Opposition Confirms My Purpose


“I found the minds of the people strangely indifferent to the subject of slavery. Their prejudices were invincible—stronger, if possible, than those of the slaveholders. Objections were started on every hand; apologies for the abominable system constantly saluted my ears; obstacles were industriously piled up in my path… What was yet more discouraging, my best friends—without an exception—besought me to give up the enterprise! It was not my duty (they argued) to spend my time, and talents, and services, where persecution, reproach and poverty were the only certain reward. My scheme was visionary—fanatical—unattainable… But opposition served only to increase my ardor, and confirm my purpose.”

~ William Lloyd Garrison (July 14, 1830)

We live in a world where the vast majority of people consider it perfectly acceptable to oppress and exploit other animals, despite the fact that we have no moral justification for doing so. Every year in the United States, approximately ten billion land animals are killed, after being intentionally bred and enslaved, all for human gain. Worldwide, the numbers equal approximately 56 billion annually. When we count animals who live in water, there are tens or hundreds of billions more every year.

All of these animals are as innocent as children, but we treat them as though being born as a member of a different species is a crime worthy of life in prison, often accompanied by torture, ending with the death penalty. In fact, for the vast majority of them, the lives they are forced to live are so unbearable that premature death – itself a severe harm – might conceivably serve as some kind of merciful release from a life of physical, psychological and emotional suffering.

Widespread veganism is the only hope these nonhuman beings have for emancipation from their brief, brutal existence. Such a fundamental change in our society will only be brought about by a radical moral paradigm shift similar to those which resulted in the abolition of human chattel slavery and the voting rights of women.

Moral paradigm shifts, however, do not cause themselves. They are caused by small groups of people within society – always considered “radical” in their own time – who persistently educate others over decades about why change is necessary. Indeed, William Lloyd Garrison founded The Liberator, a weekly anti-slavery newspaper, in 1831, and it wasn’t until after 34 years and the bloodiest war on United States soil* that slavery was finally abolished in 1865. Similarly, the women’s suffrage movement’s first well-known spokesperson was John Stuart Mill in 1865, but women were not permitted to vote until 1918 in the United Kingdom, and 1920 in the United States.

* Note that William Lloyd Garrison, the authors of this article, and the abolitionist approach to animal rights reject violence, and support only non-violent education and reasoned dialogue as a means to social justice, regardless of the cause.

In their efforts to educate and to engage in civil disobedience in the name of noble causes, abolitionists and suffragists endured ridicule, anger, imprisonment, and death threats, both from the establishment itself, and also from counter-movements made up of citizens with an interest in maintaining the current situation.

Nobody minded a quiet abolitionist or suffragist. Respecting “everyone’s personal choice” with deferent silence was deemed “moderate and respectable” by those vested in the status quo. Challenging the injustice with moral education was called “self-righteous,” “offensive,” “extremist,” and “off-putting.”

Take, for example, the following quote from 1847, in which human slavery proponent Joseph W. Lesesne criticizes anti-slavery advocates and the abolitionist movement:

“[The abolitionists'] conduct has been most atrocious. No language is strong enough to denounce it. The shameless impudence with which they have trampled the Constitution under their feet, and their mean and despicable contrivances to deprive us of our Slave property ought to be held up to the scorn of the whole Union.”

The more direct and unequivocal an advocate’s position, the more resistance he or she encountered.

And so it is with vegans today. Despite the fact that we stand so clearly on the side of justice for all sentient beings, we can expect to encounter resistance most of the time. As strong vegan educators and advocates, we can expect to be dismissed, ignored, misrepresented, and to be subjected to whatever treatment those opposing us believe would be most effective at discouraging our efforts. Recognizing and accepting this situation for what it is, and realizing that other successful social justice movements faced similar resistance and criticism over spans of decades, can help us persist in our efforts over decades as well.

Aside from simply being on the justifiable side of a cause, a major reason that social justice movements of the past succeeded was persistence. Realizing that even the most effective vegan advocacy will take decades, rather than months or years, to have its intended goals achieved can give us the perspective we need to ultimately succeed by avoiding the burnout that comes with obsessive activity, unrealistic expectations, and a short-sighted focus on short-term results. We should recognize that it might sometimes be beneficial to take a break and recharge our batteries,  and that, alongside our personal advocacy, it’s important that we also strive for physical, mental and emotional health, so that we can be as effective as possible in our efforts to educate and inspire others.

So let us relentlessly persist in the struggle for justice at a pace we can maintain for as long as is necessary. Let us not measure our progress in insignificant welfare “victories”, which, during the short time they last, only serve to perpetuate the exploitation paradigm and make consumers feel better about their purchases of animal products. Let us instead measure progress in terms of the increasing number of ethical vegans, the decreases in animal product consumption, the increases in vegan alternatives, and the gradual transformation of the collective consciousness, which, only 65 years ago, didn’t even have a word to describe someone as being ‘vegan’.

Over time, the irrepressible power of justice will prevail, as we overcome the shameful prejudice and despicable discrimination that attempts to justify and maintain the moral status of animals as economic property and tradable commodities. Until that day comes, let whatever opposition comes our way serve only to increase our ardor, and confirm our purpose.

Drawing on the wisdom of another of the great voices of the anti-slavery movement of the 1800s, Frederick Douglass,

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”


with Dan Cudahy

Angel Flinn is Director of Outreach for Gentle World – vegan intentional community and non-profit organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition.

Dan Cudahy is author of Unpopular Vegan Essays: Unpopular Essays Concerning Popular Violence Inflicted On The Innocent.


Related Stories:

Legal Slavery in the 21st Century

The Importance of Being Vegan

Making a Killing with Animal Welfare Reform


Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Patricia Ann A.
Patricia A.2 years ago

Thank you for this article. If only the issue of eating flesh were personal, but unfortunately it is not, it is a matter of life or death for another being. Better treatment during life is more desirable than not, but in the end it is killing without consent, terrifying and painful. The continuous justifications remind me of the statement, "Why keep looking for the right way to do the wrong thing?"

Carrie Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

teresa royer
Teresa royer3 years ago

thank you for a good article!!!!

Gary Ansorge
Gary Ansorge3 years ago

Please Care2, add a letter counter to these posts. I had some really funny things to say,,,

,,,anyway, someday, humanity may need those of us who are capable of killing an opponent w/o remorse (the universe is vast and dangerous). If that's what it takes to ensure your survival, then so be it,,,I love you and I will do whatever it takes for you to prosper,,,to the end of time,,,

Gary Ansorge
Gary Ansorge3 years ago

I am not a vegan or vegetarian. I eat a paleo diet, in which most of my calories come from flesh and fat. It's the only diet I've found which allows me to control my diabetes. I literally cannot eat any grains and sugar is pure poison.

,,,on the plus side, I don't have to supplement my diet with zinc or vitamin B12.

,,,but that doesn't mean I don't understand that the animals I eat deserve to be treated with respect. As long as they are kept in clean spaces, fed healthy food and allowed to live well until they're cleanly (halal) killed for my sustenance, I have no problem with that. Fortunately, food animals usually have no prefrontal lobes (I think pigs DO, which is a good reason to remove them from the list of food animals), which means they are unable to anticipate their eventual demise and worry about it. For much the same rationale, I oppose using any apes, elephants, dolphins and whales as either food or experimental animals because they DO have such brain structures and can feel anticipatory fear. Like a trip to the dentist, anticipation of pain is often worse than the pain itself and I would not impose such on any critter but for those who live only in the moment, surprise,,,you're my dinner,,,

Ok, so, I'm a primitive,,,you'll just have to spend a few thousand years breeding that out of the species however,,,remember we have no idea what the universe has in store for us. Someday, we may meet another species more powerful and ruthless than us and humanity wi

HELENE D.3 years ago

stop exploiting animals! it's the only solution!

KS Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Veronica N.
Veronica N.3 years ago

Thank you for this excellent article. I am heartened by your openness and sane perspectives on not only activism, but also the problem of compassion fatigue, a very serious problem among those who work in any form of activism, but in animal advocacy especially.

So often, all we hear is how no one wants to be vegan, no one cares if animals have their lives stolen for a moment of flavor (yes, there are a few extreme exceptions in which plant foods may not be suitable, but those are no excuse for the vast majority to bring so much suffering and sadness (killing takes a friend away from someone, whether that friendship is between humans or non-humans. Science has proven that animals do have these kind of relationships, and anyone who's loved a companion animal knows that friendship first hand.) for something so insignificant and fleeting. One can live a healthy (many doctors, nutritionists, and other experts agree, healthier) life without animal products, so the only real value is flavor preference. Is that any reason to take a sentient life?

James Campbell
James Campbell3 years ago

Sue H. “Not all animals raised for consumption are ill treated”

Although I am a vegetarian (vegan whenever possible), based on moral and health grounds, It is not my practice to criticise other people’s choice of diet. I do not preach nor condemn, but when I hear the claim that it is possible to sustain meat production with no possibility of ill-treatment I would prefer to see the evidence rather than accept this claim without question. Raising sentient creatures in the best of conditions is to be applauded. However, even when these standards are high, the process of transportation and slaughter is a different scenario. Perhaps if all meat eaters were to visit their local slaughter house, there may just be a few more vegetarians.

Arild hammero
Arild hammero3 years ago

To Suzana M. ...just to make it clear, I meant it the other way around. I intended to make the statement that many have projections that lead them to think that others are judging them. So the projection for a meateater could be that a vegetarian thinks he is som much better than him (feel free to find any example in any kind of situation or society). Now, in this case that´s all in the meat-eaters head. And yes, my experience talking to vegans/vegetarians is that they are often very respectful of others views. I´m just trying to debunk the myth of the militant vegan (which kind of had it´s peak in the 90s). Veganism is certaunly about compassion (and how deep that can go also to other species, and th eplanet itself). So using aggression or a sense of superiority to mediate it´s cause would be rather counter-effective.