On vegan protests, politeness politics and guilt

A pretty harrowing thing happened last week as I was preparing to meet my Accounting tutor in Starbucks. (His NYU card no longer works ’cause he’s graduated, so this has been our designated meeting place for the last few weeks.)

I don’t know that I have the energy (or heart-power) to write this cleverly today, so I may just list thoughts as they come:

The scene:

  • I walk into Starbucks, put my bags down at a (miraculously) empty table and join the queue.
  • I notice a pair standing near the line of people, one with a red blindfold over his eyes, the other wearing a full-faced white mask with no mouth. The latter holds an a ipad which displays video and audionof calves screaming.
  • A woman with long, curly grey hair is handing out flyers that say, “What is the actual cost of your latte?”
  • A woman proclaims statistics about cows being forcefully impregnated, loudly, directing her information at the people in line and the servers behind the counter.
  • An additional blindfolded, masked and ipad-wielding pair stands on the other side of the restaurant.
  • A cashier calls out, “Take it up with corporate.”

My reactions:

  • Uncertainty about what is actually happening. Only as a piece together the segments of the scene listed above do I guess what this is all about.
  • I ask the grey-haired woman what this is all about. She explains that they want as many people as possible to realize the cruelty that comes with mass coffee-drinking.
  • Guilt at standing by their cause but not actually following it myself. I’m a vegetarian, but not a vegan.
  • Guilt at feeling indignant at their work.
  • Immense, overwhelming sadness at the sounds coming from the video.
  • I ask the woman if they really think they’re making a difference, or if they’re just upsetting those already on their side. She says some people are upset, but that’s a good thing.
  • I ask the pair if they really think they’re making a difference. They don’t reply.
  • I leave the queue, gather my things and leave the store.
  • I walk past a police officer and hear his radio call for a presence in the Starbucks.
  • I text my tutor to arrange a different place to meet.
  • I voice-note Lauren, voice shaking, to tell her what has just happened.
  • I wander around a couple of nearby streets, looking for somewhere else to go.
  • Guilt at looking for somewhere else to go, but where they still serve coffee.

Rambling thoughts/ the politics of the situation/ themes from the discussion that followed:

[My own guilt at still drinking milk, despite knowing the cruelty it causes, overshadowed so much of my reaction.]

  • I am still thinking about this, days later.
  • Use of upsetting images does little to persuade those who don’t care about animal rights. It only confronts vegetarians and vegans with images which are horrifying for them.
  • These tactics reinforce images of animal rights activists as crazy hippies/ radicals who don’t get it/ unreasonable people to deal with.
  • How dare I try to police their tactics? Revolution only happens through strong efforts that make people wake up and think.
  • How effective are these tactics, really, though? My “experience with activism” has always been most meaningful in small conversations, not mass action. Kindness, always.
  • But mass action is so, so important to get those conversations going in the first place. (Thinking about #feesmustfall, #blacklivesmatter, every feminist wave ever.)
  • Shouting at people doesn’t actually change minds. If anything, it turns people against the movement. Screaming at Max Price about #feesmustfall is disrespectful and completely disregards the fact that he’s supportive of the movement.

My head is too unfocused to assess all of this properly.

I have no idea if I actually wanna publish this. But I’m going to because I want a record of it – even if it’s all over the place.


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