Why I’m an Abolitionist

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Why I’m an Abolitionist

By Attorney Sean Day

Presentation at the July 2008 Animal Rights Conference

My name is Sean Day, and I’m an abolitionist. At least that’s what I call myself, I’ve collected a list of names animal welfare advocates have used to describe me and other abolitionists: fundamentalist, dogmatic, all-or-nothing, predatory zealot, member of an intimidating clique, a purist who cares more about being pure than about the suffering of animals, self-righteous, and lazy. And I think, how dare you call me dogmatic.

Let me briefly address the topic of direct action, because one of the reasons I support direct action is also a reason I’m an abolitionist. Those at HSUS have this talking point about direct action, one I’ve heard and read from numerous executives at HSUS: “We must oppose direct action to maintain the credibility of the animal protection movement.” And I think, I must not know what the word “credibility” means.

If I said to you, “It’s raining outside no it’s not,” you might think I wasn’t very credible. Likewise, if I said to you “Animal liberation is a serious matter no it’s not,” I am not credible; but that’s what we say when we try to advocate on behalf of animals, but condemn actions that we would surely support if humans were being tortured and killed. We are treating animal liberation as a frivolous matter.

If I said “cage-free eggs are humane no they’re not,” I would not be credible, but that is what we do when we advocate cage-free eggs, when we do so as part of a “Humane Farming Initiative,” when we suggest that cage-free hens are roaming free when in fact they are not, and after all that we try to get people to stop eating eggs, even the cage-free ones.

Let me provide 4 reasons why I’m an abolitionist.

One, I believe that the most effective use of the movement’s resources – time, money, and people, is on vegan outreach based upon a clear, consistent message that animals are sentient, they are capable of happiness and sadness, that they suffer when used as things, and that it is a moral imperative to not participate in the Holocaust against animals.

Two, I believe that welfare campaigns, by causing people to associate the continued exploitation of animals with such words as humane and compassion, help perpetuate the institution of animal slavery and insulate it from meaningful attack, particularly in the manner that welfare campaigns are presently carried out. As typically carried out today, animal welfare campaigns even promote the exploitation of animals.

Three, I believe it’s logical that a sustained, consistent abolitionist attack on the institution of animal slavery will result in welfare improvements any way, not because we try to negotiate the terms of slavery, but because the exploiters will use welfare improvements as a way to protect the demand for their so-called products.

Four, there are people out there who believe we should continue to breed, enslave, and kill animals, that animals are here to use however we please, we should just be nicer about it. Let nicer slavery be their cause, not mine.

I understand that no matter what anyone says, many of you will still want to work on welfare reforms, and so I’ll share some principles for working toward welfare reforms that might lessen the loss of credibility. These principles are from James LaVeck and Jenny Stein on their website HumaneMyth.org.

They demand that such welfare measures involve NONE of the following:

So, what you DON’T do is write a letter to Whole Foods praising their animal welfare standards, which they then feature prominently for a few years in all their stores and their website, causing people to believe that all they have to do to be humane and compassionate is go to Whole Foods for all their meat, eggs, dairy, and e coli. (Alex Hershaft of FARM and Karen Davis of UPC are two who refused to sign.)

What you don’t do is make a near pornographic video with animal abuser Wolfgang Puck, as Wayne Pacelle and Paul Shapiro of HSUS did.

What you don’t do is call minor achievements “historic” and give Burger King, one of the top animal abusers in the world, a public relations bounce because they promise to reduce by only five percent their use of “cage-free” hens.

By the way, even some supposedly abolitionist campaigns can violate these principles, such as a foie gras campaign focused primarily on cruelty and not centered around veganism. We just shouldn’t get too excited if someone switches from foie gras to fried chicken.

Now, about California Prop 2, the Humane Farming Initiative.

Here’s what some are saying about it.

Lie, lie, and lie.

Here is what Proposition 2 says:

California Humane Farming Initiative
Beginning January 1, 2015... “A person shall not tether or confine any covered animal, on a farm, for all or the majority of any day, in a manner that prevent such animal from lying down, standing up, and fully extending his or her limbs, and turning around freely.”

According to HSUS and other proponents of the initiative, it is “obvious” that the language of the initiative simply means that JUST ONE ANIMAL AT A TIME must be able to move — humanecalifornia.org

By that reading of the proposition, battery cages are still acceptable, you could still have battery cages, they might have to be 2-3 times their current size, but then you could put 2-3 times as many birds in each of them, all you need is for 1 bird at any given time to be able to stretch her wings. Even if it forces a move to cage-free facilities, replacing Hell with Hell-Light isn’t cause for celebration.

In your typical “cage-free” barn, every bit of floor space is covered with hens standing in their own excrement. Even the term “cage-free” is misleading, they’re more accurately “barn-stuffed.” The environment is chaotic. Hens peck at each other and are therefore debeaked.

After about 2 years of being used they are slaughtered all the same. And they still require hatcheries, where a hen’s only job is to be raped and eventually killed where eggs are hatched and male chicks are thrown in a dumpster dead or alive, or ground up for feed or fertilizer.

Or instead of larger battery cages or so-called cage-free barns, perhaps California will simply start importing eggs from states or countries without so-called humane standards.

One of the arguments I’ve heard for the initiative is simply that California’s battery-cage farms are against it. My first thought is, what if they’re against it simply because we are for it? Furthermore, most businesses have myopic visions of their business, they are thinking about this quarter, this year, maybe next, but not much further than that. More visionary farms have embraced animal welfare, they know it could do for them what the Animal Welfare Act did for vivisectors — protect them.

Moreover, what might be bad for California’s farms might be good for another state’s or another country’s farms. Just because they are against it or afraid of it, doesn’t mean you are going to do anything for the animals if buying habits don’t change, and it doesn’t mean that there isn’t something else that would be better or more effective.

And so I urge all of us to focus on the basics of animal liberation, that animals are sentient, that they are capable of happiness and sadness, that they unavoidably suffer when used as things. If in light of that message some people become vegan while others make an inferior change and eat less meat or eggs, or purchase eggs from barn-stuffed hens or eat less inhumanely raised animals, then that is an improvement, or if the exploiters choose to find ways to be less cruel, that is an improvement as well, but we must act and speak in support of animal liberation with seriousness and with moral clarity, consistency, and...credibility.