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total liberation: making the connection between animal and human exploitation

July 21, 2011

I recently had the privilege of putting together a pamphlet with Nicoal Renee Sheen of Band of Mercy. I want to share the  text we produced, as it wraps up a lot of the issues touched on in this blog.

Nicoal and I will be having an informal panel discussion  on this topic at the Animal Rights 2011 Conference in Los Angeles this Friday, July 22nd, at 10pm. If you will be at the conference please stop by.  We have not been assigned a room yet, but if you are at the AR2011 conference  stop by the Band of Mercy table and we will tell you where it is. (If you want information on how to format this for a pamphlet, let me know.)


by Nicoal Renee Sheen and vegina

For every life, demand liberation.

Animal liberation will only come with total liberation. Until there is total liberation we will live in a world of inequality, where those in power will seek out ways to confine and control the masses. Sexism, racism, ageism, ablism, heterosexism and nationalism, or any other form of systematic inequality, must always be rejected. For any inequality is a roadblock if we are to have true liberation. We must make community organizers, feminists, anti-racists, anarchists, and anyone working for social justice our comrades. We cannot use their oppressions as a tool to forward our own goals. We must acknowledge that total liberation will only come if we absolutely believe in liberation for everyone; even when that means giving up some of our own advantage and comfort.

Interconnections of Oppressions. All oppressions are rooted in a single system that privileges capitalism, masculinity, individualism, and whiteness over all else. Under this system everyone who is considered “less than” is subject to exploitation and domination. Those labeled as less than or expendable, e.g. non-human animals, people of color, women, are viewed as objects rather than full beings with their own interests or emotions. After someone is deemed inferior, oppressors are able to commit violence against them with ease. The exploitation of different groups is intertwined and at times mutually dependent. Here are just a few of the ways that oppressions are interconnected and reinforced:

Slaughterhouses. In 2009, over 9,000,000,000 land animals were murdered in U.S. Slaughterhouses, making it the most dangerous industry for animals in this country. It is also one of the worst places for human workers, who tend to be immigrant and/ or ethnic and racial minorities. Many workers immigrate with false promises of citizenship from company recruiters, the conditions in slaughterhouses lead to a high risk of food contamination and the human workers, who work without unionization or healthcare benefits, are in great danger on a daily basis. In 2005 the Human Rights Watch issued a statement identifying meat-packing plants the most dangerous factory job in the U.S. Women are also at particular risk, as rates of violent and sexual crimes is higher in communities with slaughterhouses.

Control of reproduction. Rape is a tool used systematically by men and the broader society to control and manipulate female bodies. Animal exploitation is carried out through the rape of animals, where reproduction is exploited for profit. All female cows on a dairy farm will be raped and her children taken and enslaved so humans can drink her milk. One in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Society assumes that both female chickens and women are made to reproduce for another’s purposes. Female chickens are induced with hormones to create the unnatural surplus of eggs for human consumption. Women are expected to repopulate for the needs of capitalism i.e. laborers and consumers.

Language. When individuals are devalued through language their abuse and exploitation is more difficult to notice and easier to justify. Language often times is used to diminish people of color, women and animals. Women are often degraded through name-calling that equates them to animals. For example, by using words like “bitch” and “chick.” Racism has often been justified by equating racial and ethnic minorities to animals. Chinese were compared to rats in 19th century popular culture, Latinas are currently called “breeders,” and the list goes on. Such language degrades women, minorities and animals at the same time.

Animals are often referred to as objects (“it” instead of he or she) or groups (flocks, herds), rather than as individuals. This renders their individual qualities invisible, making their exploitation and murder easier. This is the same way that slaves and native populations were referred to and that immigrants, particularly undocumented migrants, are still spoken about today.

A shifting line. The line between who has rights and who doesn’t has shifted. Throughout history, different groups of people and animals have been included or excluded depending on what they are considered “good for” according to the dominant class.

We value pet animals but devalue food animals, even though all these animals have the same ability to feel emotion and physical pain as we do. Native populations experienced genocide when Europeans migrated to this continent, black Africans were classified as animals to justify slavery, and the U.S. government has changed immigration policies to meet the needs of American capitalism, allowing different groups of people entrance or citizenship as they meet our needs for labor. Such oppression remains today and must be eliminated.

We can’t free the animals if we oppress others. It is often difficult to acknowledge or understand the way that oppressions are interconnected since each type of exploitation is historically and contextually different. But we must remember, there is one overarching system that privileges only a select few. This works by placing arbitrary boundaries between those who have power and rights and those who don’t. These lines are established to ensure that only the ruling class maintains power and the oppressed remain divided.

When we oppress others, we reinforce the same system we actively fight against. When we fight among social movements for whose oppression matters most, we do the work of the oppressor and keep ourselves as distinct, separate groups. Instead, we need to join together and fight injustice at its roots.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2011 5:57 pm

    I’m becoming convinced that awareness of the interconnection of various sorts of oppression and exploitation is of paramount importance. I’m considering attending various meetings of groups that focus on some particular type of oppression and trying to initiate a discussion about these interconnections. Have you undertaken some sort of outreach like this?

    • September 3, 2011 12:39 am

      Sorry for the late response, as you can tell I have not been on the site lately (that is all about to change again!!) I have not done this. I have heard Steve Best speak about his active attempts to reach other movements. His work may be of help, though I have not read his essays on this topic. It is definitely a worthy endeavor. I have actually had a very odd and horrible experience that has had me timid in situations where I might be able to initiate discussions on interconnections with activists in other movements. I was involved in campus activism regarding labor issues and fee hikes a while back and I was actually pushed out becasue one prominent organizer felt that animal rights was a “white girl thing” that revealed that I was selfish and did not belong. All evidence showed I was trustworthy and hardworking-above and beyond the norm in both cases- so this was a shock. I have been very muted in other movements since when I have volunteered.

  2. Ryan permalink
    August 20, 2011 3:39 pm

    What you’re asking is for people to give up their civil liberties. I’m all for industries that kill and abuse animals to become illegal but that’s where I stop. Trying to control the public’s hearts and minds is weird. Did you grow up with money? This sounds like it was written by someone who did. Total first worlders.

    • September 3, 2011 12:32 am

      Are you joking? What is weird about trying to move people emotionally and mentally? The idea that only people of the “first word” (totally offensive term by the way) would have the capacity to care about changing ones’ mind and hearts toward compassion and rejecting oppression is pretty insulting. And obviously I am privileged, as I have the luxury of blogging. As are you, for the luxury to be responding to this post.

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