Animal Rights/Vegan Activists' Strategies Articles

Focused Campaigns versus Closed Circle Campaigns: What Would a Chicken Say?

From Karen Davis, President, UPC United Poultry Concerns
June 2023

Do 'single-issue' campaigns block the advancement of animal liberation and veganism?

Listen to Thinking Like a Chicken Podcast, June 15, 2023. Transcript below.

Kaporos rescue
Photo by Barak Mayer, courtesy of Meat the Victims.

Today’s podcast reflects an article I wrote a few years ago in response to the claim by some members of the animal advocacy community that what they call “single-issue” campaigns blocks the advancement of animal liberation and veganism.

So I am in Brooklyn, New York on a fall day looking at a stack of crates on the sidewalk filled with live chickens. Sickened by this sight, do I, as an animal rights activist, just skip over the chickens and proceed to tell anyone who will listen to Go Vegan?

What if a passerby is upset about the chickens crammed in the crates without food, water or shelter, and asks what can be done to help them? Do I simply say that these particular chickens are suffering for a sacrificial ritual, then move on to note that the ritual, while totally cruel, is no worse than what chickens go through in slaughterhouses every day, urge the person to Go Vegan and proceed to expound the philosophy of Abolition or Nothing?

Will ignoring the chickens in front of our eyes advance the abolition of all animal abuse better than if we paid attention to these particular victims who are helplessly suffering right in front of us?

For some Abolitionists, all campaigns focusing on particular animals—in this case chickens used for a brutal sacrifice—frustrate the ultimate, worldwide goal of Abolition, Animal Rights, and Veganism. (Veganism most broadly is a philosophic and practical commitment to justice, compassion, and nonviolence.) My organization, United Poultry Concerns, promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domesticated birds with a focus on birds in the agribusiness sector. Does our focus hamper efforts to liberate all animals from all forms of oppression everywhere on the planet?

A point to consider is that every category of animal, animal abuse, and advocacy can be called “single issue,” whether the category is Chickens, Farmed Animals, Furbearing Animals, Aquatic Animals, Rodeos, SeaWorld, Save the Elephants, Vivisection, or other categories.

Campaigns on behalf of specific human groups have been waged throughout history. Was the campaign to end Apartheid in South Africa a “single-issue” campaign that thwarted the overall effort to liberate people everywhere from legalized discrimination? What about the women’s movement or the civil rights movement or the LGBTQ movement in America? Aren’t they “single issues” within the universal drive for social justice? And do they not break down further into specific campaigns for voting rights, equal opportunity in education, housing, sports, and employment?

If so, then we must ask whether addressing a particular category of animals or animal abuse necessarily precludes advocacy on behalf of all animals. Does focusing on chickens prevent me from putting their suffering within a broader range of issues? My experience as a Chicken Rights activist for 33 years, since 1990, says that one can develop the skills to do this while pursuing specific objectives.

One can, because a focused objective and the Big Picture are not separate. Cockfighting, for example, is one “detail” within the larger dimension of staged animal fights within the broad category of using animals for entertainment. Using animals for entertainment is part of an entire system of animal abuse in which the individuals of other species are defined by humans as property, objects, commodities and resources, without dignity or rights.

Paradoxically, instead of a “detail” versus “dimension” divide (“single issue” versus Big Picture), the dimensions are in the details and vice versa, similar to the paradox of individuality and ecology. “I am in the world, the world is in me,” is how the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead summarized the cosmic interaction between the Unit and the Ubiquity.

Closed Circle Campaigns

Chicken wings
"Eat Wings" ticket from Lewis and Clark Humane Society

That said, not all single issues are the same. Some are closed circles. An example of a closed circle approach to helping animals is where one group of exploited animals is used as bait to win funding and favor for another group. A fundraiser for dogs and cats featuring a chicken dinner, reassuring your member of Congress that while you oppose experimenting on animals you have no objection to hunting, fishing or eating them—this type of advocacy is a closed circle. By contrast, even though United Poultry Concerns focuses on the plight of birds in the food industry, we would not hold a fundraiser featuring a lobster dinner or raffle a fur coat to raise money for our chicken sanctuary. We would not lobby Congress for chickens at the expense of other animals.

I hope you’ve found today’s topic interesting and useful. Thank you very much for listening, and please join me for the next podcast episode of Thinking Like a Chicken—News & Views. And have a wonderful day!

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