Non-violence philosophy for animal activism

Multi-faith centre, 569 Spadina Ave. University of Toronto,

Koffler Auditorium (1st floor)

Non-violence philosophy for animal activism

Thursday, December 13, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

Multi-faith centre, 569 Spadina Ave.

University of Toronto, Koffler Auditorium (1st floor)

Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts on non-violence.    I apologise in advance for depending on notes and not being as energetic as I might be.  I’m recovering from the flu and my thoughts seem to be ever more scattered than normal.

I’ll start by suggesting some of the best counter arguments to my approach to social change can be found in Ward Churchill’s Pacifism as Pathology.   There are other works available, both in print and on-line, that critically examine non-violence but I find that Churchill raises concerns I hadn’t thought of and he approaches the whole subject in clear and direct language.    If you are seriously considering embracing non-violence either in terms of strategy and tactics or as a life-long set of guiding moral principals do so consciously.   One of the core Gandhian principal is that we are experimenting with the truth—the possibility exists we don’t have it and non-violence does need to be tested both in theory and in practice.

I want people to consider three expressions of non-violence—non-violence to one’s self; non-violence to one’s cause; and non-violence as a movement in and of itself.     I may not formally touch on these ideas this evening, but think about them.   Your wellbeing is essential to the movements you are a part of; the movements you are a part of are essential to the world.

There have been a number of efforts to summarise non-violence, but I find that Ghandi’s and King’s still have the most impact:

Ghandi’s Principals of Non-violence

–          All life is one.

–          We each have a piece of the truth and the un-truth.

–          Human beings are more than the evil they sometimes commit.

–          The means must be consistent with the ends.

–          We are called to celebrate both our differences and our fundamental unity with others.

–          We reaffirm our unity with others when we transform “us” versus “them” thinking and doing.

–          Our oneness calls us to want, and to work for, the well-being of all.

–          The nonviolent journey is a process of becoming increasingly free from fear.

Martin Luther King’s Principals of Non-violence:

1)      Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

It is assertive spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

It is always persuading the opponent of the justice of your cause.

2)   Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.

The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

3)   Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.

Nonviolence holds that evildoers are also victims.

4)   Nonviolence holds that voluntary suffering can educate and transform.

Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts.

Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.

Nonviolence accepts violence if necessary, but will never inflict it.

Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.

Suffering can have the power to convert the enemy when reason fails.

5) Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as of the body.

Nonviolent love gives willingly, knowing that the return might be hostility.

Nonviolent love is active, not passive.

Nonviolent love does not sink to the level of the hater.

Love for the enemy is how we demonstrate love for ourselves.

Love restores community and resists injustice.

Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.

6) Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.

I see myself as both a Christian and an anarchist and both streams of thought and experience lead me to embrace non-violence.   My anarchist side is primarily influenced by Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid; my faith side primarily influenced by the writings and examples of Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King.

What I find most attractive about non-violence is its immediate practicality.  We respond to the world in the here and now.  We don’t wait for a far off time to attempt to put our ideals into practice; they are important now.    While pushing for an end to segregation, let’s integrate our movement; While pushing for an end to factory farming, let’s have vegetarian/vegan meals together.    While pushing for the legalisation of the contraception, let’s open up a family planning clinic;  While waiting for the abolition of the state, let’s have consensus decision making and radical inclusion in our movements.

Non-violence is very inclusive.   You don’t have to be physically fit; you don’t have to have lengthy training.   Anyone can chose to do less harm in the world and find ways to do so.    Even in the midst of militant campaigns, in the midst of dealing with physical force one can chose not to respond in kind.  Non-violence is not passive; it isn’t cowardly but it is also not just for an elite.    Indeed, looking at the theoreticians and practitioners of successful non-violent movements leaders and theoreticians have been primarily from outsiders and marginalized—women; LGBT communities; people of colour/racialised people; first nations; religious minorities.

Non-violence encourages open and respectful communication and dialogue.   Our opponents are an important part of this dialogue.    We would like them to join us in our struggle for a better world.     This isn’t likely to happen if they are faced with contempt and abuse.   The people who are bringing the pigs to slaughter ultimately see themselves as good people; look at ways to reinforce this.   Conversions do take place.

Non-violence is creative.   It isn’t just occupations or blockades; in many ways it is expressed best as performance art.    From applying for permits to levitate the pentagon to taking a pinch of salt from the sea to climbing over a wall at a shipyard to providing free vegetarian meals to those at or near a slaughterhouse, non-violence looks at ways both legal and illegal to point out alternatives that help build a better world.

Non-violence is both stubborn and flexible in its expression.   To achieve social transformation, one must be persistent.  Change takes time.  But how you achieve isn’t determined or dependent on a one time/one way expression.

My embrace of non-violence wasn’t easy.  When I began my activism the Black Panthers, Weather Underground, Red Brigades, FLQ and other advocates of violence and armed self defence were among my heroes.    I greatly admired the work of Martin Luther King but there was a romance around urban guerrillas that was attractive.    There was resonance in Mikhail Bakunin’s statement “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion.”   Armed revolution leading to the establishment of a radical new social order was seen as possible around the world.

But there were other images too—the young people painting flowers on the sides of tanks during the putdown of the Prague spring in Czechoslovakia; the young man putting flowers in the barrels of guns of the military surrounding the pentagon; a young girl crying because napalm was etching into her flesh.   There were courageous people in the world opposing violence with love and thoughtless violence hurts innocent people.    And there were people coming together from radical opposing sides finding common ground—veterans coming back from Vietnam opposing war ever more fervently than those that were jailed or went into exile to avoid serving.

And while some struggles were being played out in the public sphere, revolution was also happening in quiet ways.  In 1969 the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to permit distribution of information about contraception—after a  many decades long struggle which including lobbying, defiance of the law and a sustained commitment to making lives better in the here and now, not after the revolution.   Our world had changed, not through violence but through persistence compassion.

The final conversion to non-violence came from working with those involved with radical movements for social transformation.   Trainers from the Movement for A New Society brought ideas such as consensus decision making, brainstorming and other ideas of community based non-violent direct action forward—ideas now taken for granted; Grindstone Co-operative provided training and retreats to explore radical organisational forms; and those involved in the early days of Alliance for Non-Violent Action (particularly Ken Hancock) looked at ways of exploring non-violence in efforts ranging from the conversion of Litton Industries from military to peaceful production to gay rights.

I became convinced in the value of non-violence first because it worked.   While people were blowing up mailboxes in support of a nationalist struggle, the feminist world was transforming the way we lived our lives.   Those involved in sustained non-violence were able to set down roots, reach out across differences and show by example the type of world they wished to create—the most radical form of propaganda by deed.

This was also the period when a real transformation of our approach to the world around us began.   The first Earth Day was human centric but it arose from a desire to do less harm to the world around us; it was only after that that I noticed something odd happening in small ways and they growing.   It became common-place to have vegetarian food at potlucks—again something just taken for granted now; we began to care for nature less to preserve it for future exploitation than because it was more readily apparent that our world has value in and of itself.    We began talking less of humane treatment of animals than of animal rights—this transformation started because people engaged in the hard work of doing research, communicating and sharing ideas, persistently asking for vegetarian and then vegan meal options at progressive events.    We are far from the end of this struggle but in 1970 it would not have been expected for main stream media to run a documentary on pig farming or run editorials and op-ed pieces on the conditions faced by factory farmed animals if it wasn’t for the decades long non-violent movement that brought vegetarianism and animal rights from the fringes to main stream.

I am not on the front lines anymore; most of my work involves co-operatives and non-profits and far too much sitting.    These are third way experiments—neither corporate or state—in addressing shared needs and desires.    But through them I get to learn from people in Ghana and Haiti, from the Philippines and Lithuania, who are experimenting with similar structures to meet the needs of struggling communities.   Each new housing co-op; each successful micro-financing initiative; is in itself an experiment in non-violence—the structures aren’t perfect because humans are involved—but they bring people from diverse backgrounds and experiences together to jointly solve problems.

Some suggested print resources:

Mahatma Gandhi:   Hind swarag and other writings

Christopher Key Chapple:   Nonviolence to animals, earth, and self in Asia                       traditions

Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, eds.:  A call to conscience : the landmark speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leo Tolstoy:  The Kingdom of God is Within You

Some suggested on-line resources:

Training for Change:

Ruckus Society:

Waging Nonviolence:



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