The Good Animal Rights Activist

Take two people who love animals. One occasionally eats meat and dairy products and is very active in campaigning for animal rights. She sometimes buys wool socks, and she still wears her old leather shoes. The other is a strict vegan, does not buy any goods derived from animals, and gives away all leather shoes and wool clothing; but she keeps to herself and does not participate in animal rights activism. Which one is making a bigger impact on behalf of animals? Which one would you view as an animal lover?

In this month’s issue of the Sun Magazine, there is an interview with Peter Singer. I eagerly delved into it, and quickly found this sort of question from Singer. (You can read an excerpt from the article here). It really made me think.

When I first joined Animalia, not long after taking the leap from vegetarianism to trying to be a vegan, it felt very important to me not to give the impression of engaging in animal misuse of any kind. I still remember carefully choosing my clothing, shoes and bag for that first meeting in an effort to make sure that my fellow group members got “the right impression” of me from the start. For a long time, I have also contemplated getting rid of all my old leather shoes and my down jacket. I no longer wear them, and I will probably give them to charity at some point. But today, I have to ask myself, who am I doing it for: to really help animals or to preserve my good animal rights activist image?

By the same token, I recently noticed that I have started to judge people based on my perception of the choices they make or have made when it comes to the use of animals – for example, the food they buy or the shoes they wear. I am happy to realize that I do not hang onto these judgements and strive to always make a full impression of people based on a rounded experience with their character. But still, it bothers me to discover that I am making these snap judgements to start with. Who am I to say that one person is less of an animal lover than another because he or she is wearing a leather (or even fur) jacket? Beside the fact that this person’s jacket may be old and not an accurate impression of their current purchasing choices, wearing a non-leather coat is not a requirement for being an effective animal rights activist.

I guess my point in writing this is to remind myself that there is room in the animal rights struggle for people from many different schools of thought. It is not up to me to judge anyone for what I think is good or bad behavior when it comes to animal use. Rather, I should give all I can to help the animals in my way and be ready to join up with whomever wants to help in his or her own way. And there is a lot I can learn from people who may have a different way of expressing their love of animals than I do.

In Animalia International, we have people from many different philosophies when it comes to animal rights: from those who think being vegan should be the baseline for all discussion to those who recognize the significance of every single animal you save by not eating meat on that particular day. At our meetings and activities, I always learn to see an issue from new perspectives, which is a valuable trait when trying to persuade people to take action for a cause. Through discussion and interaction with these smart and interesting people (who are also always polite and patient with each other), I have learned the value of difference in a struggle as large as ours.



5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tina on May 3, 2011 at 21:23

    Nice post, made me think about my sometimes very judgemental attitude. Love how you used the brackets for the “(or even fur) jacket”. Hard to think of someone wearing fur as an animal lover. But then it actually isn’t any different from leather. It just happens to look more clearly like an animal, I guess. I’m far from being the good animal rights activist, so really shouldn’t judge anyone else. Most important is that one makes an effort to keep becoming better.

  2. That’s so true, Tina! It’s amazing how people who disagree with fur oftentimes have no problem with cowhide rugs, bags, clothing – even though it is clearly someone’s fur. Great example: UK women’s magazines which collectively agreed not to use fur in their ads or editorials back in the 90s during the “I’d rather go naked” era, but “ponyskin” is A-Okay…

    PS. I think you’re being far too hard on yourself: You *are* most definitely a good animal rights activist! 🙂

  3. […] a Comment As I continued to read the Sun Magazine interview with Peter Singer that I mentioned in my post last week, I found myself again challenged: When it comes to eating animals, are all choices equal? More […]

  4. Posted by Cecilia on May 19, 2011 at 09:45

    I like what Tina said. 🙂 And I think that also leather is not seen “bad” cause people say that if it comes from the same cow that they eat, it’s not then “cruel”, cause it’s using a part of the cow that otherwise would have been thrown away. I have leather stuff myself, and that’s what I have always heard as the difference between buying “fur” and leather. Cause the animal used for fur (like foxes) are not used as food or anything, so then it’s said that futile people are the ones who wear fur. Also cause the fur or leather of animals that people eat, are taken after the animals are dead. Even they don’t die in a nice way, just as foxes, etc, that in that other case, are killed just for the fur. Now to believe if there is a difference or not, it depends on the person.

  5. Posted by Cecilia on May 19, 2011 at 10:27

    I forgot to say also that I have been through the same situation that Melissa, when thinking about my clothes and stuff when I was back then vegetarian for couple of months. And it was bad to see that I started also paying attention to what others were wearing, and I realized that I was not better person if doing that. I think that everything is about awareness (if that’s the right word?). “I have done same things, I have eaten meat and I have leather clothes in my closet yet”.
    And that kind of thing made me think if I was becoming some fanatical or what. Cause if I took that path, it would bring me bad feelings, cause it would be hell for me to live in a world where you see people wearing leather and eating meat. So I said to myself “STOP” and decided to focus on other things, that could definitely help with something. In Finland I have been quite idle concerning animal protection so far (mostly cause it’s difficult to find by myself how to help with something when I don’t speak finnish well yet, at least until I found this group, AI, where people talk in english), since in Brazil I used to have to deal with homeless pets more often, and trying to find them a home. Nowadays I do that when I can, by promoting to people who might be interested in adopting animals, showing links on net, etc, since I’m far from Brazil. 🙂
    I think that it’s important to help with what we can.

    If someone is helping for example, homeless pets even though going to make a bbq in the evening, I can sure say that, in my opinion, that person is helping more certain group of animals, than those who might just complain about what others wear or not, or what others eat, or not buying this and that, and actually thinking that only doing that, they are better than others and saving the world. 🙂

    I don’t say that anyone here is that way (just to make clear :D) but I meant more when we see other groups of animal rights, that take things a bit too much in “black and white” and forget to focus that thought on helping animals instead of attacking or judging people that are not alert about this issue or well, don’t agree in everything that they believe. 🙂

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