Melissa Patterson

Holding Tight to Remains of Optimism

by: Melissa Patterson

I once considered myself an Animal Rights Activist, but no longer care to. I feel betrayed and resentful toward the movement that, as a young person, I invested so much faith and passion in. Protecting and creating fair welfare standards for animals is vital, and there are so many substantial reasons to care for and protect animals from the often evil nature of humankind. But the perpetual willingness to throw anyone and everyone under the bus in order to achieve questionable improvements for animals is such an unfortunate habit within the movement. 

Examples of the AR Movement helping animals at the expense of humans include the objectively anti-Semitic comparison of the Holocaust to animal suffering, parallel to the racist comparison of slavery to animal suffering, the hyper-sexualization of young, white, female bodies, the tokenization of people of color, the habit of sweeping allegations of sexual assault or harassment under the rug, the broad lack of perspective of people from adversity or diversity, and many more. The inconsideration for farm workers who are responsible for raising and slaughtering food animals is an example of a particularly problematic compromise. Rather than displacing these workers by shutting down slaughterhouses, causing loss of employment and grave consequences for them and their families, resolve this basic violation of human rights while simultaneously advocating for animals. AR activists should have just as much compassion and drive for critical solution-making in regard to humans as animals.

Setting aside my boundless complaints about the problematic methods of the Animal Rights Movement, it is worth noting that veganism or plant-based eating are not interchangeable with animal rights. I became plant-based when I was a young teen because of my passion for animals, but that is not what encouraged me to continue. The reason that I remain plant-based today is to maintain a shred of optimism and control in the present and future realities of this planet. Making compassionate food choices for people, the planet, and animals is a simplified way to reclaim power to the people and cherish whatever optimism we have left.

Under the Trump Administration, with white nationalism and xenophobia on the rise, it is imperative to think critically about the nature of our movements and the practices we use to achieve common goals. I had just turned 18 a month before the 2016 Presidential Election. I was so utterly thrilled to be able to take part in such a pertinent historical shift in democratic power. Really, I was obnoxiously overjoyed by my recently acquired and long-awaited right to vote. But the outcome of the election snapped that young optimistic version of myself right in half. The one with respect for the criminal justice system, faith in institutions of power, and tact in my style of debate or activism. She has shuffled off this mortal coil and into a parallel dimension… which is quite possibly for the better. No real tangible change has been made within a tactful or conservatively configured movement in a vacuum. As good ol’ Ursula Le Guin once wrote, “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere”.

So, I suppose we all need to keep in mind that there is a lot at stake here, especially for my generation. We are quite literally inheriting a silver platter of borderline unfixable problems created and perpetuated by past generations. I’m looking at you, Baby Boomers. All blame aside, it is still everyone’s responsibility to take ownership over the gaping flaws in our society. Stop with the tunnel-vision priorities and throwing other marginalized communities under the bus to suit your agenda. Take tangible and inclusive action to improve the reality of our society and planet while inspiring yourself to hold tight to optimism, even when optimism is not warranted or seemingly accessible.