I was so happy to learn that we would be starting with a recognition of the land because we need to be grounded. And thinking about the land that we stand on, which we’re not standing on right now because of all these things that are built on it, that can help, to even try and feel that land under there.
And me, coming from VINE Sanctuary, I always pay attention to who’s saying goodbye to me when I go off to an event like this. And so I just wanted to let you know that the folks who came to say goodbye to me before I drove here were Princess – we didn’t come up with that name – who is a former dairy cow; Buddy, who was only barely saved from being made into beef; and Sharky, a former fighting rooster. It turns out none of them would have been in the precarious situations they were in, were it not for the conquest.
So thinking about the land is really important. Thinking about the land tells us not just where we are but how we got there and starts to suggest not just where we need to go, but how we might get there together. So let’s think about Columbus, who didn’t just bring what would become racism, but also sexism and homophobia.
The same conquistadors who were sexually violating native women, and if you don’t know that history read “Conquest” by Andrea Smith. They were also levying the death penalty on “homosexuals” and gender non-normative people like me. They not only brought smallpox, they brought gold fever, thereby paving the way for capitalism and the commodification of everything. And they brought cows. Lots, and lots, and lots of cows, and pigs, and chickens.
Ecologist Alfred Crosby says that if space aliens had been watching the planet during the era of the conquest of the Americas they would think, and this is a quote from him, that “the object of the game being played was to remove the native people and replace them with farm animals.” And of course all of those captive cows, well of course this ushers in – and I’ll talk about this later – a whole new way of thinking about our relationship to animals. But all of those captive cows are now a leading source of climate change.
So this is what we mean when we use the word “intersectionality”. Not that it’s all connected in some sort of vague way, but that it’s all inextricably linked, and that you can’t really understand any aspect of it unless you’re willing to think about the connections and see how it all fits together, and that we can’t hope to solve any one problem without reference to the others, without kicking over the whole system. The idea of intersectionality.
The word – first person to use the word was Kimberlé Crenshaw, she was a black feminist legal scholar, is still a black feminist legal scholar. And you can actually just Google “Kimberlé Crenshaw” “intersectionality” you can find her original article free online in a .pdf where she first used the term. She first used the term with reference to race and gender. As a legal scholar in particular she had seen how the forms of job discrimination and other discrimination experienced by women of colour, oftentimes people had no recourse. They didn’t have any recourse because they couldn’t call it sex discrimination, because white women weren’t experiencing it, and they couldn’t call it race discrimination because black men weren’t experiencing it. And it was actually that the discrimination they were experiencing was a function of racism and sexism in interaction with one another.
This is a key, important – one: intersectionality is itself an essential conceptual tool, which is why I am taking time to tell you about it… I stopped myself because I was getting ahead of myself – I was getting ready to explain some of the key aspects of intersectionality to you but what I need to do first is make sure you understand how essential this conceptual tool is.
So Kimberlé Crenshaw first used the word. Feminists of colour, not just black feminists, really started working with it, really started – and of course some white feminists as well – really started looking at the intersections between – first it was race, gender, and class. But at the same time some feminists were looking at the intersections between homophobia and sexism, and we’re starting to see some important things about that.
More recently, then we started to think about the intersections of disability, of ethnicity. List all of them. More recently, finally, we have started to think about environmental racism and environmental justice and how all of these intersecting forms of oppression among homo sapiens both lead to and are worsened by the despoliation of the environment. And now we’re at the stage where finally some people, not a whole lot of us, that’s why it’s so important for y’all to start thinking about it too if you haven’t already – we can’t pretend to have yet already thought it through – are thinking through exactly how it is that speciesism intersects.
And if we think about it, we start to see that speciesism is in fact foundational to virtually every form of oppression that people visit on each other and are very much bound up with out despoliation of the Earth. So, it’s an essential conceptual tool.
You – if you’re an animal advocate and this is new to you, you need to get current quick, ’cause wow, we really need to be thinking about this and we really need to understand it for a couple reasons. One, ’cause it’s true. And because it’s true what that means is that we will not be able to accurately diagnose the problem that we are trying to solve unless we understand. You see what I am saying?
So speciesism is inextricably bound up with these other, so-called other forms of oppression. Every single thing that is done to an animal or an animal’s habitat is done, and even if it’s done by people, it’s done by people! People in particular social contexts – social contexts that include racism, and sexism, and homophobia, and transphobia, and etc. People who are living in economic circumstances which are shaped by those social forces. People living in physical places that have been and continue to be shaped by these forces. And so if we think we can liberate animals without reference to these things, you know that’s just not sensible thinking. So that’s the first reason: ’cause it’s true and ’cause we can’t possibly understand the problem we’re going to solve unless we understand it.
And the other reason is equally easy to understand. I just caught myself moving and I’m so glad that I can’t see the screen. And the other thing is that…to liberate animals, think of all the ways that animals are oppressed by people. Think of all of the local and regional economies that are founded upon the exploitation of animals. Think about the ways that products of animals are incorporated into the global economy. Liberating animals, not to mention, oh my gosh, restoring their habitats to them, this will require a fundamental restructuring of local economies, of the world economy, of human psychology. Ain’t no way the tiny little group of animal liberation activists, and not particularly diverse group of animal liberation activists, can possibly affect that kind of worldwide change. The absolutely only way we’re going to do it, is if we are in sincere solidarity with social and environmental justice movements and, in the course of that, lead people in social and environmental justice movements to understand that speciesism is their problem too.
To make the liberation of animals, to understand that the liberation of animals must be part of their own agenda, because speciesism is…the person who was, she called herself, she said she was rambling, sorry don’t know your name – Sarah. She was saying something about colonialism being in everything, yes? Everywhere? Well speciesism is in everything, and if, then, the environmental justice movement comes to understand that, then ending speciesism becomes a part of that movement too. We need a unified worldwide movement, yeah? And we can’t do that without the basic A-B-C conceptual tool of intersectionality.
So, what do you need to understand about intersectionality? It’s not just addition: “racism plus sexism equals worse”. The term that they used to use for that was “double jeopardy”. But it turns out that it’s not that easy. You can’t untangle the different forms of oppression from each other.
So like, if you add 4 plus 5, and you put them together you can still pull the 5 and the 4 back away from each other, right? And you can see that this was the 4 and this was the 5, right? What’s 4 times 5? Somebody? 20, right, my math is really bad. So you’ve got that 20. Imagine this 20, imagine 4 times 5 and now we’ve got 20. Okay, which ones of those is the 4 and which is the 5? You can’t, because the 20 is a function of 4 and 5 in interaction with one another. That’s how different forms of oppression interact with each other. They intermingle like catalysts with each other and the new thing that comes up is not something that you can then pull the different pieces apart from. Does that make sense? So that’s a key idea.
Another key idea is that the different forms of oppression support one another, they prop one another up. We can see this most clearly with homophobia and sexism. Do you need to be gay to be gay-bashed? No? Do you actually have to be trans to be subjected to transphobic bullying? What do you have to do? Exist? In what way? Well I can’t hear you – but I think the answer to the question is “violate gender norms”. I think that all that you have to do to be called queer in high school, whether or not you actually want to have relations with members of your same sex, is violate gender norms; if you’re male, don’t like sports and do like show tunes. If you’re female then do like sports and don’t want a boyfriend, because you’re more interested in math right now, and you could be called any one of the words that I’m not going to trigger people by shouting out, okay? And you could be gay-bashed to death, you could be trans-bashed to death just for walking down the street wearing the wrong thing. It doesn’t matter who you actually want it sleep with, it doesn’t matter what your self-identity is in that matter. All that matters is that you’re walking down the street violating gender norms. Yes?
Okay, so then we can see that the function of homophobia and the function of transphobia is to prop up that gender system, that man-on-top gender system. So we can see that – and it took feminists a long time to understand “Hey, you know what? You’re not going to solve sexism, unless you’re also solving homophobia.” And it took a long time. Actually there are a number of people in the LGTBQ movement who still don’t quite understand and many feminists don’t understand. A lot of people still don’t understand. You’re not going to solve one without solving the other. We just can’t. We’ll never make it. Okay….
Ah, another huge thing is that…hey where’s Mark Hawthorne? Mark has a book called “Striking at the Roots” where he’s talking about the different forms of animal activism. Striking at the roots, which is a nice metaphor, right? And also, by the way, a good book. How’s that for a shout-out? But the thing is the roots are all entangled. The roots are all entangled and so another nice metaphor is “kicking out the joints”.
The idea is if you want to bust up a piece of furniture – I wish I had a wooden chair here. If you want to bust up a piece of furniture – let’s imagine that this was a wooden table and I wanted to bust it up right? I mean I could just go here right, but that would be so hard. The thing to do would be to get at the joints right? So that’s another key thing with intersectionality. If you find those intersections between two different kinds of oppression and target them, it’s going to be undermining of the system, and also it’s like this groovy activist bonus because you’re doing two things at once, right?
And so one, if you’re little project, whatever your project is, if you’re targeting two different forms of oppression at once, if your project works then hey, all by itself that was good, but also because you were targeting the joints you’re being more undermining of the whole system, okay? Those are the key things about intersectionality you need to know. Obviously books and books and books have been written on it so I can’t possibly give you a complete education. Educate yourself, which brings me to the next point. You would like to think intersectionally. You would like to be able to understand what are the relationships between say racism and speciesism? Huh, well how are you going to do that unless you know something about both of those things?
So you may need to educate yourself. Animal liberation activists are extraordinary at vacuuming up – or do you all say hoovering here? – taking in lots and lots of information about specific kinds of animal exploitation. That same kind of self-educating has to happen for many animal activists about social justice issues. And similarly, social justice people who have, the very few who have begun to be awake to the connections to speciesism, may need to do some education there. You can’t expect yourself to like see things if you don’t know things.
Here’s a little tip from a former teacher: if you want to learn, one way to learn is to read first person accounts and histories of the movements against different forms of oppression, because when you read an account about a movement against a particular…like let’s say that you were to read an anthology by disability rights activists, then you’re not just going to learn about discrimination against people with disabilities, you’re also going to get an education in activist history, and maybe you’ll learn some new activist tactics along the way. So it’s another two-for-one, right?
So do your educating of yourself about different forms of oppression by learning about different movements against oppression. Oh, documentaries are great too for those who don’t care to read as much. The other thing that you have to do to be thinking about intersectionality is to know that, if you grew up in the U.S. or Canada and you attended the school systems here, you’ve been taught to think in exactly the opposite direction of seeing connections.
You’ve been schooled to understand things by dividing and conquering, division and classify. And it works great for algebra right? I mean, if you want to solve an algebraic equation then what you really do need to do is get that one variable all by itself on one side. But it’s exactly the opposite of what you need to do to think intersectionally. To think intersectionally, and also by the way to think ecologically, is to see connections. And you may need to be pretty mindful and conscious of the need to teach yourself to see connections.
You can also do little exercises to get better at intersectional thinking. Back when I worked at the Baker-Mandela Centre for Racist Education in Ann Arbor Michigan I went on a multi-year extravaganza of self-education around intersectionality where I would just periodically give myself little exercises that I would make myself do. So I would say “okay, disability rights and racism: what are the connections?” and then make myself write about it. Not just in your head, writing, because it can be slippery if you just stay in your head. You think you’ve got something thought through but you didn’t.
There are different things you can do. One, you can just pick two forms of oppression and challenge yourself to come up with all the different ways they intersect. Another thing that you can do is to pick a tactic of oppression, like stereotyping or incarceration, and then challenge yourself to see how many different forms of oppression use that tactic and how. You can think about the impact of one form of oppression, such as the callousness in eating meat, the just not thinking out where it came from, and say “people carry that into the rest of their lives, does it make it harder or easier for them to pick slave-picked chocolate? What other ways, are there other forms of oppression that this one form of oppression is actually supporting by making people more callous?” I think there’s lots actually. What else?
You can pick a particular problem like zoos or dairy, so-called, and challenge yourself to find how many different forms of oppression are intersecting there. And then finally, not finally but it’s the last one I’m going to say, you could pick an event in history or just any old event and say “okay, well how many intersecting forms of oppression can I find, and by looking at this event what can I learn about how they interact?” All of those are, I wouldn’t call them fun exercises, but they can be really really useful. So let’s do that.
If we were to do that, if we were to do that, we already started to do that now with the conquest, right, with what I’ve already said, and I can’t do it as extensively as I would like-again books and books. But if we do look closely at the conquest we learn a lot. And we can see, we can see actually in the conquest is a really good example of another really important conceptual tool that I want to introduce you to.
So, first the Conquistadors and then later the Brits, and the French, they brought not just their bodies, well they brought cows, we said that, and they brought their own bodies, and in their own bodies were their brains, right? And in their brains were some ideas, and those ideas were in certain patterns…
I’m going to get up and move around because I’m seeing restlessness, so I’ll move around and that will make you feel a little less restless. How does that work? I don’t know. Okay. Oh, I’m not going to be able to. Yes I am. Okay. Oh my god, it would have been better if I fell completely right, because then it would have been a real pratfall…
So in their brains there were ideas, and they were ideas, ecofeminist scholars would say, were patterned according to a logic of domination. They had a way of seeing the world, right? And we’re going to talk about this way of seeing the world. And their way of seeing the world is what some ecofeminist scholars call a logic of domination.
The logic of domination, which if we had time I could explain to you the relevant European history that lead people to be thinking in that way when they got here, but we don’t have time for that. So, the logic of domination divides the world first of all into dualisms, into binary dualisms: male-female, human-animal, nature-culture oh no, culture-nature. There’s more. Oh, a big one is reason-emotion, mind-body, okay?
And the logic of domination says, okay, that the whole world as we can see it always appears in these twos and the twos are separate and they’re opposite of each other. They’re separate and opposite. Now this is, let’s just pause for a moment in awe of the bizarreness of this idea. How in the world could the male and female of a species – and this doesn’t even get into leaving out intersex people and this is actually a continuum – how in the world could the male and female of a single species be opposite each other? And of course humans are animals, yes? Nature, we’re social animals right? You do know that right? And it’s the nature of social animals to create cultures, so how could culture be something other than nature, much less the opposite of it.
Reason and emotion. I mean, I guess they didn’t know that then but it all just goes on in your nervous system, right, and we’ve just, you know, we’ve had these sensations and we have these cognitions and these things that are going on in our brain and so some of these we call feelings, and some of them we call thoughts, and that’s useful for us in some ways but they’re not actually distinct. If you look in your brain, if you look at a scan of a brain it’s not like you can pick out here’s the feelings and here’s the thoughts; it’s all going one at the same time right? Have you ever had a thought when you haven’t also been having some feeling, or vice versa? No, of course not. You might have been really really numb to your feelings but they were still there. What else? Oh, mind and body, that’s a beautiful one, right? That’s why I always point out that our brains are in our bodies, because what else is your mind except a function of your body.
Okay, so the logic of domination bizarrely divides the world into these binary dualisms, which are considered to be opposite to each other and then-that’s bad enough, you’ve just totally wrecked your ability to see the world accurately, much less see the relationships among things in the world-but to make things worse they say “oh oh oh, and by the way, of these opposites, one is always better than the other: male over female, human over animal, mind over body”, you don’t need me to list them all. Oh, reason over emotion, and more.
And the logic of domination assigns – it does make relationships, most of the time the logic of domination is doing nothing but destroying relationships, but the one way that it does make relationships is it then assigns relationships among the things, the ones that are on the upside and the ones that are on the downside.
And so, males are seen as more rational, women and people of colour are seen as closer to nature, women are seen as more emotional. You get the picture, yes? And, oh, and if you want to put down some group of people just call them animal names. So this teaches us a little it about how the whole system is maintained because again, this is another way of thinking about intersectionality because essentially this is showing us where those joints are, those connections, those assumptions, between the different terms in the logic of domination. Those are the things that we need to try and pull apart because they’re what’s holding the whole system together. Does that make sense? Okay.
And we can see this, I don’t have time but you could do it as an exercise, you can see every element of the logic of domination in what the colonizers did when they came here. Because, again this is not abstract, yes these were the ideas that they had in their heads, but those ideas then led to acts, right? To genocide, to ecocide.
And we see, we’ll see that logic of domination, so we’ll see, for example, that one of the things that the first few sets of colonizers did was to take both people and animals back with them to be exhibited in what would now be called zoos. And actually this was already a pretty common behavior that imperialists engaged in which was to show off their conquests by means of putting non-human and human animals on display. Parading them through the streets. Putting them behind bars in parks. We still have the zoos today right? And we have, for the most part, human animals, human beings, are no longer being exhibited, at least not in that way. But the zoo is still expressing the logic of domination. It’s still expressing not only this idea that we could own animals, right, because that’s one of the key ideas that they brought over here, this idea that non-human animals were not out kin but were objects. Objects to be owned, to be bought and sold, to be cut into bits and pieces.
This is the same way that they saw land, yes? Objects to be bought and sold. How bizarre right? This is like owning a cloud or something. So about the zoos, I just want to make sure you’re clear. So it’s not just this idea that the animals in the zoo can be rightfully held captive, put on display, and maybe you’ve fallen for this idea that maybe we’re saving them-yeah, because we took their habitat-but think about what the zoo is telling people. It’s not just telling them you’re superior to non-human animals. It’s not just encouraging them to get a kind of “I’m sorry we’ve gotta say sadistic pleasure out of looking at beings behind bars”. And if you ever go you’ll hear all the kids are crying and their parents are telling them “no no, this is happy” and so the kids have to act like it’s happy and then pretty soon it does feel happy to them. But the zoo is also telling you “we’re so powerful. We can create an African savannah in Ontario. We can create an Arctic ice pond in Florida. That’s how powerful human beings are.” And when you as human beings go to that zoo you’re being propped up, you’re being told you’re over, over everybody, over land.
Okay, so back to the land being chopped up. This actually brings us to the other thing I’m supposed to talk about which is “rights”… So, as you probably know, and we don’t like to-you know I’m assuming, I’m hoping you know it’s really important not to make the mistake of thinking that the literally hundreds of different native nations were identical. But as often the case in regions there are often some commonalities. For example, in Europe at this point most of the cultures are individualistic cultures. They’re not identical but they’re mostly individualistic cultures. Most Asian cultures tend to be collectivist cultures as opposed to individualistic cultures. They’re still different; Japanese culture’s way different from Korean culture, but they’re collectivist cultures right?
So, indigenous American cultures for the most part were collectivist cultures and for the most part indeed did not have this idea of ownership of land. And I…we can’t tell the whole sorry story here but I just want to tell you about, I just want to tell you about something that happened in the United States which is related. And that’s something that was called the Daws Act. Anybody heard of that? No? Anybody here from the United States? Oh well that helps explain it. So, in the United States there came a point. This was after some treaties had been made and many many treaties had been broken. And many many indigenous peoples were living on reserves – notice that same word – or reservations, in which the land was held by the tribe or nation, whichever they would choose to say. And then the U.S. passed something called the Daws Act, and the Daws Act mandated individual ownership. Mandated that reservation lands be divided up among the reservation members, and that the reservation members be given individual title to individual parcels of land. And it went as you would expect.
And folks resisted this but it was done, and the results were what would be expected, when you have people who have been pushed off of what not only were their own lands onto these barren, often not homelands, and are living in fairly desperate poverty. Not just fairly desperate, very desperate poverty. And that is that one by one by one individuals started selling. And you know, once one person sort of makes themselves break with everything their culture’s told them because they really feel like they need to do this in order to survive, then that makes it a little easier for the next one to do it, and the next one to do it, and the next one to do it, and the next thing you know native lands have been reduced precipitously.
Why do I mention this one? I could pick any of literally ten thousand awful things that were done. Why am I picking this one to tell you about? Because people were dispossessed by giving them rights. Rights they didn’t want. And this brings me to the other subject of my talk which was “rights” in quotes, because I’m kind of critical of rights and so are a lot of people. And I know that the animal rights movement uses this word really uncritically.
And so I just want to make sure that you’re aware of some of the critiques that exist of rights, but on the other hand I’m really intrigued by this idea “human rights are animal rights” because actually the more that I think about it, think that if we start to think about human rights as animal rights, that might actually help to solve some of the problems with the concept “rights”.
So, in the time that I have left, let’s talk a little bit about rights. If I had time I would wander around this stage like Oprah and I would ask you what rights are. And even though you’ve been using the words yourself and you might even belong to an organization called the “fill in the blanks” rights group, you’d probably have a really hard time telling me what exactly you mean by “rights”. Entitlements? Access? Things I need to protect me from other people?
So I want you to think critically about this and I’m going to introduce you to some critiques of rights. And the first critique of rights is an anarchist critique of rights. The Chicago anarcha-feminists of 1971 put out a manifesto that said, and I quote, “obviously, the world cannot tolerate many more decades of rule by gangs of armed males calling themselves governments.”
And woah, we didn’t even know about climate change at that point. Weren’t they right? So I just want to remind you, especially since I had to like show my passport at the border to get here that the world didn’t use to be cut up into things called countries, and that, if you look at a map where all the things called countries are demarcated, there’s all these lines and these lines are called borders, yes?
And I would just like to remind you, as an anarcha-feminist, that every one of those borders except for the exception of a couple are policed by people with guns. They may not always show you the guns-the very nice Canadian border guard who looked at my passport did not show me his gun but I’m sure it was there. And there are armies, yes, armies massed behind all of those borders and in fact those borders were all created, how? Through processes of warfare, yes?
And so anarchism reminds us that states as they are currently constituted are always violent. They were created by processes of violence. They are maintained by processes of violence. And so, that is also true for our systems of laws. And so if what you mean by “rights” is what many people mean by rights which is legal rights, maybe that’s a little troubling because then you’re talking about enforcement. Enforcement by who? How? Will we be sending people to prison? Will we be using guns to enforce animal rights? What exactly will, what are we talking about here? So that’s a troubling, that’s one troubling critique of rights.
And here in Canada I know, and in the U.S. as well, if you look at the constitutions, what these laws are mostly about, there’s a nod to human rights or civil rights, or civil liberties, whatever you want to call them, but for the most part laws are about property. Laws are about enforcing property rights, and so we’re right back to chopping up the world, chopping up the land, into bits and pieces to be bought and sold. And if you’re like me and you’re following me here you understand that chopping the world into bits and pieces to be bought and sold is an inherently problematic process that is deeply linked to the exploitation of animals.
So how exactly we’re going to solve the exploitation of animals by incorporating them into this particularly violent legal system is not clear to me. So it’s just something to think about.
There are two different feminist critiques of “rights”: one that came sort of out of first world feminism, and another that came out of third world feminism. Out of first world feminism there’s just pointing out the not only Eurocentric, but androcentric way of thinking about the world. The way that we think about rights in western democracies is the social contract theory of rights. It basically says that it’s a terrible terrible thing to have to live in collectives with other people. Human beings are naturally individuals and if we come into contact with one another it’s just so awful that we need to protect ourselves from each other. That’s the social contract theory of rights. And I’m serious.
I’m belaboring the point a bit, but if you go back and read the philosophies that this comes from, they presume that humans are individuals – not withstanding the fact that we’re all born out of some other person’s body, and are completely dependent on either that person or another one for quite a long time, and that human beings have ever lived as individuals. We’re not orangs, okay? Orangutans – the males at least do tend to go off and live by themselves. But we’re not that kind of animal. We’re a social animal and we always have been, and the theory of rights is pretty much based on the opposite of that.
The other, oftentimes you’ll see, it’s happened many times that when people are interested in the liberation of women try to sort of help women elsewhere by means of proposing some women’s rights legislation, the women in question have not been particularly interested in that and have said instead “ummm, we’re kind of more interested in water right now and also land.” And sometimes this has been misread as “oh, they don’t want rights”.
What it is they’re pretty clear that rights written on paper is not going to solve their problems. And in fact this is the case. Many many countries in which hunger is rampant right now, many countries in which children are starving while food rots in storage containers, such as India, have written into their constitution a right to food. So there’s the more sort of pragmatic critique that-and all of us here, right, someone, the person who spoke, I’m sorry, I’m so bad about the names, when we were hearing about the triggers and how many of us have endured trauma. Sarah. So all of us have the right not to be beaten by our partners. Has that stopped it? All of us have the right, all children have the right not to be sexually violated. That hasn’t stopped it. My gosh, slavery is illegal everywhere in the world for the first time in human history. We also have more people enslaved than in any other time in history. So this suggests to me a practical critique of rights.
There’s also a post-colonial critique of rights that has to do with this idea of individual versus collective rights. I’m not so sure-now we’re getting into animal rights-I’m not so sure that fish want individual rights, at least free-living fish. I’m thinking they may be more interested in collective rights. What do you think? But our way of thinking about rights, our Eurocentric way of thinking about rights is all about thinking of the individual and it’s to protect the individual from other individuals and to protect the individual from the collective.
These are just some critiques of…oh my gosh…and then…oh right the individual…oh no, I’ll just leave this one out. I’m fighting with myself and my head while all these people are staring at me, trying to decide whether to say another critique or not. Oh I’ll just say that, you know so that when they all came over here, then what happened was European ways of thinking and categorizing the world became dominant here in what is the United States and Canada as well. And these include modern ways of thinking about species, which is actually a very problematic concept, ways of thinking about gender, ways of thinking about sexual orientation, what we now call sexual orientation. It didn’t use to be, heterosexuality didn’t use to exist. What? Yes. Because people weren’t, it wasn’t a noun. There weren’t gay people and straight people. There were people and some of them did this and some of them did that but they weren’t identities you see?
But another aspect of the logic of domination is this tendency to turn processes into nouns. So anyway, part of globalization has brought the gay rights movement worldwide. There are many many people who might be called LGTBQ, all of those or an admixture who are really happy about that and are using the word “gay rights” or using the word “trans rights”, etc. But there’s another whole set of people might be so designated but actually decline to call themselves L or B or T or Q, specifically because, in their own culture’s way of thinking which was maybe a three gender system or a four gender system or a five gender system in which same-sex relations were really common but not called by a particular name. They think that going back to that, that pre-colonial indigenous way of thinking about what we call sexual orientation and what we call gender identity is better for them. So there’s that.
That’s a really new critique of rights, but I’ve got to move forward. So, if we reconfigure this though, if we think about this, the title of the conference right “Human Rights are Animal Rights”, right? Woah, that’s so interesting because then what we do is we say, we remind everybody of something that I’m always reminding animal rights activists of which is that different animals want different things. If we put human rights as a kind of animal rights then it’s just one kind of animal rights, then we have to know, like we have to know fish aren’t interested in freedom of speech. People are really interested in that one, or at least some people are really interested in that one. There’s actually a wide variety of things that people want or don’t want as rights. And so this would maybe go a long way to reminding us that different animals want different rights.
It might also help us if we think about animals, we start thinking about what rights animals might want, oh my gosh…then we think about rights that we really haven’t thought about giving people. I’m pretty sure fish want freedom of movement. And I’m pretty sure we have not given ourselves that right, yeah? I had to show my passport at that border. There’s all kinds of problems at borders. So, thinking of human rights as a kind of animal rights might actually spark a whole bunch of creative thinking about what rights might be and who and which things we ought to go for. And the last thing I’ll say about rights is simply that myself, having thought about it for a really long time, I don’t have rights as an aim of mine.
However, in activism we think about aims, that’s what you’re aiming for, and then there are goals – those are things you’re gonna get along the way. And then there are tactics -they are the things you try to do to try and get your goals. And you put your tactics together into strategies. So I think I’m starting to think about rights as a tactic, or maybe a goal, something that we might want to pursue as a step along the way to our aims, a tool that we might sometimes want to use, but not our ultimate aim. That’s just my way of thinking.
But moving forward today. Thank you so much for letting me give the keynote. I would like you for the rest of the day to put all of these ideas about rights aside. Think about that another day. I wanted to say, what I really want you to keep in mind for the rest of the day today is intersectionality. And I really want you to keep it in mind in a way that’s grounded. Grounded in this question of how can you apply this in your own work.
Also I would like you to ask yourself what if you were me? What if you were me, and you had to give the closing remarks at this conference? All day today think to yourself “what if I had to give the closing remarks at this conference? What would I say?” Because I think that attending this conference could be a part of your way of training yourself to think intersectionally. So what you would do if you were me is you would be listening really closely, right, you would be paying attention to everything that everybody says, and you would constantly be steadily steadily saying “What were the common themes? What are the take-aways here? What am I going to walk away with? How does what this person’s saying connect to what this person said, and this other thing that I know?”
You’d be constantly steady steady steady making connections as you’re listening and also thinking “what’s the take-away? How am I taking this home?” So that’s what I really hope you will do today. Thank you so much for listening to me and have a fabulous day. I’ll see you at the end of the day.
pattrice jones is the cofounder of VINE Sanctuary, an LGBTQ-run farmed animal sanctuary that works from within an ecofeminist understanding of the intersection of oppressions. Her activist work dates back to the 1970s and includes anti-racist education, tenant organizing, and direct action against AIDS as well as work within the feminist, peace, and LGBTQ liberation movements. She has taught college and university courses on the praxis of social change, and her contributions to movement thinking appear in numerous anthologies as well as her book, Aftershock.