Last night, I watched "Milk," the film about assassinated gay rights activist Harvey Milk. It's an excellent film and I highly recommend it. I not only learned about Harvey Milk, but about the early stages of the gay rights movement (which is ongoing today when one looks at all the right-wing flutterings over gay marriage.)
It made me think though about the animal rights movement. Are we really a social movement like gay rights and civil rights? I think we have the potential to be, but I just don't feel that we are there yet.
One of the benefits that human rights movements have is that they are articulating for themselves. Humans get all wrapped up in stories of those who can communicate their sufferings. Animals can't do that. That's why people say that they have no problem eating them, harvesting them, experimenting on them, etc. The animals can't say, "This hurts me," "Stop it," or "I have a right to my life." We advocates have to impute those words to them, which is why so many of our opponents can argue that we are wrong. They argue that we are only making things up and assigning anthropomorphic tendencies to animals. This is because the animals cannot use human language to speak for themselves and contradict either side. (I believe they can speak, but in their own language that we can understand if we only listen.)
I also believe that we are a fragmented movement. Some fight for veganism, some against factory farms, some against experimentation, poaching, habitat encroachment, etc. There is a group for every cause. But how much can we accomplish when our resources are so divided? Who is our leader? Best Friends? PETA? The Humane Society? Or does everyone have their niche? Where does our power come from?
I also believe we lack a charismatic leader who can take to the airwaves and move an audience. We don't have a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Harvey Milk. We have Jane Goodall, who is a quiet unassuming person. We need a visible leader with passion and no fear, but also practical and driven to accomplish goals rather than just sounding off and garnering publicity.
I read Jonathon Alter once years ago who, writing in Newsweek, bemoaned the fact that there was no civil rights movement to galvanize the young people of the day. Just the sorry animal rights movement. It's not sorry, it just hasn't found its moral, UNITED, ORGANIZED voice.