Radicals would rather die than Compromise about Animal Liberation

activist, author, former political prisoner

Camille Marino
August 14, 2017

I have felt the sting of being ostracized by a mainstream Animal Rights movement that has historically been far more offended by my words and tactics than by the war criminals who carve up animals with impunity. That’s as it should be. My goal is Animal Liberation. Theirs is not offending a complicit public, also known as a donation base. Having been further marginalized by an Animal Rights patriarchy that sought to silence me for having the audacity to stand alone with my truth and integrity against fraudulent patriarchs who’ve repeatedly betrayed activists and animals, my name is now radioactive even for those who pose as the “militant” beacons of our community. This community, built upon compromise and appeasing various power bases, serves as the instrument which moderates all who fall victim to it’s allure. I stand as a bonafide outsider — a radical, a revolutionary, who has literally fought with my body and blood to maintain my ability to speak for Animal Liberation.

I take tremendous inspiration from this little-known radical, Benjamin Lay, who lived centuries before me. And I would encourage everyone to read this article. Understand that being ostracized by a mainstream anti-slavery movement that exists largely to maintain a status quo and compromise with the slave state is an honor. One that sets us apart in words and actions from the tepid among us who declare insidious compromise as victories while the animals continue to die.

You’ll Never Be as Radical as this 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf
A New York Times Opinion by Marcus Rediker

It was September 1738, and Benjamin Lay had walked 20 miles, subsisting on “acorns and peaches,” to reach the Quakers’ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Beneath his overcoat he wore a military uniform and a sword — both anathema to Quaker teachings. He also carried a hollowed-out book with a secret compartment, into which he had tucked a tied-off animal bladder filled with bright red pokeberry juice.

When it was Lay’s turn to speak, he rose to address the Quakers, many of whom had grown rich and bought African slaves. He was a dwarf, barely four feet tall, but from his small body came a thunderous voice. God, he intonedrespects all people equally, be they rich or poor, man or woman, white or black.

Throwing his overcoat aside, he spoke his prophecy: “Thus shall God shed the blood of those persons who enslave their fellow creatures.” He raised the book above his head and plunged the sword through it. As the “blood” gushed down his arm, several members of the congregation swooned. He then splattered it on the heads and bodies of the slave keepers. His message was clear: Anyone who failed to heed his call must expect death — of body and soul.

Lay did not resist when his fellow Quakers threw him out of the building. He knew he would be disowned by his beloved community for his performance, but he had made his point. As long as Quakers owned slaves, he would use his body and his words to disrupt their hypocritical routines. Lay’s methods made people talk about him, his ideas, the nature of Quakerism and Christianity, and, most of all, slavery. According to Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, the name of this “celebrated Christian philosopher” became “familiar to every man, woman and to nearly every child, in Pennsylvania.” For or against, everyone told stories about Benjamin Lay.

Lay, a hunchback as well as a dwarf, was the world’s first revolutionary abolitionist. Against the common sense of the day, when slavery seemed to most people as immutable as the stars in the heavens, Lay imagined a new world in which people would live simply, make their own food and clothes, and respect nature. He lived in a cave in Abington, Pa., ate only fruits and vegetables — “the innocent fruits of the earth” — and championed animal rights. He refused to consume any commodity produced by slave labor and was known to walk abruptly out of a dinner in protest when he found out that his host owned slaves.

Today Benjamin Lay is largely forgotten, for essentially two reasons.

The first is that he did not fit the dominant, long-told story about the history of the abolitionist movement. Formerly a common sailor, he was not one of the so-called gentleman saints like William Wilberforce, an aristocratic leader of the abolition movement in Britain. He was wild and confrontational, militant and uncompromising.

A second reason is that he has long been considered deformed in both body and mind. As a little person and as a man thought eccentric at best and more commonly deranged or insane, he was ridiculed and dismissed, even among Quakers who were ostensibly committed to an ideal of spiritual equality. The condescension continued in subsequent accounts of his life.

Yet Lay deserves a proud place in our history. He predicted that for Quakers and for America, slave-keeping would be a long, destructive burden. He wrote that it “will be as the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps, in the end.” The poison and the venom have had long lives indeed, as we still live with the consequences of slavery: prejudice, poverty, structural inequality and premature death.

Disparaged and abandoned by his fellow Quakers, Lay eventually helped win the debate over slavery. He wanted to provoke, to unsettle, even to confound — to make people think and act. His greatest power, indeed his genius, lay in his gift as an agitator. In every meeting he attended, public or private, he drew a line over the issue of slavery. He asked everyone he met, Which side are you on?

Slowly, over a quarter-century, his relentless agitation changed hearts and minds. In 1758 a friend arrived at his cave to inform him that the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had finally taken the first big step toward abolition, ruling that those who traded in slaves would henceforth be disciplined and perhaps driven from the community. Lay fell silent for a few reverential moments, then rose from his chair, praised God and announced, “I can now die in peace.” He died a year later, an outsider to the Quaker community he loved, but a moral giant of a man.

Benjamin Lay was, in sum, a class-conscious, race-conscious, environmentally conscious ultraradical. Most would think this combination of beliefs possible only since the 1960s, two centuries after Lay’s life ended. But by boycotting slave-produced commodities, Lay pioneered the politics of consumption and initiated a tactic that would become central to the ultimate success of abolitionism in the 19th century, and one that still motivates global movements against abuses like sweatshops today.

In his time Lay may have been the most radical person on the planet. He helps us to understand what was politically and morally possible in the first half of the 18th century — and what may be possible now. It is more than we think.

Marcus Rediker, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, is the author of the forthcoming “The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist,” from which this essay was adapted


6 Responses

  1. Louis Eagle Warrior says:

    It is mortifying and enraging that what is considered in the mainstream of animal rights, individuals and organizations are considered with appearances, PC and often Pollyanaish approaches preaching how love and truth will win the day.
    The holocaust, meanwhile, rages on and on.
    There can be no compromise, no soft approaches, no middle ground. NONE! Zero!
    Those involved must be called out, called to task and dealt with by any and all means.
    They need to not only taste their aberrant way of going, but continue to pay severe, harsh, and yes, violent penalties until the abuse and slaughter ends – period! Once and for all and forever.
    The perpetrators cannot be shamed nor condemned enough, nor can they be subjected to any less than what they have dealt and gotten away with far too long.
    They are criminals. Not we.

    • admin says:

      Eagle Warrior, I thought I’d seen it all. And every day I’m proven wrong. I learned yesterday that while I was sitting in time out, Earth First — our alleged sister movement — held a fundraiser with a pig roast. For fucks sake, where is our integrity? [CORRECTION – I JUST LEARNED THIS EVENT HAPPENED IN THE 1980S] Those I once considered radical are nothing but a bunch of compromising tow-the-line status quo pussies. And I need to be the lone voice standing for what’s just and correct, so be it. I take a great deal of inspiration from this article. As I do from having the scarce few brothers like you who will walk through fire if need be!

      • Louis Eagle Warrior says:

        You are not alone,  my love. No way are you a lone voice.
        Sadly, there are too many like-minded who lack the courage to come out and stand firm alongside us.
        They are among those who need to wait until they see more numbers before they do come forward.
        Many or most of these groups seek to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

        PETA, with its numerous apologists, kills shelter animals, HSUS got into bed with Michael Vick and often seek a middling, welfare approach, WWF and Defenders of Wildlife have taken pro-hunting stances.  WTF!!!

        • admin says:

          I don’t know if you realize how important something you said is: “they are among those who need to wait until they see more numbers before they do come forward.” this is so true. a little momentum will take us a long way. your courage gives me strength and hope, my brother

          conversely, a butcher puts a sign in his window that animals should have rights (or some such bull shit) and the momentum drives tons of activists to cheer this as a “victory.” burn the fucking butcher down, put him out of business, DO SOMETHING for cryin’ out loud and i’ll consider it a victory too.

          • Louis Eagle Warrior says:

            I’m fully aware how important what I said is. To me it’s human psyche 101.  Peer approval among other labels and headings.
            People, most of them simply lack the courage of their convictions.  Rather that they be liked and jolly bedfellows that scorned and ostracized.
            There are, thankfully, many of us who do not live as if our life was a popularity contest.
            My mother was a dear, kind wonderful lady, but one who concerned herself with appearances. She would say, if or as occasion arose, “What will the neighbors think,” to which I’d reply, “Frankly mom, I don’t give a shit what the neighbors think.”

          • admin says:

            I remember having identical exchanges in my own home.

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