“I found the minds of the people strangely indifferent to the subject of slavery. Their prejudices were invincible—stronger, if possible, than those of the slaveholders. Objections were started on every hand; apologies for the abominable system constantly saluted my ears; obstacles were industriously piled up in my path… What was yet more discouraging, my best friends—without an exception—besought me to give up the enterprise! It was not my duty (they argued) to spend my time, and talents, and services, where persecution, reproach and poverty were the only certain reward. My scheme was visionary—fanatical—unattainable… But opposition served only to increase my ardor, and confirm my purpose.”
~ William Lloyd Garrison (July 14, 1830)
We live in a world where the vast majority of people still consider it perfectly acceptable to use and kill nonhuman animals for food, clothing, entertainment and other purposes for which there are perfectly adequate alternatives.
All of the individuals we enslave are as innocent as children, but we treat them as though being born as a member of a different species is a crime worthy of a short life in prison, almost always accompanied by torture in some form, and without fail, ending in death.
Not only do we enslave, exploit, torment and slaughter other animals in countless numbers every year, we do so in order to provide ourselves with things that we simply do not need, including animal-based foods. The growing number of vegans who live healthy, fulfilling lives is a testament to this fact.
Not only is this extreme violence against our fellow animals sanctioned by the legal structure of society and accepted almost without question by most people, it is actually encouraged and even celebrated in the form of neighborhood barbecues, family fishing trips, and even office parties where animal foods are served and shared with a sense of fun, festivity, and laughter.
When an individual chooses to reject this violence, and makes a personal commitment to live without participating in the carnage that underlies these apparently happy social scenes, that individual does so, ironically, at the risk of being teased, criticized, insulted, ostracized, and perhaps even accused of committing some sort of offense against society’s expectations that we fall in line, and accept what is.
This is something everyone who becomes vegan is, frankly, likely to go through at some point. It is how we choose to respond to such an experience that determines whether we triumph over the challenge or allow it to wear us down.
When we are presented with such a test, we need to remember that living vegan is nothing less than the external evidence of our personal pledge to live nonviolently, and our determination to never support the harming of innocent others carried out at our behest . Becoming vegan is a demonstration of our awareness of the fundamental principle of justice. It is an ongoing declaration of our conviction that acts of brutality and oppression are not excusable simply by virtue of the species of the victims, no matter what supposed benefits we may gain from them, and there is, therefore, no justification for continuing to take advantage of anything that the industry of animal slavery tries to sell us, no matter how uncomfortable it might make other people feel to be brought face to face with that fact, through their encounters with us.
Widespread veganism is the only hope our nonhuman brethren have for emancipation from the brutal existence we force them into. Moral paradigm shifts, however, do not cause themselves. They are caused by small groups of people within society – always considered “radical” in their own time – who persistently educate others why change is necessary.
Abolitionists and suffragists, for instance, in their efforts to educate in the name of noble causes, endured ridicule, anger, imprisonment, and death threats, both from the establishment itself, and also from counter-movements made up of citizens with an interest in maintaining things the way they were.
Nobody minded a quiet abolitionist or suffragist. Respecting “everyone’s personal choice” with deferent silence was deemed “moderate and respectable” by those vested in the status quo. Challenging the injustice with moral education was called “self-righteous,” “offensive,” “extremist,” and “off-putting.” The more direct and unequivocal an advocate’s position, the more resistance he or she encountered.
And so it is with vegans today. Despite the fact that we stand so clearly on the side of justice for all sentient beings, we can expect to encounter resistance most of the time. As strong vegan educators and advocates, we should not be surprised to be dismissed, ignored, misrepresented, and to be subjected to whatever treatment those opposing us believe would be most effective at discouraging our efforts. Recognizing and accepting this situation for what it is, and realizing that other successful social justice movements faced similar resistance and criticism over spans of decades, can help us persist in our efforts over the years as well.
Realizing that even the most effective advocacy takes time to reach its intended goals can give us the perspective we need to ultimately succeed by avoiding the burnout that comes with unrealistic expectations, and a short-sighted focus on short-term results. We should recognize that it might sometimes be beneficial to take a break and recharge our batteries, and that, alongside our personal advocacy, it’s important that we also strive for physical, mental and emotional health, so that we can be as effective as possible in our efforts to educate and inspire others.
In this way, we can find the strength we need to persist relentlessly in the struggle for justice at a pace we can maintain for as long as is necessary. We can also take heart in the progress we observe, in the form of the increasing number of ethical vegans, the decreases in animal product consumption, the increases in vegan alternatives, and the gradual transformation of the collective consciousness, which, only 65 years ago, didn’t even have a word to describe someone as being ‘vegan’.
Over time, the irrepressible power of justice will prevail, as we overcome the shameful prejudice and despicable discrimination that attempts to justify and maintain the moral status of our fellow animals as economic property and tradable commodities. Until that day comes, let whatever opposition comes our way serve only to increase our ardor, and confirm our purpose.