Yesterday, I took my last dose of citalopram. For now at least.
Having been off anti-depressants for some years prior, I was prescribed the maximum dosage of citalopram as a direct result of the impact that a smear campaign by Tim Barford of VegfestUK and his allies (on the Board of The Vegan Society and elsewhere) had on my mental health. This also had a wider impact on the vegan community via my ability to create events for London Vegan Meetup (the free vegan social group that I run – with more members that The Vegan Society!)
An investigation by Ijeoma Omambala QC rejected all Barford's (and his cronies') allegations against me. Instead, Ms Omambala's report showed that Barford was “motivated by profound personal animosity towards [the former Vice-Chair of The Vegan Society] related in part to [their] identity and protected characteristics” (e.g. Black, disabled, non-binary, etc.) and that they were "identified as a target for complaints by Tim Barford on social media. Tim Barford encouraged his followers and other individuals to search for adverse information on [the former Vice-Chair] and to provide it to him and to complain to the Vegan Society."
Despite The Vegan Society's Board of Trustees agreeing to publish this report in full, this commitment was subsequently reversed by trustees who I consider to be complicit in Barford's campaign.
With the exception of two instances where the Vice-Chair was considered "unprofessional" for expressing their frustration with The Vegan Society on social media, Ms Omambala also rejected all allegations against the Vice-Chair. Nevertheless, it should go without saying that the former Vice-Chair experienced significantly greater abuse for a much longer period – and I have no wish to centre myself in a matter that focused on their identity.
However, this personal milestone and its cause have me reflecting on the ableism within the vegan community – and how most vegans seem willing to enable systemic oppressions such as racism, ableism, transphobia, and ageism.
And that probably includes you.
To start with, we need to understand why veganism has no room for ableism. While there are those who claim that veganism itself is inherently ableist, that argument is easily refuted by disabled vegans who point to:
- the definition of veganism – which includes "as far as possible and practicable"; and
- their own existence – and their objection to such (ableist!) attempts at their erasure.
The specific parallels are undoubtedly better covered by Sunaura Taylor's book "Beasts of Burden, Animal and Disability Liberation", Geertrui Cazaux's website "Crip HumAnimal", and even Aph Ko and Syl Ko's book "Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters".
While I don't intend to try to summarise their work, I don't consider that veganism has room for any form of systemic oppression.
If we tolerate any other systemic oppression:
- we undermine the common arguments at the root of all anti-oppression movements – e.g. how arbitrary characteristics (including "intelligence", which is targeted in both ableism and speciesism) do not provide justification for subjugation;
- we alienate members of marginalised groups (and their allies) before we even have the opportunity to present the merits of our cause;
- we demonstrate that we find it acceptable for people to pick and choose which oppressions to uphold and which to challenge – providing grounds for continued speciesism; and
- we hand non-vegans an easy excuse to reject our message – "oh you vegans only ever care about animals, never humans".
But even more importantly, I don't consider that anyone (vegan or not) should tolerate system oppression given the direct harm to members of marginalised groups themselves.
Disappointingly, some of those engaged in enabling Barford's campaign (even those who have previously contributed to Crip HumAnimal) weaponised their own mental health to avoid accountability for such behaviour.
So, is that what I'm doing now too?
Well, I don't think so. I am absolutely prepared to be accountable for my behaviour, and for any harm that I may cause to members of marginalised groups (whether inadvertently or otherwise). Accountability is one of the Nolan Principles to which I committed as a trustee of The Vegan Society (but which current trustees seem keen to avoid). However, Ijeoma Omambala QC's investigation didn't identify anything for which I needed to be accountable – other than as a member of The Vegan Society's Board of Trustees (although I was excluded from most of the actions and decisions of which Ms Omambala was critical!) But with an oppressive clique determined to block an agreed investigation into institutional racism and stall a recommended governance review, I felt compelled to "resign as both Chair and Trustee for much the same reasons I joined – as I cannot lead, or continue to be part of, a Council that thinks and behaves in such a way". Notably, all Black trustees, all disabled trustees, all non-binary trustees, and all young trustees resigned too.
But what about you? Were you complicit?
In the 20 months since Barford started this smear campaign, I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the vegans who have done anything at all to oppose such bigotry and bullying (even to express solidarity). Instead, the vast majority (including those claiming to be "intersectional vegans", "radical vegans", "Total Liberationists", or similar) continue to enable such behaviour (often for personal benefit) whether through explicit support for bigotry and bullying, engagement with bigots' and bullies' projects and platforms, or complicit silence.
Sadly, this means I consider most vegans I know, and most vegans aware of these events, to be complicit in the harm caused to members of marginalised groups and to the vegan movement itself – by accommodating ableism, racism, ageism and transphobia within veganism.
So, yes, that probably includes you
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