The massive, spontaneous and leaderless Wall Street protests in New York City have been inspiring to behold. It has often been said that if these protests were being held by the Tea Party, the press coverage would likely be far more extensive. As it is, the protests have been so big and so dramatic, the news outlets can't ignore them.
And they're spreading, too. Similar protests are now being planned in other cities in the United States and Canada. This could be the beginning of a grassroots protest struggle on the Left.
If that's the case, and the optimist in me likes to hope that it is, I would ask the brave men and women on the front lines of the struggle not to forget our animal comrades.
No human beings are being treated as savagely as animals. In 2009, 59 billion animals died to feed human beings. Here are some statistics worth remembering:
In 2009, about 20 billion sea animals were killed (by the US) for human consumption . . . Note that both the land and sea animal numbers are those killed by the US, not killed for US consumption (since we import and export much of the slaughter). Animals killed worldwide for Americans' food in 2009 amount to 8.3 billion land animals and 51 billion sea animals. (So, a total of about 59 billion animals.) You can see that those imports and exports make a huge difference. (Source)
The very same forces that have led to a decline in the quality of life for ordinary people around the world have also resulted in the commodification of animals. Most of the people with power and wealth and influence have come to regard human beings and non-human animals as nothing more than numbers on profit-and-loss statements.
In this stark view, workers become statistics, and whether they are kept working or laid off is determined by the amount of profits that a company is making.
The same thing is true of animals. They, too, have become statistics. They, too, have been reduced to numbers, to figures in profit-and-loss statements. Their lives mean nothing to the people and the institutions that profit from their mass murder.
When I was younger, I was one of those idealistic young men who was out on the front lines of so many struggles: Central American solidarity protests, anti-apartheid protests, anti-nuclear protests. I believed, in my heart of hearts, that the vulnerable needed to be protected, and the best way to fight for them was to go out into the streets. Seeking political solutions in the hallowed halls of power wasn't enough. Like those brave souls on Wall Street right now - men and women, young and old, of all races and all walks of life - I felt like militant resistance was the only way to change the system.
The optimist in me still believes that. But once I opened my eyes to the suffering of animals, an entire new vista was illuminated for me. I started to wonder how I could go so long preaching nonviolence and talking about human rights while also shoving barbecued buffalo chicken wings and pork fried rice and steak in my mouth. How could I profess to believe in the sanctity of life and yet embrace habits and ways of doing things that were destroying so many innocent beings who deserved the right to live as much as I did?
Once I became a vegan (I'm almost approaching my second anniversary - and I feel better than ever!), I put all of the puzzle pieces together. I began to see the world in an entirely different way. To me, animal rights became the most important single issue in the world. It remains so, in my mind. In the case of human beings, most countries around the world now at least pay lip service to the primacy of human rights. And, at this very moment in history, mass genocide does not appear to be happening anywhere, despite wars and rampant violence in certain hot spots.
The same cannot be said for animals, who - in the billions - live in terror every day, and who - in the millions - are murdered each day to feed human beings who do not need to consume them (and have absolutely no right whatsoever to consume them, except by sheer brute force) in order to survive.
The Wall Street protests are showing us that people - when collectively pressed against the wall by fat cats and governments and inhumane economic institutions - will resist. And that resistance will grow over time. New adherents will join the cause. Young and old alike will see the wisdom of resisting at this moment in history.
Those of us who want to bring an end to the mass murder of animals have an obligation, it seems to me, to connect the dots whenever possible, in order to show people that the same institutions that cause human misery on such a large scale also result in the mass extermination of living, breathing, sentient beings who have the capacity to form bonds, experience feelings of happiness and sorrow and loss and pleasure.
Ordinary people have the right to live a good life, without worrying whether they'll be able to make their mortgage payments or keep the lights on or feed their kids.
Animals have the right to live free of terrorism, free of mass murder, in the open air, in the sunshine, where they can savor the sweet mystery of life for the fleeting moment they're in this world. Storming Wall Street and demanding that people be treated with dignity and ending the commodification of animals go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other.