Thursday, November 19, 2009

It Will be Six Years 'Til They Coincide Again, But I'll be Vegan in the Interim: On Occasion-Based Activism

As it turns out, this year my birthday falls upon that (in)auspicious day notorious among vegans for its richness in Nonsense From Omnivores. A vegan Thanksgiving was pretty high on the birthday list, this year especially. Until I paused and thought for a minute. Why? Because it happened to be my birthday? Because it would make me more comfortable? Because a turkey would be spared, and for once I might not have to sit there wishing that I lived with vegans?

Come Thursday, November 26, I will sit, somewhat meekly and somewhat morosely and not a little bit uncomfortably as thanks are offered for a country I hold no particular allegiance to, for food I do not think we have a right to be eating, and for family who I love deeply, but who will probably tease, bribe, complain and wheedle me concerning the things I do or do not put in my mouth this Thursday, November 26.

I don't mean to complain. I, of most, if not all people, have precious little to complain about. There will be vegan food. There will be tons of vegan food. I will not go hungry; indeed, I will probably not want to move for 2 hours afterwards. There will be family, and when they aren't teasing me or eating dead animals, they will laugh, make jokes, kiss me, feed me and flop on the carpet with me for cutthroat carom board tournaments.

But this is the way it always is (except for the carom board tournaments). I always deal with these issues because I am always vegan. I am no more vegan on Thanksgiving, because the property status of animals is no more wrong on Thanksgiving than it is on any other day of the year; to be vegan is no less imperative. To be vegan is to really be vegan: to carry the knowledge you have both as a burden and a weapon; and to carry them always. When you know the truth, you can never unknow it. If the truth has done its proper work, you cannot switch it on and off to suit the current holiday. I don't care any more about the death of a Thanksgiving turkey than I do about the hotdogs eaten in the summer or the leather jackets worn in winter. Rodeos are as wrong as zoos are as wrong as hunting are as wrong as vivisection are as wrong as eating animals. All the time.

That's why I'm not much interested in the occasion-based campaigns favored by PETA (though that, admittedly, is the least of their offenses.) I roll my eyes along with my fellow vegans as a solitary turkey is pardoned while countless others are sent to their deaths. But this year, I'm a little more aware that, on any other day, if it were any other animal, there would be no reprieve. Why should vegans care (in the long run) that we convince one family, on one day, to spare one turkey? Why use this day to do what we ought to be doing with the rest of our lives -- lives that should be dedicated to the struggle for universal justice, fighting it on every front we encounter?
Occasion-based activism is nearly as vapid as the "ethical sexism" activism in the vein of the State of the Union Undress, or whatever they're calling the cheap stunts they're pulling this year. Not as offensive, mind you, but just as vapid.

Being vegan is, as we might tend to forget, more than not eating, wearing or otherwise using animals. It is more than rhetorically beating up every belligerent omnivore we come across. It is more than looking offended and pious when a holiday puts us face-to-face with the dead animal in the center of a table, even though it really is offensive. Veganism, though it can't help standing out a little more on days like these, is a moral imperative that demands our entire lives; and in return, the rewards go beyond the annual litany of stupid questions and little plates of vegan stuffing and cracks about Tofurky and cries of "Well, the Native Americans did it!" Veganism is morally static: it is always, at every point, the right thing to do. It remains right, regardless of the current holiday, regardless of how awkward the social setting is, regardless of how big the cages get, how free the chickens range, how painlessly the cows are executed. It is immovable, immutable, indispensable. This moral stasis, then, cannot but hold true, even as PETA cries over the turkeys while killing unwanted animals. Ethical integrity demands more of us than a single meal or the use of one single occasion to speak the truth. My solidarity with animals is not based on the extra sentiments that might be aroused by having my birthday fall on Thanksgiving. I want my family to go vegan, because I want the world to go vegan, forever. Not just for me, not just "for the turkeys", and not because the barrage of activism is slightly heavier today than normal, but because it is the right thing to do. Because, in the end, it is really what we do in between Thanksgivings, in our day-to-day existences, that will make any worthwhile difference in the way we relate to nonhumans.

Go vegan, today. But I hasten to add, stay vegan. Don't spare a turkey today and kill a pig tomorrow morning. And after you've spared that single turkey, keep going; grab veganism with both hands. Explore, read, think, write, argue, cook, bake, connect and LIVE. That, in the end, is how we build animal liberation, and that, as much as anything, is something to be thankful for.