Strategizing Animal Liberation Activism
From Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM Kecia Doolittle
June 26, 2020

Strategizing animal liberation activism: 90% of our time and resources as a movement could be better spent than they are currently.

fire roses

It’s 6AM and I’m still awake, thinking about the incredibly complexity of systemic change and also at one point seriously considering whether the miniature juniper bonsai tree I got Matt as a coming home/victory over Iowa Select present was talking to me (turns out it was an insect crawling bustling around).

The torching of a slaughterhouse linked to the death of Regan Russell brings to the surface a lot of the biggest issues for the movement more generally. As far as I’m aware, this arson seems to be the first major Animal Liberation Front-style action in the US for some time. (FYI, I have no clue who’s responsible for burning the slaughterhouse down.)

I think a lot of activists have some mixed feelings about this dramatic gesture. We need more direct action, more civil disobedience, right now, if we want to really see the world change. Because we’re up against an entrenched, oppressive regime that profits off of and protects the structures we’re working to dismantle, there is no alternative that leads to animal personhood. But while direct action is the single most critical tactic for us now, if it’s not grounded in impeccably solid strategy it will have only a marginal impact.

The Animal Liberation Front was the first animal rights organization I ever heard of, as a middle schooler. But they were and are a mysterious segment of the movement to me (if “they” still exist in the US these days in a meaningful way) despite being connected to lots of people who do civil disobedience and “night time” operations (ahem, obviously). My honest impression of the ALF in recent years based on the (tiny) data I have on what actions people are claiming to be executing under the ALF banner is “it sucks that it’s such an exciting concept but the actions seem to just trend towards the... dumb. Love your energy, son, but spraypainting an anarchy symbol on a McDonalds window is not the way.”

My understanding is that ALF is more of a spirit than anything (and it doesn’t claim to be a group in the first place). It fits the national mood- it feels like half the country is defying something right now and testing the limits of their power, as individuals and communities.

The ALF model of decentralized action has come up in discussions of PROJECT COUNTERGLOW. It’s an important and obvious niche they were filling, and someone needs to stand in that space and do it with fresh energy and even more importantly, strategic sophistication. We can’t just do random, scattershot investigations/rescues/actions under the assumption that a flurry of activity and some lives saved is going to just, you know, lead to animal liberation via “raising awareness.”

I think one of the most distressing/inspiring things (depending on my mood) about the place the movement is in and my personal role in it - especially looking to the future as COUNTERGLOW continues to grow - is that it seems like ending speciesism is both a lot easier and a lot harder than people think. People don’t realize how much power they have, or how the goodness in all people and the moral arc of the universe are two key factors we’ve already got going for us.

But the problem is that most activists, pardon my language, don’t know WHAT the fuck they’re doing. Please don’t take this as a personal judgement. Very few people, including myself until a year ago, have had the opportunity to spend a ton of time learning and thinking about animal rights strategy at a high level. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says “all kinds of activism are important/effective, there’s a place for all groups/organizations/actions.” It’s like being a teacher and saying all your students are your favorite. Either you’re being dishonest to be nice or you’re not paying attention.

I could say the leadership of the movement has failed to invest in “leveling up” their constituents’ grasp of what makes for effective activism but to be honest, strategic thinking isn’t a strong suit of most people in the world and that includes people in social movements. It’s possible that a more sensitive emotional constitution may even predispose someone to become an activist. Hard-nosed Wall Street trader types, alternatively, demand ruthless precision and rigor of themselves when it comes to decision making, because the feedback loop is immediate- don’t think hard enough, you lose your money.

Unfortunately, with social causes there is no clear cut metric (like a bank account balance) that will tell us in all-caps that we’re doing it right or wrong. And the truth is that strategy is always a moving target. But if we’re at least trying *really* hard to use it as our compass, continuously stopping to observe and correct, we’ll still be sailing through darkness but at least we’ll be pointed *closer* to our destination.

It’s part of human nature- part of our biology- that we want to do what we’re comfortable with and what feels good. This extends to the type of activism people do- for all of us. And we must collectively break ourselves of its grip.

Takeaways: If you’re thinking of burning something down - or organizing a protest/vigil, making a meme about how people shouldn’t eat animals, rescuing an animal, doing an investigation, formulating an “ask” for a campaign (“Call President Trump today and tell him to stop letting people dress up their dogs in little outfits!”) or really *anything*, stop and ask if you’ve put in the hard work - and had the good sense and humility to consult with people who’ve achieved impressive, lasting results themselves - to truly be able to say you know how this fits into the bigger picture. 90% of our time and resources as a movement could be better spent than they are currently.

That’s not to say *I* have all the answers. I just understand the seriousness of the question and I know that as a leader it’s my number one job (though I will inevitably fall short) to prioritize rigorous thinking, proactive learning for continuous improvement, and a Wall Street-trader-like obsession with not letting ourselves get away with doing what’s easy or avoiding hard truths. And I know there are a lot of you out there that share this passion with me, and I’m so excited to have even more and harder and better conversations about how we actually take this to the finish line.

Learn more about PROJET COUNTERGLOW here...

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