Changing My Opinion of Violence
As an ethical vegan, the primary motivation for refraining from using animals is my value of nonviolence. I don't believe in unnecessary violence in animals; if we don't need to consume, use, or exploit them, then it is wrong to do so. (I say this in full recognition that veganism is a privilege and that many don't have the resources to access it.) As an extension of this belief, I have tended to view most, if not all, violence as inherently wrong. I have definitely said out loud when asked why I became vegan, "Because I do not believe in violence."
Fast-forward ten months after I adopted a vegan lifestyle, and my opinion on violence is decidedly more nuanced. As a protestor on Inauguration Day, I witnessed and experienced more violence firsthand than I ever have before. Trump supporters rushed at my accomplices' human blockade of parade route entry points; a police officer shoved me out of the blockade; I ran from tear gas, pepper spray, and flash grenades as cops unleashed chemical weapons on a crowd of protesters, journalists and legal observers, and elders and children. Coughing on chemicals as I collected my mother, sister, and boyfriend in the chaos changed my perspective radically. I'd like to think that I was already complicating my notions of acceptable and unacceptable violence, but realistically it was not until I became a target myself that I made the shift.
I realize now that condemning all violence is neither morally superior nor useful. As Abantu May explains in her excellent video, "Is all violence equally bad?" the context of violence is important. If an oppressed group is facing such violence as to endanger their existence - for example, police killings of Black men - I have no right to demand that the group's self-defense be non-violent, for they are protecting their right to exist. In May's words, "In the face of such unapologetic violence, what are people supposed to do? Do we expect people to die peacefully because we are so nonviolent that we are willing for people to die violent deaths or live violent lives?"
I can no longer condemn all violence as wrong, because some people may need it to survive. A moral commitment to nonviolence works well for someone like me, who is never the target of state-sanctioned brutality or racist killings. A moral commitment to the protection of property works well for someone like me, who has the luxury of worrying about objects rather than her own life. I have much to think about, and my opinion is not fully formed; for example, I am still not fully decided on how I feel about black bloc-style tactics and whether I would personally engage in them. But I do know that it's right to punch a Nazi.
I cannot condemn oppressed people for the tactics they use to defend their existence.
I cannot call smashing windows and burning trash cans violence when police protect property more than they do people of color.
I cannot say that all violence is wrong. I still believe that violence can be wrong - such as eating animals when one has the option to not consume them, such as committing sexual assault, such as bombing villages - but I don't believe that it is wrong in and of itself.
I am still thinking through all of this, and will need to do much more reading to crystallize my opinion. This is my rough draft, so help me add to it in the comments!