January, 2021 was an eventful and disturbing month, leaving us much to consider.
Martin Luther King Day is celebrated each January in the United States to honour the civil rights leader who fought for racial equality more than half a century ago.
Yet, on January 6, 2021, we witnessed the Confederate flag being carried through the seat of America’s government by rioters. Nearly 53 years after Dr. King’s assassination, it’s disturbingly clear that the social progress he struggled for has not yet been won. We are painfully reminded of how difficult it is to achieve social justice when injustice is deeply embedded in cultural norms and governmental policies.
Social Change Does Not Come Easy
On our Facebook page we shared this statement from Dr. King:
Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.
We who fight for animals know something about that.
None of us can ever doubt that the kind of change that Dr. King fought for requires great effort – continuous struggle. None could claim that the goals of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s have been achieved. Across the globe we still witness politicians willing to pander to the worst in humanity if doing so helps them to gain and hold power. Canadians are not immune. Our own justice system remains unfair in how people of colour, including Indigenous peoples, are treated when compared to white Canadians. Equality has not come for all. Change is clearly not inevitable. Continuous struggle indeed.
The rioters in America’s capitol showed how profoundly destructive the attitudes of entitlement and prejudice still are. They reminded us how angry some become when asked to relinquish the privilege and power they’ve come to see as their birthright. When asked to share their privilege they push back hard, claiming that they are the oppressed, outraged that they are being asked to step back from their place of entitlement. They rage and they howl. It’s as if they don’t believe their lives will be worth living if they cannot be “free”, meaning free to oppress others, free to maintain unfair advantage, free to profit from an unfair system.
What We Can Learn
We see that same kind of anger when we fight for animals. When Canadians considered Bill C-246, a bill to update our woefully outdated animal protection laws, some Members of Parliament who represent ridings where animal agriculture, hunting, and angling are prevalent expressed their outrage in our House of Commons. Their constituents were being victimized, they said, and they’d be unable to feed their children if slightly stronger laws were adopted. They raged and they howled, using exaggerations to defend their case, claiming victimhood when it’s clear that animals are the real victims. It was shameful to witness – an overly emotional demonstration of entitlement.
We did not see riots. Because they got their way. Canada’s two most powerful political parties, the reigning Liberals and the Conservative Party of Canada both signaled to their members that the bill should die. And die it did. A few, brave MPs in both parties voted to at least consider better laws, but not enough. The status quo held. The animals, and those of us who care for them, lost. But we did not riot. Because that is not who we are.
The Struggle for Animal Protection
Let’s consider what might happen if a future government were brave enough to address the truth about animal agriculture: that it’s inhumane, contributes to global climate change, and is unnecessary for human health. Imagine if animal-using industries that have been subsidized, propped up, protected, and pandered to lost their privilege. What anger would result? Would we see riots? We can’t say for sure. But we are reminded of how angry people can be when privileges that they have come to see as rights are threatened, even just a little.
The struggle for the change for animals that we are working for will surely last far beyond our own lifetimes, just as the struggle against poverty and racial injustice has lasted beyond Martin Luther King Jr.’s own lifetime. Nevertheless, we struggle – continuously – and we do move the bar.
Together, we are part of a worldwide movement that pushes against the forces of oppression, forces that exploit and harm animals. We push forward, knowing that without us those who oppress would go unchecked and unchallenged. In the same way that dams push against the sea – holding back the constant pressure of the water – if we were not ever pushing things would surely be much worse.
We struggle on, winning some races while knowing that the larger struggle is a marathon that will engage the courage and energies of those who will come after us. This struggle will last past our own lifetimes. We play our part. Just as you do.
Continuous struggle. That’s our destiny. The civil rights leaders of every past era knew that. And we animal advocates know it too.