From the occupied territories of the Multnomah Chinook
In 2012, a coalition of animal advocates and social justice organizers in the Pacific Northwest committed to reframing the animal liberation movement. Frustrated, stagnant, isolated, and largely neutralized, the movement for animals in the United States was–and still is–in a state of ambivalence that threatens the possibility of substantive change for animals in captivity and on the land. It seemed an overhaul was needed to shift the discourse and organizing towards a new framework, one in which the situation of animal oppression is located in the histories and logic of larger structures of power.
For us, this shift was the emergence of Resistance Ecology. Resistance Ecology started as a project to better understand the “ecology” of power and how to organize more effectively through an “ecology” of resistance. In our initial formulation, Resistance Ecology was intended to build a grassroots network of animal liberation advocates, to tour as means of establishing and sustaining this network, to organize campaigns that would flow from this network, to produce a movement publication in the tradition of No Compromise as a medium for discourse, and to organize an annual conference as a face-to-face forum to center and assess this work in a concerted way. Although we have followed through to varying extents on all of these fronts, our annual conference has come to occupy a unique place in our history, and has since become tantamount to the work of Resistance Ecology itself.
Our friends and supporters have no doubt noticed a lack of activity since our 3rd annual conference in June of 2015. We have made no mention of future plans or current organizing activity, nor have we made any announcements of a 4th annual conference for 2016. This is not due to an absence of diligence or any growing political lethargy. The stillness of the last ten months should not be mistaken for idleness – we are advancing towards different and exciting horizons.
This is a letter to our supporters and participants – The Resistance Ecology Conference has come to an end.
Animal use on the global scale and on this continent specifically does not occur in vacuum of power, but our movement has consolidated itself around the belief that it does. The expressions of our collective political dissonance can be found in every aspect of the animal advocacy movement. Even the conferences, forums, symposiums – venues designed to produce and inform critical analysis, reflection, and the distillation of competing narratives – have failed to address the dislocation of animal suffering from state power and capitalist accumulation. Some of the fundamental flaws of most, if not virtually all, animal “rights” organizing is the implicit assumption that power itself can be neutral in the question of nonhuman animals. So as a movement we allow various manifestations of power to linger, uninterrupted, unquestioned, unnoticed – or worse tacitly endorsed – because we assume that such power has the potential to mediate the liberation of animals. Heteropatriarchy, the accumulation of capital, settler colonialism, land theft, anti-black racism, xenophobia, Zionism, border militarization, prison industrialism – these specific oppressions and structures of power are given pass or even flourish because the underlying framing of animal advocacy that is presented by the dominant nonprofit organizations assumes they are animal-neutral. They are not. The oppression of nonhuman animals – through their displacement from the land, their captivity, exploitation of their bodies and labor, mass slaughter, and commodification – is a constitutive feature of this power. So what is our response? How do we organize a movement that effectively challenges an exhaustive and totalizing power while simultaneously affecting substantive gains for animals?
Resistance Ecology was designed to nurture these questions and create a forum in which to offer possible answers. Resistance Ecology was premised on the idea that there is something wrong with the animal “rights” movement. There is a dearth of tangible critique or discourse, horizontal networking, effective campaign organizing, coalition building, or radical solidarity or allyship. Progress for animals is measured in terms of assimilation into social, political or economic structures, not challenges to those structures or their specific points of power. We are left with a world of vegan combat boots for the Israeli Defence Forces, four vegan flavors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and prisons and immigration detention centers that serve exclusively vegetarian meals. These are the late stages of a dying or terribly confused movement, set to the backdrop of mass extinction, climate catastrophe, and steadily increasing global animal consumption per capita.
Resistance Ecology suggested that we should reject the animal “rights” movement that has been delivered to our feet and in its place build a movement on a foundation of solidarity, coalition building, networking, and substantively challenging power and capital. While often characterized as a grassroots animal “rights” conference, we hosted speakers and organization that could hardly be defined solely in terms of animal advocacy. Some of our favorite moments include bringing the George Jackson Brigade to discuss building an intergenerational movement and organizing against the prison industry, pattrice jones’ focus on identifying and healing the trauma of movement work, the now widely-viewed “The Hidden Cost of Patriarchy” workshop, the inspiring indigenous resistance work of Reclaim Turtle Island, Breeze Harper’s “Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter”, and a series focused on Israeli vegan-washing and animal advocacy in the occupied territories of Palestine. But Resistance Ecology also gave space to the animal liberation organizing that inspired us to keep focused and hold hope for future – like Fermare Green Hill, Marineland Animal Defense, No New Animal Lab, and Wildlife Defence League. Through the succession of three annual conferences, we continually asked the question: what would a critical animal liberation movement look like? We hope that viewed as a comprehensive and evolving set of ideas and critiques, the Resistance Ecology Conferences contributed to whatever answers the movement will submit.
We have been told that this conference would accomplish nothing beyond tearing the animal liberation movement apart. We have been told it would lead nowhere and that it is “fucking useless” to self-critique, coalition build, and practice solidarity. But we have also been told that Resistance Ecology has been one of the most important and thought-provoking conferences of its kind in the country. We have received support and solidarity from unlikely places and communities typically marginalized or persecuted by animal advocates. We have been told that we were helping to reframe the movement.
We will look back on Resistance Ecology with mixed feelings and ambivalence. Where are we now in comparison to when we started? What has changed? Has the concept of intersectionality been decontextualized and appropriated by privileged animal advocates under the dubious auspices of a vegan-washed neoliberal pluralism? How can we resist the temptation to have our work assimilated into social, political, and economic structures, of which animal use is a fundamental form? What is the relationship between animal liberation and the land? How can we support place-based struggle that resists incursions against the land and indigenous sovereignty, while negotiating the dimension of the animal subjectivity within colonial-capitalist nation-states?
These sorts of questions do not have easy answers, but we chose to engage them rather than dismiss them as distractions or disruptions. For us, that work will continue into new projects that will be extensions and manifestations of what we originally set out to do: to build a horizontal network grounded in the land, the resistance of nonhuman animals, solidarity and coalition politics, and dynamic campaigns to confront power and capital. The Resistance Ecology Conference has ended, but we think this movement is just beginning.
Animal rights is dead. Long live animal liberation!
If you were unable to attend, Burning Hearts Media recorded the majority of presentations and workshops from the three Resistance Ecology Conferences and has them available for viewing on their Vimeo.
We will be maintaining this domain name for one more year, so we can still be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.