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Total liberation: making the connections

Below is text for a pamphlet I put together with Nicoal Renee Sheen to hand out at animal liberation events. It is a brief primer on some of the main ways that human and animal exploitation are intertwined in order to encourage an understanding among both animal and human liberation activists that their struggles intersect.

I encourage you to use this text to make pamphlets of your own, though please note that country-specific references are refering to the United States. It is designed to fit on a letter sized sheet of paper folded in half, with printing on all four sides. Please contact me if you need help with layout or image design ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). 

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total liberation: making the connection between animal and human exploitation

For every life, demand liberation.

Animal liberation will only come with total liberation. Until there is total liberation we will live in a world of inequality, where those in power will seek out ways to confine and control the masses. Sexism, racism, ageism, ablism, heterosexism and nationalism, or any other form of systematic inequality, must always be rejected. For any inequality is a roadblock if we are to have true liberation. We must make community organizers, feminists, anti-racists, anarchists, and anyone working for social justice our comrades. We cannot use their oppressions as a tool to forward our own goals. We must acknowledge that total liberation will only come if we absolutely believe in liberation for everyone; even when that means giving up some of our own advantage and comfort.

Interconnections of Oppressions. All oppressions are rooted in a single system that privileges capitalism, masculinity, individualism, and whiteness over all else. Under this system everyone who is considered “less than” is subject to exploitation and domination. Those labeled as less than or expendable, e.g. non-human animals, people of color, women, are viewed as objects rather than full beings with their own interests or emotions. After someone is deemed inferior, oppressors are able to commit violence against them with ease. The exploitation of different groups is intertwined and at times mutually dependent. Here are just a few of the ways that oppressions are interconnected and reinforced:

Slaughterhouses. In 2009, over 9,000,000,000 land animals were murdered in U.S. Slaughterhouses, making it the most dangerous industry for animals in this country. It is also one of the worst places for human workers, who tend to be immigrant and/ or ethnic and racial minorities. Many workers immigrate with false promises of citizenship from company recruiters, the conditions in slaughterhouses lead to a high risk of food contamination and the human workers, who work without unionization or healthcare benefits, are in great danger on a daily basis. In 2005 the Human Rights Watch issued a statement identifying meat-packing plants the most dangerous factory job in the U.S. Women are also at particular risk, as rates of violent and sexual crimes is higher in communities with slaughterhouses.

Control of reproduction. Rape is a tool used systematically by men and the broader society to control and manipulate female bodies. Animal exploitation is carried out through the rape of animals, where reproduction is exploited for profit. All female cows on a dairy farm will be raped and her children taken and enslaved so humans can drink her milk. One in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Society assumes that both female chickens and women are made to reproduce for another’s purposes. Female chickens are induced with hormones to create the unnatural surplus of eggs for human consumption. Women are expected to repopulate for the needs of capitalism i.e. laborers and consumers.

Language. When individuals are devalued through language their abuse and exploitation is more difficult to notice and easier to justify. Language often times is used to diminish people of color, women and animals. Women are often degraded through name-calling that equates them to animals. For example, by using words like “bitch” and “chick.” Racism has often been justified by equating racial and ethnic minorities to animals. Chinese were compared to rats in 19th century popular culture, Latinas are currently called “breeders,” and the list goes on. Such language degrades women, minorities and animals at the same time.

Animals are often referred to as objects (“it” instead of he or she) or groups (flocks, herds), rather than as individuals. This renders their individual qualities invisible, making their exploitation and murder easier. This is the same way that slaves and native populations were referred to and that immigrants, particularly undocumented migrants, are still spoken about today.

A shifting line. The line between who has rights and who doesn’t has shifted. Throughout history, different groups of people and animals have been included or excluded depending on what they are considered “good for” according to the dominant class.

We value pet animals but devalue food animals, even though all these animals have the same ability to feel emotion and physical pain as we do. Native populations experienced genocide when Europeans migrated to this continent, black Africans were classified as animals to justify slavery, and the U.S. government has changed immigration policies to meet the needs of American capitalism, allowing different groups of people entrance or citizenship as they meet our needs for labor. Such oppression remains today and must be eliminated.

We can’t free the animals if we oppress others. It is often difficult to acknowledge or understand the way that oppressions are interconnected since each type of exploitation is historically and contextually different. But we must remember, there is one overarching system that privileges only a select few. This works by placing arbitrary boundaries between those who have power and rights and those who don’t. These lines are established to ensure that only the ruling class maintains power and the oppressed remain divided.

When we oppress others, we reinforce the same system we actively fight against. When we fight among social movements for whose oppression matters most, we do the work of the oppressor and keep ourselves as distinct, separate groups. Instead, we need to join together and fight injustice at its roots.

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vegina has been blogging since 2009 about animal liberation, feminism, and the ways in which oppressions intersect.

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