“Shut Up and Take Action!” No, Shut Up and Listen!

As someone who suffers from chronic health problems, I’m often left wondering if there is any kind of “effective” role I can play in the animal liberation movement. My ability to engage in physical action is limited, and there is commonly a huge focus on this type of activism, from demonstrations/marches to physical direct action (liberating animals, sabotage etc), with the latter usually held up as the holy grail of activism in the fight for liberation of all animals from exploitation.

There have been occasions where people have questioned why I wasn’t taking part in actions that require physically able participants, and I have felt pressured into explaining my health problems to people I barely knew to justify why I wasn’t able, for example, to go out and attempt to directly prevent an animal from being killed that day. I’ve also witnessed friends with disabilities sit out of discussions surrounding physical direct action because they felt they had no role to play.

Those who are able to and do involve themselves in physical action are often viewed as almost superior to those who don’t, and when we do this we’re creating an ableist hierarchy between activists. We often gloss over the incredibly important role people play in organising, fundraising, and other forms of support (including prisoner support) that allow others to carry out these actions. These people deserve just as much respect as those who go out and rescue animals from places of torture. While no one can deny that physical direct action is important, the near worship of activists who engage in these actions as the most “effective” activists discourages those who cannot; some may never even attempt to become involved in the movement because this focus gives the impression that there is no place for them.

If we’re going to build a strong, effective movement, we need to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of ability. Recognising that not everyone is physically or mentally able to directly involve themselves in every kind of action typically used in the animal liberation movement is important, and probably the first step we should be taking. Aggressive demands for everyone to stop talking and start taking physical action (a far too common occurrence in my opinion) are always going to exclude people. We should never dictate to people what form their activism should take based on assumptions we’ve made about their abilities. Activists with disabilities should always be given the opportunity to make suggestions about new tactics that suit their own abilities, rather than being told that they can sit behind an info stall or update blogs while everyone else gets on with the “real” activism, or that they simply can’t be involved at all.