I didn’t choose to be a vegan activist…activism chose me

Think about it: virtually every atrocity in the history of humankind was enabled by people who turned away from a reality that seemed too painful to face, while virtually every revolution for peace and justice has been made possible by a group of people who chose to bear witness and demanded that others bear witness as well.
— Melanie Joy Ph.D., Ed.M. (Harvard-educated psychologist and vegan activist, author of “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows.”)

Last Friday, as I logged into Facebook, the message from an old high school acquaintance read something like this: “I am married to a veterinarian and have the upmost (I believe she meant utmost) respect for what you portray. However; I find the constant pictures of tortured animals on Facebook so upsetting, that I feel I need to un-friend you. I just wanted you to understand why I am un-friending you. Good luck to you and your cause.”

Vegan activism, off and online, is an exercise in radical acceptance as well as unwavering determination. It is not a “cause” or a hobby, or a committee, or a group of hippies or yuppies trying to be heard. It is the social justice issue of our time. Being vegan is not a diet. It is not a phase to go through when you have a moment of clarity … and then, when it becomes inconvenient, to go back to eating and using animals, because everyone else is doing it. Yes, it is more comfortable to be with family and friends when everyone is living and eating the same way. No one wants to be an outcast. But, when you internalize a conviction as powerful as this, conforming to a societal norm becomes more painful than the rejection of family and friends. So you accept that people will un-friend you in countless ways. It is easier for some to darken a friendship, than it is to shine a light on the suffering caused by their own choices. A vegan activist understands this all too well.

What many do not understand, is that vegan activists are everyday people who have unearthed an injustice so deep, that just refraining from the injustice is not enough. They feel compelled to expose the injustice in order to create change. It is noble and courageous — and comes with incredible resistance.

Those who became activists during the civil rights movement were met with violent resistance. Their unveiling of the cruelties and utter injustice of segregation was channeled through marches and peaceful protests until all were aware of the atrocities and changes were made. It is dispiriting to admit that this movement still has a need to continue. Women’s rights activists struggled through to get their grossly overdue right to vote in the 1800s and feminists continually demand that the world see and destroy the gender inequality that still lingers. Gay rights activists marched until their right to love and marry was acknowledged, and now it is the law of the land.

Vegan activists want the world to see the vast effects of using animals for food, clothing, entertainment and experimentation. The effects are far reaching. The animals reprehensibly suffer by the billions (thus the pictures of tortured animals on Facebook.)  www.earthlings.com.  We are destroying the planet by using animals for food and clothing (www.cowspiracy.com.)  We destroy the health of our sacred bodies when we eat the bodies of animals and their secretions (www.eatingyoualive.com) and we starve other humans on earth, because we use food crops and resources to farm these animals – and those crops could be used to end hunger on earth forever.  If that isn’t injustice, I don’t know what is. These films will help to understand and allow us to bear witness.

Bearing witness provokes the kind of deep self-examination that can be life-changing. It awakens the soul and ignites the heart and mind with the energy needed to affect that change. It is the elevation in consciousness we all seek at some level — the missing link we all feel when we feel somewhat incomplete.

I didn’t respond to my high school friend’s Facebook message for a few days. I wanted my response to be concise and clear, as it would be our last correspondence.  When I was ready I wrote back, “I truly understand your reasons for un-friending me.  You are not the first or only one to do that.  I know that you are married to a veterinarian, however; that does not automatically correlate with understanding animal activism or how profound this movement is. I have had many discussions with my veterinarian about the fact that he may very well be a dog and cat lover, but it is impossible to be a true animal lover and not be vegan…you either love animals or you eat & wear animals, you cannot do both.  Please understand that these pictures you are offended by are real and happening to innocent animals every second of every day of each week, month and year.  Refusing to look does not make their suffering go away.  Refusing to change perpetuates that suffering. Instead of being offended by the pictures, perhaps you might instead become offended by the cruelty and begin to live life according to your values of kindness and mercy.  Personal choices are only personal when there are no victims – no sentient beings with the capacity to feel fear, pain and isolation.  I mean you no harm, and again, I understand your need to un-friend me. I am just doing what my heart and mind compel me to do. I wish you good health, happiness and a life of compassion.”

I then returned to my Facebook page and posted this quote, because it was exactly what I was feeling in my heart:

Activists live more intense, sensitive and observant lives than others. So by definition, we are constantly vulnerable to the ubiquitous cruelty that exists. But, if forced to make a binary choice, I would rather burn out living a compassionate authentic life than rust out living a cruel, unexamined life. For me, there are no regrets. There is no going back.
— Philip Wollen (former vice-president of Citibank and general manager at Citicorp. He walked away from his high profile, high finance career to become a philanthropist of kindnessz and an avid animal activist.)