As vegans, we like to think we’re ahead of our time. We champion the suffering of animals, begging others to pay attention and see these long-overlooked victims. We advocate a new genre of social justice, one that brings animals into our moral circle. We demand that the ability of nonhuman animals — particularly livestock animals — to have emotional lives, to feel pain, and to experience suffering, be recognized at long last.
The fact that we’re looking so far ahead on the path to a more just world means it’s no surprise that many of us are big fans of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. If you’ve been keeping track, Bernie has been an ardent supporter of causes decades before American society at large recognized their importance.
He participated in a sit-in to protest segregation on the campus of the University of Chicago in 1962.
He championed LGBT rights all the way back in 1986 as mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
He has supported the right to choose his entire political career.
This is just a sliver of Bernie’s lengthy record of social justice activism. In short, he’s been on the right side of history on virtually every issue. On others, such as universal health care, I expect time will clearly show we should have enacted it a very long time ago.
From what I’ve seen on social media, vegans are showing up for Bernie. This is unsurprising. Vegans care about people — who are animals, after all — and no one can deny that Bernie’s platform is based on taking care of each other.
There’s another similarity I want to underscore: opposition to Bernie is eerily similar to anti-vegan argumentation.
Everyone recognizes the prosocial foundation of Bernie’s platform in much the same way that most people understand that veganism is primarily about ethics. Further, most people laud veganism, saying things like, “good for you, that’s great, but I could never do it.” I’ve been reminded of this dismissal-without-effort every time I’ve heard someone say, “Bernie’s policies are great, but he could never win.”
I’m not going to lie, it’s immensely frustrating. People rage on and on about corrupt politicians looking out only for their own interests. They aren’t wrong! But when they can’t recognize an honest politician when they see one, it just seems like a farce. Just own up to the fact that you don’t want Bernie as president; acknowledge that you haven’t tried to go vegan, so you can’t know how difficult or not difficult it is, and that you’re not actually going to give it a try. Be honest.
Similarly, people claim that Bernie is “too extreme” — the exact phrase many use to describe veganism. What about not killing animals is too extreme? What about Bernie’s platform is too extreme? These are smoke screens people put up to hide their true feelings. The window of acceptable discourse — in politics and ethics — functions as a way to keep new ideas out. This means corrupt politicians stay, and extraordinarily popular legislative proposals aren’t put on the table; this means animals continue to die by the billions on factory farms.
And the ‘gotcha’-ism! People like to “catch” vegans doing non-vegan things. This includes policing the words we use (those aren’t cookies, they’re vegan cookies!), “ensuring” we are adhering to our veganism (did you say there’s mayo on your sandwich?), finding any reason at all to believe we aren’t actually in it for the ethics.
This is the most frustrating part of denunciations of Bernie. So many of them are so obviously in bad faith, but too many people want to hear it for that to matter. He’s criticized for his gruff voice, his blunt explanations, his sometimes-angry tone. People obsessively compare him to abusive ex-boyfriends and fathers, chalk him up to “just another old white man,” chastise him for illusory transgressions against women. His record is remarkably clear, as are his words. But people want to see him fail in place of — I can’t believe I’m saying this — but Joe Fucking Biden.
Then there’s the complaints of the behavior of the advocates. Vegan activists are mean; Bernie supporters are “Bernie bros” who engage in vitriolic, toxic behavior. I won’t deny that these things happen, but I suspect the “Bernie bro” denunciations are a result of people who believe they are on the left being unable to handle criticism from the left. They mistake their bruised egos for maliciousness. We know this is the case with veganism as well: there are rude vegans who likely hurt the cause, but there are far more of us that are just normal, everyday people. People allude to the extremists as another smokescreen to dismiss the underlying merits.
All of this is to say I love Bernie, and the struggle to convert others to see that he’s the right one for the job is reminiscent of what Bernie advocates have been facing as of late. He’s right in the same way that veganism is right, and though Bernie doesn’t seem likely to become president anytime soon (if ever), I believe we will look back on this time and recognize both of these things.
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