Animal Writes
12 April 2000 Issue
Thoughts on AR Activism

We take many calls at the NJARA office on a variety of issues, but a particular call from a member prompted me to write. He was very despondent over the magnitude of animal cruelty, didn't think he could handle it any more and felt like pulling back. He didn't know how other people were able to handle it and function "normally."

I had to smile, because I knew that personally I did not function normally, at least not in the accepted use of the term. We talked at length about the animals' suffering and our suffering, and how we can work to eliminate both.

Suffice to say, it ain't easy being an animal rights activist. I'd venture to say that most of us did not even choose to be an activist -- that choice was made for us because of the millions of people who use animals for their own selfish purposes. I know that as long as people are exploiting animals I will be among those committed to working towards animal liberation. But that doesn't mean I don't have times when I wish I were, as Jackson Brown once said, a "happy idiot" and be free to live my life. But personally I know that will never happen. The writing is on the wall and I have to -- every dedicated activist has to -- figure out how to live with this.

Eleven years ago, when I first became involved in animal rights and learned of all the horrors inflicted upon animals I immediately knew I would work to end this. But the more I learned, the more despondent I became. The vastness of the abuse was staggering to me, the pain and suffering incomprehensible. There are still times when I think I will literally go insane with the anguish I feel over the extreme cruelty that billions of animals are forced to endure. How can I ever be happy again? Feel joy again? How can I ever allow myself to laugh and feel good when every minute of a chickens life in a battery cage is filled with intense pain, suffering, confusion, and terror? Although these feelings could have worked to immobilize me and push me further away from animal rights, I have, over time, come to terms with them.

Someone once told me that I should look forward to and relish those moments when I feel good and enjoy life, not berate myself for them, because in our vocation those moments of pure joy are few and far between, when it seems that all we ever hear about or subject ourselves to is one animal atrocity after another.

Animal rights is most certainly a difficult issue to commit to. It is different from other social movements aimed as eliminating injustice because those movements were orchestrated and fought primarily by people who had a personal interest in it -- those who personally felt the oppression, who personally felt the hate, the suffering, the violence. With animal rights we are fighting for another species. It is easy for the vast majority of people to be unconcerned about animal rights because the pain and suffering is not theirs. So it takes a compassionate, and yes, special, person to break through those barriers and fight for injustice that does not actually affect you. It takes a special, but not superior, person to fight for nebulous victories. Most of us will never see the animals who we dedicate our lives to saving... the animals who will never be bred for research because a company became cruelty-free... the animals who will never be savagely killed for vanity as a greedy fur industry dies... the animals spared a miserable existence on a factory farm when our influence turns yet another person vegan.

And that may make it difficult to stay with animal rights. It might be easier for animal advocates to forsake a rightist attitude and to commit only to working hands on with animals. Here you may feel that your efforts are really working to save animal lives since you actually see the fruits of your labor. By all means help those companion animals, but do not let that diminish your dedication to the animal rights fight. Figure out how to make both fit into your life if you need to, yet never accept less than total abolition of animal exploitation.

But also, do not allow hands-on animal work to consume all of your time, as it will, if you let it. Do not let it diminish your animal rights activism, which will work to eliminate animal suffering long term.

Passing by that one animal for the good of the many, and really understanding why, at times, that is necessary, is difficult to come to terms with. A member, new to the issues, recently asked if a puppy in a pet shop doesn't have just as much right to a good life as a dog in a shelter? And ethically, shouldn't we help that animal by taking her out of the pet shop? Yes, ethically we should, but realistically we can't and logically we mustn't. It takes discipline and a heart of steel -- a contradiction in terms for an animal rights activist -- to turn your back on that individual dog and continue to work to educate so that there will be a day when there are no puppies in pet shops.

With a strict animal rights philosophy as our guide, merely the knowledge that our commitment to total abolition of animal oppression is saving animal lives has to be enough. And it really is enough, because we are working on a long-term solution to the problem, working in a preventive manner by eliminating the root cause of the problem, and not simply treating the symptoms of an animal abusive society. We don't need band aids, we need radical change.

So, working for animal rights puts you in a dilemma. Our morals and ethics tell us that we should help an animal in need, yet at times we overlook that one animal in order to help the greater number. Our strong sense of compassion and justice is the driving force behind our dedication, but we must use logic and reason in order to be able to function. Our hearts are open to all the injustice humanity can inflict onto our nonhuman brethren yet at times we must close our eyes to it. It's not easy making your life's work fighting for social justice and animal rights is certainly no exception. In fact it may be the hardest battle yet.

Janine Motta

New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance

PO Box 174

Englishtown NJ 07726

United States of America

Phone: 732-446-6808

Fax: 732-446-0227 

Source: [email protected] (New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance)

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