Okay folks, which is it?
Excited, astounded, defensive, confused. Just a few feelings I had during the 2010 National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC). It’s always so strange and sad to be in a room full of non-violence activists who only believe non-violence should go so far. Any further, beyond the established norm, and you warrant ridicule.
Though I did not attend NSAC on behalf of Connect the Dots, it was impossible to avoid processing the experience through a connectionist lens, just as it was essential to process the experience through a feminist, public health, and human rights lens (see a post from those perspectives on an upcoming personal blog).
As the conference began, I felt very excited to see that the organizers clearly went out of their way to accommodate vegans and vegetarians. All ingredients were listed and vegan items were specially marked. We’ve come a long way since the days of sparse salads, bringing our own food, and continually being asked what exactly a vegan is.
Yet we all know that food is only one element of veganism. And while I had a fabulous experience with conference organizers, my experience with conference participants was quite different. It’s not that they didn’t know what a vegan is – they knew and considered us, well me, a fringe “crazy.” I heard people laugh at the vegan options, question why they were even available, and make those typical stupid comments about how tasty other animals are.
Let me be clear – many participants and friends I spent time with at NSAC know I’m vegan and more than respect me. They were offended when I was and supported me the whole way. Plus, I’m an adult – I can shrug off inconsiderate, annoying comments just as well as the next person. As far as I’m concerned, the organizers respected me and that’s really what counts. But at the same time, it gets so tiring, so draining, to go to conference after conference that focuses on consent, non-violence, body autonomy, peace, justice, norms change, and the like and feel like I’m the only person who makes the connection.
I know, I know. Whoa is me, right?
Seriously, though, think about it. This isn’t about me. It’s about the non-consenting dead bodies being consumed during speeches that address the need to end violence in our lives. It’s about the consumption of another being’s flesh while survivors are talking about their bodies as crime scenes. It’s about the literal act of violence taking place in a space that’s supposed to be about non-violence.
How will we ever end violent manifestations of oppression like sexual assault when we directly support and participate in violence multiple times a day, every day? How will we ever change the norms that allow sexual assault to occur when these norms guide our most common, personal choices? How will we ever end oppression when we ridicule those who reject the false “us vs. them” dichotomy and hierarchy on which our agricultural industry thrives?
I’m not naive enough to think that everyone should go vegan. Not everyone has access to the same choices. However, if we want mercy for ourselves, it serves us well to make the most compassionate choices available as warranted by our personal circumstances. I’ve talked a lot about being vegan because that was my experience at NSAC. But all I really want is for people to critically think about their daily choices. How does what you eat, what you wear, and what or who you make fun of support norms that allow sexual assault to occur? Why do you think there is no possible way that any of those points could be connected? We’ve gotten to a place where we know that sexism leads to sexual assault. What about other forms of oppression? What about speciesism? And if you scoff at that term, why? Why is it so important to you to put energy into denying that other beings can experience oppression, violence, pain, and injustice? Think about what you would tell me in person if I asked you that question. Or better yet, email me and tell me why.
As a keynote speaker, Patti Giggans told the audience what her vision of a new movement to end sexual violence looks like. Imagine how thrilled I was to hear her say that it would include “all sentient beings” and that “even vegans” are welcome. Some of my friends took offense at this “even vegans” for me, but I honestly didn’t care. She acknowledged that violence is not human-exclusive. She made the connection and that’s good enough for me.
Let’s make connections. Reject notions of superiority and embrace a connectionist perspective. Join the movement for human, animal, and environmental well-being. The status quo simply isn’t good enough anymore.