Brandon Becker Interview
20 November 2010
Brandon Becker is a dedicated animal rights activist. He stopped eating flesh in July 2004 and has been vegan since May 2005. He promotes veganism to the masses by handing out “Why Vegan?” pamphlets on college campuses, at festivals, and at other events throughout North Carolina, US.
With his wife, he founded Triangle Vegan Action, a grassroots anti-speciesist and abolitionist organization: www.TriangleVeganAction.org
He and his wife care for two other animals, a rabbit and a cavy, and try to give them the best life possible in their home.
ARZone: Brandon, thanks for taking our questions. Triangle Vegan Action is the group you’ve founded. What is it’s purpose, how is it funded, and what has been the most rewarding part of your being involved with it?
Brandon Becker: Triangle Vegan Action was founded to promote veganism in the Triangle-region of North Carolina, U.S. As we advocate veganism, we also discuss opposing speciesism and supporting animal rights. Our group is almost entirely self-funded by my wife and I. Some of our members have donated in the past to help us pay our website hosting fees, but we don’t like asking for donations and never want to make anyone feel like they have to pay any money to be an activist.
The most rewardng part of running the group is that we are self-directed advocates, able to do what e want, how we want to do it, and continually reflect on the effectiveness of our work and change course whenever necessary. I encourage anyone who is unsatisfied with organized activism in your area to start your own grassroots group. Visit our website at www.TriangleVeganAction.org to learn more about what we do.
How do you respond to statements in which people use the fact that some animals eat other animals as justification for human persons eating or killing animals? Ex: What is the difference between me hunting deer and the deer being eaten by a wolf? If the deer is going to die, why does it matter how the deer dies? Isn’t hunting a more humane death than being eaten alive by a wolf?
When I hear these kind of statements, I recognize they are primarily made as self-interested rationalizations to justify continuing to allow humans to eat other animals. Here are two differences between you killing and eating a deer and a wolf killing and eating a deer:
(1) you, unlike a wolf, can be healthy eating plant foods alone and can choose this option;
(2) you, unlike a wolf, are held morally accountable for your actions.
It is also not guaranteed that any particular deer will be killed by any particular wolf.
The book A Green History of the World by Clive Ponting says that “Studies of top carnivores in ecosystems (which is the role humans are trying to adopt when hunting) show that they only make a kill about once in every ten attempts.” Thus, if you shoot and kill a deer that is about to be attacked by a wolf, you may be taking the deer’s life when they would not have otherwise been eaten by the wolf. Finally, the animal rights movement is not about so-called “humane” deaths, but about ending human tyranny over other animals.
How you respond to those who believe that open rescues are violent, irresponsible and done with the emphasis placed on the interest of the rescuers, not the other animals, being rescued from battery cages and other places of slavery and abuse.
Jose Valle, who has participated in open rescues, has a thorough and comprehensive answer to this question, responding to criticism by Gary Francione: http://beta.twitlonger.com/show/a3n38 I endorse Valle’s answer which is, basically:
Open rescues are not violent; they are about saving nonhuman animals now, and can expose the truth to the public with generally positive media coverage.
To forward the cause of animal rights, do you rule out acts of property destruction? Do you consider such acts violent?
I think property destruction can be morally justifiable to economically sabotage industries and free nonhuman animals who are unjustly imprisoned and face certain death. Such acts are not violent; they are an anti-violent response to violence.
To follow-up, some people had difficulty NOT seeing property destruction as violent. Does the fact that people perceive things that way matter – or should we just argue each case do you think?
With the way property is fetishized in capitalist societies, I understand that some see destruction of property as “violent.” However, let’s be clear, life > property. We ought to reject the corporate-state definition of “violence” as including destruction of inanimate objects, especially since the inanimate objects destroyed by ALF activists are used to hide and carry out violence against other animals. If humans, rather than other animals, were the beneficiaries of these actions, most would support them. Let’s teach respect for other animals by standing our ground for what is right.
In the liberation of other animals, when do you feel arson to be an appropriate course of action? If at all, how do you feel about the individuals who will be killed because of this? The insects, bird life etc.
I think arson can be morally justified as long as precaution is taken to minimize unintentionally harming anyone. We have to remember that just by living in industrial civilization we unintentionally harm other animals through such actions as driving cars which kill one million nonhuman individuals daily, (see: http://www.culturechange.org/issue8/roadkill.htm). This figure doesn’t even include insects, which would raise the death toll far higher. Nor does it take into account the displacement and death caused by road-building and car culture itself. Intentions matter and arson of empty slaughterhouses and vivisection labs (among other places) is done to stop harm to other animals. We just have to do our best with the world as it is while working to make things better.
On Roger Yates blog “On Human-Nonhuman Relations,” you talk about the benefits of conducting open rescues anonymously rather than with everyone’s faces caught on camera, to protect the nonhumans & humans involved. In the past the British Animal Liberation Leagues often made the point that by being willing to be seen on camera, activists present themselves as concerned moral citizens as opposed to people who feel the need to hide behind masks. Would you elaborate on your thoughts on your position? Would not the use of masks mean that they were no longer open rescues?
To help others understand what you are talking about, here’s what I said in my comment on that post at http://human-nonhuman.blogspot.com/2010/10/act-of-love-and-respect.html
“If the rescue was conducted clandestinely with covered faces and the video released anonymously, it would give increased security to the rescued chickens and still allow Igualdad Animal/Animal Equality (and anyone else) to use the footage to expose the current conditions of the egg industry in Spain while also promoting veganism to society. ALF activists conducted a number of high-profile clandestine rescues in the U.S. in the 1980s, anonymously releasing videos of actions for aboveground groups to expose the atrocities inflicted upon nonhuman animals behind the walls of vivisection labs. The clandestine rescues and anonymous release of the tapes helped secure the safety of both the rescuers and the rescued.”
To elaborate, I think both open rescues and clandestine rescues have value. It is up to the individual or group taking action to decide what type of rescue is appropriate in their situation. Open rescues have the benefit of those doing the action speaking openly about the action and framing it politically as civil disobedience, with the drawback of potential prosecution for “theft” as nonhuman animals are legal property and possibly “terrorism” due to Green Scare speciesist laws that protect oppressors. Clandestine rescues have benefits of keeping the rescuers safer from prosecution (as the state will have a harder time figuring out who did the action) and the rescued safer from being returned to their slave masters (as the state will have a harder time figuring out where the nonhuman animals went if no one knows who freed them). Clandestine rescuers either rely on their own statements to media outlets such as the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (http://www.animalliberationpressoffice.org) and Bite Back Magazine (http://www.directaction.info) or allow those media outlets to explain their actions for them.
As a follow-up, you talk about accepting the characterisation of activists as criminals in order to make plain that activists are breaking existing laws in the service of greater justice. You mention that the movement must reject adopting labels such as “violent” and “terrorist” when talking about direct action and those who liberate nonhumans. Would you explain what you mean?
I’ll quote my comment on your blog post linked above so everyone understands what I stated earlier: “I don’t think the ‘we are criminals’ line hurts at all, considering rescues, clandestine and open, are defiant acts of breaking speciesist law in the service of justice. If the movement stands behind such acts to counter industry propaganda that label the rescuers ‘violent’ and ‘terrorist’, the message can be conveyed to the public that the law is unjust and other animals deserve to live and be free.” “Here’s an example of a direct action that freed an imprisoned bird with an anti-speciesist call to action to the public on behalf of all other animals, merging education and liberation: http://www.directaction.info/news_oct15_09.htm
To elaborate, the U.S. legal system currently defines nonhuman animals as property instead of rights-holding persons under the law. If someone illegally rescues a nonhuman animal from captivity, the state may prosecute the rescuer as a criminal who committed “theft” and may be labeled a “terrorist” in violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act that protects enslavers over the enslaved. Instead of accepting guilt, the prosecuted rescuer could choose to make a political statement by arguing that other animals are unjustly held as legal property and assert that nonhuman animals should instead be defined as persons. Even if they lost the case (a likely scenario in our speciesist society), their civil disobedience would still be a stand for justice.
Can you tell us a little about the focus and goals of your group “Animal Rights Now”, which has over 6,000 members, please?
Animal Rights Now is a group I started on Facebook. The group’s origins go back to 2006, when Facebook was encouraging its members to start “Political” cause groups. It’s original name was “Animal Rights Now!” and I kept it online until mid-2007 when I wanted to change the name but Facebook wouldn’t allow any changes to names of groups at this time. So I started a new group called “Abolitionist Animal Rights” to replace the deleted “Animal Rights Now!” group. Last year (2009), Facebook now gave us the option to change group names, so I decided to change the group name from “Abolitionist Animal Rights” to “Animal Rights Now” as I realized that the current name implicitly suggested that there could be something called “reformist animal rights” or “regulationist animal rights” when in reality, animal rights rejects rights-violating means to rights-respecting ends and has the abolition of enslavement (based on the right to liberty) and murder (based on right to life) of other animals as the consequence of rights. The idea of the group is that the members are committed to respecting the moral rights of other animals now by living vegan while also working to secure the legal rights of other animals as soon as possible through various forms of activism. Anyone can visit and join the group at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4834647806
You seem to support both Joan Dunayer and Steve Best, I’m interested to hear what you think of Best’s attack on Dunayer ~ http://www.drstevebest.org/Essays/GapsInLogic.htm. It would appear from reading this that Best may not have thoroughly read Speciesism, do you support his attack on Dunayer? Why or why not?
I would not label Steve Best’s critical review of Speciesism an “attack” on Joan Dunayer, as he ends by saying: ““On the whole, Speciesism is a superb examination of the moral and political failures of welfarism, and a lucid examination of rights and the abolitionist policies an animal rights position implies and demands. Despite its philosophical inconsistencies and political deficits, this book is a must read for the entire animal advocacy movement and worthy of careful study and sustained discussion.” That said, no one has all the answers and I support rational inquiry to determine the best path forward in the movement. There is room for a diversity of liberationist voices and we should embrace it as a strength while always making clear that our loyalty is solely to nonhuman animals, not any advocate or advocacy group.
You mention that you use Vegan Outreach’s “Why Vegan” pamphlet when you work on college campuses. Why not use a clearly abolitionist pamphlet instead?
Vegan Outreach provides these pamphlets free of charge to me and other volunteers who distribute them on college campuses and other places. I’ve handed out over 30,000 to date (see: http://www.adoptacollege.org/memhx.php?memberid=1200) and continually see the positive results of this work as I return to schools I’ve leafleted in the past and hear many students who tell me that, as a result of getting a pamphlet, they have decided to stop eating flesh, go vegan, and sometimes get active. While not perfect, the “Why Vegan?” pamphlet is the most effective pamphlet for leafleting, as it visually documents and describes the injustice of enslavement, transport, and slaughter of other animals for food, while offering veganism as the solution with helpful advice on how to make the transition.
I recommend reading the Vegan Outreach essay published in 1998 that changed the course of the movement: “Veganism: The Path to Animal Liberation” http://web.archive.org/web/20000408160100/http://www.veganoutreach.org/advocacy/path.html And finally, Vegan Outreach shares our beliefs and goals: http://www.veganoutreach.org/newsletter/VONLOct10.pdf
Vegan Outreach’s philosophy is that each sentient individual has a right to his or her body and life. To that end, we promote living so as to contribute to as little animal suffering and death as possible, focusing on ‘preaching to the convertible’ with our booklets.”
Can we assume then, you’d be happy to hand out some other literature, such as Boston Vegan’s pamphlet, if it were as effective? And can you comment on whether you see any failings in some of Vegan Outreach’s current approach.
I’ve used the Boston Vegan Association’s pamphlet combined with other literature for tabling, but the BVA did not produce it for leafleting since it’s not comprehensive and they don’t have the funds to make it available for leafleting anyway. I’ve also used LOVE’s “You Can Help Stop This” pamphlet for tabling: http://www.youcanhelpstopthis.com This one could be used for leafleting, but I don’t have the money to print massive quantities of these needed for leafleting distribution. Regarding Vegan Outreach, I’d like if their “Why Vegan?” pamphlet would also include info on other forms of speciesist exploitation, but I understand the focus on using other animals for food since this form of exploitation has the highest death toll and is the foundation of speciesism and human supremacy.
You’ve been a vegan and an activist for a while now. Have you had to deal with feelings that many activists have of despair— or hopelessness, realising how difficult the task is – and how resistant society seems to the idea of change?
Yes, I have dealt with feelings of despair and hopelessness. However, by staying active through tabling, leafleting, and other outreach, I receive positive feedback from the public that helps overcome negative feelings and allows me to continue pushing onward to help end speciesist exploitation and secure justice for nonhuman animals.
You’ve talked elsewhere about how “intramovement politics” don’t do anything to help people become vegan. What do you see as the appropriate way to critique others in the movement without being divisive & counter-productive?
Constructive debate and dialogue is important and necessary. To do so, we must discuss issues with humility and remember that any disagreements with each other in the movement are more than outweighed by our shared disagreement with industries that are built on mass enslavement and murder of other animals and want nothing more than to see the animal rights movement destroyed. We need to keep the focus on nonhuman animals and winning their liberation.
You’ve said that you consider speciesism to be the fundamental problem with respect to our relationship with other animals. Would you please elaborate on what you mean and how you envision the solution?
Speciesism is the devaluation of other animals in attitude and oppression of other animals in practice. Joan Dunayer discusses this in her book Speciesism as does David Nibert in his book Animal Rights/Human Rights, both of which I highly recommend. We need to talk about speciesism so that the ideology can be named and countered in our advocacy. Other animals are not lesser than us; they are our equals and deserve respect as fellow sentient beings. I discuss anti-speciesism in a recent topic on the ARCO Abolitionists board, explaining the scope of the problem and the solution: “Anti-Speciesism: A Revolutionary Praxis” http://animalrightscommunity.com/abolitionists/anti-speciesism-a-revolutionary-praxis-t614.html
Promoting veganism, calling out speciesism and encouraging others to oppose it, and advocating animal rights are all ways to undermine speciesism and the system of human supremacy it supports. We need a multifaceted and dynamic movement if we are going to be successful. The lives of other animals depend on our dedication to the struggle. Let us never give up and relentlessly push forward until liberation is won.
What do you think of the idea and belief by some in the animal movement that factory farmed animals, where they live a life of torture and hell and then end up being brutally killed, are perfectly ok to feed to companion animals?
Dogs can be fed vegan food and live healthy lives. Some male cats have developed urine crystals if fed commercial vegan food that contains essential amino acids, but female cats are said to generally do well on it. My friend lives with a male and a female cat fed Evolution cat food and both have no problems at all. Just some male cats have problems. I live with a rabbit and a cavy, who are herbivores and thus only eat plant foods.
Many vegans are passionate about insects and will be upset I’m sure by your view that arson may be acceptable. It really isn’t the case that nonhumans will not be killed when arson is used, so aren’t we plunged into some utilitarian calculus trying to work out the greater good?
We don’t live in a perfect world and, as such, some insects are unintentionally killed by humans from just daily living- walking on grass (accidentally stepping on them) or running or riding a bike (one may accidentally fly into your mouth). Since insects are everywhere, and basically all our actions involve some level of risk to someone, we should just do our best to minimize unintentional harm with the world as it is. This doesn’t mean we have the right to enslave insects and murder them (intentional harm), but it does mean that we need to understand the reality of the situation and proceed appropriately.
The counter-argument is that arson equals murder, and that the killing of insects through arson isn’t accidental.
Murder is different than killing. Killing can be intentional or unintentional, murder is always intentional. And murder is always unprovoked and never in self-defense or defense of an innocent and defenseless person.
Yes, if there is an insect trapped in a building and can’t get out in time, this is not the fault of the arsonist. They should take precaution to minimize harm, but you can never be 100% sure of your actions. Do you oppose controlled demolition of buildings? What about firefighters setting fire to an empty building to practice putting the fire out?
Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is a voluntary, grassroots, abolitionist animal rights social network created in December 2009 with the aim of encouraging rational dialogue in the animal protection movement.