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Addressing Oppression from a Sanctuary Space

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

I want to address calls within our movement for vegan and animal rights organizations to confront the systemic issue of white supremacy and racism in the United States, as overtly seen in the resurgence and emboldening of white supremacist groups. 

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is an animal protection and vegan advocacy organization. Our first priority is to save the lives of farmed animals and advocate for their rights. 

But when our staff leadership and board of directors sat down in February to work on our three-year strategic plan and strategic initiatives, we quickly realized that to achieve our vision of a peaceful world rooted in respect and justice for all living beings we needed to work on building alliance and advocacy within social justice movements. This was so important to us, that we put it in our new mission statement.  

Animal rights is inarguably a social justice movement – we fight against the oppression and the “othering” of nonhuman animals. Nonhuman animals are exploited and killed, by individuals and by industry, because they are seen as not deserving of basic bodily autonomy. Demanding justice for them and demanding that they simply be left alone is radical and bucks the cultural norms that underpin our day-to-day purchasing decisions, interactions, and language. We are a society built on exploiting animals just like we are a society built on marginalizing and exploiting groups of humans.  

As animal activists, we can’t claim a social justice framework without being allies and supporting marginalized and oppressed communities as well. Otherwise what is meant as solidarity can be merely co-opting language and strategies. Thus, we believe that fighting against the oppression of nonhuman animals must include fighting against the oppression of humans and fighting also for the liberation of marginalized communities. 

While we are a diverse group in some other ways, our board and staff is majority white. Our visitors to the Sanctuary tend to be as well (20% of respondents who take our humane education tours identified as being non-white). We aren’t able to carry out our plans and truly be the organization we need to be without being more inclusive and diverse.  

Our first step is actively diversifying our board of directors – they are the leaders and vision-setters of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. Within the next year, we aim to have a board that is more reflective of the greater vegan community – which is diverse and has always been diverse, despite the fact that all groups within our movement do not get the recognition or leadership positions they deserve.   

Additionally, our team here is attending an Inclusivity Workshop next month here at the Sanctuary where we are going to be learning and talking about the experiences of being a marginalized community, how to operationalize racial equity, and how to be good allies within a homogeneous space. While this is just a first step—and we plan to continually address these issues internally—we hope that this initial conversation will help guide our programming and educational outreach as well as our internal conversations– from our humane education tours, to our partnerships with other groups, to our intern program, to our social media messaging and outreach.  

I look back at some of the assumptions we have made about our messaging, our audience, and our community and I see that we have been unintentionally exclusionary at times. We are striving to make our messaging, programming, and physical space welcoming to all communities.  

My hope is that we will continue to work as a team to holistically shift the culture and hiring and retention practices within our organization so that we can authentically recruit a more diverse staff (and volunteers and interns) so that we have representation internally of a wide variety of perspectives. We are striving for more than sheer “cosmetic diversity” but to be a space that’s truly inclusive. Not only is it the right thing to do; it will make us better activists for the animals. 

We may make mistakes along the way but please know that we are really open to hearing feedback about ways we can help, or ways that you feel we can do better. I’m at rachel@woodstocksanctuary.org 

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is also committed to a no-tolerance policy in regards to any white supremacist or bigoted language or action. People demonstrating such opinions will be asked to leave the Sanctuary or will be blocked from our social media pages. We aim to continue to speak up about oppression in all its forms in our physical space, our outreach efforts, and our social media platforms. 

Thank you for being part of the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary community. 

For the animals, Rachel

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