groups working to transform our capitalist food systems. More energy needs to be invested in developing, spreading and evidencing plant based systems.
  • For the animal liberation movement to grow and flourish, it needs to embrace an intersectional worldview, and work readily in coalitions with other movements and struggles. I personally believe it needs to centre itself within an anti-state and anti-capitalist struggle. No single movement can take on the state or industry alone. It needs to accept that repression is inevitable, and that daily struggle will achieve social change. Working for reforms will only waste precious time and energy of organisers.
  • The animal liberation movement has huge strengths; its relentless campaigning, economic sabotage, aboveground/underground relationship and strategic decisions have had a huge impact on the animal industrial complex. These historical tactics do not need to be relegated to history. They need to re-surface, internationalise, and be supported by a movement that is more resilient to repression after learning from what it has been through. This means increased support for more radical ideas, tactics and approaches, as well as visible and vocal recognition of the power of direct action.

” . . . a note to anarchists who have no real interest in animal liberation and won’t expand their moral framework to include non-human animals: a friend of ours from the New York City Anarchist Black Cross pointed out that our strategies and tactics as animal rights activists work. The animal liberation movement gets results, tears down the capitalist framework of domination over other beings, has one of the strongest prisoner support networks in the world, and operates from a frame of practical action that is based on a theory of total liberation.”

- The Bunny Alliance

Resource Review

Please see links & detailed references on the bottom of each page of the main report (pages 1 - 4). Here are ten key resources that I've triggered, stimulated, inspired and strengthened my thinking:

10 Key Resources

Livestock/Deadstock (book) explores the engagement/disengagement and relationships with animals  from the perspectives of people who work on farms, in livestock auction markets and in slaughterhouses. It helped me negotiate different worldviews and put into context some of the psychological tools identified in Dr Joy’s book. It also has very thorough referencing and further resources around animal agriculture.

Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows. (Book) Dr Melanie Joy introduces the psychological tools that sustain carnism. It is quite liberal at points (in terms of suggesting tactics/reforms), however it does illustrate different psychological tools that people use to rationalise/justify/normalise their behaviour around eating animals. I like how the attention is given to those that eat animals, rather than dissecting veganism.

Understanding Neocarnism (Article) is Dr Joy’s opinion around alternative food movements and their carnist attitudes and actions, for example holistic management, permaculture etc. It was very useful for me because these are the fields I work in and people I most often interact with.

The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's Rape Rack: Feminism and Animal Rights. (Blog post) This is a long blog post that really succinctly introduces the relationships between feminism and animal liebration, by focusing on how patriarchy exploits female reproductive capacity to serve itself, and that as feminists we need to extend our solidarity to other nonhuman women.

Peter Gelderloos Veganism: Why Not an anarchist perspective. (Zine) I love Peter Gelderloos’s writing, my favourite is How Nonviolence Protects the State. He writes with power and cuts through a lot of liberal ideas. His commentary on veganism really influenced me and triggered me to continue exploring the subject politically.

From Animals to Anarchism (Zine) Its aim is to "challenge those involved in animal activism to sort their politics out if they truly believe in liberation, but at the same time not let anarchists off the hook - demanding that they consider more fully the nature of human-animal relations in their politics.” This zine was published while I was writing my finishing touches to this OP,  however its solid writing is a great introduction to anarchism and animal liberation.

The Sistah Vegan Project (Project) is a pioneering project that links race, gender, speciesism and much more. I visit it regularly and am consistently inspired by its thorough critical observations of the world.

La Vía Campesina by Annette Aurelie Desmarais (Book) is a both an insider’s view and an academic analysis of Via Campesina, from someone who has a long term relationship with the movement. I found it a fascinating insight that helped me understand the political context, decisions and influences of the global peasants movement.

Brian Dominick’s Animal Liberation and Social Revolution (Zine) has been on my bookshelf since I was a young teenager. While there are some grey areas, it is generally a rich introduction to anarchism and the need to integrate animal liberation into class struggle and solidarity.

Food movements unite! (Book) Is a great book that brings together articles from all sorts of organisers working for food system change. Its contributions vary from articles about farmers, food sovereignty, consumers, labor and food justic, even climate justice. Its diversity from people involved in struggles on the ground make it rich reading.

Resistance Ecology (Project) is a project in North America which weaves all the threads together - animal liberation, anarchism, land defense, decolonisation, anti-racism, feminism… It is an amazing news site for intersectional analysis and projects. It also produces a great zine and organises an annual conference (most of which is filmed and shared online). Some of the most innovate work I’ve seen come out of the animal liberation movement.

Gaia U Participation

  • MSc Main Advising Session notes
  • Notes from the Gaia U Calls (Radio & Community) that I participate in
  • During this OP I have struggled to maintain a Guild Buddy relationship that meets my needs. It is one of my priorities for 2015. My guild buddy in Autumn 2014 made a recording of our call as they do not feel able to take fast notes (part of why it wasn't meeting my needs). 

Digiphon

Mahara, GEL site, Gimp, Photoshop, Indesign, Illustrator, Word, Text Edit, Pages, Numbers, Mail, Thunderbird, iCal, iPhoto, iTunes, Digital camera, Firefox, Wordpress, CiviCRM, Scrivener, Adobe, Calibre, XMind, iReminisce, Stickies, Fontbook, Google drive, Excel, Crabgrass, Open Office, Skype, Doodle, Spotify, GPG, Photobooth, Backblaze, iPhone notes, WhatsApp, Surespot. Clearbooks. My notebook & post it notes. Zotero (essential). Cite this for me.com.

Un/Learning Journal Entries

The majority of my learning journal entries are part of my reflections captured through my output 4 tracking form. The back end of this spreadsheet is available to reviewers on request. Below are some example entries:

30th July 2014

Had two terrifying nightmares, that made me feel like a deadweight this morning as I finally awoke.

The first was about a horse. In the middle of a busy highstreet (maybe London), with hundreds of spectators and blocked-in cars. This deep brown horse was flayling in distress. Kicking up and running around towards people. It jumped on my friends backs and then kicked one of them in the stomach. It then somehow kicked itself (or kicked so hard that it moved its self) and landed as if sitting down. Everyone thought because I was ‘animal rights’ I’d know what to do, but I felt frozen in fear and didn’t know. I could feel its piercing eyes look right into me in distress asking for help and communicating its pain.

The second dream was being with a friend, or at least a newish contact, who then was arrested. After she was let out of the police station, I walked her back home with a group of people, including my partner. I could feel this anxiety around the police that they hadn’t charged her because they didn’t have enough evidence. I knew I had to get back fast and burn some items, but didn’t want to burn them at her house in case the police were watching it. So I, and one other, tried to travel back to mine and ended up going on this really scary dark train through a wooded edge on the way back to mine. Then we needed to walk to find my house and I felt constantly watched from the shadows.

Then when I got into my bedroom I was closing my curtains and saw a row of police in the track opposite my house. They were on bikes with cameras, in mainly black, and were driving up and down the hedgerows. I drew the curtains and felt so scared I could hardly breathe.

24th October 2014

Humans are animals too. we don't belong in cages either. 

Very liberating to not think about SCF anymore. How to be 'professional' but still congruent with anarchism/anti capitalism? What does 'professional' mean to me?

17th August 2014

Have to see my work as organising & apply the same passion and ambition. Application of focus.

25th August 2014

Leave RTF gathering and all you see is industrialised agriculture around us. So overwhelming.

9th July 2014

We are fighting fracking to protect our land, yet the same energy involved into destroying industrial agriculture which pollutes and damages more land than we can comprehend.

9th June 2014

Need to design in rest after big events. live slower to hear plants. maybe the reason there so so much emotional distress in life - because it has to awaken me, impossible with my workaholism?

30th May 2014

Tearful again. Aching to finish growing resilience project. Described mum like wave - keep coming up for breath and then battered by next one. What am i learning from this? Affirmations to swing positivity my way? Am I manifesting this?