Recently(ish), I wrote about how primarily animal-centered activists and primarily human-centered activists can and should be working together towards a future without oppression, violence, or systemic hierarchies and dichotomies. Despite the rampant racism, classism, and sexism in mainstream animal rights activism, I think that the principles underlying racial/gender/economic justice movements are present in some food justice and animal rights movements, and that those coalitions should be expanded.
I still believe that, but I want to provide a (semi-)topical example of someone who makes that kind of coalition-building difficult. Casey Affleck, Oscar winner, (alleged) sexual harasser and assaulter, and vegan/animal rights activist, represents a lot of the problems with mainstream animal rights activism and food-based social movements. It’s very hard for anti-racist and feminist activists to be open to food-based social movements that are truly progressive and radical when Casey Affleck and others like him continue to be the most public faces of veganism and animal rights activism. Casey makes this particularly difficult, both because his activism is simplistic and oppressive and because of the interpersonal violence he himself has perpetrated.
To put it bluntly, the work he does is facile and unconnected to other social justice movements. Casey has been a vegan for 20+ years and has done campaigns for many organizations including PETA (trash) and Farm Sanctuary. His work with PETA, a particularly odious and ineffective organization with a history of racism and sexism, is a testament to how little he cares about issues beyond animal rights and veganism. On the flip side, the willingness of mainstream animal rights organizations to continue working with Casey in light of accusations of sexual harassment and assault reveals how little they care about violence against marginalized humans.
In addition to being a rich white vegan who only seems to care about helping animals and not other human beings, he is one of a particular breed of immensely rich and powerful white men who want to be known as “good, liberal guys” and who explicitly position themselves as anti-Trump without actually doing anything to oppose Trump et al. Casey has planted himself firmly in the anti-Trump camp: during the election, he called Trump a “dangerous fool,” and recently, when his production company donated to the Trump transition team without his knowledge, he said, “The policies of the Trump administration, and the values they represent, are antithetical to everything I believe in.” The irony of these statements is glaring when one considers his simplistic and superficial advocacy, as well as the accusations of sexual harassment and assault leveled against him by two former colleagues for which he has faced no consequences (he won a fucking Oscar). His condemnation of the violence of meat-eaters rings hollow when he has violated and traumatized at least two women in his life.*
Casey Affleck embodies all the ways that certain mainstream animal rights organizations regularly betray or ignore people of color and indigenous peoples, low income folks, women, and LGBTQ+ folks. He is just one person, but there are plenty of others like him– people who care about cute animals but who don’t care to think about why it smacks of colonialism to order people what to eat and why going vegan will not solve any of the worlds problems. We need to cut the Casey Afflecks loose so trust and relationships can be built between radical political movements.
* Ethically/morally, I think believing survivors is important, and that it is imperative to ending sexual violence. False reports are extremely rare; sexual violence is extremely common. Survivors have to endure enough bullshit in their lives; I will not doubt them.