I am a vegan and I have generally given my support to protests over the cruelty to animals, but an article that appeared in the Conversation raised questions about the effectiveness of direct action. I have a long history of political action that includes street protests. There is no doubt that protests today have attracted hostile and often violent responses. The police carry guns and tasers and their tactics are generally rough, to say the least and of course protesters are going to react. Here is the gist of my response to the Vegan protest in Melbourne posted on Facebook on the 11th of April 2019.
I have, for a long time now, advocated positive methods of protest. The article in the Conversation this week demonstrates the need to understand the emotive public responses to direct action and in particular where issues of veganism and animal cruelty are concerned. The writer questions whether such direct actions actually stop cruelty to animals. The article argues that showing images of humane treatment to animals, rather than images of cruelty, might bring about a better outcome.
I think there is a middle ground here. People need to have the information on cruelty, but at the same time, they need positive pathways to change that are not perceived as threatening. Australians are big animal consumers and they are already disturbed by rising prices, whereby demonstrators add to their insecurities. The fact is, market forces are having a dramatic impact on meat eaters and more people are turning to non-animal products. This does not not solve the problem of cruelty, but boosting attention to alternatives does go a long way to creating change.
I think we still need to be vigilant and carry out protests in less threatening ways, such as using social media, especially for personal testimonies on the health benefits of being vegan. The British sociologist Stuart Hall noted that to create any kind of change it first has to be embedded into the culture. Veganism is fast becoming the trendy way to live, especially among the younger consumers. The culture is already undergoing change, perhaps not quick enough for some, but social change is always a slow process. In the long term the market forces will determine the change, while in the interim we must care for the animals in the best and most benign ways possible.