The following is a transcript of the full presentation featuring Julia Feliz Brueck and Carol J. Adams as they discussed the
Vegan Bill of Consistent Anti-Oppression at London VegFest 2018:
VegFest UK, London. On this lovely sunny, but cold, day and weekend. I’m Karen Ridgers, I’m a proud member of the VegFest UK team and I have the honour and delight of spreading the vegan message to the media, working with celebrities, and really getting the influencers to know more about being vegan, because I don’t know about you guys but I think nothing in the world beats being vegan. Does anyone else feel, maybe, the same? [Applause]
Has anyone been to VegFest before? Yay! Welcome back! That’s fantastic! Anyone new to VegFest? Oh, my gosh! [Unintelligible 0:45] half and half! Well, an absolute welcome, I hope you have a fantastic day and a fantastic weekend. The speakers we have for you are world-class, we are so blessed to have the most brilliant speakers, and so much this weekend. So I think no matter what path you’re on, if you’re on your vegan journey, or were already vegan….. If you were already vegan I think you will be super inspired, and if you’re not you are gonna be really inspired to take the best most important decision you can possibly take in your life.
My gorgeous ladies next to me are buzzing it’s like meeting absolute superstars, yes they are. I’m gonna hand you over but first of all I’d like to just give them a huge round of applause and a lovely VegFest welcome. We have obviously Carol J Adams, wonderful, inspirational lady. And also equally as fantastic Julia Feliz Brueck – hopefully I’ve pronounced that beautiful name correctly. And they’re gonna be talking with us for the next half an hour. Let’s give them a massive, massive welcome. [Applause]
[Julia Feliz Brueck]
Hi Everyone. Can you hear me okay? Yes.
So, it’s an honour to be here alongside Carol J Adams as we introduce to you The Vegan Bill of Consistent Anti-Oppression. Thank you to Tim Barker and London VegFest for this opportunity. Before we get to the “what”, I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself, which is really the “why” part of the Bill. My name is Julia Feliz Brueck, I’m the founder of Sanctuary Publishers and VeganismOfColor.com. I approached Carol Adams about a collaboration on the bill after coming across her articles about the organisation DxE, because I saw DxE as a part of a systemic problem that has taken root across the globe within the mainstream vegan movement. I have many intersecting identities and oppressions, which means I navigate quite a few vegan and non-vegan spaces outside the mainstream. These experiences show me how and why the movement is failing to reach those outside of it, and how it actually alienates marginalised vegans within the movement. What are these points of view, who am I, and what do these multiple oppressions mean with regards to veganism? Let me explain.
I have Inattentive Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Yes, it’s a real thing, and no, my being vegan for over a decade didn’t just make it disappear. It’s not a food allergy. My brain is simply wired different to someone without ADHD. I was born this way. My brain never stops thinking and chattering which very simply stated means that I usually can’t just focus on one single thing at a time. This means that I find it easier to read this to you in order to anchor my brain to the present moment and make sure my message to you is expressed the way that I actually need it to. And this is why I’ve chosen to read this to you, rather than memorise it and struggle. Assimilating and forcing myself to act and do things the way society expects would be to continue to uphold neurotypical ableism. Ableism is a supremacist hierarchy where people with ‘typical’ brains are considered ‘right’ and ‘better’, and people with divergent brains, like mine, and my needs, are seen as wrong, unacceptable, or unimportant.
However, neurodivergent people, such as autistic people and ADHD people, simply have a brain that works differently and experience the world in other ways.
I’m also queer, and I’m gender-vague. More visibly I’m a Person of Colour. As a Person of Colour, I am automatically perceived through biases just for the colour of my skin. I must navigate around people that often not aware that they act on those biases. Why? Because these implicit biases against Black and Brown people are taught in society as normal. Where a certain type of individual is the more acceptable way to be. These implicit negative stereotypes follow those deemed ‘less than’. You can think of it this way: in our world the accepted way to be is human. Human is the ‘normal’ standard that is applied across the world. This is a human supremacy hierarchy that places different species on different levels. We all know this in basic terms as speciesism, where humans are at the top and non-humans are seen as ‘less than’. For centuries this is also what has been done to marginalised humans, through a hierarchy based on skin colours, for example, in which anti-blackness is reinforced and applied throughout the world. To be Black and Brown is to be seen as ‘less than’, because that is what is taught in our society subconsciously. These issues have not been solved and are still very much present in society today, right now. And the thing is that this type of hierarchy follows Vegans of Colour like myself even in vegan spaces. We can’t just leave our skin colour at the door. And unless you’re aware of how we experience our lives, the sum of dozens of daily insults and intrusive questions called micro-aggressions, the overt racism, the xenophobia, and stereotypes, you might unintentionally add to it.
This happens when we’re told to give up our safety and march side by side with racists and xenophobes for the animals. Or when we are expected to show up to protests with police presence at an event even though People of Colour are targeted by police for just being Brown and Black. Or, when we’re told that human oppression is not as important as non-human animal oppression. Or when well-known leaders in the movement preach for the tolerance of bigots, or bigotry, for the animals.
Personally, I don’t think I should be expected to be part of events where vegans in attendance think ADHD does not exist, is made up by big pharma, or think that neurodivergence makes me ‘less than’. I’m certainly not going to find the accommodations that I need in these events. Autistic vegans and vegans with other disabilities probably won’t either. Again, this is called ableism, another form of supremacy. I also don’t think I should be expected to engage with those who think that tolerance for racists is the way to go as long as they’re vegan. I’m certainly not going to feel safe that upholds the hierarchy where my safety and life hold less value, in order to create new, racist, vegans.
Myself, and my Black vegan friends, will certainly not feel safe at a vegan protest or march where those in attendance are unaware of the reason Black Lives Matter exists. Why? Because responding with “all lives matter” ignores Black people’s attempt to fight systemic racist oppression that is clearly killing Black people. We need to understand that the human supremacy of speciesism, that keeps non-human animals oppressed, is completely cross-linked with the racism that keeps Black and Brown people oppressed.
As a queer person, I don’t think I should be expected to interact with people that think who who I choose to love, which does not affect them in the slightest, is punishable and open to discrimination.
As a gender-vague person, I do not experience the gender binary. I don’t think I should be forced to tolerate people that think I, along with other non-binary people, and trans people, are confused at 35 years of age because I don’t identify as the gender that a patriarchal society has forced on me. I don’t think I should be expected to walk side by side with people who dehumanise trans people. It is people, and not body parts, who choose to embrace toxic, patriarchal views, who are most likely to be violent to women and to children, as well as trans and non-binary people, men, and even non-human animals.
Patriarchy, the term for male supremacy, encourages the fear of difference that leads to the murder of Black trans women at disproportionate rates, and currently fuels the rise in hate crimes in the UK against trans people, when trans people are simply attempting to live as their authentic selves in peace and safety.
Asking or expecting me and other marginalised people to give up our safety and saying that our struggles are not valid is not for the animals. It harms us, and it harms non-human animals. Yet this is where the mainstream vegan movement currently stands. It screams loudly to anyone that approaches it: “we do not recognise your struggles or needs”. Plainly stated: the vegan movement currently caters to, and is primarily safe only for, a privileged few humans, as it ignores that we all experience veganism differently because we all have different needs, experiences, cultural histories, influences, and struggles within a supremacist human hierarchy.
Ask yourself this: do you, as a white vegan, white-passing person, or privileged marginalised person, claim that the struggles of other marginalised humans do not matter as much as non-human struggles? Do you believe that human struggles are not all valid or important in the quest for justice and liberation for non-humans? If so, then you are upholding a veganism that thrives on supremacy and is fuelled by established tools of oppression.
The spread of single-issue veganism places animals first in a way that only partly flips the hierarchy between human and non-human oppression, where the most privileged humans are still at the top, now followed by non-humans, who are not even seen as their own distinct communities, but as one lump sum of animals to be ‘saved’ by them. Then, we find marginalised humans at the very bottom as their struggles are seen as ‘less than’, and not really ‘real’ or worth addressing. In essence, single issue mainstream veganism has not actually disrupted speciesism, and actually thrives on human supremacy.
Mainstream white-centred single-issue veganism has evolved into a movement that still assigns values between species, humans and non-humans. This is through upholding the experiences of those humans that do not have awareness of oppressions, which they have never personally experienced, because of the way the world is set up. This is what happens when vegans tolerate bigotry. Listen when we tell you that racism, transphobia, classism, ableism, and many other forms of oppression exist and intersect with one another to complicate our vegan activism even more.
Yes, veganism is a movement centred on non-human animal liberation. However, again, human and non-human oppression are interconnected. One will not achieve liberation without the other. Veganism will not achieve its goal if it does not acknowledge the need to embrace the veganism that is consistently anti-oppression. Veganism will simply continue to be just another form of supremacy centred on the most privileged humans with the most resources if we do not work on root issues.
The Vegan Bill of Consistent Anti-oppression which Carol will go through in just a moment, is a community-led effort to help guide the movement towards embracing a veganism that understands who understands how veganism and animal rights fall within the social justice spectrum as a social justice movement. The Bill is an open call towards a consistently anti-oppression veganism; one that is aware, willing to evolve, one that understands the connections between oppressions, and one that does not add to the oppression of marginalised humans and non-humans alike.
Racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, ageism, xenophobia, sexism, body-shaming, health-shaming (and the list goes on), do not belong in a movement that claims to want justice.
Non-human animals are truly centred, and first, in their own movement when we make sure not to add to the oppression of others.
A veganism that is consistently anti-oppression needs more people going vegan, is that not what we want? [Yes! from audience] Thank you! [Applause]
[Carol J Adams]
I want to reiterate something Julia said at the beginning, which is that she reached out to me after I did a very, erm, impassioned blog about why I won’t speak at DxE at present. DxE is a US-based group and Julia challenged me, why focus on just that one group rather than recognise that there were issues around the country. As a result, we worked with Carolyn Bailey and -oh my gosh- Meneka Repka from Winnipeg, and we came up with this Vegan Bill of Consistent Anti-Oppression. You can find it at that website later [points to slide]. Here is our, let’s see, our understanding: People of Colour have a completely different experience and relationship with speciesism beyond the basic definition experienced by white folk. Therefore, the following guidelines are primarily address to the mainstream white and non-black majority:
Yes, race does matter in conversations related to non-human animals rights. There is racism in the vegan and animal rights movement and there is racism in the conceptualisation of animals. So it’s non-negotiable that we must address this issue. Here are our recommendations:
- Reject saviours. Centre non-humans in their own movement. Language that refers to us saving the animals actually de-centres non-humans and situates some activists in the movement as saviours. Saviourism creates an either/or approach to non-human animal oppression so that we’re told we’re either working to save the animals or we’re not. This is a false dichotomy.
- Avoid celebrity veganism. Support local activism. You can look at – there’s more on this on the website, but basically we end up really lifting up, um, especially white men who we think are the ones who are gonna save the movement and if you’re more interested in this we’re having a workshop panel discussion on decentering white male veganism in the radical vegan room at 3? 2? 2. 1? 2! Alright, it’s 2!
- Avoid oppressive language. Don’t use speciesist language. Don’t use racist language. Don’t use human oppression to drawn attention to animal suffering, because when we do that we’re saying that the animal suffering doesn’t matter in itself, because it’s gotta be compared to matter. We’re defeating our argument. Don’t use misogynist language. (More on that in Sexual Politics of Meat.) Don’t use ableist language. Don’t use homophobic, bi-phobic, polyphobic, interphobic or transphobic language. If you need a discussion of alternative language go to this website, and the links are there on the website for the Bill of Consistent Anti-Oppression.
- Recognise that accessibility is a very real root issue that veganism must work on. Examples of root issues tied to accessibility include access to healthy foods, [Unintelligible 18:46] classism, and homelessness. But those aren’t the only accessibility issues. Solving root issues is imperative in order to ensure access to all.
- Promote veganism as a whole, not in pieces. Don’t discuss non-human animal activist in a way that implies racist oppression has been solved or has already been addressed by society. It hasn’t and it isn’t. Understand that racial oppression and non-human animal oppression and interconnected. Colonialism exploited and oppressed both People of Colour and non-humans, while forcing non-human oppression and animal agriculture onto People of Colour. It is vital to let Vegans of Colour address their own communities. Veganism as a whole means veganism as a movement centred on working against the oppression of non-humans from human supremacy. Veganism as a whole means a movement that is consistently against all oppression and exploitation, not just for some non-humans, and not a movement that adds to the oppression of marginalised people.
- Recognise that different communities experience veganism differently. Ensure that marginalised vegans lead on their own issues. Do not target People of Colour or marginalised groups with campaigns. Instead, support Vegans of Colour working in their own communities. Veganismofcolor.com is a good place to start. An example: focusing on the Yulin dog festival or indigenous eating practices while ignoring similar abhorrent practices in our own communities. There are activists in Yulin, respect their work and support their efforts instead of inserting yourself into that community. To desire that indigenous people go vegan and ignore that they might not have clean water or jobs is racist and ignores root issues revolving around systemic human oppression.
- Ensure accessibility to vegan events to those with disabilities. Image descriptions, event access for those using wheelchairs, access for people with hearing disabilities, sign language interpretations, subtitles for videos, and transcripts, etc. And I know London VegFest is doing that today for some of the, uh, presentations.
- Recognise that anyone’s vegan activism is not more important than their participation in oppressive behaviour. I’m gonna say that again because I come from the U.S. and we are really not dealing with this. [Repeats] Recognise that anyone’s vegan activism is not more important than their participation in oppressive behaviour. Sexual assault, ableism, racism, transphobia, sizeism, etc., they disqualify someone from being seen as a vegan leader. It should be obvious.
- Tolerating human oppression – oh, sorry, human and non-human oppressions are intertwined. So, tolerating human oppression means failing non-human liberation. Make a commitment to address other “-isms” when you see them.
- Ensure that marginalised vegans have an equal platform within your organisation and event beyond tokenism. Use resources up uplift and highlight individuals who have not been given a platform and compensate them as you would non-marginalised vegans.
- Consent in your activism is vital. You can’t expect non-vegans to be open to a new concept when you violate their needs. For instance, violating their needs by triggering someone’s PTSD due to violent imagery. And I’ll just say that anyone who argues that you’ve got to see a video, and you already know this information, is violating your needs.
- Work on root issues; do not target individuals. Roots issues vs. individuals: work to eliminate animal testing rather than shaming people dependent on medication to survive; work to ensure plant-based product, synthetic materials and all other products, as well as technology, that do not exploit non-humans and humans replaces those that depend on non-human by-products and bodies; address healthy food accessibility for those that simply do not have access by supporting plant-based food pantries and other resources; work on accessibility to vegan formula and to rights that allow a parent the time and resources to breastfeed if they choose instead of shaming mothers and babies that have no alternative to formula. Body-shaming and health-shaming are not acceptable. All vegans regardless of their personal health, size, and appearance, are good examples of veganism, and have a right to raise the voices of non-human animals.
(I know someone of you are arriving and thinking it’s gonna be the Sexual Politics of Meat and I’m just deferring that a little because we’re introducing the Vegan Bill of Consistent Anti-Oppression, and since I’m following this, I’ll just shorten Sexual Politics of Meat because I don’t want to ignore any of the points we’re trying to make here.)
We believe that veganism is a movement based on compassion, therefore, we cannot -and should not- act violently towards others.
We believe that veganism is a movement based on compassion, therefore we need to create a movement that is safe for all people.
We believe that veganism is a movement committed to change, so we cannot cling to the status quo.
We need you to read the vegan Bill, sign it, tell other people about it, and hold organisations accountable instead of continuing to follow a single-issue vegan approach.
Being aware of these issues makes it easier to actually centre non-humans in the movement. You can’t really help non-humans if we contribute to the oppression of others and close them off from the dynamism of an inclusive veganism.
We offer lots of resources on the website, but I wanted to call your attention to the book Veganism in an Oppressive World, which Julia has edited, to help us make some of these connections. In addition, a free booklet that can be downloaded on Veganism of Color, is a “Why Vegan?” for People of Colour by Vegans of Colour. Check out the website and join us. And, just a footnote, many people are very excited talking about intersectional veganism and that’s really not the term to use because it’s a very specific historic theoretical term but one of the things we want to talk about or address is that this isn’t new. There are writers like me, and Julia, and Breeze Harper, and many other Vegans of Colour and feminists who have been talking about this for almost 30 years. We’re trying to get the movement back to its roots, in a sense, and we hope that you’ll look at consistentantioppression.com, you can join us there, you can email us, we welcome your thoughts and we welcome moving towards a more inclusive movement that doesn’t participate in oppressive activities. Thank you.
A big thank you to Jenny Marie for donating your time to help provide this transcript.