Today, Bryan Stevenson and the NYU School of Law remind us that “justice comes when people do uncomfortable things.”
Over the weekend, I stepped out of my comfort zone with Direct Action Everywhere to bring the voices of animals to the Wall Street Journal event “Why We Love Meat.” We disrupted it by sharing the stories of individual cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals. We chanted loudly, and the panelists left, effectively ending the event. Many attendees were understandably angry and hostile towards us.
I took no pleasure in upsetting them. If you know me, you know that I love people. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day. I want to have real conversations with people; non-confrontational personal dialogues about social justice issues.
But while I much prefer advocacy that doesn’t cause people to hate me, I remember that hate is not the biggest threat to the marginalized: it’s indifference. Indifference allows the status quo to go unquestioned, and disruptions push people to confront the issue and publicly attempt to justify their behavior.
My favorite part of confrontational actions is being able to share these justifications and expose how weak the opposing arguments really are. At the WSJ event, Pat LaFrieda, a celebrity butcher, explained to us that the moral difference between eating cows and dogs is that cows are born to be killed, whereas dogs exist to comfort human beings. He continued to argue that “beef have different traits, characteristics, and personalities” than dogs. This is what we are up against: arguments that dogs are mere tools for human wellbeing and that a living cow is just beef with a personality.
It gets better. When we disrupted the beloved Smorgasburg event in Brooklyn, we were rebutted by sophisticated counter-protestors chanting, “I love meat, I love meat, I love meat.”
Now, I’m not certain that justice will come as a result of these uncomfortable actions. I know a lot of smart and dedicated activists who think these disruptions are really alienating to would-be supporters. They argue that there are other ways to combat indifference that are much less likely to turn people against us. I agree. But for now, I think that this sort of confrontation is a promising tactic for generating a public conversation about the hidden horrors of speciesism, and for demonstrating the moral urgency of the situation in a way that is not achieved by less confrontational actions.
Finally, in spite of my uncertainty about the different tactics of the animal rights movement, I am confident about some things: we are going to win, and it’s going to happen sooner than anybody thinks.