I have three announcements about TAVS to share with you. I share the first announcement with seriousness and the second and third announcements with excitement and joy, as they have been a long time coming.
The First Announcement – The Term “Abolitionist”
The first time I ever heard the term “abolitionist vegan” I cringed. As a black person living in the US right now, it’s pretty much a given that anything that has ever had any cultural significance or could be empowering or uplifting to black people can (and probably will) be appropriated and repurposed by someone else at any time. It wasn’t enough that every Quaker I’ve ever met in my life has, at some point, found a way to open up a conversation about the Quakers’ role in helping enslaved Africans to freedom—after all, it’s their history too, so I guess they have the right to talk about it every single time they encounter a black person—but now there was this group of vegans who were walking around calling themselves “abolitionists.” Delightful.
The concerns I had about how alienating the term “abolitionist vegan” was—especially to descendants of enslaved Africans—were dismissed. I eventually gave up on my attempts to explain how borrowing the term abolitionist from the abolitionist movement that arose during African enslavement could be seen as appropriative, especially since there seemed to be no attempt within the abolitionist vegan movement to acknowledge the purpose of the original movement by standing in solidarity with the struggles that black people are currently having with oppression in the US and around the globe.
– Brenda Sanders, Vegan Activist, Food Justice Advocate
The first announcement is serious in nature.
Since I founded The Abolitionist Vegan Society in April 2013, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the use of the term “abolitionist” by the “abolitionist” vegan movement. I remain completely committed to “abolitionist” principles and advocacy, but in my experience and observation, the “abolitionist” vegan movement struggles fiercely and indignantly with racism, white-centricity, and appropriation. The appropriation of the term “abolitionist” and callous slavery analogies perpetuate these issues.
If a Black vegan wants to extend their inter-generational plight to nonhuman animals by identifying as an abolitionist vegan, that is their right. But when non-Black vegans identify as “abolitionist,” it can be appropriative especially when they deny and dismiss Black people’s current efforts for liberation (e.g. the Black Lives Matter movement) and struggles (e.g. mass incarceration, police brutality, food deserts, etc.).
The “abolitionist” vegan movement not only fails to support the Black Lives Matter movement, it appears to be repelled by it. This was made evident by the loss of TAVS supporters (especially in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada) and even a TAVS volunteer when TAVS expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement during the “Ferguson unrest” and Black Lives Matter protests in 2014. I still, to this day, have no idea what those former supporters thought we meant when we said we are against racism. I don’t think they knew what being against racism meant at all—with actions—beyond words.
When vegans of color, like myself, have attempted to speak up about the racism in the “abolitionist” vegan movement, they have been dismissed and silenced. I have been removed from speaking about racism from four events (See one event here and three events here.) with the enthusiastic support of “abolitionist” vegan leader Gary L. Francione, his moderators, and his followers. In addition to having been removed from speaking, I have been bullied, harassed publicly and privately, and had my (and TAVS’) positions blatantly misrepresented. Gary L. Francione even went as far as to use a photo of me without my consent in a public post, again, with the support of his moderators and his followers.
I have come to the conclusion that, as Corey Lee Wrenn recently stated, “[T]he abolitionist faction has entrenched and systemic issues with racism and sexism, issues that it seems to have no interest in addressing.”
With all of that said, I feel the just and respectful thing to do as a non-Black vegan is to stop appropriating the term “abolitionist” to describe myself and my advocacy and to apologize for doing so for more than three years. I apologize. I can and will come up with ways to promote the end of animal use without appropriation and without perpetuating the idea that the enslavement of Black people has been completely abolished. There are ways to promote animal rights without diminishing human rights, and the success of the vegan movement depends on our ability to do this. This announcement should be considered TAVS’ official dissociation with the “abolitionist” vegan movement.
The Second Announcement – Changing TAVS’ Name
The second announcement follows from the first announcement. We are changing TAVS’ name from The Abolitionist Vegan Society to The Advocacy of Veganism Society. We love this new name because:
- We are no longer appropriating the term “abolitionist.”
- It gives prominence to the term “advocacy” which is what we encourage vegans to do to the best of their abilities. We provide unequivocal vegan resources for vegans to do vegan advocacy (by donation to cover printing and shipping costs or free of charge to vegans who cannot afford them).
- It gives prominence to the term “veganism” and emphasizes the ethical position of veganism instead of to the term “vegan” which has become increasingly associated with and reduced to a diet.
- The acronym, TAVS, remains the same.
TAVS’ website address will change from www.abolitionistvegansociety.org to www.tavs.org (shorter and easier to remember!). We will keep the old website up indefinitely but encourage you to use the new website as soon as it launches (by February 29, 2016).
It will take some time to implement our name change, but please start referring to TAVS’ new name “The Advocacy of Veganism Society” from now on.
The Third Announcement – Brand New and Comprehensive Website about Veganism
The third announcement is that on January 1, 2016, we are launching a brand new and comprehensive website about veganism at www.WhyVeganism.com! The purpose of the website will be to educate nonvegans about veganism and how to go vegan. It will present veganism as the ethical position that it is and educate about how to go vegan by providing specific and in-depth information on going vegan and living vegan. The website will be continually updated with vegan recipes and vegan replacements for food, clothing, personal care products, and home products. It will have a frequently asked questions (FAQs) section and much more to help nonvegans go vegan. We will also be offering free veganism starter kits (with lots of information on veganism and coupons) during 2016 (and possibly beyond) when our vegan ad campaigns are running at www.WhyVeganism.com.
In short, the www.WhyVeganism.com website will be focused on nonvegans. The www.tavs.org website will be focused on vegans and vegan advocacy.
For more information about our vegan ad campaigns, click here.
In closing, first, I would like to reiterate that I remain completely committed to “abolitionist” principles and advocacy. The TAVS Tenets and our work reflect that commitment. With regards to the “abolitionist” vegan movement, instead of spending our time and energy deconstructing or reforming what we don’t believe in, let’s spend it constructing what we do believe in.
Second, I am incredibly excited and deeply hopeful about what the future holds for the vegan movement with regards to the new community that is forming. It supports veganism as the moral minimum and vegan advocacy and understands the importance of “[situating] our vegan message within an intersectional framework of social justice” (Wrenn). I am already feeling it is a community of respect and accountability on the foundation of veganism as the moral minimum. Beautiful.
With love for the precious nonhuman animals who are being used, tortured, and killed…
With love and gratitude for my dear vegan friends who are accompanying me on this journey…
Sarah K. Woodcock
Founder and Executive Director (volunteer)
The Advocacy of Veganism Society
December 30, 2015
To register with The Advocacy of Veganism Society to receive our e-newsletters, click here.