Ronnie and Wenda’s discussion can be viewed on the Forward to Animal Liberation Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/110009078121280/videos/470017964600001
Ronnie identifies what he now sees as grave mistake of the modern animal protection movement: the failure to see the potential and thus bring into being widespread grassroots-led vegan education. Remarkably, almost unbelievably, the vegan social movement was not engaged in vegan education until the beginning of the 21st century. In Ronnie’s view, this was at least 25 years too late and, had this move occurred earlier in the history of the movement, the mobilisation for animal liberation would be further advanced now than it is presently. I agree with Ronnie's analysis, as would Gary Francione, who has been an advocate of vegan education as the major MO of the animal movement since the 1990s.
Ronnie notes that when direct action arose in Britain - starting with the Hunt Saboteurs in the 1960s, the Animal Liberation Front in the 1970s, followed by the liberation leagues and SHAC in the 1980s and 1990s, several national groups were already campaigning on single issues such as vivisection, hunting, and intensive (factory) animal farming. With an influx of younger people into the movement, there began a shake-up of these “conservative with a small c” organisations. Some responded to the demands of the younger generation, or were taken over by them. One major change was that largely inactive groups that traditionally merely asked members to send them donations and write to their member of parliament became campaign and protest groups which were staffed by vegans. The vegans who were part of a large increase in veganism Ronnie observed in the 1970s. In addition to the transformation of existing groups, new campaigning groups such as Compassion In World Farming (1967), Animal Aid (1977), PeTA (1980), and Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (VIVA! - 1994) were formed. Ronnie says that, although the animal protection movement was changing, it’s conservative welfarist base remained: “To some extent, it carried on being welfarist but, like, militant welfarist shall we say.” The movement also remained dominated by national groups that keep a fairly firm grip of its financial resources. Indeed, as can be seen, the number of such organisations grew at this time.
In relation to events such as "World Day for Laboratory Animals" (initially organised by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection or The National Anti-Vivisection Society), which are attended by about 700-800 people in the modern day, these marches attracted 10,000-20,000 in the 1980s, both Ronnie and Wenda remember. Similarly, tens of thousands of people would attend “save the seals” and “save the whales” events in those years. For Ronnie, the fault line in the movement was revealed by the fact that, although “there were vegans in these organisations campaigning on all these different issues, nobody was campaigning for veganism.”
I think this is one of the strangest things for 21st century vegans to try to grapple with. A social movement that had significant and growing numbers of vegans within, nevertheless largely ignoring veganism in terms of its campaigning focus. How does that make sense? In the US, for example, although PeTA began as an animal rights group in 1980, by the early 1990s, its “president” Ingrid Newkirk took up the fight for animal welfare and for “the regulation of atrocities” against animal rights philosopher Tom Regan, and animal rights lawyer Gary Francione who were, respectively, advocating for rights-based animal rights, and veganism as the movement’s moral baseline. In 1993, the Vegan Outreach organisation was founded but, by 2005, its founders were regretting having the word “vegan” in its title. In 2011, co-founder Matt Ball, complained that “vegan” meant reduced donations: “Foundations and rich non-vegans give to groups with similar philosophies and approaches, but they won’t give to “vegan” outreach.” Ronnie’s summary of such times amounts to this: “In some ways the movement became more radical, but in many ways it stayed just the same.”
However, Ronnie adds: “Probably ‘militant' is more accurate than ‘radical' because militant describes a form of action, [whereas] radical is more about philosophy.” Radical means getting to the root of the problem and clearly, until very recently, and often due to the movement’s corporate nature and the number of wages they thought they must finance, prime movers in the animal movement were absolutely resistant to making veganism the moral baseline of the movement. They often put about the idea that veganism was “a scare word.” Ironically, it was a scare word for them - they thought their incomes would drop if they used it, so they favoured words such “veg,” “veggie,” and even “veg*n” instead - however, it turns out it isn’t much of a scare word from the general public’s point of view, or for the manufacturers of plant-based foods and products. It appears that even the national groups in the movement are no longer petrified of the dread 'V' word. For example, VIVA! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals) now declares itself, “The Vegan Charity."
The status of The Vegan Society has always remained something of a puzzle in this story. Ronnie and Wenda noted that it wasn’t seen as a campaigning organisation - it wasn’t (and isn’t) an “on the street” group like Animal Aid, for example. I doubt that most of the large influx of vegans in the 1970s onwards ever bothered to join The Vegan Society. I have never been a member despite being vegan since 1979. I also doubt that their membership has risen massively even in the wave of vegan popularity currently being seen. As far as I can tell, the only engagement modern-day vegans have with The Vegan Society occurs when they quote (and often misquote) the official definition of veganism.
The Two Garys.
At least as far back as the publication of his 1996 book, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, Gary Francione has argued that the promotion of veganism should be the central plank of the activities of the animal advocacy movement. History will likely remember him as very influential in moving the animal movement (finally) to adopt veganism as its moral baseline. However, he will still argue that the movement has failed to do that and, instead, promotes veganism as merely one option that will reduce animal suffering among other things like reducing the consumption of animal bodies and their secretions, and taking part in things like “Meatless Mondays.” For him, as for many vegans, being vegan is a moral imperative if one adopts the philosophies of veganism and animal rights. Francione will also say that there is no animal rights movement in reality, just an animal welfare movement bearing its name. He may point out that, for example, national groups like Mercy for Animals and Animal Equality spend millions of dollars per annum on animal welfare “cage-free” campaigning instead of vegan campaigns (see the Open Philanthropy Project grant database). Gary Francione has left the movement but is still active in what he calls a “counter-movement” known as Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.
Many people relatively new to the vegan movement will tell you with a straight face that Gary Yourofsky started the vegan movement and has created more vegans than every other vegan activist combined. That may or may not be amusing to Ronnie, since Yourofsky was two years old when Ronnie became a vegan activist (he was 9 years old when I became vegan). Although veganism wasn’t promoted to the public in those early years, it certainly got around the activist communities, which is why Ronnie claims that there was a big increase in the numbers of vegans in the 1970s. By the 1980s, I’d say the majority of animal “militants” were vegan (although some will have been vegetarian for sure). Yourofsky’s first impact was the launch of his website in 1996 but that ended up in a financial disaster forcing him to resign. PeTA stepped in and offered him a paid job as their "national lecturer," and so the college lecture tours he became famous for began. By 2010, he had given the same talk hundreds of times so he was good at it. His talk at Georgia Technical College in the Summer of 2010 was filmed and was subsequently heavily promoted within the animal movement.
A year later, in 2011, I was part of the Animal Rights Zone team that asked Gary Yourofsky whether he was prepared to retract talk of his extreme violence fantasies, part of which involves regularly wishing for humans to be viciously sexually assaulted until they were disabled for life. Yourofsky replied in something of a rant, saying he “adores” his violence essays, while defending his drugs use, and attacking “animal rights people:” Yourofsky has said that he hates humans, apparently including himself. “Most animal rights people LOVE their families and worship humankind,” he said. By this token alone, and despite repeated claims in the modern movement that he has made more vegans than anyone else, ever, Gary Yourofsky clearly does not understand vegan philosophy very well. While he hates humans, and calls us all “parasites,” the pioneers of the vegan social movement remained optimistic about humanity believing that the widespread adoption of a vegan mindset would mark their moral evolution, leading to a less-violent humanity. Social movements are, after all, made up of human beings. Yourofsky has since bailed out of the vegan movement and “retired,” leaving the other animals to their fate after a mere 21 year’s involvement.
Of the "two Garys," I'm sure that movement historians will regard Francione's as the much more significant contribution.
How We Got to Where We Are!
Social movement theorists often talk about movement cycles, waves, and stages. In terms of the latter, social movements may emerge, grow, professionalise, and die (they may die because they’ve done their job, by the way!) It can be a rocky road for social movements, and there are certainly likely to be highs and lows in their journeys. In Bill Moyer’s social movement action plan, there are eight movement stages including “take-off” which, as the name suggests, can be dramatic and, for some, an overnight phenomenon. The stage before “take-off” will intrigue those who know the history of the vegan social movement, since it is called “ripening conditions,” echoing something Donald Watson wrote in November 1944 in the very first Vegan Society newsletter. Moyer’s theory dates to 1987. He writes:
“The ’take-off’ of a new social movement requires preconditions that build up over many years. These condition include broad historical developments, a growing discontented population of victims and allies, and a budding autonomous grassroots opposition, all of which encourage discontent with the present conditions, raise expectations that they can change, and provide the means to do it.”
Of course, not all of that “fits” exactly with any actual social movement, not least the vegan movement, but the broad outline seems pretty solid. It further appears evident to me that the preconditions that Moyer speaks of, related to the present-day vegan movement, rely on the fault line Ronnie Lee identifies having being rectified. In other words, the recent growth of the vegan movement has depended on the groundwork for decades before but, in particular, the widespread, if delayed, establishment of veganism as the moral baseline of the animal advocacy movement. From all of this, we should not get the idea that the present surge in the movement is a product of the recent “influencers” in the movement, including Yourofsky, but owes its origins to the late 1960s onwards. Rather than creating the present “vegan wave,” those who came into the movement in the last 10 years are riding the wave that “built up over many years.” Ironically, as suggested above, some of the main conservative resisters of the move to establish veganism as the movement’s moral baseline, those in the national groups, have finally (by and large) abandoned their “veg,” “veggie,” and “veg*n” claims-making in favour of talking directly and openly about veganism.
It would not make any sense to the current generation of vegan activists to talk about anything else other than the need for veganism. Wenda and Ronnie reiterate that had the rather obvious fact of the vegan movement focusing on veganism as its campaign been much earlier, then things would be better for other animals than they are now. The movement “missed a trick,” says Ronnie, “of tackling the oppression of other animals at the most fundamental level;” while Wenda says that, sadly, we must regard what actually happened within the vegan movement as a tactical and philosophical “oversight."
The advance of technology has undoubtedly been part of the story of the advance of veganism. Before the internet, for example, much of the movement’s literature was 4-time-a-year magazines or the more regular zines, often simply photocopied. The Cranky Vegan - Jake Conroy - notes that, for many modern-day vegan advocates, if it’s not on an high quality video, it may as well not exist. One example of that is an old VHS recording from 1988 of a Tom Regan’s speech at an anti-vivisection rally in North America (see https://youtu.be/oruKMOR7krw). At the time, the video was regarded as the “best animal rights speech ever given,” but its quality is admittedly poor. At the same time, the speech is incredibly rousing and can make the audience really feel that they are attending the rally. As a consequence of its low quality, the speech is not well known in the animal movement, and I do not think because it should be regarded as totally out of date.
Perhaps the advent of smart phone technology, resulting in thousands of high-quality video now available, hinders recent members of the movement from researching the movement’s history, to the extent that they are interested in doing so. Consequently, I have noticed that many recent activists unfortunately hold a rather distorted view of the vegan movement’s development and some really do believe that it began in the 1990s!