Animal Rights Idol
August 14, 2011
Do Vegans Compete for Sainthood?
I have always found the animal rights community to be an extremely caring group of people where everyone is treated as equals. Sure, there are conflicts surrounding tactics, but even the activists who personally dislike one another can still work together for the movement. Just as we believe that animals can and should be treated equally to humans (though in some cases, as required, differently), the animal rights community has been a place where all hierarchies are put aside as we work to manifest a non-violent world.
Until the other day. I’m new to this whole Facebook thing, so I’m not sure about proper etiquette for ‘friend’ing people (although I have a personal policy to never unfriend anyone (unless they are trying to kill me, or sue me, or equivalent). And so carefully treading, I added Colleen Patrick Goudreau with a message passing on my previously mentioned compliment about her plenary speech. My basis for adding Colleen was that she has almost 5000 friends, and was also friends with a few of my friends. Clearly a popular lady sure to have some interesting discussions on her wall.
I received an almost immediate reply from a woman managing her account who called herself Colleen’s “Fan Manager”, saying something along the lines of: thanks for the compliment but what makes you think Colleen has time to receive it? This is a PERSONAL account. If you want to praise her, go to the fan page. She also mentioned that Colleen has been trying to cut down on her friends (!?) and turn them into fans, so any further friends were out of the question. Seriously? I was having images of the Queen of Narnia turning her subjects into statues.
The first thing that came to mind was: hmm, a compliment does not a fan make. I’m nobody’s fan; it’s not my style. So I replied that I prefer to communicate with people as equals.
Now. I have nothing against Colleen – quite the opposite. I could never bring myself to hate any animal rights activist. But this experience caused me to question: is animal rights a popularity contest? Is it ever okay to use our success in the movement as a way to promote ourselves for personal gain? Before I continue, I’d like to state (again) that this is not a personal rant against Colleen. That would be ridiculous; I mean how awesome is it that she reaches so many people? It is a post meant to explore our motivations (and possible distractions) as individuals within the animal rights movement.
So – is an animal rights activist higher status because she’s published and on TV? Or do the animal rights activists in masks setting free caged animals have just as much of an impact on the movement? I believe that it is extremely important to maintain a level of equality within the movement or we risk becoming ourselves exactly what we are trying save the animals from being: products.
If we are writing books, and speaking publicly, and creating brands for ourselves with any intention in mind other than helping the animals, then aren’t we just emulating the icky media-saturated world that already exists where people follow blindly the lead of those who pretend to know and be more?
This is exactly why I do not only advocate for change in animal rights, but for the end of all oppressive systems (ie. Veganarchy).
I’ve had the chance to meet Will Potter and Nathan Runkle, other busy, successful “famous” activists. They didn’t emit the same “untouchable” vibe, and that affirmed for me my lifelong place in this movement. Joanne Chang, Glenn Gaetz, and Brian Vincent are some of Vancouver’s most known animal rights activists and are all media figures… and yet they are totally accessible. approachable. “touchable” (hey now, not in that way). But my experience with Colleen’s “fan manager”? (Again, really?) sort of reminded me of elementary school. “Oh, sorry, I already told Steph, Lexy, and Megan they could eat lunch with me… there’s not really enough room for any more people, ie. you.” (Hey – we all have to learn that we’re not followers somehow).
Many vegans hold themselves above “mainstream” people as being more intelligent and more evolved (don’t lie). And this holier than thou attitude can also translate amongst our own community. Let’s not measure our successes. Let’s not develop complexes about who we think we are. Let’s remember that in order to treat the animals as equals, we must always treat each other as equals, too.
In a movement where the process often depends on some who lead and others who follow, let’s not label those who follow as fans, or even as followers. Our ideas would mean nothing if others did not gather to listen to them.