What Are You Doing to Help Animals Right NOW?

Sad looking dog

In this essay, I will deconstruct what people really mean when they pull on what Michele Kaplan calls, “The Urgency.” The urgency of Nonhuman Animal suffering (“RIGHT NOW!”) is exploited as a diversion tactic: no time to think, animals are suffering!  It is a trope that is frequently invoked to silence criticism and maintain the status quo, frequently in response to the following:

  • Critiques of sexism and misogyny in Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy
  • Critiques of racism, normalized whiteness, and white supremacy in Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy
  • Critiques of counterproductive agriculture reforms that protect speciesism
  • Critiques of “happy meat,” “veg*nism,” or other reductionist campaigns

While it may not be their intention, activists drawing on the urgency trope are exploiting the torture and death of Nonhuman Animals to maintain privilege and inequality.  Women, for instance, are frequently shamed for taking issue with rape culture as it is aggravated and perpetuated by misgoynist activism in the Nonhuman Animal rights community.  How dare they distract us when other animals are suffering RIGHT NOW?

When women, in particular, are shamed for voicing their opinions on sexism in advocacy, this trope also pulls on sexist stereotypes that women should put the needs of others first, ignoring their own oppression. Shaming women for caring about themselves has historically been an effective means of countering women’s empowerment and maintaining a status quo of oppression.

For activists who invoke urgency, I suggest that, if they truly do care about other animals suffering right now, it would be advisable to stop castigating marginalized people. A violent movement is not a healthy one. Instead, pay attention to what marginalized persons are communicating, and make an active effort to learn something from it. Doing so makes the movement stronger. I say this because this movement will never succeed so long as women are being discriminated against, people of color are being excluded,  and speciesist reforms remain the preferred tactic of Nonhuman Animal “rights” organizations.

The “Animals are Suffering Right NOW” trope is intended to quell criticism.  It is generally an uncritical diversion from engaging in discourse, preventing activists from examining how they might actually be participating in the oppression they seek to destroy. Before defaulting to the “common” sense of “The Urgency,” activists should consider that, as Kaplan suggests, ” …just because it feels good, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are reaching beyond the choir.” Worse, if problematic tactics get protected as common sense, they could actually be abetting violence.


A version of this essay first appeared on The Academic Activist Vegan on August 2, 2013.

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.