Several weeks ago, a group of student activists at Stanford University attempted to draw a comparison between vegetarianism and the civil rights movement.
The students, who represented a group called Direct Action Everywhere, interrupted a showing of the documentary “American Meat,” heckled the film’s director and refused to allow panelists and attendees to speak, choosing instead to exploit the event to promote their viewpoint.
The activists held up pictures of their pets while decrying the eating of animals, apparently trying to draw a connection between domesticated pets and food.
One student, Wayne Hsiung, held up a photo of his dog and told the assembled crowd, “This is my little girl, Lisa. Why does she deserve to die for your bloodthirst and greed?”
Direct Action Everywhere equated the way its members were booed after disrupting to how civil rights activists at lunch counter sit-ins were treated in Greensboro, N.C., in the 1960s.
While the op-ed does admit that, “our action was not like that of the Greensboro Four,” it goes on to say, “We faced much of the same critique.”
It would seem that the disclaimer is little more than a last-ditch attempt to save face, as the closing statement of the op-ed again attempts to draw a parallel between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and vegetarianism: “it is easy to look back at these brave men [the Greensboro Four] and laud their actions. When a similar opportunity to speak up arises today, are we going to have the courage to make our voices heard?”
The actions of this group were both offensive and counterproductive. Besides alienating potential members with their half-baked civil rights analogy, group members also reportedly irritated students at the showing — some of whom may have actually agreed with them, as the documentary being shown was about the role of meat in America.
When the film’s director, Graham Meriwether, suggested having a “pleasant conversation,” the activists replied, “Are we going to have a pleasant conversation about rape? About child pornography?” That may have fueled the audience’s discontent.
The activists also said, “Grave injustices are being committed against victims whose only crime was being born into a nonhuman species. We are compelled to speak in their defense and fight for their lives.”
However, livestock and humans are not morally interchangeable, and the struggles of civil rights activists risking their lives for change is a far cry from a group of privileged college students disrupting a public forum.
The students at Stanford were not beaten, shot at or physically harassed; they were simply yelled at and booed. They were not even arrested. The comparisons that this group tried to make to the civil rights movement, rape and child pornography, were not only offensive, but also alienating.
It was not OK for Direct Action Everywhere to interrupt a public meeting to try to cram its beliefs down the throats of fellow students, but it’s even worse that the group trivialized the accomplishments of legitimate activists and reformers while doing it.
—David Weissman is a journalism junior. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions