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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Sebastian

Sorry conservative vegans. Animal rights is political…and it leans left.

As a person who firmly believes in animal rights, I understand activists within the movement who state quite insistently that animal rights and human rights do not or should not interact. After all, I don’t imagine many of them have ever had a conversation with a Latin-American person who stood at the United States border seeking asylum because they fled a country where violent cattle ranchers were killing people like them in order to acquire their land (to in turn enslave and murder more domesticated animals).

How ironic that many of those asylum seekers would have their claims denied at the time of this writing by a U.S. administration who unequivocally champions the entities that murder those humans and, by extension, the other animal persons who live there.

Or maybe it’s not ironic at all, not even vaguely surprising. Human persons and animal persons who live outside of the global west often exist solely in the abstract for such activists. Although to be fair, even the animals who live within the United States are ignored as U.S. American activists patronizingly regard issues of race and social class as mere ‘human’ problems.

For example, these same people remained steadfastly silent when members of the Sioux tribe courageously protested construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, even though resisting the pipeline meant directly and indirectly protecting the lives and civil rights of all the existing nonhuman persons who live at Standing Rock as well.

[spoiler alert: That pipeline has now leaked over 200,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota.]

These are the people who argue vehemently that animal rights is (or should be) apolitical. They need the movement to be apolitical because declaring animal rights a political issue means the possible betrayal of their political values.

This is an issue because those values...tend to lean conservative.

Can veganism exist outside of a political context? Perhaps. But then it is a veganism that has little investment in animal liberation. And the same holds true for a veganism housed in conservatism. You want to speak boldly about creating a vegan world, but you also root for the Trump administration to successfully build a wall at the U.S. southern border?

Well that’s going to be a tough row to hoe trying to square your desire to keep wild animal families intact while cheering on a government that aggressively seeks to break human families apart (which is admittedly nothing new).

No movement for liberation has ever been born from conservative ideology. And when conservatism appears in progressive spaces, it is always to the detriment of the movement. We see this in the expression of white feminism that excludes or minimizes the voices of black women. We see this in black male leadership that fails to protect black women, as observed by the likes of Cornel West and (vegan comrade) Angela Davis. We see it in queer spaces that allow the erasure of transgender people. Conservatism teaches us to perceive scarcity where liberalism reveals abundance. And yes, an animal movement that doesn’t examine human rights violations as well is a broken movement.

Perhaps you could argue (poorly and desperately) that in centuries past conservatism didn’t amount to being against liberation. But in the hyper-polarized political and social environment of the twenty-first century, hitching one’s wagon to conservatism means passive (if not very active) endorsement of authoritarianism, isolationism, nationalism, capitalism, xenophobia, and bigotry. Animal rights holds a liberal bias because truth itself holds a liberal bias.

But although veganism is not exactly native to a conservative ideology, we still should learn how to listen to our conservative nonvegan counterparts in bringing about justice for everyone. Because so much conservatism is indeed couched in scarcity, I often hear conservative voices talking about their right to eat what they want, wear what they want, protect their families, and their own civil liberties. The message they need to hear is one of food sovereignty, food independence, tradition, and freedom from big government. A message of animal liberation does not adequately express what is in it for them. Explain to your conservative friends and family members that food sovereignty is better served by implementing programs of vegetable agriculture. Let them know that educating themselves and their children about growing grains provides more sustenance over the longer term than a one-time corpse. Let them know that grand traditions can be made from similar foods that they're used to eating. And teach them that government subsidies to meat and dairy enterprises are bigger welfare handouts than anything they can imagine going to 'lazy' people of color or, worse, immigrants. Make them aware that veganism is a matter of national security!

And before any self-proclaimed nonvegan liberal readers grow weary from patting yourselves on the back for already recognizing the exclusionary nature of mainstream animal rights, please don’t hurt your hands. Unexamined complicity in the mass enslavement and murder of millions of domesticated animal persons betrays our own allegiance to conservatism. Worse, it completely undermines our commitment to liberation for our own communities.

I applaud our efforts to decry institutional violence against people of color at the hands of militarized police. But if we turn a blind eye to institutional violence against people of color because we like to eat cheeseburgers, we are revealed to be frauds. As long as black and brown human persons, especially women, outside of the global west are being viciously murdered by the tyrannical institution that pursues an agenda of animal exploitation, our expressions of solidarity ring false, compartmentalized in a way that only reproduces western imperialism.

So until conservative vegans and neoliberal nonvegans stop trying to distance human interests from the civil rights of our animal cousins and understand that oppression does not occur in isolation, we are collectively doomed. And until all of us are free, NONE OF US are free.

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