Short Note on the Synonymity of ‘Militant’ and Activist’ and its Conceptual and Practical Implications

The term “militant vegan” is used by many as a derogatory term, implying those who refuse to consume animal products are participating in a sort of violence. I actually have no issue with the term itself, but this usage is deeply problematic. If veganism is associated with militancy, or violence in any way, this violence is secondary to the primary violence of the food animal-agriculture industrial complex. Furthermore, the vast majority of struggle carried out by vegans is strictly non-violent, in part because of the strength of ideological “nonviolentism”, which tends to equivocate between primary and secondary violence, and in part because ‘non-violent’ struggle tends to be the most effective kind (because any secondary violence that is not willing to go all the way can easily be used to justify an increase in primary violence, with mass support).

Still, even with all the “military” connotations to the term “militant”, I think it is worth re-appropriating, and I’ll give a few reasons. First, the term “militant” includes the connotations of discipline, organization, and collective focus, shared tactics and strategies, singular common goals held in common. These are qualities that activist struggles sorely need. Second, the term “militant” in French actually just means “activist”, and the verb “militer” means “to do activist work”. Canada is a bilingual country, and we would do well to build bridges, including linguistic bridges, across the Anglophone/Francophone barrier, which today largely remains a gap between solitudes. Third, using the term “militant” encourages us to speak and think more precisely about “violence” – it does not benefit struggles to fail to distinguish between violence that preserves unjust structures, and violence that challenges and breaks those structures. The fact that the second kind of violence may take a “non violent” form does not make it any less violent, and thinking as such creates a conceptual gap between violent and non violent struggle as a principle, when it ought to remain purely a question of tactics and efficacy.

Proud to be a militant vegan. Proud to be a militant of many causes. Proud to refuse to perpetuate the conceptual and linguistic boundary between “activist” and “militant”. Militants and Activists unite, for you are one people struggling for the liberation of humanity!

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