Animal Charity Evaluators

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ACE research associate Jacy Reese recently published an essay on the effectiveness of confrontational activism in creating effective social change for animals. You can find the full version here. The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ACE.


Confrontational tactics like protests, sit-ins, marches, and other public demonstrations seek to disrupt existing institutions, norms, behaviors, and beliefs regarding a specific social issue in order to create a tension that forces society to reconsider its practices in that area, intending to create widespread positive social change. This essay explores confrontation and related ideas from a perspective of effective altruism, considering whether activists — especially those working to help nonhuman animals — should support confrontational or nonconfrontational activism with their limited marginal resources. It considers evidence from historical and modern social movements, psychology research, and other sources.

Overall, the evidence considered in this essay suggests confrontation has a useful ability to spark moral outrage, facilitate productive discourse, and raise awareness for a social issue. This ability, which seems crucial for effective social change, may extend quite well to some nonconfrontational approaches but not as well to others. This suggests the animal advocacy movement should consider reducing its focus on nonconfrontational tactics that seem to mostly lack this upside, like directly changing consumer behavior with the “Go Vegan!” approach, and increasing its focus on actions that are more likely to create nonlinear change through moral outrage and launching animal rights into public discourse. Examples of nonconfrontational tactics that fit this criterion include undercover investigations, speeches, essays, op-eds, and other literary works, especially those that highlight the personal stories of suffering animals. Examples of promising confrontational tactics include marches and other forms of direct action, although they seem to involve considerable risk of backfire effects and encouraging a powerful opposition, making their effectiveness highly dependent on certain conditions.

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    Disruptive protests have a long and successful history, including sit-ins and protest marches in the era of Selma, and picket lines in labor battles. Critiques of those approaches have a long history, too. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail addressed such criticism, acknowledging but rejecting those critiques, emphasizing that such action is appropriate when no alternative exists, and that such direct action must be strategic, creating conditions which lead to peaceful settlement:

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    French Tory Gray Burch Perry Body Peony Dark Leather Bag Small Cross Gray I believe that it is time to be more direct, more truthful about what is happenning to animals.

    The war of attrocities against animals has escalated, not diminished. Just carefully explaining how nice veganism is, and how lovely animals are, is clearly not enough. Humans are basically so complacent until woken up somehow.

    Compassion is practiced with bravery and confrontation, as much as with passive, gentle, diplomatic, gradual methods.
    I believe that where humans do not FEEL a personal emotional IMPACT, they continue to think that the status quo is all ok. So i say, time to ACT more directly…………….
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    My own plan is to present/perform/speak a script/essay clearly describing the HELL ON EARTH that is the inside of any slaughterhouse, specifically an islamic one.

  3. I read the referenced article on the effectiveness and history of confrontational activism. Interesting but missed key distinguishing aspects of the vegan “movement” that must be considered. Animal rights perception by society is in its infancy compared to the state of the civil rights movement in the 60’s, and even the anti-slavery movements. It is very difficult to create a sense of “moral outrage” where the majority of society can not yet make the connection between killing animals and morality. While it may not be as cathartic as in-your-face tactics and less exciting, the day-in day-out grunt work of educating the public needs to be achieved first.
    I believe one tactic that, at this point in the state of public unconsciousness, should take a cue from the women’s movement – focus on “consciousness raising”. The very first step is to proclaim publicly through t-shirts, bumper stickers, vanity plates that “I am a vegan”. (The almost deliberate attempts by some to smear veganism as a diet or consumer issue is baffling and ill-informed) If the perception is that veganism is a fringe concept – how on earth do we expect to stimulate moral outrage. Have the courage to proclaim your identity.

  4. A cartoon I saw relentcy showed a signpost at a fork in the road. There are four arrows. Three are pointing to the left. They read TRUTH – JUSTICE WISDOM. The road is empty. The single sign on the right reads $0.99 Burgers. The road is pack as far as the eye can see.When did we stop caring about the important things in life? We are self-absorbed, self-centered, and disengaged from the world around us to the point we scarcely notice that evil people with evil intent are destroying this country. They keep us preoccupied with unimportant distractions while they take over and take away our freedoms. They overwhelm us with one gloom and doom scenario after another until we become numb to yet one more crisis. Yesterday’s scare is replaced by another. They are counting on us reaching a saturation point, where we give up trying keep up. So many things screaming for our attention until we give up and shut down from the overload. Just as they intended.We’ve traded TRUTH – JUSTICE – WISDOM for a hamburger. We’ll be hungry again in a few hours so we go back to the end of the line to start over. It’s a metaphor for our preoccupation with mindless, unimportant things that suck the life out of us until we have no time or energy left for the important things. They are destroying everything of value in this country virtue, family, righteousness, honesty, and all of the other attributes that made this country great. Are you fed up with having everything of value stolen from you and are ready to fight back? Are you going to trudge back to the end of the line over and over again, or check out the road less traveled? Where are the lions? Who are the lions? As the saying goes ‘If not you – who, if not now – when?’ We are out of time.

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