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"Capital A" Animal
Activist Harley McDonald-Eckersall on developing a language for liberation
This month’s Letter from the Editors is an interview by editor Isabela with Harley McDonald-Eckersall. Harley is an activist and anti-speciesist (more on that later) who recently relocated back home to Australia after spending two years in London volunteering with Animal Rebellion, a “decentralized, global movement for climate and animal justice,” where she focused on crafting their narrative and driving their strategy forward. Before working with Animal Rebellion, Harley co-founded the organization Young Voices for Animals and participated in numerous demonstrations for animal liberation in Australia. She also writes (wonderfully) on Medium about social movement theory and her experiences with social movements.
I (Isabela) met Harley while doing research for a project analyzing campaigns against industrial livestock. I was hoping to get more information on Animal Rebellion’s communications strategy, and why they had chosen to deploy certain narratives around the issues at hand. In speaking with Harley, I was struck by the complexity of the challenges she had to navigate in her work: namely, communicating nuanced, interlinked issues in a way that resonates with a broad public while not obscuring the importance of the message. One of Animal Rebellion’s goals in the UK is to shift the mainstream discourse on animal farming, which requires it to toe a fine line of using accessible language and messaging while also pushing the boundaries of people’s thinking.
Afterward, I got to thinking that the end goal of Harley’s work, in a way, isn’t so different from ours at Feminist Food Journal, even if the means are very different. We’re also aiming to inspire change by shifting people’s perspectives, even minutely, on structural inequalities that are overlooked, inaccurately framed, or wrongfully accepted as the norm. I had the feeling that there was a lot we could learn by thinking about social movements and the ways that they work to create change. After all, none of this work operates — or at least should operate — in a vacuum. How can we learn from, and work more closely with, an ecosystem of change-makers towards the kind of world we want to see?
Harley’s experiences as a dedicated activist mean she is well-positioned to meditate on some of these challenges and I’m honoured to have had the opportunity to speak with her for a second time, this time through an email exchange. In the interview below, Harley and I discuss the importance of language in achieving freedom, the intersections between human and animal liberation, the ways that these linkages can be communicated to the public, and the need for building solidarity across and between social movements.
This is a long read, but there are so many rich insights in here, and it would lend itself well to being digested over a few sittings.
“Capital-A” Animal: Harley McDonald-Eckersall on developing a language for liberation and frameworks for solidarity
Isabela: Let’s start off with the basics. You identify as an anti-speciesist. Can you give us an overview of what this means and how you got here?
Harley: I grew up surrounded by all different species in a rural farming community and, while I didn’t live on a farm myself, my viewpoint had very much been that we treat Animals with respect but that we are ultimately responsible for and superior to them. Although I didn’t really think about it to a great extent, I would have probably held the belief in some way that Animals were what humans made them. By that, I mean that I didn’t think much about the internal world of other species or about their status as what I would now think of as moral agents: Beings who have their own lives and value separate from their role in serving the emotional and physical needs of humans.
I came to critically reexamine our relationship with Animals while studying a first-year philosophy unit at university. It’s a bit of a cliche, but there you have it. One of the texts we studied was Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics which covers similar themes to his breakaway publication Animal Liberation, the book largely credited for influencing the direction of the modern Animal rights movement. Of course, Singer was building on ideas and theories that had existed for generations and even centuries and in different forms across cultures. But for me, this was the starting point and it was the first time that I fundamentally questioned the relationship of domination and supremacy that characterizes most human/non-human interactions and relationships.
It was comparatively easy for me to recognize that I wanted to stop eating and using Animals out of the belief that going vegan, which I did in 2016, was a pretty basic way that I could show respect for other sentient beings. It was a lot harder for me to challenge these really deeply held beliefs I had that Animals were here for us. Analytically, I broke this down pretty quickly but it’s definitely been a process to internalize it and over time, I’ve come to terms with the many ways that I have relied on the service of Animals in my life: from desiring the emotional support of companion Animals to the ways in which my language and thought processes are based on an extractive view of human/Animal relationships. So I would say that it’s a journey and a process.
Isabela: What are some of the ways that you live as an anti-speciesist in your everyday life — both personal and professional?
Harley: I feel like I am constantly returning to the question of what it means to live in an anti-speciesist way and what this looks and feels like. The biggest way that being anti-speciesist shows up in my life (apart from being vegan) is in how I interact with other species now, compared to before I started challenging myself on this. I'm not sure how visible it would be to others, but I’m a lot more mindful of how my presence affects other species. For example, I sit on the floor if there's a nervous dog in the room to make myself less tall and intimidating, or I ask for the names of cats in the living room when I go to a friend's place, as I would for humans. There are also things that I would think of as more morally significant choices, like no longer riding horses, which I did for my entire childhood, and not killing flies and mosquitoes. I’m trying to puzzle out the ways in which my default behaviour leaves out the interests of non-humans and adjust my interactions accordingly.
Another way is in my language and the narratives that I try to build and deploy in my work. This is everything from getting weird looks as I try to avoid using words that imply ownership when speaking about non-humans (e.g. “pet”, “livestock”, “my” cat) to exploring what stories we can tell that challenge and uproot the stubborn tenacity of human dominion and exceptionalism. We live in a world where exploitation and oppression are normalized to such an extent that it is largely invisible in so many aspects of our life.
The most recent act I’ve taken is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: I finally decided to take the Liberation Pledge meaning that, as well as living vegan, I no longer stay in spaces where animals are being consumed or exploited, unless I’m there to stand against this form of injustice. I struggled to take the pledge as I have a deep desire to make people feel loved and valued and I worried about how it would make loved ones who aren’t vegan feel once I no longer shared a table with them while they were eating animals. The biggest reason I finally made the choice to commit to this was that I realized that my entire worldview is built on the understanding that the world we live in is the way it is because enough people have consented to it being that way. I have made the choice to stop consenting to violence.
Isabela: We recently published our WAR issue, which focused on the links between gender, conflict, and food. As part of this, we included content looking at war in a more metaphorical sense: the war on fat bodies, for example, that is being perpetuated by the medical establishment, corporations, government, and even the alternative food movement. Similarly, how do you think we could unpack the idea of there also being a “war on animals”? What does it look like, who is perpetuating it, and how does it manifest in our everyday lives?
Harley: For starters, I just have to say that I love this topic. I often avoid “fight framing” in my work as it can put people into an adversarial rather than a constructive frame of mind. But I think when unpacking these issues internally as a movement, it is such an important frame to use — because it really is what marginalized and minoritized groups are experiencing, a war against their very being where they have to fight against an entrenched, dominant society.
There are so many arenas of war within the Animal movement. Of course, there’s the insidious, normalized violence against farmed Animals used for food and clothing which I think is hard to even see as a fight given that it involves routine, unstoppable violence and death against individuals who are trapped within its machine of brutality. What I mean is that it feels more like a situation where they are prisoners of war, and the actual war is elsewhere, being played out between those fighting for the Animals trapped in this system and the industries which, fundamentally, seek only to speed up the killing. By this, I don’t mean to imply that farmed Animals are passive victims. But I do mean to say that they are precluded from fighting. Their bodies are the battlefield and we so often have to try and fight for them, all the while knowing that our ability to do so is limited by our role as allies who don’t even share a species with those being oppressed.
Another site of war against Animals relates to wild Animals living in “nature”, or Animals in the limited parts of the world which are not primarily shaped by human needs (I use quotation marks because I have issues with the word nature and the way it’s used to homogenize all life outside of human control.) This war plays out in so-called “management” and “control” of species and we see it often in debates around “invasive” species and “wildlife” management. I think this is an area we often neglect as Animal activists, maybe because we see it as more of a fair fight since those who war is declared against are seemingly free and don’t experience the same kind of obvious violence as Animals on farms and in labs. I feel like this is a site where we can really do a lot of work unpacking our inherent speciesism. A lot of vegans, for example, will feel conflicted about whether they support things like kangaroo or deer culls for “environmental protection”. This battlefield plays out both between the Animals who are hunted and murdered for daring to exist where they are unwanted, but also on a movement level with the question of who has the right to intervene in the world. Ultimately, if we compare the damage a large deer population does to the environment with the damage caused by humans in a single day, there is no contest.
Isabela: What are the links between speciesism and human oppression, and conversely, how are human and animal liberation intertwined?
Harley: This is such an important question, and I’m going to defer to others who have explored this in ways that are more nuanced than I ever could. The thinkers who have influenced and inspired me on this topic are exploring their own lived experiences of oppression and the links they found between their marginalization in society and the way humans relate to other Animals. They discuss the importance of what is usually known as collective liberation: the belief that oppression in all forms is connected and we can’t hope to see liberation for one oppressed group without recognizing that it shares a root with all other forms of injustice.
There have been three books that really informed my understanding of these issues. The first book is Aphroism by Aph and Syl Ko, two sisters and activists who explore the intersections between feminism, critical race studies and critical animal studies. This is the book that really grounded my understanding of “Animal” as a political categorization that goes beyond the species of an individual. They unpack the idea of “animalization”, which basically describes society as a hierarchy where “human” is set up as the optimal point of existence and is intrinsically linked to whiteness, maleness, and other historically privileged political categories in Western thinking. They explore how those not fitting into this definition of “human” experience minoritization and oppression. Their moral rights are deemed less important to society as a whole and their violation is accepted if it serves the “human good”.
For me, this framework really helped lay out the map of oppressions and how all these movements for liberation are really movements fighting against internalized narratives of dominance and exceptionalism. The same story that says humans are better than Animals plays out in the person who condones the imprisonment of refugees because they are “other” or who believes, even on some fundamental, subconscious level, that white people or male people or straight people, physically able people, cis-gender people, etc,. etc., are in some way superior to anyone else.
My knowledge was further developed through the books Beasts of Burden by Suanara Taylor and The Oxen at the Intersection by pattrice jones. Both of these works explicitly paint a picture of these intersections of oppression, drawing on frameworks such as Kimberlé Crenshaw’s development and refinement of intersectionality as well as other theories around critical race, Animal, and disability studies.
Isabela: One of your Medium posts, “Justice for Who? — Finding a Language of Liberation (Pt. 1)”, talks about your quest to develop “a language for liberation”, and as part of that, you recount your journey towards landing on capital-A Animal as a way of defining a political, rather than biological, category. Tell us more about that choice. Why is it important to re-politicize language frames that we’ve come to take for granted?
Harley: This was a really important blog for me and something that I wrote at the very beginning of my journey to reconceptualize human/Animal relationships. I also wrote it when I was just beginning to explore the role language plays in allowing this shift to happen, both internally and on a societal level. I recently read it again and was pleased that I still agreed with the fundamental points — although maybe that’s a sign that I need to spend some more time challenging myself and developing my thinking!
For me, the choice to capitalize Animal (which I try to stick to in my personal writing) came out of a lot of the learnings I touched on in the last question. Our domination of Animals is often justified using a biological framework where we see ourselves as better than other Animals because they are members of a species we don’t belong to, and therefore cannot share an inner world with. While these biological rationales, like animalization, are often considered a “given”, the truth is they are in fact an inherently political tool used to justify and maintain oppression. Oppression and othering occur because they are essential to the operation of the neoliberal system that we live in, which is based on mass extraction and infinite growth.
For me, what’s important is that we circuit break the identification of Animals as this homogenous group that exists only to be exploited or spoken on behalf of. One way to do this is to capitalize the A. “Animal” is a political category which I apply just as readily to humans who challenge the status quo as to members of other species whose lack of agency is essential for the smooth functioning of the capitalist machine.
Isabela: How do we start to shift these structures of oppression, and what role does developing a language of liberation play in that?
Harley: To shift the structures, we first need to shift the narratives. A narrative is a fundamental belief about the world that we live in. I believe that our society is held in place by underpinning narratives that shape everything from our assumed beliefs about how the world works to how we relate to each other and find meaning and purpose in life. They maintain what we usually describe as the status quo; the set of core, foundational certainties that shape how we understand what is normal and what is fringe or discomfiting. For example, a narrative that exists in our society is that humans are morally superior to other species and that human interests matter the most. Narratives contain hundreds of micro-assumptions which hold them in place. These are the things that you have to accept in order to sit with the narrative comfortably in your mind. Using the example of good vs. evil, for instance, you have to accept that these concepts exist and hold some kind of common understanding of what categorizes each in order to accept that narrative as truth.
Dominant narratives become entrenched in our society that to challenge them is seen as weird and radical. But even though a dominant narrative presents itself as common sense, narratives can and do shift over time. At some point, most of the narratives we now accept as normal were new, weird, or radical. One of my favourite quotes which I often use when talking about the power of developing new messaging frameworks comes from a fantastic report from the Narrative Initiative called “Toward New Gravity”. Authors Jee Kim, Liz Hynes, and Nima Shirazi state that “narratives are powerful. They can swing juries and elections. They can fill prisons. But they can also fill the streets.” This strikes to the heart of the work that I do and why I believe in it so strongly. What we say matters. How we say it matters.
Language and communication have the power to fundamentally change the way we interact with the world and with each other. Friends and I will often find ourselves asking “is that speciesist” when coming across colloquialisms or sayings that contain implicit beliefs about Animals as negative or subject to human supremacy. I also find myself challenging implied ownership (I mentioned in an earlier section the use of terms such as “pet”), and in my work, I’m often finding creative workarounds for the commodification of Animals in the meat, dairy, fishing, egg, and clothing industries. This might look like using “cows” and “sheep” instead of “livestock,” “wild Animals” instead of “wildlife” and “aquatic/sea Animals” instead of “seafood.” Even better is actually naming affected species or telling the story of individuals, rather than using catch-alls.
Isabela: You spent two years (January 2020-May 2022) volunteering with Animal Rebellion in the UK to drive forward their work on narrative and strategy. How did your journey to develop a language of liberation feed into this work?
Harley: To start, it might help to explain quickly some of the core elements of Animal Rebellion. Like Extinction Rebellion, Animal Rebellion was heavily inspired by the “Momentum” model of organizing which was popularized and developed by the political theorists and social change thinkers Mark and Paul Engler. Their book, This Is an Uprising - How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century, presents a view of organizing which merges traditional structure-based organizing (think workers' unions and old school community organizing) and mass uprisings (e.g., Occupy wall street and the Black Lives Matter mobilization after George Floyd was murdered by the police). They offer a “hybrid model” based on the idea of a cycle of momentum where escalation and nonviolent action leads to building active popular support which then must be followed by absorption of new members into the movement. This model helps to explain Animal Rebellion’s fundamental goal during the time that I was involved, which was to bring as many people along with us as possible and to build this “mass movement” for food system change. Our goal was based on research by Erica Chenoweth which shows that at least 3.5% of a population is required to participate in a movement in order to achieve meaningful change.
When I joined Animal Rebellion, the group had a story that it wanted to tell, an understanding of the power of narrative, and a belief in how social movements could play a role in shifting the status quo. The messaging team focused on finding novel articulations of this vision to communicate it in a way that connected to people’s values. We did a lot of work on framing, which involved deconstructing dominant narratives and developing new frames. One example of this is the messaging that was developed around COP26, the political summit held in Glasgow late last year. We’d been doing a lot of work on exploring how to move past simply criticizing the system and, instead, use our messaging to build solutions to which people could say yes. A golden rule in our messaging team was to craft communications which were “one part problem, two-part solution”.
We’d spent the whole year really pushing the message of meat & dairy = climate crisis (the main slogan for our campaign against McDonald's), but we were feeling, around the time of COP26, that we needed to find something new that more clearly showed who we are and what we want. After consultation across Animal Rebellion, we settled on “COP26: Invest in a Plant-Based Future”. This was the messaging on the banner which climbers dropped down the front of the UK’s Home Office and Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs.
I think it’s a great example of the iterative process of finding new ways to communicate a vision of liberation, particularly from inside an organization which has a very specific and demarcated identity and purpose, such as Animal Rebellion.
Isabela: When we spoke back in May about campaigning strategies, you mentioned that although Animal Rebellion activists and supporters seemed to be motivated by arguments that laid out the linkages between human health, animal liberation, people liberation, and climate change, the general public seemed to prefer simpler messaging. What pieces of the puzzle tend to get left out when communicating to a wide audience, and why those pieces specifically?
Harley: There are a few different components to this. I’ll focus on the fact that, in general, I don’t think we give the general public enough credit. I’ve had many conversations with people working on advocacy communications who have said that they would ultimately like to present a more “radical” perspective but that it would turn people away or make their supporters uncomfortable. I also read a really interesting report which looked at the communications of a number of Animal welfare and environmental NGOs and their motivations for avoiding the topic of diet change or going vegan. For the most part, the avoidance came from a belief that this would put people off. But these beliefs were based on nothing other than vague gut feelings and, likely, internalized discomfort with oppositional narratives.
We are often bad judges of what people are ready to hear. For instance, studies that looked at public attitudes to the climate crisis and to climate justice messaging showed that the general public believed that climate change is a serious issue, that it is happening now, and that we need action to address it. Yet, even though one of the key things actually holding people back from taking action is a growing sense of “doomism” (i.e., “The world is fucked, so why bother trying to make a change?”), a lot of climate communications still focuses on trying to convince people of the urgency of the situation and how bad it is, rather than showing them how there is still hope and how they can be part of building a better tomorrow.
I’m heavily influenced by cognitive scientist and specialist in strategic communications for social change, Anat Shenker-Osorio. She says that: “Conventional wisdom says to meet people where they are. But, on most issues, where they are is unacceptable.” Instead, she proposes that “we uncover where people are capable of going and how to use our words, images, and stories to move them.”
For me, this is the key thing we’re doing when we’re working on messaging. We’re always analyzing where the conversation is in relation to where it needs to be and looking for interventions we can make to push it that bit further. Messaging work is proactive, visioning work. It’s looking for those cracks in the dominant narrative where, if you provide pressure at the right time you can open up the door to a new way of thinking. It’s not creating messaging that is so inoffensive that no one cares. I’m not going to lie — that pathway is tempting, as it’s tough to have your words torn apart by those who oppose you. But ultimately, if we’re not riling up our opposition and firing up our base, our messaging isn’t really doing its job. We can’t shift dominant narratives without exposing society to new visions. Sparking debate, dramatizing the issue and tapping into the media are the most powerful tools we have as social movements to push this narrative shift.
At the same time, the game we are playing is how to communicate incredibly complex ideas in the two to three words that fit on a banner, or in the one to two sentences that people will remember from a press release. We’re seeking big ideas and small words.
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Isabela: One of your Medium posts aptly notes that one issue with grassroots organizing is that one needs to be able to make significant personal, social, and financial sacrifices in order to participate. As you point out, this in itself is a privilege. Where does the anti-speciesist movement stand on diversity and equity, and what else needs to be done?
Harley: I feel like I could write a whole essay just on this! I will also say that, again, there are many people who speak on this far better than me. I would really recommend this interview with Aph Ko where she talks about diversity in Animal Rights. A key point she makes is that “just because people of colour aren’t in a given space doesn’t mean they’re not doing the work”. For instance, data from Faunalytics show that more than 75% of vegans and vegetarians in the US are white. However, given the strong prevalence of plant-based diets in many non-white cultures, this to me likely indicates a failure of the label of “veganism” to connect with people outside a white, middle-class context, rather than a true reflection of the practices of black, brown, and Indigenous people in the US and across the world. In the interview I linked above, Aph Ko states that:
If the mainstream vegan/animal rights movement lacks diversity, that’s not really my problem, nor should that be the problem of any person of colour. There might be a good reason why we’re not there – and it’s because we’re too busy running our own movements.
This is such an important point because it cuts to the heart of our impulse to create these discrete labels and boundaries for work that is really being done across a wide spectrum.
I think a deeper question is what we are defining as the anti-speciesist movement. Is it the mainstream Animal Rights/welfare NGOs (which are primarily led by white males, even though most of the work is done by women), or are we seeing the movement as being bigger than that? I think there’s an opportunity when questioning and challenging diversity to think about who we’re communicating with and what work we’re platforming. I think sometimes we can become more focused on what our organizations look like rather than how they’re interacting with and supporting the work being done by people of colour, women, queer folk, people with disabilities, and others who are fighting for their own liberation as well as that for all life and every species.
I don’t intend this as a cop-out for having movements that consist purely of privileged people. I think if you’re a straight, white, educated person and you look around a room and only see people who look like you then, yeah, you have a problem. If you’re getting criticism from other social justice movements and people with different lived experiences leaving or not wanting to join there are probably some deep, fundamental questions you need to ask yourself, starting with what types of bodies and experiences your leadership is modelling. But I think organizations can quite easily cover up a lack of engagement with these deeper issues by focusing on cosmetic diversity. An example of this: someone was telling me about an organization that refused to post any photo on social media unless it had one person of colour in it. To me, this is the perfect indicator that a group cares only about their perceived diversity, rather than critically evaluating how they may be perpetuating injustice through their culture.
As for what we can do about it, having these conversations is a starting point. Something else is what I touched on earlier and looks like building connections with the groups that are already doing the work. But, as a movement, we need to be honest that we carry a lot of baggage and we need to spend the time to unpack that and to really listen to what challenges are coming from other social justice groups. In my ideal near future, Animal Justice would be accepted as a legitimate social justice movement alongside those fighting for human and climate justice. But if we want to get there we need to build connections. We need to show that we care about ending all oppression and we need to stand up alongside other movements and say that we will fight with them.
Isabela: On that note, I recently read ‘Freedom is a Constant Struggle’ by Angela Y. Davis. In it, she highlights the importance of solidarity between liberation struggles, using the example of Palestinian activists tweeting advice for people protesting the murder of Michael Brown on how to deal with militarized police’s use of teargas — a global consciousness of liberation, so to speak. You exemplify this point on the connections between freedom struggles in your presentation at the Animal Activists Forum on Animal rights under occupation in Palestine. Why is it important to foster this global consciousness of liberation, and what are some effective ways of doing so?
Harley: Yes, I love this example so much. It reminds me of the wave of revolutions and uprisings that swept around the world in the early 2000s, from Serbia to Egypt, and how they inspired and gave each other a model for radical change. I’ve heard stories about different books and even leaflets on social change being passed around the world and giving people living under repressive regimes the chance to see how change could happen.
At the same time, I think something like a global movement is a really hard thing to build. Even within the same country, we’re living under such different conditions and, in my experience, when you try and build a global organization it's a constant struggle to allow for differentiation while maintaining unity. I’m undecided whether we should be trying to build these global movements or whether we should be encouraging countries to learn and grow from each other to build their own movements.
What I do think is incredibly powerful, though, is global solidarity, and this goes beyond solidarity between localities. For me, the most powerful form of solidarity is cross-movement solidarity, when different groups recognize that their struggle for liberation is linked and join together across movements. An example of where I saw this in the UK was movements coming together to oppose the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill which was brought into place to essentially criminalize loud, disruptive protest, as well as targeting nomadic and Traveller communities in the UK. In response, there was a massive coming together of different social justice movements with the recognition that this issue affected us all.
I’ve seen similar things happen within campaigns which embrace a framework of collective justice. With Animal Rebellion’s McDonald’s actions, for example, people’s motivation for taking part was varied. While Animal Rebellion was pushing the narrative of “meat and dairy = climate crisis”, we also mobilized around worker’s rights and the many other ways McDonald’s screws up the world. While these examples aren’t the same as this kind of global liberation that you mentioned, I think for me they capture this idea of building campaigns and movements which pull together the threads of injustice so that we can tackle them all together.
As for how to do it, I think social media has given us a powerful tool to expand our mindsets to include struggles from around the world. I think the more spaces we have to learn from each other the better and I’m a big believer in creating space for discussion, strategy, and brainstorming that are not tied to a specific outcome. What I mean by this is looking for opportunities to engage in dialogue outside of the very logistical conversations around what are we doing on our local level and how are we going to get it done. Conferences are great. Training is great. Sending people whose work you admire messages asking to have a call is great. And I mean this both on an individual level and on an organizational/movement level. Asking who else is working in this space and how can we connect with them is, I think, endlessly beneficial.
Isabela: In a moment where we’re reeling from the overturn of Roe v. Wade, this type of broad consciousness when it comes to liberation feels more essential than ever because we need to be thinking about building robust social movements that can win at the ballot box, not just survive a falling gavel. This robustness will be built, in part, by joining together a range of interest groups. In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision, what opportunities are there to use reproductive rights as a framework for enhancing solidarity between intersectional feminist and anti-speciesist movements?
Harley: I think a lot of people are in a state of shock and grief right now following this outcome. I see a lot of fear, not just in the US but around the world, and also a lot of justifiable anger. I think this is a moment where the movement for anti-speciesism and Animal Liberation can prove ourselves as allies and fellow members of the struggle for collective liberation.
I have, sadly, seen some people decide that this is the moment to try and point out people’s hypocrisy for caring about abortion rights but not caring about the sexual violence perpetrated against non-humans in the food industry. I don’t think you need me to say that seeing this has made me pretty disappointed in elements of our movement who are unable or unwilling to see how we can’t win this fight for liberation by advocating for other Animals in a way that alienates all other movements for liberation. Ultimately, at least in my mind, we fight for Animal Justice because we see them as equal members of the political and moral community that we are all part of. Their liberation movement is tied to that of all humans.
While, on some level, I can relate to the frustration and anger that motivates people to co-opt the protests of other movements, I feel like we miss so many opportunities to build solidarity and create spaces for collaboration. The saddest thing is, at the end of the day, the people who lose here are the Animals who, for so long, have been excluded from moral concern, even within social justice spaces in no small part due to a historic unwillingness from the Animal Rights movement to embrace and understand collective liberation.
I think Roe v. Wade is an opportunity for Animal groups to show up for others in the social justice space. I know during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, some Animal Justice groups cooked free meals to distribute at protests, while others offered to support such as equipment, marshalls, and action planning. I almost feel like the groups that care about collective justice sometimes are so worried about co-opting that they forget that the opposite of that isn’t remaining silent. Our response can, and I believe should, be to offer tangible, needed support. We all know how hard it is to mobilize and organize people. When something like this happens it's an opportunity to take an active stance to help other movements without expectation of reciprocation but with the knowledge that the stronger we build relationships of trust and solidarity, the more likely we are to see people standing alongside us next time we act.
Isabela: Finally, who are some of the foundational liberation fighters that changed the way you see the world? Who are you reading and/or listening to right now?
Harley: I actually wrote a blog post about this once which detailed five books that changed the way I think. I’ve mentioned three of them in this interview already! Aph and Syl Ko, Sunaura Taylor, and pattrice jones are definitely four thinkers that spring to mind as being hugely influential on my thinking. More recently I’ve been inspired by the writing of Danielle Celermajer who puts forward an idea of “multi-species” justice which I feel is exactly the model of an irresistible future that I’ve been seeking.
On more of a narrative side, I would recommend looking up Anat Shenker-Osorio for schooling on how we can use communications for social change. I’m also heavily influenced by George Lakoff’s work on framing as well as work done by the Narrative Initiative, Public Interest Research Centre and Aran Stibbe’s work on eco-linguistics and reframing Animals.
Right now I’ve been enjoying listening to “Radicals and Revolutionaries” which is an oral history of direct action and the Animal Rights movement presented by Jake Conroy (AKA the Cranky Vegan) and Tylor Starr. I also just brought the new book How Veganism can Save Us by the incredibly inspiring Emma Hakansson. It presents a lot of the topics that I’ve touched on here but in a much more engaging and accessible way so I’d definitely recommend buying a copy and reading it yourself and also giving it to friends and family!
Finally — and it’s potentially a bit cringe of me to say this — my biggest sources of inspiration are non-human Animals who remind me every day what it looks like to fight for liberation. I’m inspired by stories of Animals who resist and fight back against their oppression but I’m also inspired by those who find moments of rest, joy, and care even in situations that can only be compared to hell. The way they keep fighting is what gets me up every day to try and do what I can to build a more just world.
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