Animal rights is interesting. The victims of this particular system of oppression are the only ones who cannot articulate their oppression in human words. That makes then unique targets for ally theater.
Ever wonder why so many white people are hostile to black activists? Or why so many men are hostile to women? When victims are able to articulate how we demand justice for ourselves, a very strange thing happens. People get upset…TERRIBLY upset. Folks don’t really want to *hear* our voices. Not if they don’t get to appropriate our struggles or our victories. Not if they can’t get to control our narratives.
Animals? Not so much. And as a result, savior complexes ABOUND. If animals were able to speak, how many people do you think would still fight for them?
…and how many do you think would throw down their protests signs, and start noticing how uppity the chickens have gotten?
– Christopher Sebastian
This is an insightful piece by Christopher Sebastian. And it explains why there is so much backlash and re-centering of whiteness in the vegan movement when people of color speak up about the oppression they face in the world and in the vegan movement. My recent experience with VegFest UK is a case in point.
About two months ago, Tim Barford invited me to speak at three Vegfest UK events in 2016. Barford, who was originally hostile to “abolitionist (vegan)” theory, has “woken up” to the many problems with equivocal animal advocacy and begun to “abolitionize” the Vegfest UK events. I specialize in talks on “abolitionist vegan” advocacy, why single issue campaigns are counterproductive, and pro-intersectional vegan advocacy. Barford was “especially” interested in my talk on pro-intersectionality where I speak about why it is necessary that vegans take a pro-intersectional approach in their vegan advocacy, how to do that, and how racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression manifest in the vegan movement.
I advised Barford to not believe the bad stuff about TAVS or me that some abolitionists will probably approach him with. Some abolitionists have been known to abuse their power and prevent people from speaking at events due to personal vendettas. (To learn how I was removed as a speaker from the World Vegan Summit, click here.) Barford assured me that everyone gets a voice as long as it’s consistently vegan. Great.
Four days ago, Barford emailed me and said that something has “come up.” He asked about me and Gary L. Francione, as he did not know that TAVS and Francione are formally unaffiliated. (Should one have to be affiliated with Francione in order to have a voice in this social justice movement?) (To learn about when TAVS and Francione became formally unaffiliated, click here.) I replied:
I used to volunteer extensively for Francione and helped grow his FB page from 5k to 35k. I had a personal falling out with Francione back in January 2014. It wasn’t over the six principles, just over a post on his FB page about vegan “fake” meat. He tells people he told me not to post recipes with vegan “fake” meat, but that is not true. Anyways, we stopped working together, and I continued my abolitionist vegan work with TAVS. He started telling people TAVS isn’t abolitionist…which is not true. He tries to get people to unfriend me, stop promoting TAVS, remove me from events, etc. Most people give in to his personal vendetta against me, but some people don’t because it’s not right to do so. I speak up about the racism and sexism in the vegan movement (well beyond the Racism 101 and Sexism 101 he speaks up about), and he and other abolitionist vegans don’t like that. Just as it is not enough for nonvegans to simply say they are “against animal cruelty,” they must act accordingly by being vegan, it is not enough for vegans to simply say they are “against racism,” they must act accordingly by being pro-intersectional and supporting abolitionists who are members of oppressed groups, not just white men. This is an important choice point for VegFestUK, as to whether you will allow people to be marginalized because of one man’s personal vendetta or let their work speak for itself. 🙂 If you have any questions, please feel free to let me know.
Barford replied and asked if I “have ever said that Gary is either racist or sexist, or has made racist or sexist comments?” and told me my “comment at the end is a bit hasty and a bit loaded.”
I replied to Barford’s inappropriate question to the best of my recollection, “No, I have not said that. Although many have repeated the rumor I have said that. Having already been removed from events (presumably because of his influence), it doesn’t feel hasty or loaded to me. I was removed from the World Vegan Summit…”
When I educate about the racism in the vegan movement, I constantly emphasize that systemic racism is the root issue, not just overt cases of racism or individual racists and that those in the oppressing class love to point to overt cases and villify individual racists, just like nonvegans love to point to overt cases of speciesism/animal cruelty and villify individual speciesists/nonvegans. It’s so easy to point the finger at those racists, those speciesists instead of looking at our own behavior and being part of the solution by becoming an anti-racist ally or a vegan.
The next day, Barford replied with an article, ‘It is Anything But’: Sarah K. Woodcock Comments on Equality in Abolitionist Spaces, that was published by Corey Lee Wrenn, a lecturer of Gender Studies at a 4-year institution who has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals on diversity problems in the animal rights movement and who was awarded 2016 Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan. In that article, I stated my position that, “The abolitionist movement is racist and hostile to people of color.” Of course it is; as I said in that same article, “Because society is systemically racist, the abolitionist movement replicates that system of inequality.” Later in this email, Barford asked me to make a statement “to say that [I am] 100% clear that you have never suggested that Gary is either sexist or racist, and that the statement you have made here is not referring to UK abolitionists?”
After picking my jaw up off the ground, I replied, “Tim, is making that statement a requirement for speaking at VegfestUK?”
Barford replied but would not give me a straight answer.
I replied, “I don’t think you understand how inappropriate and wrong it is to ask a woman of color who was, ironically, going to speak about racism and sexism at your events to modify her message about racism and sexism. I understand you are new to the abolitionist vegan movement and its *claim* to be against racism and sexism, but as I keep saying, being an ally to and creating a safer movement for marginalized groups doesn’t start with requesting to modify their message. Can I please get a straight answer to my question: is making that statement a requirement for speaking at VegfestUK?”
Barford replied, “ok no worries Sarah, will leave it there thanks for your attention and best of luck with your work Tim”.
I replied, “What does that mean with regards to speaking?” but never got a reply.
I replied again, a day later, but never got a reply.
I messaged Barford on Facebook but never got a reply.
I messaged Barford on Facebook again, a day later, but never got a reply. I also noticed that he had unfriended me.
I have, apparently, been removed as a speaker from three VegfestUK events because I would not agree to allowing a white man to modify my anti-racism message. I would not agree to make a statement exempting a specific white man from my position on systemic racism.
In my last Facebook message to Barford, I asked if he could believe it was just a few days ago when he accused me of making a “hasty” and “loaded” statement when I said, “This is an important choice point for VegFestUK, as to whether you will allow people to be marginalized because of one man’s personal vendetta or let their work speak for itself.”?
I told Barford there is a *huge* difference between abolitionizing the movement and Frabolitionizing the movement. I learned that firsthand, as have countless others. The former is based on justice for nonhumans and building a vibrant abolitionist vegan movement; the latter is based on humans and their egos and building an abusive vegan cult. It’s truly sad to see you’ve chosen the latter.
It seems like what may have happened is that Barford didn’t even have the courage to tell me I had been removed as a speaker from the VegfestUKs because I refused to minimize my statement about racism to take care of a certain white man’s feelings. Well, I can’t say this is the first time this has happened (Removed as a Speaker from the World Vegan Summit), but at least Bob Linden had the courage to tell me.
Earlier in this statement, I stated that Barford has begun to “abolitionize” the Vegfest UK events. I take that back. Barford has begun to “Frabolitionize” the VegfestUK events.
My purpose, with this statement, is to communicate the facts because I feel advocates have a right to know what happened and why I will not be speaking at the VegfestUKs. As I stated over one year ago when I was removed as a speaker from the World Vegan Summit, I think this situation should serve as a dire warning for the “abolitionist vegan” movement. It should go without saying that it is problematic for women of color to be blocked from speaking about pro-intersectionality. As Wrenn has stated, “White men are not the arbiters of nor should they be the gatekeepers for what is legitimate anti-racism / anti-sexism advocacy.” I do not find this situation acceptable, professional, or most importantly, best for the advocates or nonhuman animals.
I understand that many advocates are, understandably, very upset by this situation and will be demanding a refund if they have already registered or not be attending if they have not already registered. One advocate suggested a letter “write in” where those who know this situation is wrong can write a short letter expressing their thoughts to VegfestUK. Their contact information can be found online. If advocates wish to send a copy of their letters in support, I will post some of them below.
Sarah K. Woodcock (Uppity Chicken)
Founder and Executive Director
The Abolitionist Vegan Society
December 20, 2015
The following advocates state their disagreement with my removal (as of December 28, 2015) (alphabetical order by last name):
Boo Anderson, Alberta, Canada
Rhonda Anderson, Alberta, Canada
Michelle Astor, Arkansas, United States
Julie Barone, North Carolina, United States
Daniel Bermel, California, United States
Jacinda Beth, California, United States
Jonathan Carnall, Manchester, United Kingdom
Sonia Chauhan, California, United States
Shoshanah Cohen, Manchester, United Kingdom
Thomas Crotzer, Texas, United States
Jeanette De Brincat
Guled Dehay, London, United Kingdom
Duncan Dixon, Christchurch, New Zealand
Nikki Eldred, California, United States
Sara Spock Fenimore. “I also will not support any organization who willingly chooses to associate with this particular man, or any similarly-minded folks who choose to actively suppress the voices of PoC, particularly women of color. It would be safer to immediately assume that their “intersectional” intentions are disingenuous at *best.*”
Sarah Foley, California, United States
Micha Gidde, NRW / Germany
John B Griffith, Arkansas, United States and New Zealand
Jill Harrington, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “Removing Sarah as a speaker at VegFest UK event is a lost opportunity to hear a fresh new voice; one that speaks to pro-intersectionality and inclusiveness within the abolitionist vegan movement. One would think that voice would be welcome and amplified in a subject area that currently caters only to one white, privileged, bullying, disrespectful male (whom I suspect is very likely still on the roster, despite his legendary “rudeness”). No matter the rationale behind this decision, rather than setting out a welcome mat to invite more perspective at the festival, the door was firmly closed. Disappointing, at best.”
Lucas Hayes, California, United States
Robin Helfritch, New York City, New York, United States
Alexandra Hinrichsen, Hamburg, Germany
Annie Hudson, New York City, New York, United States
Kristen M Johnson, Kamloops, British Columbia
Ellen Kessler, Colorado, United States
Vivienne Livingstone, Calgary, Alberta
Amy Love, California, United States
Dr. C. Michele Martindill, New Mexico, United States
Anthony Martineez, Vauxhall, New Jersey, United States
Vaida Moore, Virginia, United States and Lithuania
John Neavear, Virginia, United States
Mina Pham, California, United States
Alejandro Procopio, California, United States
Marisol Figueroa Reitze, Canton of Solothurn, Switzerland
Dallas Rising, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Marla Rose, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Brenda Sanders, Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Steven Saranga, Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Laura Schleifer, Connecticut, United States
Brett Verlyn Scriver, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Michaela T, Stockholm, Sweden
John Tallent, North Carolina, United States
Cristina Tangreti, California, United States
Sandy Warf, California, United States
Cin Webb, Sydney, Australia
Marv Wheale, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Professor Corey Lee Wrenn, New Jersey, United States, author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory and 2016 Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan. “My historical research on animal rights mobilization has shown that people with privilege have regularly gone out of their way to marginalize voices they deem to be a threat to the establishment. It didn’t help animals then, and it won’t help them now.”
Sunya Wright, Vancouver Island, Canada