“Total liberation provides agency for all” – Press Officer Nicoal R. Sheen

English Version of Interview conducted by Dobrusia at Lajke, a feminist/animal liberationist blog (see interview translated in Polish here)

Can you say something about you and the projects you’re involved in at the moment?

I am a full time activist for animal liberation and ecofeminism. I currently hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Comparative Politics, focusing on sociopolitical movements. I would love to eventually further my education and pursue another degree, possibly in Womyn, Gender and Sexuality studies combined with Environmental Justice.

As an activist who rejects a single issue model, my main concern is speaking, presenting and continuing to learn about the interconnections of struggle and fighting for a world where speciesism, sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism and other manifestations of oppression are eradicated.

I believe in a liberationist ethic, both in theory and praxis. We must continue to live and practice what we wish society to emulate for the liberation of all beings on this planet – human, other-than-human animals and nature. This includes what (or who) we consume, the language we use, and checking our own privileges and how we are oppressors ourselves.

Currently, I am working in Los Angeles, California. Most of my efforts are directed towards ending vivisection. However, I always strive to find common ground among various social groups and work together to eventually eliminate what prevents our complete and total liberation.

You co-wrote a pamphlet called “total liberation: making the connection between animal and human exploitation”. Could you comment on the main ideas behind the concept of “total liberation”?

Total liberation provides agency for all.

Every single being on this planet deserves their liberation and freedom from social constructs that limit who we are, how we live and how we interact with each other – human and other-than-human. Total liberation is not concerned with single issues politics, which only serves to stifle the progress of social justice. Total liberation does not dabble in “When our liberation is achieved, we will then fight for your liberation”. Total liberation as a concept and in praxis recognizes that our oppression is inextricably linked and must be fought on all fronts.

Factory farms and attacks on reproductive freedom must be stopped. Vivisection and environmental racism must be ended. And so on. We must demolish what inhibits others to simply live, the objectification and exploitation of bodies, and every facet of systematic repression. The exploitation of one perpetuates and normalizes the exploitation of another.

For example, we will never achieve liberation for the animals nor will we end the objectification of animals’ bodies if we exploit and objectify womyn’s bodies to sell the message of animal liberation. We only serve to participate in the same system we reject. In addition, we further engrain the concept that womyn are inanimate objects or that its acceptable for womyn to be visually dismantled for “the greater good”. Such hypocrisy and disregard for others will only continue to strengthen the foundation of domination.

Moreover, if we put total liberation to practice, we will achieve both reproductive rights and freedom for a womyn and a female bodied animal. Womyn have the right to free health examinations, abortion and contraception. Female bodied animals have the right to produce young naturally without artificial insemination, force or hormones; to live a life unto themselves and for their own purposes. This is only one example of what we could gain.

For more reading on these concepts see authors Kimberle Crenshaw (on Intersectionality), bell hooks (Feminist Theory: From Margin to Theory), Gloria Anzaldua (Borderlands/La Frontera), Greta Gaard (Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, and Nature), Carol Adams (Neither Man nor Beast and The Sexual Politics of Meat), and pattrice jones (Their Bodies, Our Selves and Toward Total Animal Liberation).

Are you personally involved in other movements? What are they?

While in college I was involved in various groups including a feminist organization. Although I am mostly active in the animal liberation movement as of now, I never hold back from expressing my views on topics I see as integral to the liberation of all. My work within the animal liberation movement is not just talking about animal oppression or acting against those who exploit animals. I discuss and challenge race and class privilege, sexism and heterosexism within animal rights circles. Especially when some animal activists generalize all people of color as oppressors of animals e.g. claims that all people in China are responsible for the dog and cat fur trade or when animal activists insinuate that animal cruelty is “inherent” in a culture. I feel my activism is never limited to one group and I don’t necessarily need to be a “member” of that group or movement to speak to the issues.

So… doing it all or doing one thing well?

Honestly, we should find what we are most passionate about since that is what we will fight hardest for and what drives us. As long as we do not use tactics that will undermine each other and our efforts, we are working together. I believe that the key to “doing it all” will come from a solidarity politics of many and not from just one hand. I am just unsure of how long it will take us to find each other and the common ground beneath all our feet – whether we walk on two legs or four hooves.

Speaking from your experience – what tactics of animal liberation movement do you find most effective?

Although I do not participate in illegal direct action, I believe it to be the most effective in ending animal exploitation. Direct action, comparably to other tactics, has been most successful in costing animal exploiters hundreds of thousands to millions and most importantly, liberating the animals physically from their enslavement and places of exploitation.

Other than illegal direct action, I think as above ground activists we must analyze each campaign specifically and plan out strategies in advance to include both short term and long term goals. I don’t think there is one model or static plan. I know it sounds like common sense, but I believe it is important to reiterate. Once we begin to deviate from these goals or if certain tactics are not working or possibly failing, activists need to come back to the drawing table. We must continually evolve in how we challenge corporations, the State, and even legal/court repression (e.g. injunctions). However, if I had to pick one campaign style or tactic, I particularly enjoy pressure campaigning as activists many times will see out success from the mounting escalation against the targeted company.

Do you think that being a female activist influences some of your decisions or ideas?

Yes. I think I experience activism differently as a female, but not in an essentialist kind of way. I do not believe any of our experiences are the same or that womyn act a particular way or can identify with each other simply because we are womyn. Instead, social constructs and patriarchal notions shape my experience and this may include how I rationalize my decisions and ideas – e.g. ethically refusing to eat an animals’ flesh or drink a female cow’s secretions since I recognize the parallels of our oppression including the exploitation of our bodies and reproductive processes. We must realize our identities are not additive, rather how we identify and how we experience oppression overlaps.

Do you think it influences reactions of other people to you as an activist?

People often assume that as a female in the animal liberation movement that I join PETA in nude escapades to exemplify my disgust for fur. Yet, I despise stunts such as “I’d Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur” that only serve to objectify womyn’s bodies, and remove the animals’ experience. PETA’s sexist campaigning is one example of the widespread misrepresentation of what most womyn really do in the animal liberation movement. Womyn’s hard work is trivialized and our knowledge and intelligence further disregarded.

You told me once you’re drug free. Do you think that the decision to stay sober or drug free is in any way relevant to being an activist (of animal liberation specifically or of any other movement)?

Drug free and a sober lifestyle is absolutely political. Especially when we analyze cigarette companies and the money spent on animal experimentation as well as how much money the government collects every time some one voluntarily purchases a bottle of alcohol. Companies such as Philip Morris (one of the world’s largest tobacco corporations) or Diageo (a global alcohol producer and distributor) have a history of subduing populations around the world causing mass addiction, disease and death. It is crucial to maintain our ability to focus on the movement without addictive substances that may destroy our relationships locally and globally, dissolve our capability to function as effective activists and that will undoubtedly exploit others.