Guest post by Dilan Fernando and Harley McDonald-Eckersall
We were both a part of Green Collar/Dominion Animal Liberation disruption (specifically, the Flinders St action) on Monday the 8th of April. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that both us have spent the last few months immersing ourselves in social movement theory.
We’d like to share some of our thoughts on the actions and on some of the backlash that has followed. Although there has been so much positive feedback and responses that excite and inspire us, we wanted to take some time to respond to comments, criticism, questions and concerns that have been addressed to us and that we have seen across social media.
1. Disruption has a specific purpose in social change:
A lot of the criticism we have seen about this action has been variations on the phrase “this is not the right way to protest.” We’ve seen this comment repeated, not only from the general community but inside vegan groups with some claiming that actions like this are a “setback” for the movement. If you were to research social change (which we have and still are) you will find that throughout history and across movements for justice and change, disruptions have and continue to play a core role in advancing causes. They do this by creating polarisation thereby catapulting an issue into the public consciousness. What happened on the 8th meant that people across Australia, who might not usually even think about animal rights, were forced to recognise this cause as a political and societal issue. This has huge implications for our movement as it opens up our ability to become part of the mainstream discourse within society, something we have been struggling to achieve with the tactics we’ve used thus far. Animal rights messaging was seen in mainstream news outlets across Australia and even those who didn’t agree with us showed footage of a peaceful, non-violent protest demanding change, footage that reached millions of viewers.
2. Disruption isn’t about making vegans popular:
We’ve also heard the criticism that we’ve harmed the movement by making people hate vegans. In response, we’d again like to turn to historical examples. If we look to the Civil Rights movement for example, we’d see that activists were chastised, demeaned and criticised not only by white conservatives, but from within the Black community as well. Disruption is supposed to be divisive. It’s a tactic that serves a specific strategic aim, and as we mentioned above, that aim is to bring an issue to the fore and encourage conversation. What we did may have made some people angry. It may have made some people frustrated or hateful or vengeful but what it did more than anything is expose the reality of people’s attitude towards this issue as well as the tension that exists in our society’s views towards animals. For sure, some people may be less receptive to veganism (but it’s likely those people were not very receptive in the first place) but in the same way, so many people now have been given a much needed push to think about their choices and actions.
3. Disruption changes what’s acceptable in society:
Rather than acting as a setback, actions such as these allow everyone within the movement to take a step forward and begin playing on a new level. As more radical activists push the bar further, moderates become normalised and are seen as more palatable to mainstream society. Remember, 50 years ago, vegetarians were seen as extreme radicals. Now people won’t even blink an eye. We’re already seeing plant based diets becoming increasingly normalised and a big part of that is due to activists continuing to bring messages of animal liberation into the public sphere. If this were to stop and we were to rest purely on a largely consumer based, food movement, then there is a high potential for stagnation.
4. Consumerist food advocacy cannot, and will not, win on its own:
We’ve noticed that some vegans strongly believe that protest is not useful, and that we should mainly engage in consumerist advocacy that promotes plant-based food. They believe that through the mechanics of supply and demand, the animal agriculture industry will end as people choose more plant-based products. This approach to advocacy assumes that industries bend to the will of consumers. History tells us that in fact, the opposite is true. Industries create supply to manufacture demand and deploy billions of dollars of marketing budgets to ensure their survival. Of course we’re not all slaves to advertising, but what we do see time and time again, is that an exploitative producer will cash in on a rising trend such as veganism without actually changing other elements of their production. For example, take big producers of flesh-based products (e.g. Hungry Jacks), who have recently added a vegan range – they are not reducing the amount of animals they kill, simply diversifying their product range for profits. To clarify, we don’t disagree with food-based advocacy and believe it can be extremely effective. What we’re saying, is that in isolation, it is not enough to push society towards a new world view, which is what we need to do in order to achieve animal liberation and the liberation of others who are oppressed.
Before we finish up, we’d like to say no action is perfect, and this post isn’t claiming that. This movement should be rich and varied, and healthy criticism, debate and analysis is essential for its growth. What we are saying, though, is that this action was an incredible example of disruptive organising, something which is a key element of social movements throughout history and all over the world.
And the results speak for themselves. We’ve seen more coverage of animal rights in 48 hours than we’ve seen in the past two years. We’ve seen editorials genuinely exploring the actual meaning behind animal rights, and the validity of our claims. Non-vegans have come out in support of the protest because they believe in the purpose of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance. And of course, the Dominion: Documentary received 30,000 hits in just over a day.
In addition, we have just seen an Australia wide, coordinated day of actions that shut down a city and multiple sites of slaughter. Our movement has shown unity, strength, trust, love and determination in the face of repression and this should not be overlooked. Our movement is our strength. When we stand together we stand with power.
We’re both proud to have been involved. Now let’s take a breath. Let’s figure out how to absorb the momentum from what we’ve done and keep moving forward. Thank you for everyone who organised and participated in all of the actions. We stand united with the Green Collar Criminals.
Below are examples of some media coverage which is very unlike anything we’ve seen before:
You can watch the documentary Dominion here.
You can also hear Harley and Dilan discuss this action on episode 225 of our podcast.