THelping Animals while Occupying Wall Street

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Helping Animals while Occupying Wall Street

From Bee Friedlander, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
October 2011

A core belief of the Animals and Society Institute is that institutional change for animals and future success of the movement depend on our ability to position animal issues in the arena of public policy, including action in the mainstream political arena. Perhaps the activists will come to see the same is true for the other worthy causes they espouse.

Anyone who hasn't been hiding under a rock this past week has heard about "Occupy Wall Street," a movement that seemingly has come out of nowhere, beginning in New York City a few weeks ago, and now spreading each day to more cities small and large across the United States.

Is it the Arab Spring come to the U.S.? An incarnation of the 1960s student movement? A progressive version of the Tea Party?

It seems to be a mixture of all of these with a dose of animal advocacy thrown in for good measure.

Consider last week's Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. It contains a list of grievances directed toward the system that I must say reminds me of the Declaration of Independence in its rhetorical technique. The fifth item accuses the powerful establishment as follows:

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.

Many analysts and talking heads are skeptical, if not scornful of the wide range of social, political and economic ills that the young movement seeks to address (for example, this New York Times article in late September.) They call the protestors naive and unfocused. They opine that only by coalescing around a few messages will OWS succeed. (And the implication is that animal rights is one message that needs to go).

But not all agree. Dorian Warren is a political science professor at Columbia and told NPR: "I think it has the potential a social movement, one that we haven't seen in at least a couple of decades in this country. It's clearly a broad, populist movement right now."

Warren writes: "The criticism that they have no demands is also pretty ridiculous at this early stage... Even if the protestors never came up with specific demands, they've already won by garnering media attention and putting the issue of economic inequality on the national agenda. This, in fact, is what movements do best: put issues on the political agenda that the two parties and our political institutions would much rather ignore."

My colleague Kim Stallwood, ASI's co-founder and now European Director, studies the animal advocacy movement in the context of other social justice movements. In an interview with Satya Magazine years ago, he noted that one of the challenges facing animal advocates is "relating the issue of how we treat animals within a broader social context of how we treat people."

Kim has also championed the building of alliances and forming coalitions. He applauds the inclusion of animal issues by OWS: "Any liberation struggle which does not include animals is not a true fight for freedom. When one species oppresses all other species no species is free."

The question remains whether Occupy Wall Street will turn to involvement in politics. In the early heady days of the movement, proponents may well believe that working within the very system they are pillorying is a form of co-option. But this is where the need to mix pragmatism with idealism will play out and may determine the lasting influence of this vibrant and exciting movement.

Kim again:

Animal rights, too, has the potential to move to the mainstream from society's margins. But this can be only achieved if the animal rights movement responds to two important points:

First, to understand how social movements advance their mission from obscurity to acceptance.

Second, to learn how to implement a strategy that balances the utopian vision of vegan idealism with the pragmatic politics of achieving the possible.

A core belief of the Animals and Society Institute is that institutional change for animals and future success of the movement depend on our ability to position animal issues in the arena of public policy, including action in the mainstream political arena. Perhaps the activists will come to see the same is true for the other worthy causes they espouse.