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Lockdown. ‘And boom, you’re not an activist anymore’

With the COVID19 pandemic sweeping around the world and lockdown measures being in effect in many countries, public or social life has changed dramatically for many people. In fact, for some people, there might hardly be any participation in public or social life at the moment. Or the medium for their social relations has changed dramatically, from having face to face physical encounters on a daily basis with colleagues, family and friends, to mere digital exchanges.

For me, as for some other chronically ill or disabled persons, my day to day schedule under lockdown really hasn’t changed that much (although my fysio, music lesson and unfortunately also some medical check ups have been cancelled). No longer being professionally involved since several years, and not having the energy to partake in many outdoors activities, I spend much of my time at home anyway. Outdoor excursions are a rarity, and a shopping trip, concert, meet up with friends or restaurant visit usually means I have to plan recuperation time before and after the event because of the effort it takes. Although I love doing those things, they are draining. There are 24 hours in a day for everyone, but I’m living in ‘crip time’, or as I like to refer to it: I’m living parttime. I can only effectively use a fraction, a parttime portion of those 24 hours to really ‘live’.

Although my ‘living time’ is limited, that doesn’t mean I don’t do any animal rights or vegan activism any more. In fact, I spend most of my available time being ‘active’ for animals and in essence still consider myself an animal rights activist. I write blogs and share information about animal rights and veganism on my platforms Graswortels, Bruges Vegan and Crip Humanimal and am an ambassador for Happy Cow, the worldwide vegan restaurant guide. Occassionaly I give a presentation about veganism or animal rights at a festival or other event. The last couple of months I spent a great amount of time on editorial work on a book with a collection of essays and interviews with female animal rights and vegan activists in Belgium and the Netherlands (see Een Ander Soort Zuster, coming out later this year). And at home I take care of a couple of dozen adopted animals.

With public life coming to a standstill because of lockdown regulations, I have seen several animal rights activists claiming that ‘activism is on hold for now’. With no more gatherings, ‘non-essential’ outdoor activities allowed, that means no more demonstrations, outreach events, potlucks, baring witness at slaughterhouses, marches, occupations or disruptions. So what’s left then?

Activism in essence means ‘being active for the animals’. Even when you can’t turn to the street to spread the word, there are so many other ways to stand in solidarity with animals and fight for their rights.

Plenty! There are so many other forms of activism, even in times of lockdown (see also this article: Staying active for the animals during a pandemic). Use social media to get the word out about veganism and animal rights. Now more than ever, people rely on social media to connect and communicate. Lobby public institutions to provide vegan meals, to put animal rights on the agenda. Prepare publications, do interviews with stakeholders. Take the time in isolation to get yourself more educated on animal rights and social justice issues. Volunteer at an animal sanctuary or shelter. get into the kitchen and provide vegan meals to those who are in need. Do accounting or administration for an organisation. Hold online workshops, debates and screenings. The list is endless!
Activism in essence means ‘being active for the animals’. Even when you can’t turn to the street to spread the word, there are so many other ways to stand in solidarity with animals and fight for their rights.

It made me think of this poster which did the rounds on social media about a year ago. It shows a person with an ‘oh dear’ hand over mouth expression, near a street sign, which reads: “Imagine they delete Facebook and Instagram. And Boom, you’re not an activist anymore”. That poster always struck me as quite condescending, belittling or downplaying social media activism, and – although maybe implicitly – granting more ‘cred’ to street activism. With activists who don’t partake in demos, marches, rallies, outreach or other street activism, doing more ‘behind the scenes’ or less visible forms of activism not really being considered ‘true’ activists.
That poster also holds an ableist connotation. Activism through social media might be the only form of activism accessible for some disabled or chronically ill people. Or it can simply be the preferred form of activism for introvert people, not keen on face to face contact or being part of large group.

A person with an ‘oh dear’ hand over mouth expression, near a street sign, which reads: “Imagine they delete Facebook and Instagram. And Boom, you’re not an activist anymore”.

To drive the point home, I have adjusted the poster: “Imagine you ‘can’t go outside, to reach out, demo or march. And boom, you’re not an activist anymore.”
Doesn’t sound right, does it?

a person with an ‘oh dear’ hand over mouth expression, near a street sign, which reads: “Imagine you ‘can’t go outside, to reach out, demo or march. And boom, you’re not an activist anymore”.

To be clear: it’s not my intention to start an ‘activism olympics’ battle or debate. Although some forms of activism might be more effective than others (not only depending on the format, but also on the message being brought), and some definitely entail more ‘status’ among the activist community, I believe each form of activism has its value. And the most important thing is to find a form of activism that you like, that you are good at, and that you are comfortable doing. Keeping in mind that there’s so many more ways to be active for animals than street activism.

6 comments on “Lockdown. ‘And boom, you’re not an activist anymore’

  1. Thanks for this article. I appreciate the reminder that we all can be useful in our own ways and teaching people about the ableist nature of many activist movements. I also love reading things from other disabled/ill vegans. It’s a lonely world.

    I do want to chime in as another person dealing with disability and multiple chronic illnesses, though. While your life may not have changed much, those of us that need regular medical care, especially on a weekly basis or more, have had our lives change drastically. Those who require regular aides and attendants have been severely impacted. Those of us who have conditions putting us at a higher risk for death or hospitalization with the virus have had our lives change drastically. People in hospitals without enough ventilators have had their lives change drastically. People without a ton of support or access to resources have been affected greatly. There is also the reality of collective worldwide suffering and how crises like these tend to completely elevate already existing forms of extreme struggle and oppression suffered by humans and other animals- especially vulnerable humans like Black folks and poor folks and captive/domesticated animals. This is not a good time for those with mental health struggles who may already be isolated. This is not a good time for people without mail order pharmacy access. This is a horrific time for disabled people in the prison system. This is a horrific time for chronically ill people who do work and who hold low paying essential jobs that they aren’t at home from. This is a horrific time for hospitalized chronically ill and disabled people. Many in our communities have died from this whether they were able to quarantine or not.

    So, while your life hasn’t changed much because you’re used to not going out that often and whatnot (so are we,) please remember that you are speaking from a place of privilege as well. I am not saying that you should not share your experience or that your experience is not valid. It is, and I did relate to many things you said. But, please be more careful in your representation. I see a lot of bloggers with chronic illnesses and a bit more privilege speaking for “chronically ill and disabled people” and discussing how little has changed when they don’t at all represent the most vulnerable of our very diverse communities.

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    • Agreed. That’s why I also wrote “as for some other chronically ill or disabled persons”.
      Thanks for your feedback.

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      • Yes, you did add those three words of indirect clarification, but far more of this is sweeping statements that make it come across like a ton of people with chronic illness are just like “oh well, things haven’t changed much,” because “I spend most of my time at home anyway” when that is untrue. It echos trivializing posts from introverts, gamers, etc who have claimed they were “social distancing before the pandemic.” It makes it seem like you’re saying all that is happening for chronically ill people in large numbers is staying inside and events being canceled here and there- whether that is your intention or not. In fact, I can’t think of a single person in my circles in person or online with chronic illness who would say something like this, especially not in disability justice communities. I have been out of work for years and have to stay home most of the time and my life and schedule have COMPLETELY changed. Most CI people who have to be at home most of the time have had their schedule and lives completely changed. Transgender Law Center had a DJ panel online today and no one was like “not much has changed” in any aspect of their lives, and it was a diverse panel. That’s what I am saying. Please be careful in how you talk about things like this, especially as a disability justice educator who abled people may rely on for information.

        This is by no means to say that your entire article is without merit or that there is anything wrong with you as a person. Its ok to not be perfect. I love this website. Just please be more careful.

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      • This post was about how you can remain active as an animal activist during lockdown times. It was not about the various experiences of people from the CI community during lockdown. People from this community have various backgrounds. In this post, the author was simply sharing her experience and her history. From previous posts it is clear the author is well aware of other backgrounds and experiences in the CI community. There is no need to say “please remember that you are speaking from a place of privilege”. There is certainly no need to write “please be more careful in your representation”. You can share your own experiences, or that of others, but stop lecturing people as to how they should write or which representations they should share. Stop taking the moral high ground, because that is exactly what you do when you write “please be more careful in your representation”.

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    • Corvus

      @Dirk, sorry for the belated response. For some reason I didn’t get a new comment notification.My point is that they didn’t just represent themself though. They pulled other chronically ill people into their statements. They could have said, “This is my personal experience with my chronic illness.” But, they didn’t/ That’s what I am critiquing. It is interesting that you are telling me not to critique or share my experience and that of specific disabled and CI people I know, but are staunchly defending them sharing theirs AND speaking for faceless others. I am not the only disabled person who is bothered by these kinds of statements. Disabled and chronically ill communities are very diverse, yes. But, even people I know with less disruptive symptoms are not claiming not much has changed because everything HAS changed. You can’t write an article about activism from home, during mass quarantine, where countless people and other animals- especially disabled ones- are dying, while also claiming not much has changed. Everything has changed and thus, the types of activism we are doing from home also changes. If nothing changes for someone, that’s a privilege. Privilege is not an insult, it’s a neutral that people get offended by because it can be tough to look at our systemic advantages while knowing we struggle in other ways.

      Also, you don’t need to get defensive of this blog. I love this website and appreciate articles often. That’s why I took the time to write a response- it is worth my time. We are allowed to not get things right and call attention to unhelpful things and writing styles when we may not see this automatically. It happens to me and all of us. What is the point of them having any website like this if you only want yes-men to read it? How is it that I am “taking the moral high ground” when this entire website is doing a form of expressing moral high ground (which I support?) I know we live in call out and cancel culture right now, and so discussion can feel threatening, but the options should not be “never critique” or “cancel.”

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  2. Great article! I’ve always said activistism is doing something, no matter how small, quick, complicated, time consuming. From signing a petition to liberating animals. Most people can do something. Every little helps. Many doing a bit 😬 a better than a few doing alot. Thank you for all that you do x

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