I received a post from a fellow activist recently that this was going to be her last action with us and this really bothered me in the sense that she obviously expressed burn out but also despair in her comments.
In essence, she was saying that this was her last action because “I am tired of people who don’t care and don’t listen to us”. We’ve all been through that. And it’s important to recognize how this burn out affects all of us.
We are surrounded by a lot of dark forces in the world right now. Whether we talk about “religious” extremism, state sponsored terror, corporatism, government spying, social inequalities and of course the plight and horror of what our animal friends go through, there is a lot to despair about. Is it any wonder that so many justice activists (in any social movements) just drop out? As vegans, we also face ridicule, incomprehension, social pressure and so on. There is nothing easy about fighting for any just causes and pushing social progress in the mentality of the masses.
In fact, the pressure is even getting worse as we see a rise in extremist terror, corporate and government overreach and manipulation. For instance, we saw the terror attacks in Paris and Boko Haram which were both horrific and linked to fanaticism. We see the spying of our governments on our privacy and their use of police brutality (whether we talk about innocent African Americans in the US, Environmental activists being killed in France or in South America or whether I get tear gassed by the police for standing up against bullfighters). We see also a war on women with damning statistics showing that “globally 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence” (UN Statistics), forced into marriage as children or go through sexual mutilations.
All of this, as Dr. Will Tuttle would say, has its roots in our routine violence towards other animals and the constant suppression of feminine values of caring, compassion, nurturing of the Earth, the animals and each other. Extremism stems from a challenge to patriarchal rules wrapped in “religious” bigotry. Government spying results from a challenge from justice activists of all sides to question the status quo. And corporate domination result from people wanting governments actually representing them, paying them decent wages and corporations being greedy, pillaging entities who only care about the bottom line and the hell with our future on this planet.
The fact that it is getting worse is to me a good sign that big changes are under way in the background. This may sound like crazy thinking but read on.
Let’s get back to social justice for animals. Why are corporations so determined on buying up politicians to enact laws to prevent filming in factory farms? Because we are a threat to their bottom line. I don’t believe laws can be changed unless they come from grassroots efforts to put pressure on the puppets who want to control us. But when powerful elites feel threatened, just like kings, they will try to turn us more and more into serfs until, like in the French or American Revolution, we have finally enough and more and more of us rise up against them.
For the past few months, I have been doing Vegan education on the streets of Montpellier (France) and before that in Los Angeles, California. What I find fascinating in France is this thirst to learn more and this bigger openness to animal rights and veganism which is completely contrary to what I had expected since I considered Los Angeles as a “headquarter” of Veganism and Animal Rights thanks to the large number of activists and Vegan restaurants (compared to here). But the truth is that French people are generally less brainwashed and better educated (sorry Americans, it’s not to put you down as the good people that you are) and therefore more critical of their government and what they are told in general. The difference is really striking. The reason we have so little Vegan education in France is that Vegans and Vegetarians are extremely marginalized and that no government agencies recognizes plant-based eating as a healthy diet (America has the American Dietetic Association’s position on plant-based diets). And we also have (sic) our sacro-saint French cuisine recognized as “world heritage” which re-affirms the beliefs of people that a plant-based diet is not healthy.
Just this Saturday (Jan 31st), I held my first AVF (French Vegetarian Association) stand, which despite its name, strongly promotes Veganism and Veganic agriculture. I became a delegate for my region a few months ago because it is one of the few non-profits who directly promotes Vegan nutritional information to the public. I met so many people who thanked me for doing this, telling me that they were either vegetarian, already vegan, or trying to get there but didn’t know how (as there is not much education done in this country, except through the AVF and a few debates on TV) that I gave more business cards in one day than in months in the US. Of course, I also met the usual deniers but at least most of them took the time to try to understand and see our side of the story.
Now, let’s come back to the issue of women. Is it any surprising that there is an all time high of violence against women and suppression of their freedom around the world? No, it’s not. And it’s obviously because women are starting to come into their own power. We just have to look at the incredible example set by the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai who, even though she was almost silenced by patriarchal religious extremists, never gave up and keeps fighting for the right of girls to have education. What a powerful example! The violence against women and also the rise against their reproductive rights is similar to the way females are being exploited in animal husbandry. We are dealing with a 10,000 year old patriarchal mindset, also set in the religious institutions (if you really look at them, they are patriarchal) in which women, like other animals, are still seen as inferior by a lot of the world’s society.
The same way Vegan/Animal Rights activists are being repressed, women in general still can’t in many way achieve gender equality because of the rampant sexism, violence against them, work inequalities, religious bigotry, and so on… But the fact that both social justice movements scare the hell out of the ones who seek to control us, this violence on both sides is increasing.
I am reminded of these words from Ghandi: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Because we are getting stronger and there are more of us each day, these evil forces who seek to silence us and oppress us and other animals will eventually collapse like the castle of cards that they are. They are not build out of bricks, just out of sand because they don’t stem from truth and that is not sustainable. I believe more and more people are becoming aware of the inner truth of our world and are rejecting the status quo. The reaction to the attack on cartoonists in Paris and seeing an historical 4 million people on the streets (including myself) was a powerful statement that you can’t silence an idea when its time has come (whether you agree with Charlie’s work or not).
Let’s not forget what history teaches us. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was declared enemy #1 and called the “most dangerous negro in the US” by the FBI. Cesar Chavez (himself a vegan) connected the dots between oppression of humans and other animals and was also threatened multiple times. Environmental activists, like our Rémi Fraisse here in France, are murdered by the police for defending the land and biodiversity while Peruvian environmentalists are being murdered for defending their ancestral lands. Vegans are put in jail as well as other animal liberators and human rights activists. Yes, it is a tough world when you are on the side of justice.
But in the end, justice always prevail. The civil rights act was passed, women got the right to vote (at least in western countries), young women and other women are starting to rise up in Arabic countries where they are horribly oppressed, men are getting more and more in touch with their inner sensibility, and let’s not forget: more and more people are connecting the dots and going vegan.
So this is what I responded to my friend quoted above:
“I understand where you’re coming from. But we can never be sure of the impact we can have on other people. I have been an activist for almost 10 years (in the USA and now in France) and there is progress. The problem is that it is difficult to quantify our impact on others statistically but we do have one! I give you several examples:
– In the USA, almost all the non-vegans who came to me directly (and not solely through the internet) have become vegans and are now activists for other animals themselves.
– In France, recently, at an anti foix-gras event, a young woman came to me to ask help for going vegan because she wasn’t sure how to go about it and was disgusted by the violence towards animals.
The problem is not that we don’t make any difference, we do! It is that we are still a minority. If we persevere (and I saw big changes in the USA in only a few years), we bring over more and more people to our cause who themselves influence others around them. It’s that simple.
If the suffragettes had given up because they were being ridiculed and were a minority, women would probably not have had the right to vote until much later. If blacks in the US had not persevered, racism would still be a legal institution. It doesn’t mean obviously that there is no longer any racism or sexism but that there are laws against some forms of discrimination.
The animal struggle (even though Greek philosophers already had positions in favor of animals and vegetarianism) is still in its infancy. The end of racial segregation in the USA took over 200 years (although there is now economic segregation, if not legal). We are not the ones who will see the changes, we are the pioneers. Our job is to plant the seeds which will grow principally in the future.”
The way to combat burn out is simple: stop for a while. It doesn’t mean giving up completely. But we are not machines, we have responsibilities, pressure, we feel down whenever we see cruelty and as vegans, we are especially sensitive to the pain of others. That’s what sets us apart from the blinded masses. We also face family pressure, social pressure. There is a time when it’s best to take a break and renew ourselves. What good is a burn out activist when it comes to educating people? It’s a waste of time. I would rather have people with me who are energized, passionate (passion mellowed with a little bit of wisdom) and committed to the goal of animal liberation than people who are too down and incapable of talking to people. We are still sensitive beings too.
It’s important to balance all the cruelty we see by seeing the other side. Animal photographer Jo-Anne McArthur is an example of someone who constantly takes horrific pictures of animal cruelty (and suffers from PTSD because of it) but renews herself by going to Farm Sanctuary on a regular basis to take pictures of happy animals, free of exploitation. We have to strike a balance in order to have the strength to keep going. Animal sanctuaries are a fantastic way of reminding ourselves why we do what we do and seeing happy animals is totally uplifting. But not everyone has a sanctuary close by to go to. I like watching uplifting videos also reminding me why I am into this, like this one from FUDA (A French Animal Rights group – United Forces for Animal Rights) called FUDA Together (subtitled in English) or this wonderful one from Evolve! Campaigns called Why Vegan? Go back in nature for a while, do a retreat. The important thing is to come back stronger than ever, and a better advocate than ever.
But giving up completely is not an option because I know that we are slowly winning. And by the way, my friend is back in action.
– The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle
– The story of Malala Yousafzai
– UN Report on Violence against Women
– Article about 7 ridiculous restrictions against women around the world.
– Article from Arab News about the e-book Arab Women Rising.
– Facts and Figures from the UN about violence against women.
– Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring forgotten speech “Beyond Vietnam” on the military industrial complex, corporate and government power, war and why we need to keep on struggling for justice in a non-violent way on Breaking The Set.
Photo: I am holding Chloe the Hen at the Gentle Barn Sanctuary in California (2013).
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