Monday, July 14, 2014

"Non-Violent" Direct Action Protest Doesn't Work, More Importantly IT IS EXPENSIVE

There are a variety of reasons why people support "non-violent" direct action protesting (advocacy that is confrontational, disruptive, and sometimes threatening). Some argue that these tactics raise awareness, while others engage them because they give activists a feeling of "doing something." Some even insist that direct action is supposed to challenge restrictions on "free speech."

I think these justifications are largely bogus and tend to lack critical thinking. More realistically, direct action is engaged because activists are boiling over with unchanneled energy and emotion, emboldened by group think, and motivated by the expectation that their actions will reward them with prestige in the activist community.

Direct action advocacy is harmful to the Nonhuman Animal rights movement because it has a tendency to misuse resources. It also sends the message that violence and intimidation is okay, as long as the "right" people are using it. In a recent protest, one organization decided it would be excellent "non-violent" campaigning to target the private home of a woman to "non-violently" pressure her into ending her participation in vivisection.  First, I would challenge that stalking women is never "non-violent."  Second, I find it hard to believe that such a campaign could actually work.

It would be one thing to waste the time of volunteers with this ineffectual protesting, but this approach really becomes problematic when direct action advocates inevitably get in trouble (arrested, charged, etc.) and then turn around and beg for money to cover them. Indeed, when researching Nonhuman Animal liberation media from the 1970s-2000s for my dissertation, I was struck by how much space was dedicated to supporting people who have (not surprisingly) gotten in trouble with the law.

Our movement is desperate for resources. We need people and we need money. When we put our people in jail with bad tactical design and then redirect our fundraising efforts to bailout stalkers, harassers, vandals and arsonists, effectual anti-speciesist efforts are starved of support.  We live in a world that is deeply speciesist, with media channels, the public, and the police on the side of capitalist enterprise and social privilege.  It is nothing short of foolhardy to think that harassing people is going to do anything good for Nonhuman Animal liberation.

Just as a personal example, earlier this summer, I was walking with a vegan friend through downtown Fort Collins, Colorado. Fort Collins is unfortunately still in the stone age and uses horse-drawn carriages to drag tourists around the streets. This is considered quaint and "Old West."  Emboldened by the support of my friend and honestly sick to death of seeing these straining horses lumbering by over and over, my friend and I began yelling out slogans of animal liberation from across the street as we passed by on our way to our destination.  Later that night, the carriage operator tracked us down on a dark backstreet far from the populated and well-lit areas of downtown. He was a big man in our face threatening us; we were two young women. I called 911.

Fast forward 30 minutes later, we had been surrounded by 5-6 police officers who were grilling us about our violent actions and lecturing us on interfering with our attacker's "business." They had located our perpetrator, who, predictably, spun up an elaborate story that suggested we had been in his face, spitting on him, etc. (a miraculous feet for two women who were on the other side of the street from him).  "He says you were calling him a slave driver," one officer accused.  I explained, "He is a slave driver."  But, our position was not acknowledged as a valid social justice claim. It was only understood to be harassment. After the thirty minute interrogation, we escaped arrest by the skin of our teeth.  "We won't arrest you this time . . . " they warned.

My direct action was not something that I had planned. It was just some off-the-cuff remarks made without much thought to the potential consequences, because, hey, free speech right?  Wrong. The world sees Nonhuman Animals as objects and resources . . . and it sees anyone who interferes with that as anti-capitalist, terroristic, hooligans. If I had been arrested, it wouldn't be surprising.  He was a respected business owner and a man.  Me?  I was just an angry young woman, a killjoy, and potentially dangerous.  The system is not designed for that type of "protest" to succeed.

In my case, I didn't plan my "direct action" protest. I was angry, and I impulsively acted on my anger. Thousands of activists, however, make this their primary form of activism and rally movement support despite evidence to the serious costs to direct action protest. In doing so, they waste our time and money by endlessly campaigning for funding to support court cases, appeals, and incarcerated activists who are no longer one lick of good to us sitting behind bars.

If it doesn't work, don't do it. It is our responsibility to engage in activism that is effective. Doing whatever we want or whatever makes us feel good isn't going to cut it.  It is a waste of time, money, and human-power. If you are ever asked to donate to support the obvious and predictable consequences of "direct action," give your money to a vegan sanctuary instead. Support Nonhuman Animals before supporting activists who knowingly engaged bad activism with full awareness to the consequences. Better yet, get involved in "direct action" that really works--educate others about veganism. Help build a world that is ready to recognize Nonhuman Animals as persons worthy of equal consideration.

Note:  First, I do not in any way support or condone the prison-industrial complex. The vast majority of prisoners are incarcerated due to state violence, not because of individual shortcomings, evil, or legitimate crime. My concern is with the Nonhuman Animal rights movement's celebration of ineffective advocacy, advocacy that is doomed to fail and drain our resources. Second, this essay is intended to speak to anti-speciesism mobilization, which is distinct from other social justice movements that are historically and politically in a much better position to effectively use direct action tactics. Third, readers should be aware of the racialized aspect of activism and arrest. Because the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is primarily white, it can "afford" to test the system in a way that many people of color could not. The fact that my friend and I were white, for instance, likely made the difference in our near-arrest experience.