Want a Presidential Candidate to Support Animal Rights? Pressure the Good Guys.

There's been a fair amount of talk among vegans and animal rights activists in recent days about the propriety of confronting Bernie Sanders, as my fellow Direct Action Everywhere activists did and as my friend Jay Shooster and I did in the Huffington Post following Russell Simmons' criticism of the presidential candidate over his support for animal agriculture.

Many people feel, arguably rightly so, that Sanders would be the best candidate for animals of any because he is less susceptible to corporate pressure and has at least said he does not like factory farms. So they say that this is just going to hurt him and undermine our cause.

I think this is pretty clearly wrong. I think that's especially true for a cause in its early days - how many votes are animal rights activists going to steal from Bernie Sanders? How I wish we were a threat. On the other hand, the gains from getting this issue on the political table - from even the most cursory of responses - are substantial.

We've seen how #BlackLivesMatter activists have brilliantly made racism a particularly potent issue in the campaign and led Sanders' campaign to considerably change their platform and emphasis. I'd like to offer up another episode from my gay elders as an example of a similar dynamic: pressuring George McGovern - in a far more aggressive way - to endorse gay rights in the 1972 campaign. Note that in general, early protests of politicians by gay activists targeted those who were likely sympathetic (in New York, this meant liberal then-Republicans like John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller). Here's the McGovern story:

"Why did McGovern seem to be committed to every liberal issue except gay rights? The gay activists were unable to understand...

"It was a quiet August morning, an hour before lunch and less than two weeks before Labor Day, when thirty members of the Gay Activists Alliance appeared, as if out of nowhere, and quickly and precisely brought McGovern's presidential headquarters to a halt. As soon as they got off the sixth-floor elevator, Bruce Voeller and two other GAA members walked deliberately toward three 10-button phone consoles, the main switchboards for the campaign. 'What's going on here?' the operator asked helpelessly as two of them chained their wrists to the phones... The activists who had chained themselves to the consoles commandeered the telephones and, consulting a list of telephone numbers, began to call every major media outlet in New York City: the Times, the News, the Post, the Associated Press, the United Press and all the TV stations. 'I am chained to a desk in George McGovern's campaign headquarters,' each of them said. Whenever the phone rang and the light lit on the console, they would pick up the phone and announce that the McGovern for President headquarters had been taken over by gay liberationists...

"[F]inally, at mid-afternoon, with the television cameras rolling, [campaign manager] Geto appeared, standing next to GAA member Allen Roskoff, to read a statement: 'Senator George McGovern has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to civil rights and civil liberties for all Americans. He has specifically addressed himself to discrimination directed against men and women based on sexual orientation, and has pledged to alleviate such discrimination in the federal government and in other areas of public life. Sen. McGovern believes that discrimination based on sexual orientation should be eliminated.'"

-Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney, Out for Good

That was the first example, as far as I know, of a presidential candidate explicitly supporting gay rights in any way. It didn't come about because they were nice.


  1. Hi Zach - I'm speaking as a queer black vegan (as you know) who does not support any presidential candidates. From how I see it, the main issue with DxE's confrontation with Bernie Sanders was the disingenuous way in which his stance was represented on social media. The main DxE Facebook page posted a meme of Sanders' smiling face with the words "AMERICANS LIKE BACON!" superimposed, accompanied by a caption stating that he said those words as well as "I'm for the farmers" in response to Russell Simmons, who is now a Hillary Clinton supporter.

    In the Huffington Post piece you do clarify that these were recollections by Sanders' wife of his conversation with Simmons, not direct quotes. But it's clear from the response to the original meme that most people supporting DxE's views did not actually watch the video, they just took DxE's statements that these were quotes at face value. Also, as several commenters have pointed out, Russell Simmons is not exactly a stellar role model for DxE to be allying with, given his views on veganism (http://veganmos.com/the-happy-vegan-or-not/) and economics (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/10/rushcard_s_failure_underscores_the_need_for_postal_banking_poor_americans.html).

    Again, I am not endorsing Sanders, and I am not saying he (or any other politician) is beyond criticism. (I wrote more about my political views in my blog at http://funcrunch.org/blog/2016/03/10/two-party-politics-will-not-liberate-animals/). But I really think that this particular campaign was poorly thought-out.

    1. Thanks a lot for your thoughts, Pax. You might be right. I know you're a very fair and thoughtful critic, though, so I take your points very seriously. A lot of the criticism of our Bernie Sanders meme seemed reflexive or centered around how progressive he was and how much we were hurting him, two things that I did not think were very strong points, but I know you get it.

      Regarding the meme, it's really tough - the internet is such a game of soundbites and catchy images that I think many things get simplified. I don't know if it was worth it or if there was a more fair way to get traction around this discussion. I do think it's good that (from looking at shares and the like) this issue got more attention among Sanders' supporters and likely made at least a blip on the radar for his campaign on Twitter, but maybe it wasn't worth it. I tend to think it was, but I could be wrong.

      Regarding the Russell Simmons thing, we probably should have been less enthusiastic to support him and focused more narrowly on the report he relayed in the interview. Still, I think when animal agriculture is discussed as a political issue on national TV, it is a good thing to give it more traction and increase pressure on the candidates regardless who the messenger is. I agree we should not align ourselves with him, but when he raises an issue that is otherwise forgotten I think it does make sense to amplify that.

      Thanks for your thoughts Pax. As always, I enjoyed reading your post on the matter and agree with your thesis.

    2. I agree with your statements about DxE's actions, funcrunch. DxE and other pitchfork groups have a habit of supporting wealthy famous not-even-vegans instead of the vegan masses. This entire thing has been disingenuous and slanted. The majority of vegans do not agree with DxE on this, and we believe they hurt our cause and Bernie's campaign. Meanwhile, HiIIary by far the most harmful candidate for the animals and the environment - is the sole beneficiary from DxE's stalking and harassment of Bernie's campaign. Regardless of how they try to justify it. I personally have had to waste a ton of time desperately trying to damage control, when I needed to be using that time reaching hundreds/thousands of Bernie supporters so that we can overcome the great monstrous corporate and suppression machine that's moving against us (which DxE has evidently decided to do the bidding of).

  2. This statement is blatantly false - "#BlackLivesMatter activists have brilliantly made racism a particularly potent issue in the campaign and led Sanders' campaign to considerably change their platform and emphasis."

    That statement shows a deep lack of Bernie's history and campaign and I encourage you for the sake of fairness and truth, to retract it. Not only has Bernie been an ardent activist and supporter of civil rights and equality for all people since at least the early 60's, he has continued to fight for equality for the past several decades. His campaign already passionately included his long held stances and policies to end systemic racism, before those protesters crashed his speech last year. Many in the civil rights/Bernie crowd were rightfully baffled that they chose him of all people to protest.

    You do a great disservice to truth and journalism by making this statement and spreading that false narrative. In fact it's playing to a few different paid HiIIary endorsers who have tried to smear Bernie's good civil rights name.

    Give credit where credit's due.

    As for the title of this post: "Want a Presidential Candidate to Support Animal Rights? Pressure the Good Guys." I would change it to: "Want to Miss our Only Chance to have a President who will Make Progress for Animals and their Environment? Attack the Good Guys."

    And yes, I know you guys keep justifying it saying it's "not an attack", but it clearly is, all his supporters including multitudes of vegans, feel it and are begging you to stop. But you don't listen, just keep doing it, regardless of the massive negative impact it has on Bernie's campaign and by extension, billions or more animals an their habitat which will be gone forever if HiIIary is nominated instead. You are not doing veganism or animals a favor. Not only that, you are committing a great wrong against us all. So sad.

    1. *Sorry that line at the top is supposed to read, "That statement shows a deep lack of UNDERSTANDING of Bernie's history and campaign..."

  3. * & Instead of "Pressure", why don't you say what you really mean, which is "blackmail and extort him to do something impossible right now in the middle of his campaign, under threat that you'll keep stalking and sabotaging him."

    And by "him/Bernie", I mean us. You are sabotaging US. You are sabotaging the majority of vegans and all the other people in this campaign, hence #NotMeUs. Sabotaging all the people in Gaza and elsewhere who will suffer more if Bernie is not elected, sabotaging the poor all over the country, the animals and their habitat too. Their blood will be on your hands when you help HiIIary take the nomination with your naivety and lack of patience.

  4. Thank you so much for all the thoughtful contributions. I am in support of educating/disrupt Sanders and all the other candidates but this campaigning after the "good guy" as gone too far with the Nazi piece and the memes of DxE. I do hope that CF and DxE re-think this Bernie campaign before more damage to all oppressed groups and to the AR/anti-speciesist/liberationist movement is done. Folks, let’s do spend more time thinking interesectional strategy –since is a political campaign with many important issues at stake.Just remember that not everyone can afford any of the other candidates and that the world, animals marginalized /oppressed groups ( and I am writing as part to many of them) simply can’t afford any other candidate to win the presidency of the most powerful country in the world. So many issues are a stake and I am not privileged enough to just don't care about this election nor to bypass the real options we have for a next US president.

    In solidarity,

    1. Totally agree with you that the Nazi piece was too far. I agree with Isaac Bashevis Singer that in their behavior toward their fellow creatures, all men are Nazis, but I don't think that's the way you title a piece about a presidential candidate who is not particularly bad on this issue relative to anyone else. We only had one meme a while back that I think you supported since it sparked the disruptions? You might be mixing up CF's memes with ours. Thanks for the support with the disruptions, and I totally agree that we should consider all marginalized/oppressed groups, for whom his candidacy would likely be the best.

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