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choosing sides, not issues

September 7, 2011

I recently spoke out in a very mild way against a local fundraising event called Diamonds Not Fur. The event was sponsored by a diamond company, with attendees paying $100 a plate (after some fighting, the organizer agreed to make the meal vegan, at least). A portion of the proceeds went to organizations that were anti-fur. Other portions of the money raised funded the party and went to the organizer. I said, in a Facebook post:

I am very saddened that so many of my animal rights friends are choosing to go to the Diamonds Not Fur fundraiser tonight. If you have $100 to give to animals, give it to animals, don’t give it to an event that supports the exploitation on human animals and diverts your funds to paying for food and a party planner. The battle for liberation is doomed if activists continue to vote for oppression with their pocket books because they like to have nice things and go to fancy places.

-vegina on Facebook

Another activist, whom I very much adore and respect, felt that my comment was derisive because activists who worked hard for animals decided to go. This comment was sensible—we are in a movement where we would be better to support each other than to critique. However, there are some times when critique is needed, and often for me that is the focus of this blog. There are two separate scenarios of questioning other activists and they need to be defined and discussed. Because, while one way of questioning activists is harmful, the other is necessary.

We need to begin to think of different forms of activism as being different spokes on a wheel. I don’t now where the analogy came from, but it is a good one. Imagine our cause is a wheel that needs to keep rolling forward. Activists are the spokes that support that wheel. If we want our activism to keep moving all the spokes must remain intact. If we imagine the spokes as different tactics, it is clear that we cannot cut down other factions of the movement. That will add weak spots to the wheel and slow progress.

In other words, one need not actively support other tactics, but should not denigrate them. This means that we should not spend our time insulting people who engage in tactics we think are less effective than our own. We should stick to what we think is best and let other activists do what they think is best.

For example, in the ballots v. bullets debate, I don’t work toward ballots and I am sympathetic to bullets, but I personally engage in something else—legal, in-the-streets protest activism. As an individual I am not comfortable with the personal risks of illegal activism, so I don’t engage in it. But I certainly don’t talk badly about the people to do. The reason I don’t work toward ballot and political measures is because I don’t think they actually change much. However, in a movement where we don’t actually know what works, the claim cannot be made that the idea of political changes never helps animals, so I would not disrespect anyone who worked toward that.

When tactics MUST be questioned is when they hurt animals (human and nonhuman). Whatever you support, any “type” of tactic can go awry and when they do it is our duty to question them. For example, one can support arson, but be opposed to an action that was not well-planned and put lives at risk. One can support making political and legal inroads but feel that a ballot measure is so weak that the funds and time it would divert would lead to a negative outcome for animals. It is when a tactic is used in a harmful manner that we must speak out. The thing I was speaking out against in regard to the Diamonds Not Fur event is the fact that as a movement for liberation we CANNOT contribute to the oppression of others. (I have said this before, many, many, many times…)

In general, posh fundraisers aren’t my thing. If I have $100 to spare at the end of the month I make sure it ALL goes to an organization or campaign I care about, I don’t use it to go to an event that will take a huge cut of the money to pay for food. [When I (happily and voluntarily) attend a social fundraiser, I like it to involve the charity getting all the money or food that I was going to eat anyway (*ahem* Veggie Grill or Clara Cakes bake sales).] The Diamonds Not Fur event was particularly ridiculous because the main organizer took a percentage of the proceeds.  But even if I did like the idea of fundraising in this manner, I CANNOT let my energy, time, or money support the oppression of others. No one who cares about liberation should.

The diamond trade is a nasty business. It destroys families, children, and entire nations. Diamonds became popular through an advertising campaign that De Beers stared in the 1940’s, attempting to make diamonds a symbol of love and commitment. The “diamonds are forever” campaign worked and they are now the chosen stone of engagement rings in the Western world.  The value attributed to diamonds, artificially inflated by De Beers’ market manipulations of the stones since the 1800’s, has made them valuable commodities that fund wars and create instability in a number of African nations. The diamonds most commonly associated with violence are popularly called “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds.” Amnesty International summarizes the issue:

Some diamonds have helped fund devastating civil wars in Africa, destroying the lives of millions. Conflict diamonds are those sold in order to fund armed conflict and civil war. Profits from the trade in conflict diamonds, worth billions of dollars, were used by warlords and rebels to buy arms during the devastating wars in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone. Wars that have cost an estimated 3.7 million lives.

-Amnesty International

To “fix” these problems the “Kimberly Process” emerged, intended to verify that diamonds were not from a conflict region. However, once conflict diamonds exit their origin country and enter the open market, they are indistinguishable from other diamonds. The Kimberly Process has openly been acknowledged as flawed. It essentially exists to allow privileged conspicuous consumers in the Western world to feel absolved of any criticism or guilt. Even so, Diamonds Not Fur justified their event by saying the diamond companies sponsoring only carried diamonds that were Kimberly approved.

Many said after the fact, “But we didn’t know!” But the bottom line is, you should have. A number of pro-animal, anti-fur campaigns were direct recipients of the fundraiser and other animal activists made them aware of these issues. Objections were posted on the invite page for the event. None of this made a difference. Diamonds are associated with rich people and, to some, the sin of human oppression was alleviated by the allure of donation money.

People paid a lot of money to go to an event to “help animals,” but did not think about who they were hurting. Though I don’t know the exact amount the organizer received, money went to an individual person, a socialite married to millionaire, who doesn’t need a penny. Only a fraction of the money went to animal groups. And in the process of raising money to combat the vapid practice of wearing fur, the vapid practice of wearing diamonds was promoted. Conspicuous consumption, which results in the death of millions of innocents, was still promoted. Whether you are wearing fur or diamonds, you are drenched in blood.

It was the responsibility of the animal groups who received the money to make that connection. It was the responsibility of their $100 a plate guests to as well. All these people stayed silent, complicit in oppression, so it became my responsibility to say something. Using one’s voice for the innocent, the oppressed, and the silent among us is what liberation is all about. This is not a quibble about which tactic is best. We have a toolbox full of tactics and I support some more than others, but I am generally okay with whatever tool you choose to use, even if I think it’s weak. What I am not okay with is when a tool for liberation is used for oppression. A fundraiser that contributes to instability and war across an entire continent, which has left nearly four million dead, many more poor, humiliated, raped, maimed, and emotionally and physically broken is something that must be opposed, rejected, and called out, no matter who benefits from the event.

The tradeoff of selling out one disadvantaged group to assist another disadvantaged group is reprehensible. The idea that it is a morally acceptable choice to financially support one oppressive industry in order to undercut another oppressive industry is ridiculous. I don’t choose JUST animal liberation, or women’s liberation, or human rights, or ethnic equality, or sexual freedom. Why? Because I cannot value one type of freedom over another. I simply value liberation over oppression. People need to choose sides, not issues. You are either on the side to the oppressor or you are on the side of liberation. I choose liberation.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Julia permalink
    September 7, 2011 1:29 pm

    This alone was reason enough for me to boycott this event: “And in the process of raising money to combat the vapid practice of wearing fur, the vapid practice of wearing diamonds was promoted.”
    The fact that diamonds are bloody makes this whole thing completely outrageous, but I think the tactic of raising money for a charity by promoting the consumption of useless, expensive luxury goods is in and of itself problematic.

  2. Colleen permalink
    September 7, 2011 7:45 pm

    I agree totally. The diamond trade is a nasty business. Unfortunately, in Southern CA many fundraisers are based on status and looks. There was a a fundraiser last year called Barks and Botox. The idea was to collect money for homeless animals and you’d get a shot of Botox to smooth your face. Unfortunately EVERY BATCH of Botox is tested on animals but, that didn’t seem to phase the women putting on the fundraiser.

    • September 8, 2011 11:12 am

      You are so right, Colleen, this has become common-place in Southern California. It really needs to be rejected. There was also “D cups not Teacups” two years ago that was anti-breeding and promoted either breast augmentation or the sexualization of women. I cold never get a straight answer from anyone and I didn’t go to the event to find out.

      I say next stupid event lets do a side-by-side fundraiser for an animal group that actually supports TOTAL liberation.

  3. Nathanael permalink
    September 7, 2011 8:02 pm

    Not only is the diamond trade exploitative, but this event also blatantly supports capitalist values and wanton consumerism. If people in the AR community can’t understand why you spoke against such a ridiculous event, they need to rethink why they are even in that community, and how animal exploitation is intrinsically linked with other forms of exploitation, and on a system that values profit over life and the health of the ecosystem.

    “I have recognized one form of oppression, now I recognize the rest”

  4. bcc permalink
    September 8, 2011 10:12 am

    The mining of diamonds exploits the Earth and People. I choose not to be a part of an event that devastates landscapes and creates a slave population. I would hope that people who attended the event were informed of the diamond industry. I thought the event was in name only and nobody actually wore diamonds.

    • September 8, 2011 11:09 am

      The event was not about wearing diamonds, it was sponsored by diamond companies and was promoting those companies. Even if it was an event just in name it is still a problem. Selling the idea of replacing one murderous commodity with another is just ridiculous.

      • September 12, 2011 5:32 pm

        Diamonds imply a transforming something into something else. In other words, I did not believe they were being literal, but since a diamond company benefitted from this it makes no sense. Diamonds are something strong the earth creates – this is why I said it was “in name only”. What company benefitted from this?

      • September 13, 2011 1:02 am

        This was a main sponsor:
        But again, *even* if it was, as you say, “in name only,” that does NOT alleviate the problem. Promoting one type of abuse over another is NOT OK. To pu tit in really simple terms, if an event was called, “Fur, not ivory” You would not say, “But no fur companies made money off of the event, so it it totally okay that all my friends donated money so they could dress up and socialize and try to hob nob with a person who actively funds and encourages zoos.” No, you would say, “how fucked up that one type of murder is encouraged over another type of murder.”

  5. September 9, 2011 4:18 am

    Thanks Miss Vegina, for speaking out. Exploitation, whether of living beings or of the earth herself, must be opposed.

  6. September 13, 2011 4:11 pm

    I agree. Thank you for so thoroughly explaining the benefits of critiquing tactics as well as the important ethical problems with diamonds. I would also add that the Diamonds Not Fur event perpetuates degradation of female human beings since diamonds are generally used to demonstrate status on women. So, generally, diamonds reinforce the idea of women as decorative objects. Women’s dress became increasingly important a few hundred years ago as communities became less connected and population expanded. In general, people began encountering other individuals they didn’t know on a more regular basis. Prior to this, you would have likely spent the majority of your time with people you were familiar with. You would have known everyone’s social status. A focus on appearance developed as a way to figure a person out since people encountered more and more strangers. Since women represent the home and women were the property of men until recently in history, a woman’s appearance was a reflection of the man’s status.

    The desire to be able to ‘size a person up’ based on their appearance and belongings has now reached a crescendo. I’m not claiming that I am above the game of ‘trying to looking good’. Nor do I reject a ‘feminine’ way of dressing. In fact, I have a pair of supposedly ethical diamonds. Personally, I wouldn’t create an event encouraging people to wear more diamonds. It further perpetuates the focus on women’s role as a sex object. Of course, some women will claim that they bought their own diamonds so they think it shows their empowerment. I agree, it’s great that many of can afford things like that and that we’re no longer the property of men. However, my guess is that the money spent on the diamonds could be better spent on a donation to an animal rights group or some kind of positive experience instead of a material object. (Studies show people who spend money on experiences instead of things are happier.) Personally, I haven’t figured out where I draw the line in my personal life. I suppose we each must find our own balance.

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