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It’s rare for different flanks (groups? sides?) of the movement to talk to each other—what you may not know is how much people on different sides don’t even use the same language.

This week is going to be a short one, but I think it’s a good topic to chew on.

Transformation versus…

A few days ago, I was catching up with a close friend from “the other side” of the movement. We’ve both devoted our lives to helping animals as much as possible, but the groups we each work with don’t usually interact at all.

As we were drinking our tea (gong fu style), we got to talking about the various differences between our groups and the circles we run in.

One of the things we’ve realized is that our respective groups of people don’t even think or talk about the work we’re doing in the same way. In many cases, we use different words for the same things. More often, though, we’re using different concepts that don’t even really exist on the other side.

As one example, my friend kept mentioning “activist transformation” as being one of the primary goals of organizing people.

“That’s funny,” I said, “you would never hear anyone on this side of things talk about activists that way.”

“How would you talk about it?” he asked.

“We would probably say something like ‘volunteer engagement’. We’ve been using the phrase ‘people empowerment’ more recently, though, and we do use the terms ‘activists’ or ‘advocates’. Either way, I don’t think the idea of ‘transformation’ is something most people are thinking about. They probably wouldn’t even know how to think about it at first.”

Theory versus…

Another example is how much our work is grounded in and guided by various theories.

My friend (and many people on that side of the movement) is completely grounded in theory. The theories come from prior social movements, they come from sociological research, they come from studying people. But everything that he thinks about comes from theories, or is constructed and framed in terms of theories. If you walk into a room where people are discussing strategy, chances are some lessons from history are going to come up.

Meanwhile, it seems like those on this side of the movement rely more on piecing evidence together in a general direction, and in thinking about what needs to be done within a certain context. There aren’t necessarily full theories of change behind the actions, and people aren’t usually reading books about other social movements or discussing the trajectories of other social movements. If you walk into a room where people are discussing strategy, chances are they’re discussing metrics and research, data and impact estimates.

More Language Differences

Here are some terms or phrases I’ve noticed that indicate other differences in language between the various groups in the movement. Some of these terms are used almost exclusively by certain groups, and some are a little more universal.

Notice which ones you use the most often:

  • Animal rights, animal welfare, animal protection, animal liberation
  • Activist empowerment, activist transformation, volunteer engagement
  • Social movements, effective animal advocacy, effective altruism, economies of scale, markets
  • Theory of change, narrative, evidence, randomized controlled trial, impact estimates
  • Activists, advocates, vegans, vegetarians
  • Social change, diet change
  • Nonviolent struggle, corporate campaigns

Now, I’m not saying that certain phrases or ways of thinking are necessarily right or wrong, better or worse.

It’s fine for different groups of people to have their own terms and language and to understand things through their own different lenses. In fact, it’s probably good and healthy for the movement to have this kind of diversity.

But what we’re currently missing out on is the added value of learning from each other—the creativity that comes from taking two fairly different things and forcing them to interact.

A Challenge

My challenge to you for this week is to find someone from a “different side” of the movement, or a different group at the very least. Reach out to them and see if they’re interested in having a conversation.

Talk to them about how they think about things. What language do they use? What ideas and resources do they come back to most often? What can you both learn from each other?

And don’t stop there. Keep this in mind anytime you run up against an idea in the movement that you aren’t familiar with, or that you aren’t comfortable with.

Discomfort is just a sign that you have the opportunity to learn something.

I’ve created an anonymous feedback form so that you can give me any kind of feedback you’d like. If you’ve read a couple of AMP articles now, send your thoughts my way. You can also contact me the usual way.

The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

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