tldr: VINE Sanctuary challenges vegans to spend MLK Day educating themselves about past and ongoing anti-racist struggles, and we challenge vegan and animal liberation organizations to encourage their own followers to do the same.
Vegan organizations! Do you ignore race and racism 364 days a year… and then find a way, on MLK Day, to suggest that veganism is an anti-racist practice? White vegans! Do you ignore (or, even worse, contradict) everything that present-day people of color are saying about race and racism… but post pix and quotes from MLK, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez or other anti-racist heroes on their birthdays, hijacking those holidays as ways to assert that your personal veganism makes you a living embodiment of their legacy?
Let’s not do that this year.
As a national holiday here in the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was never meant to be a day of self-satisfied celebration. Quite the contrary! MLK Day exists as a holiday in order to give everybody an opportunity for education, reflection, and rededication to the struggle for racial justice.
If you’re a person or organization who works for social justice year round, then–yes–you may elect to use MLK Day as an opportunity to explain to your fellow social justice activists how you see veganism and animal liberation as critical components of that struggle. But if you are not a social justice activist, then MLK Day is a day for you to learn from, not try to lecture to, people engaged in the ongoing struggle against racism.
How can you do that? Ideally, by attending some sort of MLK Day event in your community. Plan ahead! We’re publishing this blog post today so that you have the chance to scope out your local free newspaper or online events listing for MLK Day lectures, workshops, documentary screenings, or volunteer opportunities.
If you can’t find an event, or your own work schedule prohibits you from attending an event, you can still use MLK Day as an opportunity for learning and reflection. How much do you really know about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the women who organized it? About the evolution of MLK’s thinking about poverty and militarism? About Ella Baker and other organizers whose strategic thinking drove a movement that ended up creating substantial and sustainable change? About how much further we still need to go and why it is that racial disparities in housing, employment, education, and policing have proven to be so persistent?
Read a book. Watch a documentary. Visit the websites of civil rights organizations and actually read their reports and position papers. Then, think about how to integrate what you’ve learned into your daily life and activist practice going forward.
Often, people who share VINE’s intersectional approach to animal liberation and veganism express surprise and dismay when white vegans or animal advocates espouse or endorse racist sentiments. We share the dismay but not the surprise:
As long as vegan and animal rights organizations make no effort to incorporate antiracism into their activities and strategies, white vegans will have the same spectrum of opinions as other white people, including racist opinions. As long as vegan organizations, in particular, encourage people to feel as though personal veganism places one on a higher moral plane than other people, white vegans may be even less likely than other white people to sincerely grapple with the question of their own complicity in ongoing racial injustice.
And so, this MLK Day, VINE Sanctuary challenges other animal sanctuaries, along with other vegan and animal rights organizations, to seize the opportunity presented by the holiday and make some effort to challenge their supporters to educate themselves about racism.
I know, I know, that your followers on social media like posts that make them feel good about themselves. But I also can assure you, based on our experience here at VINE, that the people who support your organization can tolerate being challenged every once in a while—and might even thank you for it.
Start slow. On MLK Day, suspend your usual social media programming (which is probably a combination of fundraising appeals and pictures of your own activities) in favor of tweets and posts encouraging your supporters to attend local MLK Day events and/or spend the day educating themselves about racism. You could also share links to civil rights organization websites and/or high-quality online resources about the civil rights movement, the persistence of racism, and related topics.
Good luck — and let us know how it goes!