I’ve been hearing from a lot of vegans about the Liberation Pledge. It’s a commitment that more and more vegans are making to try to maximize their impact for the animals.
So, what is the Liberation Pledge? Adherents to the Liberation Pledge commit to (1) being vegan, (2) not sitting where animals are being eaten, and (3) encouraging others to take the pledge. Many adherents wear a bent fork as a bracelet as a symbol that they have taken the pledge.
In this article, I’ll cover the origins of the Liberation Pledge and the logic behind it. I’ll also list out some pros and cons of taking the Liberation Pledge, including why I’m personally not taking it. By the end of this post, you should have a much better idea if taking the Liberation Pledge is right for you!
What Is the Liberation Pledge?
The Liberation Pledge has three components, although #2 is the main, controversial point:
- Publicly refuse to eat animals—live vegan.
- Publicly refuse to sit where animals are being eaten.
- Encourage others to take the pledge.
So the key part of the pledge is to not sit where animals are being eaten. This pledge significantly ratchets up the confrontational nature of being vegan!
Instead of just making sure your family, friends, or co-workers are okay with coming to a restaurant that has vegan options, you now get gotta them to come along to an all-vegan restaurant! Or you at least need to convince them not to order meat themselves, or not eat it at the same table as you.
Applying the Pledge to Real Life: What It Looks Like
The wording in #2 actually allows for a pretty broad application of this rule. And there is a community online to help adherents decide how to really live out this ideal in practice. There is a Liberation Pledge Support Group on Facebook where people can ask questions and get support.
But there are also 3 default levels of adherence that have been outlined by Direct Action Everywhere as ideas for how to adapt the pledge to your life…
3 Difficulty Levels to the Liberation Pledge
The Liberation Pledge is adaptable to different levels of strictness that you can choose between. The titles for these are pulled from the Direct Action Everywhere post on the subject.
• “Level 1: No places of violence. Vegan establishments only.” This could be called “hard mode.” You don’t go to any events or restaurants where animals are being consumed. This could be extremely limiting. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone really (I’ll cover potential risks I see with this below).
• “Level 2: No tables of violence. Vegan tables only.” You can go to non-vegan restaurants and parties and stuff, but you sit at a different table when it comes time to eat. This is an interesting approach because it’s still quite confrontational, but you’re not totally excluding yourself from non-vegan spaces.
• “Level 3: No corpses on the table. Vegetarian tables only.” You’re willing to sit at tables with dairy or eggs being eaten, but no meat. This is a bit of a compromise, but it makes the Liberation Pledge work for more people to still eat with their stubborn non-vegan family members.
“The Liberation Band”—A Fork Bent into a Bracelet
Another aspect of the Liberation Pledge is that many adherents choose to make and wear a fork bracelet on their wrist, also known as a liberation band. This is a symbol of The Liberation Pledge.
On the official website of the Liberation Pledge, there is a short guide for how to bend a fork into a bracelet so you can wear it as a sign of your support for the pledge.
Wearing this fork bracelet will undoubtedly make the subject come up more in conversations. It could also be a way for committed vegans to recognize each other in public.
The FAQ page on the Liberation Pledge website cites the AIDS ribbon lapel pins of the 1990s as the symbol that inspired their bent fork bracelet (a.k.a. “liberation band”).
As an alternative to actually bending a metal fork into a bracelet, some adherents to The Liberation Pledge wear rubber wristbands made to show support of the pledge instead. And still others get tattoos of a fork to show their commitment.
Historical Precedent for the Liberation Pledge
The bent fork bracelet is not the only historically influenced part of the Liberation Pledge. The pledge itself is based on the approach that was taken to end the traditional practice of foot-binding in China.
To end the practice of binding the feet of Chinese girls to control their size and shape, a pledge was started where adherents followed two guidelines:
- Don’t bind your daughters’ feet.
- Don’t let your son marry a woman with bound feet.
This pledge was started in 1890, and it led to the successful outlawing of foot-binding in the early 1900s. This was after many other forms of activism and attempts to ban the practice had been ineffective over many centuries.
The Liberation Pledge Is Actually Completely Reasonable If You Think About It This Way.
It may sound pretty extreme to refuse to even sit at a table where other people are eating meat—but just imagine if they were eating a dead human instead.
And imagine that the dead human was raised from birth confined in tiny cages, abused, made to do things against their will/consent, and then finally killed without anesthesia.
You would probably not be okay with sitting at that table. And that’s the point.
Challenging Norms and Taking Anti-Speciesism Seriously
So the Liberation Pledge makes complete sense if you really believe in anti-speciesism for real. The norms in our society have just made us all accustomed to the sight of people eating the dead bodies of tortured animals.
The Liberation Pledge is an attempt to insist that eating dead, tortured animals is violence—and that we should see it as violence—we should not see it as normal.
Is The Liberation Pledge a form of Civil Disobedience? Kind of?
Henry David Thoreau has a famous essay called “Civil Disobedience.” Basically, Thoreau was completely opposed to many of the things his government was doing under the Presidency of James Polk—and so, he decided to stop paying his taxes and willingly go to prison for it.
Thoreau argued that, in an unjust society, the dignified place for a good person to be is in prison. If the laws are unjust, you should break them.
As Thoreau said, when you believe that the government or the machinery of society is doing something horribly wrong, you should “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”
Now, of course, taking the Liberation Pledge doesn’t require you to break the law. But by taking the Liberation Pledge, you are similarly making yourself into a big hassle for those people who just want to continue with the normal practice of eating animals and not think about it.
By taking the Liberation Pledge, you are basically refusing to just “go along with” other people eating animals. You’re refusing to accept it as a “personal decision.” You’re increasing the costs (in awkwardness, if nothing else) for people to continue to eat animals around you.
“Putting Your Body Upon the Gears of the Machine”
A similar metaphor to Thoreau’s “counter friction to stop the machine” comes in a famous speech from activist Mario Savio. Savio’s speech was made during the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964.
Savio spoke passionately to a group of about 4,000 people, mostly students, who were gathered in protest of the University’s ban on political activity for the fall semester.
I really think this speech captures the ethos of the Liberation Pledge. It’s like chaining yourself to a bulldozer that’s about to plow down a tree. Instead of just letting people peacefully eat their dead animals, you’re making an issue out of it.
It’s bold. It’s confrontational. It’s an attempt to use your privileged position as a human who they do care about, to hopefully help create change for animals.
Taking the Liberation Pledge As An Act of Self-Care?
If you read/listen to accounts from vegans who are taking the Liberation Pledge, many say that being at the dinner table with people eating dead animals earnestly causes them a lot of emotional discomfort and stress.
So taking the Liberation Pledge is also a way of standing up for yourself and refusing to put yourself through that emotional distress just to allow others to continue to eat meat unchallenged.
This reminded me of some things I’d recently heard about this term “vystopia.” Vystopia refers to “the anguish of being vegan in a non-vegan world.” Some vegans really, truly struggle with this.
(For me, I don’t actually relate to this feeling of vegan anguish too much. Maybe it’s a side effect of being around non-vegans for so long now—or maybe it’s a side effect of becoming jaded in other ways. But if this resonates with you, maybe it’s a reason you want to consider taking the Liberation Pledge.)
Does the Liberation Pledge Actually Work?
The goal of the Liberation Pledge is that, hopefully, it causes non-vegans to change their plans to accommodate you. You’ll hopefully convince people to try eating vegan meals with you, instead of actually eating at a separate table. Does this happen often?
Obviously, the answer is going to be “sometimes.” I thought this blog* post (link removed) gave a neat anecdote of someone starting a new job after taking the Liberation Pledge. Her refusal to sit where meat was being eaten actually led the company to set up a “vegan and vegetarian table” at the workplace! So that’s a nice little success. (*link removed)
Unfortunately, I don’t have actual research—and not even a large amount of anecdotal evidence—about how often the Liberation Pledge works like this. Although I’ll mention another very striking anecdote of a reported success below.
Does the Liberation Pledge Alienate People From Veganism?
One of the risks of taking the Liberation Pledge is that you may alienate people from veganism rather than pulling them in. I addressed this a bit in my post about militant veganism in general. It’s always a risk with more aggressive forms of activism.
The Liberation Pledge could alienate non-vegans in several ways:
- You may limit your ability to make close friendships and connections with non-vegans. And ironically, this could hinder your ability to influence those people toward veganism in the future.
- You might make veganism look extreme, difficult, lonely, or isolating. If you’re the first vegan someone meets, and then you have to exclude yourself from lunch because of it… They might think, “Wow, being vegan is really extreme and lonely—I could never do that.”
- You may come off as being “Holier Than Thou.” Some people think vegans see themselves as “morally superior,” and not being willing to sit with them could come across as reinforcement of that. This could actually close them off from hearing your message because they feel judged and may resent you for it.
Basically, militant activism can put people on the defensive. And I’m not sure if that’s the most conducive to getting them to actually consider your ideas.
Is It More Effective to Lead With the Positive Sides of Veganism?
Personally, I think one of the most effective ways to advocate for veganism is actually just leading by example and showing the positive impact it’s had on your own life. (I have a post titled “How to Be Vegan Without Being Annoying” about this.)
When you do that, you may risk some people not taking it seriously because you’re not challenging them on an ethical or moral level. But you also have a better chance of them remaining open to your ideas because they don’t feel attacked.
Being Vegan Is Already Confrontational to an extent
The logic of the Liberation Pledge is to consistently confront non-vegans for the violent act they are carrying out when they eat dead animals. But this is already done just by being vegan, albeit to a lesser degree.
And this is probably why a lot of defensive meat-eaters kind of hate vegans in general. The presence of a vegan, especially one who says “I don’t eat meat because I believe it’s wrong,” is already confronting the meat-eater for an act of violence they are at least complicit in, if not actively participating in.
By being the vegan in the group, you’re already going to make the issue come up all the time. People have to think about whether a certain restaurant is okay for your group outing because maybe it doesn’t have vegan options.
So just being vegan is already “throwing your body on the gears of the machine” to a degree (to refer back to the Savio speech above). Taking the Liberation Pledge is just another step further in the same direction.
Are You a Bad Vegan If You Don’t Take the Liberation Pledge?
You’re not a bad vegan if you don’t take this pledge. And actually, I haven’t found any sources saying anything like that. Even the most militant vegans aren’t approaching this issue like that.
Everyone’s life situation is different. Everyone is vegan for different reasons. Something like the Liberation Pledge might sound just right for some people, but it was never meant to be the new standard of what every vegan should live up to.
James Aspey and Wayne Hsuing Discuss the Liberation Pledge
I think the following video (the first ~6 minutes) does a really great job of explaining both sides of the debate when it comes to whether the Liberation Pledge is a good idea.
I think James Aspey does a great job of explaining why he thinks eating at tables where animals are served can actually be extremely productive. And I think Wayne Hsuing does a great job of explaining the impact of taking the pledge and how it’s helpful for many.
One of the amazing success stories shared by Wayne is a story of a high-school student who took the Liberation Pledge. Gradually, that student invited more and more of his friends to sit at his vegan table during lunch. And through this process, this student actually converted his entire high-school to being vegan.
Wayne explains here that the Liberation Pledge can have this domino effect when it’s taken on by someone who is influential in their community.
Wayne also explains how people who take the Liberation Pledge create little “pockets of veganism” wherever they go. That person is committed to opening up a vegan space around them at all times wherever they are. That’s a neat way to look at it.
Why I’m Not Taking the Liberation Pledge
Despite all the interest I have in learning about the Liberation Pledge—its historical precedents, its connections to other activist strategies, and its success stories—I’m not taking the pledge myself. And I want to share why, so you can consider these reasons for yourself.
First, I think the Liberation Pledge could cause many adherents to isolate themselves into an echo chamber of other vegans. Especially if you do “level 1” (hard mode) and boycott events and restaurants with any non-vegan food. And I think that’s the opposite of what we want.
I think this may be most likely to happen with shy people—and I tend to be shy a lot of times. I just know that the confrontational discussions would become something I want to avoid. And I’d just stop trying to meet and socialize with non-vegans.
So I predict that taking the pledge would be bad for my life and bad for my vegan impact.
I also think that it’s okay to have certain areas of your life—and I think family is one of them—where you put politics and differences in beliefs away.
I think it’s okay to just let your dad be your dad—and not demand that he agree with you on vegan ethics, politics, religion, or anything like that.
I understand that may not be a philosophically sound argument because the animals suffer just the same when they’re killed for a family meal as for any other meal. But I think it’s okay to allow yourself certain times and spaces in your life where you just take a break from caring so much about everything, for the sake of your own self-care.
Protecting Yourself From Burnout as a Vegan
When you’re boycotting all animal foods as a vegan, and then maybe you’re boycotting other unethical products, too… And then you’re boycotting various events, and stores, and institutions, and people… You run the risk of excluding yourself from everything that could give you life, energy, comfort, stability, and nourishment.
By boycotting so much stuff, you run the risk of burning out. And therefore, you run the risk of not being able to be a productive contributor to something like the vegan movement for the long haul.
So that’s why I just want to say… It’s okay, you don’t need to boycott Sunday dinner with your family where they eat non-vegan food.
It’s okay to not be a warrior for veganism at all times and places consistently. You’re going to do enough good in the rest of your life, with or without this pledge.
Should You Take the Liberation Pledge?
Taking the Liberation Pledge is a very personal decision. There are strong arguments on both sides, as I’ve covered here. To decide, you need to know yourself, know your situation, and know what you believe.
Don’t be pressured by people around you to decide one way or the other. Go with what you really believe is the best path forward for who you are, what you want in your life, and the effect you want to have in the world.
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