Last 3% of Black SF

Human/animal liberation and the limits of comparison

[Image: Protesters block an intersection, holding a large banner reading  “We Are The Last 3% Of Black SF.”]

I debated whether to write this essay because there’s been a lot of in-fighting in animal rights and vegan communities, and I want to encourage positive contributions and collaborations rather than just criticism. But I feel it’s important to call out—and call in—our fellow activists when oppressive language or tactics are used, in order to make the movement a safer space for marginalized humans.

With that in mind, I have serious problems with yesterday’s blog post by Ana Hurwitz for Collectively Free, entitled “Bernie Sanders: A Nazi On Animal Rights.” I feel strongly that the word Nazi should only be used to describe actual Nazis, who have committed unforgivable atrocities against millions of people. Yes, I do consider non-human animals to also be people, and humans do commit atrocities upon them by the billions. But the vast majority of the population does not yet see animals this way. Therefore, singling out a politician—a Jewish person, no less—as a Nazi for treating animals no differently from every other mainstream US-American politician is more offensive than provocative, and does not advance the cause of animal rights.

I recognize that the author of this piece is Jewish, but I do not feel this makes her immune to criticism. I have Jewish ancestry myself, which is part of why I find any comparison—casual or serious—to Nazis to be alarming and disturbing. I wouldn’t even call Donald Trump a Nazi, and he (“allegedly”) has open supporters of the KKK and other white supremacist groups at his rallies.

Speaking of rallies, in response to criticism of this blog post on their Facebook page, Collectively Free has posted numerous links to a post about BlackLivesMatter activists disrupting a Sanders rally, as justification for their actions. As I’ve posted before in reference to that disruption, I feel that non-black people—including other people of color—have no business telling black folks who we should support or how we should protest. But I feel it is inappropriate and disingenuous for that protest to be brought up in this context, particularly by non-black people. The black activists who disrupted Sanders had a reasonable expectation that he might heed their words and make changes to his platform accordingly. Collectively Free has no reasonable expectation that Sanders—or any other mainstream presidential candidate—will promote animal liberation in response to their demands.

What’s more, what appears to be the original motivation for this criticism—which has included a disruption of a Sanders rally as well—is also disingenuous. A month ago, Direct Action Everywhere (which is a separate group from Collectively Free, though there is some overlap in supporters) posted on their main Facebook page a meme of Bernie Sanders smiling with the words “AMERICANS LIKE BACON!” emblazoned over his face. This was in response to a CNN interview with Sanders’ wife Jane, regarding a conversation she overheard between Sanders and Russell Simmons, who now endorses Hillary Clinton. As I posted in a comment on Zach Groff’s blog, DxE’s framing of these words as if they were direct quotes and as if Sanders were gleeful about killing animals was why I had a problem with the criticism; it wasn’t because I support Sanders (to reiterate, I support no presidential candidates) or felt that he should be beyond criticism. Unfortunately, Collectively Free has now added their voices to what I feel is an ineffective and polarizing campaign.

As I said at the outset, I wish to encourage positive action and not merely criticize other animal rights organizations. I welcome constructive comments from others on this blog, whether or not you support Collectively Free or DxE. I am particularly interested in hearing from black vegans on the BlackLivesMatter comparison, and from Jewish vegans on the Nazi comparison. I do not claim to speak for all black vegans (and certainly not for Jewish vegans), but I feel that too often groups hold up members of other marginalized groups (including other PoC) as evidence of solidarity with black liberation, without recognizing that the challenges faced by blacks in the USA are not all interchangeable with those faced by other oppressed groups— including our fellow animals.

35 thoughts on “Human/animal liberation and the limits of comparison”

  1. Hi Pax,

    Thanks for writing this! I think you raise up some very good issues, actually. Some of them I thought myself as well and I’ll do my best to reply to your concerns:

    “I feel strongly that the word Nazi should only be used to describe actual Nazis, who have committed unforgivable atrocities against millions of people.” – I understand your stance, but other people like Alex Herschaft think differently. I support both Ana’s stance and yours.

    “singling out a politician” – in this case it was specific to Bernie, but I wanted to let you know we are not singling out Bernie per se in general. We have been trying to organize disruptions for Clinton, Trump and Cruz as well. We got Bill Clinton fundraising for Hillary but it has been harder to get to them. Even though I have not lived through Fascism, I attended 18 years of Catholic Italian school, and was kinda brainwashed by them. I have no issues with people calling Trump a fascist.

    Collectively Free has posted numerous links to a post about BlackLivesMatter activists disrupting a Sanders rally, as justification for their actions – CF has actually people of color as our core organizing members. Even though they weren’t present at the rally, they have access to our main page.

    Collectively Free has no reasonable expectation – and how did you come to that conclusion, exactly? We cannot publicly disclose our plans or detailed organizing strategies moving forward.

    Thanks for the discussion!

    1. Thanks for your comment Raffaella. My responses:

      – Bernie Sanders was specifically singled out in yesterday’s blog post for being a Nazi. I have not seen CF use that word to describe any other politician.

      – As I pointed out in my post, “people of color” is not equivalent to black. Anti-black racism is not always directly comparable to oppression of other racial groups. This is why I’m particularly interested in hearing from black vegans on this issue.

      – Do you truly and honestly expect Sanders – or any other Democratic or Republican presidential candidate – to embrace the cause of animal liberation? Not just welfare reform, but promotion of veganism and an end to the use of animals as property?

      1. Hi Pax,

        Thanks for the clarifications. The reasons why we haven’t done memes + articles for other candidates is simply because we have not been able to successfully disrupt them. The way CF strategizes a campaign is usually article + meme + disruption (not necessarily in this order).

        As someone who is gay, perhaps I can speak this one out, as mentioned by Zach: George McGovern was pressured to endorse gay rights. And he was the most progressive candidate. There’s a strategic reason why we want to focus on the so called most progressive ones.

        I do expect someone who calls himself a progressive to end use of animals as property and promote veganism.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this piece Pax! I am in support of educating/disrupt Sanders and all the other candidates but this campaign as gone too far with the Nazi piece and the memes of DxE. In addition to all the great points you raise, the world, animals and me, as a POC , queer and AR activist, simply can’t afford any other candidate to win the presidency of the most powerful country in the world. So many issues are a stake and I am not privileged enough to just dont care about this election nor to bypass the real options we have for a next US president. I think its time for CF and DxE to re-think this campaign before more damage to all oppressed groups and to the AR/anti-speciesist/liberationist movement is done. Folks, let’s do spend more time thinking interesectional strategy –since is a political campaign with many important issues at stake.

    In solidarity,

  3. Thanks Pax for writing this piece. I like how at the end you ask to hear from Jewish popped and people of color? i like that you end with the call to conversation and to listen to others voices and experiences and this is a good thing for me to see.

  4. I am not aware of any research to support that Holocaust (or rape or slavery) analogies are effective (as I always say, show me the research before wasting time and energy on “common sense” tactics that spin wheels). Carol Adams once wrote, why need to make analogies at all? Why not let the experiences of Nonhuman Animals be *theirs*? I am white identified, but I am also part Jewish and I don’t see the value in using shock tactics to trigger people into caring.

    This election is bringing out the worst in everyone. Earlier this week I shared an article on imposter syndrome and confidence bias on VFN which named a few high profile women as examples …it just happened to mention Hilary Clinton, and I got slammed hard for daring to show her face on a feminist page. Unreal. Whether you agree with her or not, there is a clear hint of misogyny wafting off the Bernie camp.

    Yes, Bernie needs to get on the vegan-wagon, but so long as the animal rights movement is painted as racist, ethnocentrist, and sexist, politicians will continue to steer clear. Who would want to be associated with such a movement that drops rape and genocide analogies right and left, parades women around on street corners naked, and threatens people with violence?

    1. Thanks for your comment Corey. While I avoid using the words Holocaust or genocide to describe the oppression of non-human animals myself, I generally won’t fault Jewish vegans for choosing those words. My issue with the CF essay was specifically with the labeling of an individual Jewish politician as a Nazi, for engaging in speciesism no different from any other Democratic or Republican presidential candidate.

  5. Thanks for writing this. I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with many dxe and cf posts. I originality was excited about both groups for many reasons- including multiracial, multigender, diverse sexuality, etc organizing- but their welcoming of pro-capitalism men being the face of some of their campaigns, their repeated tokenization of BLM and holocaust survivors, the shaming of tactics that aren’t the same as theirs, etc, they have begun to look similar to many mainstream animal rights movements. I worry that if they aren’t careful, they’ll become just like other movements that focus only on animal lib and only include other struggles when convenient.

    1. I think it’s pretty unfair to say we tokenize BLM since in NY some of our members are super active with the community and unlike other groups we actually share content of racial justice, participate in open meetings and actually march along their side.
      If it bothers people so much that we posted a BLM link, check out organizers page and you will see we actually have brown and black activists who are on board with the comparison.
      But since it seems to be forbidden even for them, perhaps I should start posting from my personal account comparing what we did to what gay rights activists did to George McGovern so that he could endorse gay rights. Or don’t I even have that right?

      1. There was a white straight “anarcho”capitalist dude who is speaking out for your movement, in between other posts complaining about the problem with focusing on “social issues” instead of “economic issues,” who posted that “no one cared when black lives matter interrupted Sanders,” etcetc. This status was shared by several cf and dxe members. None of your members challenged him on his oppressive posts during the short time I followed his Facebook activity. This is tokenization because A. BLM and animal liberation are not coming from the same place and B. BLM caught major hell overt interrupting sanders and representing them like they have it easy is ridiculous and C. BLM is being posted about only when convenient. I am sure there are some members who support BLM and some members who are great. But the loudest voices are showing tokenization rather than solidarity much of the time.

        You’re also failing to grasp Pax’s point that black folks suffer in unique ways compared to other people of color and other people of color are capable of antiblack racism or tokenizing black movements or not understanding what black folks go through.

        We don’t have to agree on everything and I know you’re getting a lot of flak right now but there are issues that need to be addressed. Being defensive about it is understandable, but it leaves the issues unaddressed.

        1. So sorry. My dog fucking died on Sunday and I have no time to respond to every single comment. When BLM disrupted Bernie I was in support of them – unlike other vegans who were bashing them. I’m honestly done explaining myself. Have no energy for this. Maybe some other time.

          1. Thank you. I’m really devastated and maybe watching in her dying days for the last week + doing all the activism we crushed into such short period has made judge things poorly, overreact or not answer things properly.

            I will be back on this soon.

          2. I’m so sorry to hear about your dog. Please don’t worry about this conversation. I hope you are able to take time to focus on healing from your loss. My heart goes out to you.

      2. Please also know that I know what it is like to have everyone jumping on you while you are doing hard work on the streets and from home. It is terrible to care very much and to have your work constantly scrutinized. I have made thousands of mistakes in my animal lib writing and activism and will surely make many more. So, my comments are not to say that I believe your work is useless or all wrong. They are not to say that I believe you are bad. They are to say that there are some facets that need work- just like every organization does. And also, I have been concerned because I have paid a lot of attention to you all due to my excitement about your efforts. We will disagree on things, but please know that I still stand with you on the things we agree on.

        1. Thank you. And I do promise, from the bottom of my heart I will admit to having screwed up when I do or even that I and the CF team could have handled things differently. This is just such a bad timing.

          I will come back on this soon.

    1. Ana – When I visit the link you posted, I get this message: “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now – The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you’re not in.”

        1. OK, I can read your Facebook note now, but be aware that as the privacy level is set to “Friends of friends,” not everyone has access to it.

          As I commented in reply to Corey Wrenn above, my reason for responding to your post was that you called a specific person a Nazi. I did not comment on your use of the words Holocaust or genocide. So if your note is in response to me, please keep that in mind.

          Also, assuming your note is in response to me, the line “So what if you have some Jewish ancestry” is rather dismissive of my family. As I posted in the entry I linked to in this essay (, my father is Jewish. As my mother is not Jewish, I’m aware (from my understanding) that makes me also not Jewish except by Reform standards. As I am also estranged from my family (for unrelated reasons: and never felt comfortable practicing Judaism (for reasons mentioned in the “Finding my tribe” blog post), this is why I said that I have “Jewish ancestry” rather than simply say that I am Jewish.

          Regardless, your post on the Collectively Free blog was not advocating for your fellow Jews, it was advocating for a group of people that neither you nor I are a part of: Non-human animals. To my mind, that makes constructive criticism of your post fair game.

          Note: I am going to bed soon, so if you (or anyone else) post any follow-up comments I might not see and approve them until tomorrow morning.

  6. So sorry Raffaella and Lili! Please do take some time to heal. I know how hard it is to lose a loved one. I have lost three beloved canines and my mother recently so I know it is very hard thing to deal with. Please remember that in order to be more effective dismantling speciesism we activist must practice self care. and I feel thayt in time of loss we must mourn properly and take some time off other things. I know is very hard but remember that self care is very radical! No te apures y deja ir cosas amiga! I so admire you two for all the amazing and hard work you do for non human animals. We all are so proud of you two. Mistakes will always happen so don’t get bummed down by this incident at all. Les mando muchisimo amor y abrazos!

  7. In short, it’s not anyone’s place to tell Jews how to engage in a conversation around The Holocaust. Conservative Jews, not secular gentiles with partial ancestry.

    And how dare anyone accuse such an analogy of being problematic. It’s an intimate analogy born of my people’s history. Just because the world nonchalantly uses analogies to our extermination, doesn’t mean that we do.

    One cannot affirm a faith in God without being spiritually bound to the canons of rabbinical mishnah. “Never again” is such a commandment against genocide. This is the holy teaching I follow, regardless of the approval of gentiles.

    The reason I did not mention other politicians is because Bernie Sanders is the only one obligated to Jewish halakoth. But yes every politician all over the world who oversees a genocide could fairly be compared to the Nazis.

    1. OK, I don’t know enough about Jewish practice or Bernie Sanders’ experience of Judaism to comment on whether he is “obligated to Jewish halakoth,” and you’ve made it clear that you don’t feel I’m entitled to comment on such regardless. It’s clear we’re not going to come to an agreement on the use of the word “Nazi” here, so I’m going to bow out of this discussion (with you, that is; you and others are still free to leave comments).

    2. Being that Jews were one of several groups that Nazis attempted to exterminate, I am going to disagree here when you say non-jews are not allowed to comment on the misuse of Nazi analogies.

      I’m queer and disabled and trans so an actual Nazi would have rounded me up, too, and I likely would have been subject to experimentation among other things. This is not going to happen to me if Sanders becomes president. The difference is that I do not suffer the same intergenerational Holocaust trauma that many Jewish folks do. That should be acknowledged. But, Sanders is not a Nazi and to say so silences the struggle of the many kinds of suffering that are intersecting and complicating things when we discuss these issues.

      All this said, Nazi comparisons are just bad form because they or so overused by anyone- Godwin’s law and all- that there are many other ways to write about things that are tactical choices. Even in Eternal Treblinka, the author does not call people Nazis, he talks about connections between oppressions. So, cut it with the “how dare anyone accuse such an analogy of being problematic,” and have a conversation instead.

  8. Then go to have this conversation with Jews exclusively Ana (plenty of Jewish outlets to public your piece).You are engaging everyone since you post in an activist blog and on an issue that will impact –in many ways– so many people. Besides the Nazi word choice , your pieces comes across as opportunistic –where you go taking about of the suffering of others far ( conveniently left Palestinians for instance) to help YOUR argument not out of concern for these peoples. To me, you come across as an arrogant and UBER entitled white person.

  9. 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust (1.1 million children). 6 million of those victims were Jewish. Other groups targeted by the Nazis were Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, disabled people, and Roma. 10 billion innocent beings are being murdered every year for animal agriculture. This is an animal holocaust, except now the bodies are being eaten. What is being taken to far is the fact that this vicious cycle keeps happening and instead of dealing with it we would rather complain about what name we are calling the oppressors. Anyone who supports the mass murder of any species is a nazi. It does not matter what species or religion you are. Remember we are all in this together, and the idea that we are not all interconnected because of religion,color of skin,species,sexuality, sexual orientation, creates separateness.

  10. Greetings, Pax.
    Are you aware of the “Black Agenda Report/News, information and analysis from the black left” blog? Here’s a sample title: “Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders: Sheepdogging for Hillary and the Democrats in 2016” By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon “The sheepdog is a card the Democratic party plays every presidential primary season when there’s no White House Democrat running for re-election.” Check it out, if you wish.

    I was proud to have taken part in the SHAC campaign to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences. I was strictly above-ground, never arrested, but I am in support of EarthFirst!, the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and am attracted to Direct Action Everywhere.

    I read a lot of books. Here’re two: “The Politics of Total Liberation – Revolution for the 21st Century” by Steven Best; and “Total Liberation! The Power and Promise of Animal Rights and the Radical Earth Movement” by David Naguib Pellow. Another good one: “Animal Liberation and Atheism – Dismantling the Procrustean Bed” by Kim Socha.

  11. I’d like to come back on this. Sorry for the delay.
    Now that I am no longer sleep deprived and had some time to think it over I believe strategically it was not the best time to release this article.
    But I have to say that I agree with the message. I think most people don’t blink an eye when calling Trump a fascist or alluding to him as a Nazi – if one participates in other social justice movements like I do they will most likely see this analogy being done quite often. A simple google will also show a variety of blog posts about it.
    But why do we get so bothered when it comes to Sanders? That was the question I asked myself. And I think the answer is because there’s a double standard and because of internalized speciesism.
    Now, if you (meaning you as in general) don’t believe that Trump is a fascist or a Nazi and that those words should not be used when describing those people, then yes, absolutely. Ana’s article is completely inappropriate.
    One more thing I can admit to is that animal rights have a history of making incredibly insensitive parallels, as we know. So Ana’s article probably added up to that pile. That I can say was not a well-thought strategy.
    I’d like to remind everyone that our campaign against Sanders is “What if Birdie was a Chicken?” In my opinion, it really hits the spot when it comes to calling him out on his violence against nonhuman animals.
    Just recently, I don’t know if you saw it, but he visited Coney Island and released the following statement:
    On “Why don’t you disrupt Hillary or Cruz?” – CF HAS disrupted Bill Clinton while he was fundraising for HIllary in NY and we got so, so close to disrupting Chelsea Clinton while she was also fundraising for her mom. At CF we are such a tiny, small group of organizers (unfortunately) and we pull ourselves so thin to accomplish what we do. Unlike other groups, we don’t have the resources and people power they have. So, when people keep asking why don’t you go disrupt XYZ instead? I can say, because our time and efforts are very limited and we’d rather spend it on the most progressive candidate even though we have managed to pull ourselves together to disrupt other candidates as well.
    Thank you for the opportunity to comment and debate and I hope I clarified a few of the criticisms.

  12. Hi everyone,

    Ee finally had some time to work on the Sanders article and relaunch it:

    I think it’s very important to listen to our community and make political decisions for the greater good. As someone first visiting our webpage to be focused more on an article, rather than the significant work we do, just seems completely detrimental. Not only to us, as an organization, but to the movement as a whole which already gets a very bad fame for insensitive analogies.

    I’d like to reiterate that I still think Ana has a valid position on her comparisons and thoughts but CF is not the platform for that.


    1. I appreciate the response on the use of the word Nazi.

      My points about “Americans love bacon” and “I stand with farmers” not being direct quotes, and about the CF and DxE protests of Sanders being ineffective, remain. We can agree to disagree on that.

        1. I really don’t have more to add on that beyond what I’ve already posted in my original blog and in my responses to you and Ana. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on tactics here.

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