August 5, 2015

The Activist in Me.

Photo: Pavan Rao

The list of atrocities towards humans is long—there is sex trafficking, beheadings of innocent civilians, police brutality, forced organ harvesting—and I care about all of it.

Can I fight against every single type of injustice? Maybe, if I didn’t have to work and take care of pets, errands and household tasks.

But still the list would be too long.

And I must also include time to speak of joy, the many good people on Earth and the beauty in life. I choose not to post about every terrible issue because I don’t want to sound overly bleak, and because I don’t want to live exclusively on Facebook.

After the death of Cecil, the well known African lion, outrage sparked across social media and numerous news networks. People were irate at this cruel event—that the hunter lured Cecil out of a protected wildlife area, shot him with a crossbow and then tracked him for forty hours until finishing him off with a rifle.

Along with this outrage came a consequential outrage which launched arguments among impassioned and well-meaning people. Many feel news media and social media attention for the slain lion has been greater than that displayed for the black lives lost in police custody, as well as the general injustices against black people.

I urge everyone to consider that when a major event takes place, there is often a maelstrom of immediate timely articles, social media posts and commentary, and in the news stream of tragedy these are often short-lived.

Certainly we can be outraged about the injustice against black people and the injustice of slain animals due to trophy hunting.

Why is there often a competition of issues?

Comparing the value of justices has caused significant societal problems in the first place. As Paul Farmer states, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

Before anyone jumps to a faulty conclusion, let me state that I am not comparing this lion with any of the black folks whose lives were unjustly ended. I am deeply saddened and angered by the lack of respect for Samuel DuBose, Sandra Bland, and the nine black folks murdered in the Charleston church, and by all the other stories of racial prejudice.

While I absolutely care about these atrocities against my fellow humans, I don’t feel the need to make a statement of comparison. This is not because I hold the lion up to the same level as those individual human beings, but because I’ve learned that comparison is detrimental. The energy that goes towards it takes away from the focus of fighting the issue itself. Comparison also perpetuates anger, increases defensiveness and polarizes people, when we could unite against all forms of injustice—if we are to hope for collective peace, that is.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

There are many of us who stand against injustice—period.

I am a pacifist, and I realize that I am also an idealist when I say that I wish for the peace of all living beings. But we are allowed to hope without restriction. I will always maintain a level of hope because it helps me deal just a little more with these many injustices.

My recent Facebook activity might lead people to wonder why I seem so invested in animal rights.

For one, I was a long time vegetarian (with periodic phases of pescatarian), but in recent months I turned vegan. We are definitely a minority when it comes to eating habits. Vegans are often judged and sometimes made fun of, or viewed as strange.

While I certainly do not value animal life over human life, I also do not value the concept of superiority between beings (I am not better, or of a higher quality than my dog because I’m a person; I am just different than her). Just because humans communicate in words and have complex brains that can invent technology doesn’t mean we are superior to beings who can’t.

The philosopher Hippocrates said, “The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.”

When it comes to humanity, I see no difference between myself and other races, sexual orientations or social classes.

I can choose to be a voice for animal rights, and I can still be angry about human rights abuses. I am angry because black people deserve to be treated fairly and respectfully. Before the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, I was angry that gay men and women were not able to marry their partners wherever they wanted to.

I am angry that animals are physically tortured and confined to filthy, cramped crates inside factory farm facilities.

Historically speaking, many groups have been oppressed: women, black people, gay people, etc. Many voices have fought hard for these groups, and the human rights movement in America has come a long way since the days of women being unable to vote, legal slavery and gays being unable to marry.

Animals are also of the oppressed. They are considered objects and commodities by the meat and dairy industries—to be exploited for human use.  Animals cannot fight for their own freedom, simply because they do not have a voice. They need humans to do it for them.

I care about racial equality, gay rights and other causes, but I am not as vocal about all of it because in today’s world we cannot dedicate our energy to everything.

Furthermore, must a person speak out in a public manner in order to show their anger over an issue? What about conversations with friends and family? Donations and volunteering?

Some seem to feel that social media is the only conduit for expression. It is certainly a powerful, widespread tool to raise awareness, but it’s not the only outlet.

Whatever you choose to be vocal about, I respect that. I teach my students about honoring diversity, and this lends itself to race, styles, preferences, and the topics individuals choose to express or write about.

Come on, everyone; let’s unify to fight against all forms of injustice.





Author: Brittany Michelson

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Pavan Rao/Flickr

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