Maybe you’ve read this anecdote somewhere (I’m not sure if it ever happened): there was this vegan speaker who asked his activist audience who was willing to devote their life to the animals. Everyone shouted yes. Who was willing to die for the animals? Again, all shouted yes. Then he asked: who is willing to shave and put on a suit for the animals? And everyone looked down at their feet and no one said anything.
Some activists pride themselves on things like how many times they’ve been arrested for the animals, or how poor they are because they don’t work and spend all their time on activism. While these may surely be signs of great commitment to the cause of animal liberation, they are not necessarily signs of actual effectiveness – and effectiveness is what animals need from the activists working for them.
Professionalism can mean many things. In this context, I’m interpreting it as making sure that you are being effective for the animals, that what you are doing has impact because it is action in a well chosen field, and/or meticulously, professionally carried out. An NGO can function on a scale from low to high professionalism. One aspect of professionalism is making sure that you look good to the serious people: the people in charge of things, the decision makers. If you need to dress up for that purpose to look more credible, so be it. I see values like “being yourself” or “sticking to who you are” or “speaking your truth at all times” as secondary to achieving impact. At least as long as animals are being killed in droves.
Fortunately, our movement is growing in professionalism, in different ways. The books of Nick Cooney, for instance, have been emphasizing the importance of trying to measure the results of our actions. Animal Charity Evaluators was set up to help people donate to the most effective organisations. The ideas of “effective altruism” are getting more and more traction in our movement. The Humane Research Fund, recently celebrating it’s 15th anniversary, is into getting evidence based data on what works and what doesn’t. Etcetera.
We are also seeing more vegans and animal rights people outside the movement, in strategic positions in society, where they can change things. Sometimes this was a conscious decision, like in the case of Josh Tetrick, who founded Hampton Creek to develop the best egg alternative. Sometimes entrepreneurs become interested in the plant based food topic only later in life, as in the case of Bill Gates. The website www.veganleaders.com lists “numerous high-ranking management, finance, legal, marketing, IT and other office professionals who proudly endorse the vegan lifestyle.” A very hopeful sign that vegans are not just living in the margins of society anymore.
Our movement is definitely maturing, and it’s going fast. It is important to note that all this profesionalisation has nothing to do with selling out or not being true to our values, as some undoubtedly will think. On the contrary, it has everything to do with being the most efficient friends of animals we can be. The meat and dairy industry does not fear us as long as we’re shouting in the streets and playing the vegan police amongst each other. It will fear us all the more when we are as professional and effective as possible.
* this is not my phrase. If someone can tell me who said it first, I’ll credit that person 🙂