Armed white supremacists frothing at the mouth are on the march, and perhaps because of that, other rights issues are getting pushed aside.
However, now is the perfect time to have a conversation about ways for those of us who decry discrimination based on arbitrary factors like race, gender, sexual orientation and religion to broaden the line of inclusivity to include species, too.
Why? Because the narrower our definition of “other,” the worse off we are. We ignore or brush away other movements at both our collective and our individual peril.
To quote Martin Niemoller, a onetime Hitler supporter and anti-Semite who changed his view after being sent to a concentration camp:
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“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
As thinking animals and as moral agents who champion understanding, respect and non-violence, we can and should open our hearts and minds to the growing call to recognize basic rights for other animals.
Not the right to drive a car or to vote, but the right not to be treated as fair game. The right not to be shot so their heads can go on a wall in a trophy hunter’s den or force-fed so that their swollen livers can be spread on toast.
When PETA protested the pigeon shoots in Hegins, Pa., the Ku Klux Klan turned up to defend the shooters and to goad little boys into “manly” acts, like wringing the necks of fallen, injured birds.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, because those who despise any individual or group they do not identify with despise them all.
It isn’t just those who stand to benefit financially – the purveyors of flesh, skins and fur; testing companies and suppliers to laboratories of everything from decapitators to cages; roadside zoos, circuses and marine amusement park operators – who object to animal protection and consideration, much less animal rights.
They weren’t the ones who sent the tiny guinea pig heart that arrived in our mail, or placed the deer’s head in our parking lot. Those who did are haters. And we must be their counterfoil.
Even as we have stopped institutionalizing people with disabilities, abolished human slavery, desegregated schools, established property and voting rights for women, begun to understand LGBTQ rights and to show our support for all religions and for refugees forced from their homelands, there is more room in our hearts to keep going.
In the ‘60s, we marched for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights. PETA’s general counsel, Philip Hirshkop, brought the legal case that overturned the ban on interracial marriage and won the right of women to attend the University of Virginia, which had been off-limits to them.
Today, our lawyers bring cases to stop orcas from being held captive at SeaWorld and argue in court for bears to be freed from cement cells at tawdry tourist attractions.
The time is right to examine what binds us – the commonalities between all of us, the feelings, emotions and fears we share.
Years ago, after deaf students at Washington, D.C.’s Gallaudet College won the hard fight to install a deaf president, the head of the student union there wrote:
“When slaves in America, wanted their freedom, whites were not ready. But slaves were ready. When women wanted the vote, men were not ready. But women were ready. And when deaf students wanted a deaf president, the college was not ready. But we were ready.”
Today, those who use and abuse animals, or those who do not regard them with the consideration they’re due, are not ready for change. But the animals and their advocates are ready.
Tracy Reiman is the executive vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She wrote this for Tribune News Service.