activist misappropriation of blame

Today, I came across a blog for the first time, and wanted to share the first post I read from it. There is an effective use of analogy to comment on some key issues for activists and society to reflect on.
[I have not included embedded video, links or footnotes]

vegina | when we fight we let them win

“Fox pens” are outdoor enclosures that imprison foxes and coyotes, originally captured with leg hold traps, for the sake of hunters training dogs by setting a pack of dogs on one coyote or fox. Hunters often bet on whether the pack of dogs will catch (and maybe kill) the coyote. The practice is much more cruel than I just described and you can learn more about it here. The vile and cruel nature of this practice is obvious, so I am going to skip that part. (And if you don’t see why this is cruel you are clearly too far-gone to help at this point).

Outside of the torture implicit in this practice, a part of this practice that is resonating with me is the way that humans pit one nonhuman animal against another. Humans inflict cruelty on one animal by trapping and then imprisoning him or her. They inflict cruelty on others by training the good nature out of them and aggressiveness into them (most likely through deprivation of food and physical affection and/or by inflicting physical abuse). Then for entertainment, the human abuser watches as the latter torments and often viciously kills the former. The same sort of process occurs with dog fighting and cock fighting.

Looking beyond the pain and torture involved, this also strikes me as perverse because the human perpetrators get nonhuman animal victims to abuse each other. This makes their work of animal abuse easier on them. They don’t have to feel culpable or psychotic when they don’t physically commit the act of torture or murder in its most vile moments, as the coyote or fox is being hunted or torn to shreds. By having one animal do it to the other, these sadists get away with murder, without ever getting their own hands dirty.

This is the same sort of logic that makes all oppression and subjugation successful. Those in power maintain their power by getting those without power to turn on each other. The oppressed are so busy fighting each other they forget to look up and see the real villain. Social justice movements often work against each other; they see a limited pool of resources (membership, volunteers, donations, media attention) and begin to feel as if they need to fight against other social movement organizations to get these resources.[1] Animal rights activists are used to this; we often have activists for human justice movements argue that we need to take care of women’s rights or racism or “starving children in Africa” before we take care of nonhuman animals. As a feminist who begs for vegan events and a vegan who wishes that we could make our point without turning to sexist hooks, I have had enough with this intra-movement conflict.

I have had enough with inter-movement conflict as well. I see this process, where the oppressor gets the oppressed to turn on each other, replicated in the very movement that is supposed to help the foxes and coyotes and dogs in the fox pens. On multiple occasions I have experienced activists blaming each other for being falsely arrested during protests, when the police are the only ones who should be blamed. I have heard of groups taking credit for the activist activities of other organizations, fund raising events carelessly planned on the same day and distracting fights then ensuing when the double booking was unintentional. This all gets topped off with interpersonal friendship and dating drama. This is all is tolerable at the potlucks but not in organizational meetings or at protest events.

When we think of fox pens we can see the real villain is the human that supports and pays for it to happen. We do not look at the dogs and blame them for being vicious, we know the hunters did that. We do not look at the coyotes or foxes being attacked and think they should fight harder, we know it is the hunters’ fault they are attacked. We can see the big picture in regard to the fox pens. We need to see the big picture when it comes to our movement as well. And unlike the foxes and the coyotes and the dogs in fox pens who were forced into these positions, we do have a choice and it is our own fault. Until we stop letting those that maintain the institutions that oppress and dominate pull the strings, we will never have enough momentum or strength or focus to end fox pens or any other injustice.

Every time we deny that other social movement struggles are important, or try to rank order importance, we defeat ourselves. If we don’t leave room for all oppression to matter, we accept that compassion has limits. But the premise of the animal rights movement is that love and compassion is limitless. Every time we fight each other, we solidify the labels and boundaries that define our oppressions. But an important teaching of feminism is that the boundaries established by those in power exist only so that they can maintain power. When we turn on each other and fight we waste time and we get weaker, all the while doing nothing to weaken those who oppress us. If we turn to each other in solidarity and act together against oppressions, we will have a much better chance of defeating this system, or at least at making fox pens illegal.

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