The Activism Center at Wetlands Preserve, NYC
Presented at the Washington DC,
Global Hunger Alliance Rally
I’m going to start with a chant that was used in the streets of New York as 25,000 protested the World Economic Forum, a global gathering of the world’s economic elite, who come together to further plans to further the conquest of every square inch of the world by corporate capitalism.
“Disease and starvation will not be solved by corporations. That’s bullshit! Get off it! The enemy is profit!”
For hundreds of years colonizers have used false promises and lies to to pacify those they intend to ruthlessly exploit. They have created and manipulated desperation and then offered cures worse than the original disease.
In the conquest of the Amazon, Christian missionaries helped to pacify and “civilize” indigenous people, transforming sustainable, self-sufficient, ancient societies into wage slaves and peasants.
In modern times, the international institutions that act as front groups for profiteering multinational corporations have dangled the carrots of foreign investment and free trade to undermine the self-sufficiency of traditional communities
For more than fifty years, the international loan sharks that are the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have given countries offers they can’t refuse, collecting their pound of flesh by mandating neoliberal economic policies like the construction of environmentally destructive megaprojects, the privatization or outright cutting of public resources and services, and the exploitation of working people under sweatshop conditions.
In Haiti in the seventies, the economic base of the nation’s people was destroyed through the mandated slaughter of the black pigs traditional to Dominica. In a country where currency was often scarce or unstable, the pigs had provided a sort of bank to Haitians. I realize that this is not a pleasant concept from a vegetarian perspective, but it is important to understand. When the pigs were slaughtered the people were left ripe for exploitation by multi-nationals. The market for locally grown Haitian corn was deliberately destroyed by subsidized US export crops. Haiti is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, a country where corporations like Disney and liqueur Remy-Martin have ruthlessly exploited workers at wages often totalling less than $1.50 a day.
It is in this light that we must look upon the call to export factory farming to the third world. Who really stands to benefit? Certainly not workers. Unlike methods of food gathering like subsistence agriculture and wild gathering, highly mechanized factory farms create work for a tiny number of people. The aspect of animal agriculture, slaughter, that is labor intensive in this country, slaughter, is even in the US an industry where workers work under unsafe conditions for low pay. Working under hyperexploitative sweatshop conditions, it is inevitable that jobsite accidental deaths will become a common occurrence.
As other speakers have related and will continue to relate, factory farming’s prospects are equally dim for the environment, animals, and global health.
Now all of us know this to be true. So what can we do about it?
We need to engage in our own form of solidarity. Corporations and the governments and institutions that serve them have worked to globalize factory farms, sweatshops, and war. We also need our own globalization, the globalization of solidarity and resistance.
When I talk about globalizing our struggle, I don’t just mean in the sense of taking it worldwide. I also mean global in the other sense of the word: broad, universal. As rainforest activist Patrick Reinsborough stated recently, “The age of single issue politics is over!”
Until we understand that humans, animals, and the planet are facing one common attack, until we are willing to bridge our struggles and form one united front, the steamroller of corporate domination will continue to crush us all. Around the world, people have been working to build a new movement around the vision of a united front against corporate globalization. From Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC unionists have taken to the streets marched side by side with environmentalists. 20,000 students and teachers marched together this week in New York, recognizing their respective interests in decent wages and decent education, and protesting Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal austerity plan that will massively cut funding to public education. Here today, we have environmentalists, labor activists, indigenous rights activists, animal liberationists, and health advocates.
In saying this, I don’t mean to underplay the importance of resistance that thinks globally in geographic terms. This struggle is truly world wide. In mass mobilizations, thousands upon thousands have shouted down the corporate elites in cities like Genoa, Quebec City, Davos, and Prague. In New York City, activists working against overseas sweatshops, community groups, students, unionists, and courageous immigrant workers demanding justice united to fight for decent wages and union contracts in New York City’s greengrocer workers. Those same forces coalesced this Friday to march and rally in outrage at Coca-Cola and Remy-Martin (manufacturer of Cointreau and Remy-Red) complicity in the murder of unionists in Colombia and Haiti. Common interests and shared principles drew these people together, recognizing that that local is the global and vice versa.
People are also coming together to conceive of solutions other than the bill of goods the corporations are trying to sell us. In Porto Allegre, Brazil, the people directly vote on a portion of public funds, allowing people, not politicians to speak to their real needs. This model has inspired the World Social Forum, which has brought together thousands of visionaries and dissidents in response to the World Economic Forum, to discuss real solutions to the world’s problems, not thinly veiled schemes to inflate corporate profits.
So has this global movement recognized the issue of first world corporations pushing a meat-centered, factory farming fueled diet? We need only look to the 2001 World Social Forum, where student protesters invaded a McDonalds, turned over tables, and chanted, “Rice and Beans are the food of the people!”
We can also look at the work of Indian peasant movements to keep Kentucky Fried Chicken out of India. Even in first-world countries, farmers like Jose Bovee and other foes of US fronted corporate imperialism are challenging the McDonald’s of the world. Not all of these challenges come from vegetarian advocates; many advocate local, family-scale agriculture as an alternative to the corporate factory farm model. Nonetheless, they must be recognized as important allies in confronting the global spread of factory farming, even as we continue to take an uncompromising stance advocating the total end of animal exploitation for food.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that what the media calls the anti-globalization movement has factory farming and veganism at the top of its agenda. No, we have a great deal of work to do to share information and ideas with our own ranks, educating about the human and environmental impacts of animal agriculture.
In particular, the issue of animal liberation has largely failed to penetrate the large global justice movement, despite the obvious commonalities in all struggles between oppression and injustice, despite the fact that animal exploitation is perpetuated by the very same type of attitudes and economic and political interests that fuel racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, classism, and other forms of oppression.
If this is going to change, the animal liberation movement needs to make its concerns relevant to others by understanding the challenges and needs of peoples facing oppression in their own lives, approaching them in solidarity and with humility, and by supporting the struggles of all people working against oppression and injustice. It means developing an analysis of issues of oppression within the animal liberation movement, challenging race, class, and gender privilege, and other invisible privileges given to members of oppressor groups. Until we are willing to look inward and address how our own movement reflects the very oppressions others work to challenge, then we will find a hard time finding others willing to coalesce with us and take our concern for the rights of animals seriously.
It also means having a perspective that looks at range of questions, recognizing the problems inherent not only in animal agriculture, but also in mass scale industrial plant agriculture as well. Animals, people, and the earth all benefit from a move towards local self-sufficiency, community-based economics and from systems of providing food that recognize kinship with all life and the planet, rather than working to exploit the earth through monocropping, chemicalization, and the destruction of animals condemned as so-called agricultural pests. The revival and expansion of techniques like local permaculture and wild food harvesting, striving to return humanity to our roots as a gatherer species depended on the bounty and health of our planet pose a powerful alternative to the commodification of land, workers, and animals’ lives.
So let’s mobilize and unite, and remember the chant used around the world by people who believe that another world is possible.
“The people united will never be defeated!!”