Commonalities of Oppression

Or, why is our website ‘human rights are animal rights’?

The short answer:
Humans are animals (mammals) too, we realize that campaigning against animal oppression means respecting that human animals also need solidarity, love and liberation. More on this here.

The long answer:
Oppressions share commonalities. They overlap, they interact. They can parallel each-other. Sometimes they intersect. bob 1bob 2bob 4  bob 3bob 5 The term “intersectionality” was first used by Black feminist legal theorist, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, in her 1989 article “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Anti-Discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Practices”. Read it. Crenshaw explains that the intersectionality experience within black women is more powerful than the sum of their race and sex, and so their experiences of racism and sexism cannot be considered only in terms of being black, or only in terms of being a woman. Rather, it needs to be understood through considering the interactions of being both black and a woman, which frequently reinforce each other. Any observations that do not take intersectionality into consideration cannot accurately address the manner in which black women are oppressed.

From her work and so many before it and since then, the goals of ELK comes from their leadership, work and visions. So we use the name ‘human rights are animal rights’ to explicitly identify this space as a resource to network with other like-minded folks passionate about both human rights and animal rights, and who are capable of acknowledging the connections between them. ELK’s goal is to deconstruct the binaries and hierarchies of assuming liberation means one issue or community comes before another.

But just as important, it is our goal to not make generalizations that treat all issues of oppression to be the same or requiring the same solutions. For more on this, see Lauren Chief Elk’s “There is No “We”: V-Day, Indigenous Women and the Myth of Shared Gender Oppression”, addressing how framing sexualized violence as an issue that hurts all women equally results in erasing the experiences and voices of Indigenous womyn. Even by reducing the issue to the language of “human rights”, we overlook so many particular nuanced experiences of individuals living within different races, genders, abilities and other identities.

And so the same applies to the simplistic language of “animal rights”, which tends to lump all non-humans into one community despite the fact that – even within human supremacist societies – different animal species experience different privileges and oppressions. The liberation of pigs dying in slaughterhouses will be requiring different solutions to the liberation of dolphins in tanks, rats in laboratories or cows captive on dairy farms.

Really, the entire concept of “rights” itself is a problem. The ways in which what mainstream societies perceive as a “right” for someone is always originally defined by the dominant power structures: rich, white supremacist, ableist, cis-hetero-patriarchal, colonial, capitalist, speciesist authorities. Not to mention that these same authorities are also the forces most responsible for the violation of said “rights” in the first place! And what happens when a “right” is abused? We’re taught to call upon these powers to create more violence, as though this solves anything. More on the criminal-legal system here.

Therefore, in our vision of abolishing these oppressive institutions, we must remain vigilant of behaviour, language and assumptions that tokenize or speak-over our different voices and unique experiences. From this, we learn to appreciate that we cannot be advocates and allies for one issue or community while using tactics and philosophies that rely upon, enable, exuse or perpetuate another form of oppression. Therefore, a large part of these discussions over human rights and animal rights requires constant recognition and discussion about privileges. We wish to reintroduce the oppressions of human and animals within a broader framework that respects these entangled relationships in all their commonalities.

For these reasons and more, ELK is intended to be a resource for anti-oppressive, species-inclusive organizing that connect different social struggles in ways that creates a more resilient, transformative liberation movement for all.

Want more?
Check out these resources on the commonalities of oppression:

Using the definition provided by Free Geek Vancouver, we understand oppressions – such as speciesism – as “the use of power to disempower, marginalize, silence or otherwise subordinate one social group or category, often in order to further empower and/or privilege the oppressor”. Likewise, any and all community organizing should strive to be anti-oppressive, meaning “work seek[ing] to recognize the oppression that exists in our society and attempts to mitigate its affects and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities”.

Total Liberation,

ELK

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