The Animal Rebellion planned blockade of Smithfield ‘Meat’ Market in October is already creating media attention, with stories in The Guardian & The Independent (and it’s only August), as well as this short discussion on LBC radio on Sunday Aug 18th, which involved myself and spokesperson Dilon from AxR, alongside presenter Andrew Castle. The interview raised a few points that are worth clarifying, as it’s likely that there will be some recurring themes in the media over the next few months as the rebellion gathers pace and then unfolds between Oct 7th and 21st, before VegfestUK London hosts an AxR summit for 2 days of discussion, debate, analysis and critique at Olympia on October 26th 27th.
For more background on AxR, which is in partnership with Extinction Rebellion the climate change protest group, and formed of a loose alliance of 20 or so leading Animal rights and welfare groups alongside a number of volunteer grassroots activists, see the website. This includes the demands and culture of the group.
For more background on the summit at VegfestUK London 2019, this blog explains a bit more, and there will be regular updates over the next two months for details of speakers, discussions, panels etc on the VegfestUK Facebook page, the event page and the website.
For my own position on AxR, I am reminded of the Oasis 1st album, released 25 years ago this week on the 29th August. My heart says Definitely, my head says Maybe. And although I am not a part of AxR in any formal way, and not a part of the organising or reporting of any of the planned activities, nevertheless as we are hosting AxR for their first big public summit a week after their first big media grabbing 2 week campaign, its probably helpful to make my own position clear on a number of issues, especially in relation to any forthcoming media reports that might be inaccurate, misrepresent, or take out of context anything I may or may not have said, implied or mentioned in passing.
I Definitely support the general overall aims of AxR, and stand in solidarity with the brave & dedicated activists, the volunteers, groups and individuals in trying to achieve animal liberation, an end to ‘livestock’ farming and fishing, a shift in food systems, farming, processing and associated infrastructure towards a plant based diet, and urgent action in relation to climate change overall. I respect the organisation of AxR and the commitment and dedication of those who have helped develop AxR, and what looks like the autonomy & self empowerment of the grassroots volunteer led regional AxR groups, and value the attempts to unite so many groups within the existing Animal Rights & Welfare movements, whilst partnering with XR in the name of climate change action, and support specifically the push for governments, institutions and big business to transition to plant based diets and associated farming and production as a matter of priority. Not only are the people working on AxR well intentioned, they also have a chance of making quite a big impact on many positive levels.
By nature, any alliance involves compromise, and there are one or two I disagree with on a level, including some of the messaging around veganism, and the mixed messaging surrounding animal rights and climate change, but overall currently none of those stop me wholeheartedly supporting AxR and most of its aims. I do think that some of the more experienced campaigners can occasionally be too harsh on the up and coming activists, and I think we sometimes expect too much of the ‘millennial activist’, especially those currently at the forefront of the animal rebellion, although it’s also fair to point out that some of our millennial vegans seem to be under the impression that the vegan and animal rights movement started somewhere around 2014 (for a decent history lesson in veganism, see our new blog series ‘And If You Know Your History….’). But I also recognise the need for supportive but honest critique, fair and informative debate, safe platforms to voice strong opinions, and a mutual spirit of cooperation to learn from each other, and very much hope that the summit at VegfestUK will help provide some of that at our event a week after the rebellion’s planned activities.
As to the planned tactics – Maybe. I don’t generally support disruption that impacts negatively on ordinary working people, especially those already struggling for a number of reasons. But I recognise the disruption to ordinary working people’s lives that climate change is already creating, and the urgency to act. I don’t generally support wasting Police time, and recognise the challenge the Police face trying to police disruptions effectively whilst still trying to police the rest of the city, but I don’t support governments and big business sitting by relying on the protection of the forces of law and order to help them continue to avoid responsibility and action. I don’t generally support wasting court time and clogging the courts, but I don’t support the criminalisation of ordinary working people who have a right to protest for a future for all of us, and have less and less options available, and are choosing the path of civil disobedience and disruption because they don’t believe other options will work – and many have tried. I don’t support disruption to emergency services especially – but the effects of climate change are already increasing the strain on emergency services the world over – and yet still not nearly enough is being done to minimalise our collective footprint by those that create the most. And although I don’t think that activists and rebels apologising sincerely in advance, or singing songs of apology is that helpful (it probably makes it worse), what else are people left to do, faced with such inadequacies from those with the most influence, and lack of cohesive action at Government level?
I do think the rebellion has to think carefully about tactics, and especially in regard to advising people to get arrested, a current XR tactic which appears to be wholly irresponsible, even if understandable on some levels and potentially a very effective disruptive tactic – and if they are to advise people to get arrested, they should ensure a robust support system in place to assist anyone in custody right through the judicial process. I do think AxR need to revisit whether civil disobedience and disruption is the way forward, especially in regards to previous social justice movements (what worked 50 years ago may not be as relevant to what works in today’s world) or whether there are more positive solutions, especially in regards to something like the kids striking at school, but given the current emergency on planet earth, which is literally burning as we speak, what choices are we left with but to protest en masse? When it comes to Kids Strikes – I’m down with the kids. Their future, our bad.
I would like to see AxR make a clearer statement encouraging people to go vegan, and include all animals in their agenda, but I get that their aims are to push for systemic and institutional changes, not personal change, which is already happening within a number of the animal groups under the broader AxR umbrella with their ‘go vegan’ campaigns aimed at individuals, and that the focus of the animal rebellion ‘animal’ bit is mainly farmed animals and fishes, as these are the big climate change & environmental factors (rather than say, animals in laboratories). And I am sure that there will be a number of other issues discussed and debated before during and after the planned disruptions. The signs are there – the planned focus of the October disruption is Smithfields ‘Meat’ market, which implies maximum disruption to the targeted ‘Livestock’ trade, with low to medium disruption to the rest of London, compared with the XR protests of last April, which significantly annoyed a large amount of Londoners and impacted negatively on a lot of people, albeit still generating a lot of media and stimulating a lot of discussion, and even some degree of action at Government level.
The truth is our current governments, businesses and institutions have pretty much failed us on both climate change and animal use. And in doing so, we have massively failed the animals we share the planet with, and the people at the brunt of climate change already, and our generations to come. Urgent action is required, and if governments, businesses, institutions and departments insist on dragging their heals, and effectively dismissing the science especially in relation to ‘livestock’ farming, then we have to expect an escalation of disruption, unrest, protest and the associated negative impacts this brings. If we don’t want to see disruption, we need to see immediate effective action.
There are some good people in parliament, albeit too few, who are very up to speed with these issues, along with multiple solutions already in place, and we could do with an urgent escalation of this existing support and solution based work already in place. We could do with seeing those in lesser positions of authority but still significant influencers making sure that pretty much plant based becomes the default pretty much overnight wherever possible. Head teachers, instead of bemoaning their kids who are revolting, could be implementing climate change based solutions such as growing and/or preparing plant based options for communities at large, working with teachers parents and kids alike to identify and develop solutions wherever they can. We could all do with a culture of mutual solutions rather than extreme positions and polarised debate, and whilst protest and disruption can stimulate debate and media interest, it’s the solutions that come through that matter most.
On an individual level, it’s up to all of us to accept the challenge that the current systems are creating, & make the changes in our own lifestyles, which becomes a very powerful tool for change on a mass level in itself. As we know, how we eat, how we consume, how we spend has a significant impact on how big business, governments and corporations act, and although it’s a cliché, its probably never been a better time to be the change you want to see in others and the systems that surround us. So helping ourselves and each other change in a supportive environment to be the citizens that we want to see in the majority on this planet is probably the most effective tactic we have still. If protests and disruption work against that, it’s time to re-evaluate the need for these tactics. But if educative initiatives aren’t working quickly enough, we need to re-evaluate the need for direct action, disruption and rebellion. Both look like they are here to stay, and educators can help to optimise on the media attention created by direct action and disruption, so as to maximise on the positive effects created by disruption, whilst the disruptors sharpen their tools, box clever and think on their feet to minimise negative impact on a number of levels, and maximise both effective media coverage and public empathy to the causes.
And the obvious concern for climate change that we are witnessing can be chanelled into a concern for the rights of individual animals. A focus on climate change and subsequent attractions of plant based diets, and the desire to change accordingly can also open the door to an understanding about the rights of individual animals not to be owned or used as property, and some of the moral concerns surrounding the use of animals, and the quest for justice for the billions of animals used and commodified by humans, alongside the many species going extinct and facing extinction as a result of climate change. Animal Rights and Climate Change are in some ways miles apart but in other ways have much in common and they share an obvious solution – going vegan and living vegan – which is a big assist for both issues. Supportive creative positive education can help achieve this.
Whilst its in our hands, it might be best to act now. Animal Liberation and Climate Change Justice? Definitely. Rebellion? Maybe. But to paraphrase the late great Tom Regan, one of the founders of the animal rights movement – whatever lines you draw, and wherever you draw them, draw them in pencil. You may need to rub them out again.
One thing is for sure – we have an interesting few months ahead right now. And seeing as we started with an Oasis reference, I will wrap up on a rock and roll note with The Verve’s Weeping Willow. I have no idea what the lyrics are about, but they strike a chord or two
Returning to Olympia London for the 7th year running, VegfestUK London celebrates the best of veganism. The Animal Rebellion summit on both days comes alongside talks on Animal Rights and Activism, Vegan Activists Support and the VGN News room.
There are also 320 stalls packed with the latest vegan products, a Vegan Food Village with 25 caterers, a New Vegan Support area for beginners to veganism, a Foodies Stage with live music, two Fitness areas, Yoga classes, Cookery Demos, The Art of Compassion Project Exhibition, talks on Plant Based Health and Veganic Growing, the Natural Therapy Zone, the Holistic Health Hub, the Mature Zone, Kids Storytelling and Theatre, and Kids Cookery Classes.
Advance tickets for this event are now available at www.london.vegfest.co.uk/tickets with BUY ONE GET ONE FREE offers running until the end of August and BUY ONE GET ONE HALF PRICE offers running until the end of September.
Each entry ticket includes further access to all talks, cookery demos, panels and live music at the show.
The organisers of VegfestUK are running a new show Plant Powered Expo next February in the National Hall of Olympia London. This new event celebrates the best of a plant-based way of life with 235 stalls, 12 features and 100 speakers. For more information, visit www.plantpoweredexpo.co.uk