Who among us wouldn’t agree that abuse and oppression are wrong? Racism is wrong. Sexism is wrong. Speciesism is wrong. But what are we doing about it? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked, “What are you doing for others?” and gave a reminder that “[a] time comes when silence is betrayal.” Or as another great leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” By rallying for civil liberties and speaking out against inequality, he exemplified his own words, showing that “[t]he time is always right to do what is right.” Taking his statements and calls to action to heart, PETA speaks out against violence and oppression.
Opposing injustice isn’t a matter of choosing a single issue and ignoring all others. It is acting on principle against all injustice. Picking which ugly “-isms” to stamp out, like plucking this grape and that from a bunch, will never be how social justice reform works. Ableism, homophobia, sexism, speciesism, racism, and transphobia are all linked by one common theme: a supremacist attitude.
Martin Luther King Jr. reminded everyone that we should fight all injustice, not limit ourselves to a single issue. #MLKDay pic.twitter.com/hXl94mgzDw
— Ingrid Newkirk (@IngridNewkirk) January 17, 2022
Biases are born of ignorance. Not so long ago, in the days of human enslavement, some people believed that African men did not feel pain as white men do and that African women did not experience maternal love as white women do, so it was considered acceptable to brand their faces and to auction off their children. Highly educated white people refused to believe their own eyes and ears or follow common sense, because society accepted the exploitation of another race. We have abolished human enslavement—at least in theory—but we continue to enslave others who may not look exactly the same as “we” do but, if we are honest, clearly demonstrate that if you burn them, they scream just as we do; that they experience maternal love just as we do; and that they desire freedom just as we do.
It may be useful to look at acts of abuse committed today and imagine them through the more critical eyes of future generations or to put ourselves in the shoes of the oppressed, because if we believe what Dr. King famously said—that “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”—we must do exactly that.
Most people, when shown how their actions support cruelty and given options, will make compassionate choices. How else would PETA have all but obliterated cosmetics testing on animals, ignited an explosion of vegan options at grocery stores and restaurants, started a fur-free revolution, and forced SeaWorld to end its sordid orca-breeding program and to stop allowing trainers to stand on dolphins’ faces and backs? We wouldn’t have—not without the willingness of supporters and activists to challenge bigotry always and in all ways, even (or perhaps especially) when they were just witnesses and not victims.
“[T]here comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right,” Dr. King said.
Dr. King summoned up his courage and did and said what was right. We must do that, too, if we are to heed his call. Animal rights is not some poor cousin of other rights movements any more than women’s rights is a lower cause than others. All struggles to achieve social justice are equally important to support. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people,” said Dr. King. In his honor and for those who are oppressed, speak out against all forms of discrimination—often and with pride.
One of the most effective ways to do this is to speak up to usher in change. Reach out to your representatives and urge them to pass animal- and human-friendly legislation. You can start by asking your local, state, and national representatives to support PETA’s food justice campaign, an initiative to redirect subsidies from the meat, egg, and dairy industries toward incentives to grocers in food deserts to stock vegetables, fruits, and other healthy vegan foods. Follow our simple guide to letter-writing to start making your voice count: