As an activist, I am used to my opinions being unpopular. The amount that I talk about these opinions varies partly based on how directly I am affected by the issue at hand. But part of it also depends on how much I am confronted with the issue on a daily basis, whether or not I am a direct target of oppression.
Take atheism. I’ve been an unwavering atheist for nearly 30 years now. But I’ve never felt the need to become an activist for atheism. Part of the reason is that I’ve never felt coerced into participating in any religious practices, or pressured into lying about my (lack of) beliefs. Since middle school I’ve lived in and near major cities where atheists, agnostics, and skeptics were not only tolerated, but welcomed. I’ve had no trouble finding atheist and agnostic friends; few of my friends worship any deities.
That doesn’t mean I’ve been unaffected by theism, however. Churches are still supported by my taxes, “In God We Trust” is printed on my money, and theistic religion is omnipresent in countless other ways. I just haven’t felt angry enough to speak out about it much, yet.
Part of the reason I haven’t participated in atheist activism is that I’m not actually opposed to someone believing in one or more deities. I might think that the Christian conception of a supreme being is as realistic as a Flying Spaghetti Monster or Invisible Pink Unicorn, but just believing in any of these things is not, in and of itself, oppressive. What’s oppressive is making laws and justifying violence based on someone’s interpretations of a supreme being’s wishes. I support activism against religious institutions, but I don’t necessarily believe that theism itself must be dismantled.
In contrast, take speciesism: the belief that human animals are superior to non-human ones. As a human, I am not directly oppressed by this widespread belief. While many people do indeed think I am inferior based on my skin color, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation (hence my activism on those fronts), it is not currently legal in this country to keep me as property, forcibly impregnate me and take my babies away so that I can be milked, kill me for my flesh, or harvest my organs without my consent. All of these practices are legal and commonplace for non-human animals, because of speciesism.
While I have no fear of being killed by another human specifically for my flesh, I know that every sentient being – which includes every animal we raise for food – fears death. I can no longer look upon animals being eaten without having feelings of revulsion, sadness, or anger. I live surrounded by advertisements of smiling people eating dead bodies. I see animals’ bodies, eggs, and milk being shared at social justice events, and even at animal welfare events. The sentiment that humans are entitled to use our fellow animals is everywhere. It’s virtually inescapable in this culture of killing.
This is why I cannot be silent about speciesism, as unpopular as my opinion that animals are people, not property may be. The world will not change if people like me are afraid to speak out, or if we make anti-oppression more palatable, offering “Meatless Mondays” as if killing six days a week is acceptable. I recognize that some people face genuine obstacles to going vegan, but those obstacles will never be overcome if we continue to support the mindset that human needs and desires are superior to those of all other animals.
We share the Earth with our fellow animals; we do not own it. It’s time to stop acting like we do.