Vegan Lifestyle ArticlesWhy I Became an Abolitionist Vegan
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FROM

Sarah Woodcock, Farmed Animal Friends
November 2012

Becoming vegan was not the best decision I ever made. Don’t get me wrong -- it was wonderful. It was a transformative process of opening my heart and mind to animals that resulted in me making different choices including, to the best of my ability, no longer using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, testing, or any other purpose. For these reasons, veganism is a way of life, not a diet.

After I became vegan, I knew my life’s purpose was to help animals. As I emerged from the animal using world to the vegan world, I felt a sense of loyalty to the animal welfare groups that created the resources that catalyzed me to open my heart and mind to animal use. As I began to understand how deeply entrenched humans were in animal use, I realized there was a huge distance between where we were and where we needed to be. I assumed the best way to help animals would be to work for, donate to, or at least volunteer for one of those animal welfare groups. I felt they had an enormous war to fight with the animal use industries, and while victory seemed improbable, I was committed to doing everything I could to help them. Because opening my heart and mind was an intense experience, and the road ahead seemed overwhelming, I accepted the goals, strategies, and tactics of those groups without question. I assumed they knew what they were doing.

But what if the goals, strategies, and tactics those groups employed were not in alignment with the goal in my heart for animals? More importantly, what if the strategies and tactics were actually counterproductive to reaching the goal in my heart? What was the goal in my heart?

The Great Divide

In my first few months of animal advocacy, I was like a sponge soaking up every bit of information I could get my hands on. I came across a blog where a writer was criticizing a man named Gary L. Francione, a vegan of nearly 30 years (now over 30 years), for challenging animal welfare groups’ goals, strategies, and tactics by saying they were counterproductive to animal rights. The writer accused Gary of being divisive of the animal rights movement. In my initial loyalty to the animal welfare groups, I questioned Gary’s intentions for wanting to impede their efforts in any way. I left the blog, but something lingered in my mind -- the idea that while trying to advance animal rights, one could actually further entrench animals in animal use. Due to the counter-intuitive nature of that concept, I put it on the back burner to simmer. Little did I know, I had stumbled upon, “The Great Divide” within animal “rights” - the divide between animal welfare and animal rights (also known as regulation vs. abolition). I pondered this person named Gary, and I asked myself, “Why would a vegan, of nearly 30 years (now over 30 years), refuse to support animal welfare groups and believe them to be counterproductive?” More importantly, I asked myself, “What if Gary was right?”

I knew the last thing I wanted to do was dedicate the rest of my life to animal advocacy and find I had actually further entrenched animals in animal use. When 110+ billion animals are killed for food each year (which doesn’t include animals used for other purposes), it was clear to me animal advocacy was serious work with serious consequences. I decided I needed to understand exactly what Gary was saying so I could, at the very least, refute it.

The Dismissive Power

After reading about Gary, I was expecting him to be an intimidating and militant man whose philosophies were difficult but important to understand. I learned Gary is a Distinguished Professor of Law (now Board of Governors Professor of Law), Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law & Philosophy, and an animal rights theorist and lawyer of over 30 years. I checked out Gary’s website www.abolitionistapproach.com and his video “I’m Vegan.” After watching his video, my husband and I turned to each other in disbelief and asked each other, “HE is Gary L. Francione?” To say I was impressed by Gary’s clear thinking, unintimidating demeanor, and unequivocal stance on non-violence would be an understatement. Slowly but surely, the dismissive power of the blog writer’s words began to fade. I was going to decide for myself.

“The difference between these two groups is not merely a matter of abstract theory -- it has profound practical consequences.” - Gary L. Francione

As I mentioned earlier, there was a point at which in order to identify my strategies and tactics for my animal advocacy, I needed to determine, “What was the goal in my heart for animals?” Having personally abolished animal use from my life by becoming vegan, I assumed I had addressed the speciesism that empowered my human privilege in the non-vegan world, but that was an incorrect assumption. There was a piece of speciesism left I can best describe as, “I honor your right not to suffer, but I do not honor your right to justice.” As I examined this position, I had two choices:

1) Deny the presence of this speciesism which I had the human privilege to do and proceed by dedicating my life to their right not to suffer.

2) Accept the presence of this speciesism which I had the moral imperative to do, transmute it, and proceed by dedicating my life to their right to justice.

I chose to fully allow animals into my heart and dedicate my life to their right to justice. I transmuted my speciesism from a focus on suffering to a focus on justice, and that was the key point in my transition from a new welfarist vegan to an abolitionist vegan. At that key point, my fight for animals transformed from one to reduce suffering to one to create justice -- from one that made me a compassionate person to one that made them moral persons. And honoring their right to justice automatically honored their right not to suffer.

Over the next few months, I immersed myself in Gary’s work to understand The Six Principles of The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights. What Gary proposed and why he proposed it didn’t all make sense right away, but I was determined to understand it. Notably, as I experienced resistance to different pieces of Gary’s work, each and every time, my resistance proved to be a piece of speciesism. Having transmuted those pieces of speciesism, it was glaringly clear the goals, strategies, and tactics of animal welfare groups have nothing to do with animal rights because if one accepts the moral personhood of animals, using time and money to advocate for anything less than veganism is speciesist (and therefore insulting and degrading to animals).

Attacks, Misrepresentations, and Dismissiveness

Since I have become an abolitionist vegan, I have observed numerous individuals attack and misrepresent Gary and his work. As Gary has illustrated, the approach being used by the large animal welfare groups today is based upon philosophies from the 1800s. As someone who has come to understand the depth, breadth, and applicability of Gary’s work in its ability to actually advance animal rights, to say I find the attacks and misrepresentations deeply disturbing, would be an understatement.

Time and time again, individuals have exercised dismissiveness of abolitionists. Recently, Melanie Joy, “Social Psychologist & Author,” wrote an essay which denied the fundamental differences between welfarists and abolitionists by framing the entire situation as a myth (i.e. "The Myth of the Great Divide").

At a time when 110+ billion animals are killed for food each year (which doesn’t include animals used for other purposes), and the approach being used by the large animal welfare groups today is hundreds of years old, isn’t it time we stop dismissing and take a good look at The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights -- an approach that calls for not using animals at all? Surely the animals wouldn’t think it divisive.

Next Steps

What do the animal use industries want? They want some of us to focus on animals used for food, some of us to focus on animals used for clothing, some of us to focus on animals used for entertainment, some of us to focus on animals used for testing, and some of us to be scattered elsewhere. They want us to agree to wrestle them so they can tire us and delude us into thinking they are making positive changes for animals -- changes they would make anyways for industry survival as humans go through a moral awakening. They do not, under any circumstance, want us to unite behind the banner of veganism and call for an end to animal use altogether.

As I mentioned earlier, I felt the animal groups had an enormous war to fight. But I learned the war is not with the animal use industries -- the war is with the insidious speciesism in our hearts and minds which empowers animal use and new welfarism. The only thing that will create lasting change and animal rights is transmuting the speciesism, and the fastest way to do this is by unequivocally advocating for veganism.

If you are willing to fully allow animals into your heart and dedicate your animal advocacy to their right to justice, know we can yield positive results faster if we refuse to be divided and conquered by single issue campaigns including welfare reform and other single issues that focus on specific uses (food, clothing, entertainment, testing, etc.), specific species (dolphins, dogs, etc.), specific products (foie gras, fur, milk, etc.), specific forms of treatment (factory farming, battery cages, gestation crates, etc.), specific companies (Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, etc.), and/or specific countries (China, etc.). If you want animal rights, it is time to battle speciesism by uniting behind the banner of veganism which effectively addresses all uses, species, products, forms of treatment, companies, and countries at the same time. Motivated by love, committed to non-violence, and united behind the banner of veganism, we will change the world. I know you have invested time and money into new welfarism. I know you have spent days, weeks, months, years, or even decades in new welfarism. I know you have invested pennies, dollars, hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars, or even tens of thousands of dollars in new welfarism. I am asking you to cut your losses - sell your stock, and invest in veganism.

Will you be remanded to return to new welfarism? Yes. Will the accusations of being divisive, judgmental, and unrealistic begin when you refuse to participate in single issue campaigns including welfare reform, anti-factory farming campaigns, vegetarianism, and Meatless Mondays? Yes. But will you be on the right side of history? Yes.

After educating myself on The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights and examining my speciesism, I became an abolitionist vegan because just as I had a moral imperative to become vegan, if I was going to advocate for animals, I had a moral imperative to become an abolitionist vegan. Becoming vegan was not the best decision I ever made. Becoming an abolitionist vegan was the best decision I ever made. Now let’s create a vegan world.

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I would like to express my deep gratitude for and solidarity with Professor Gary L. Francione who has used his intelligence, skills, experience, credentials, and love to courageously and tirelessly advocate for animal rights.

Visit Professor Gary L. Francione’s website, The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights.


If you are not vegan, please know you are being lied to by most of the large animal organizations about the moral imperative of veganism. Please go vegan, and educate others about veganism. Here is a wonderful resource on veganism: VeganKit.

If you are vegan, please know you are being lied to by most of the large animal organizations about the moral imperative of using The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights. Please become an abolitionist vegan, and educate others about The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights.

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