Some see animal rights marches as a pointless endeavor, after all, it doesn’t stop lorries going into slaughterhouses, stop animals being hunted for pleasure, nor does it stop the plethora of other ways in which we use animals.
It is a passive but important form of activism. It fosters a sense of community, family, and unity with a shared sense of purpose, which not all of us feel when we’re the only vegan in the village.
It inspires us to do more as we listen to eloquent, powerful and emotionally charged speeches; but most importantly of all, it shows the world that we’re not some fringe group, we are an exponentially growing force that takes what we believe in seriously.
Animal rights march
In the days that followed the Official Animal Rights March in London, I began to reflect and it had left me with a question, a question that now and continually frustrates me.
On the morning of the march, I had arrived in London at a ludicrously early time. With hours to kill I decided to wander about and do a little sightseeing. It was six a.m., and I happened across Battersea Park, populated by pigeons, runners, dogs taking their sleepy owners for a walk and much to my surprise a Buddhist monk rhythmically banging his drum.
Reverend Gyoro Nagase of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order, welcomed the sun as it rose directly over the Thames. I sat at the base of the Battersea Peace Pagoda with my newly found pigeon friends, completely content, in a city that seemed entirely foreign to my Northern self. It felt more similar to Oslo, or some other European city, than it did to Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds.
The march itself was electric; in peaks and troughs the energy surged from front to rear with chants, drums and whistles.
The police lined up outside McDonald's on Whitehall like hired security or actors in a play. It was the only mainstream media presence for the entirety of the march. For all the effort they went to, they had a five-minute segment on BBC London News. Also, there wasn't a single story elsewhere within the press. I hate to go all tinfoil hat, but they appear to be trying to control the narrative.
The speakers spoke with purpose and clarity. The reported crowd of 10,000 hung silently to their every word. 10,000 vegans! At the time I thought that was a lot, but in the days that followed, reflecting on the day itself, a question popped into my mind. Where were all the vegans?
How many vegans?
According to The Vegan Society, there are currently 600,000 vegans in Great Britain, 1.16 percent of the population, which has more than doubled in since 2016. Personally, I like to think this estimate is shy of the true figure and prefer the Compare the Market's, probably exaggerated, 3.5 million vegans in the UK, but I am an optimist.
For this exercise, we'll use The Vegan Society's figure. I know that people from outside of Britain came to the march, but for argument’s sake, we'll say they were British. This would mean that only 1.6 percent of British vegans attended. Unfortunately, I cannot speak in global terms with regard to vegan population, and the great numbers of inactivity, but what I say here can be applied to a global context.
I also know that not everyone can make it to events like this one for various reasons, and that there were activists - like the Hunt Saboteurs - doing important work in the field. I know the march has doubled in size every year for three years but, considering that we are people who profess to care about animals, this turn out is poor.
Activist Earthling Ed speaks at the Surge animal rights march
Lack of activism
Moreover, it also speaks volumes about the state of activism and the lack thereof. Do they only care enough to leave animals off their plates and their bodies? Why don't they stand up for the cause in which they believe to the center of their very being?
Recently at one of my local vigils outside a huge industrial slaughterhouse, one of my fellow attendees said, 'we need more people'. And I couldn’t agree more.
Where is the outrage? Why aren't we lining the streets, outside every slaughterhouse in fervent opposition? Do you learn about the horrors, go vegan, then stick your head in the sand like the rest of society? Why aren't you doing anything? Silence is complicity.
New definition of veganism?
The movement is made up of so many types of people, with different skills, and there are different types of activism to suit them. Not everyone can do these things, but most people can do something, even if it's just for an hour a week.
Recently, Ronnie Lee, Animal Liberation Front Co-founder, suggested a new definition of veganism, and while I don’t think The Vegan Society's definition needs changing, I agree with sentiments behind Lee's suggestion.
It is our moral duty to do everything we can to create a vegan world. Earthling Ed Winters stated the same during his speech at the 2018 OARM: "Our existence is a vessel through which we are morally obliged to create positive change."
Can't wait for change
We cannot wait for change if we want a vegan world, if we do, there will be no world to wait for.
All animal activists do what they do, however they do it, for the liberation of animals and the creation of a vegan world, but how they do it, how they advocate, can become a bone of contention.
But they all have their place, even welfarism, which I say that as an avid abolitionist. Advocating for higher welfare reveals the nature of factory farming. Direct Action liberates animals and interrupts the status quo. The Save Movement creates a visible front to the animal rights movement. These are only a few examples but all provide evidence for social media and street activists which change public opinion.
As solitary actions, all forms of activism can appear ineffective in contrast to what they oppose, but together, they are smaller parts of a larger whole.
While it can sometimes feel like your actions as an activist are futile, they are not. We are making change, faster than ever, but it is still not enough.
Something needs to change, something needs to shake the vegan community, to shake them from their inactive slumber. But if seeing the needless slaughter of the innocent doesn’t make you stand up and fight for what you believe in, I don’t know what will.
We can do better than this, we are better than this, we have the numbers - and they're growing. Imagine how much of a difference we could make if even a quarter of all vegans became active. What a force we would be!
Next to the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park there was an information board with a quote, while not about animal rights I'm sure the sentiment can be applied to all sentient beings.
"Civilisation is not to kill human-beings, not to destroy things, nor to make war; civilisation is to hold mutual affection and to respect each other." - The Most Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii.