Preface: This article is the third installment in a series discussing obstacles to abolition—the ending of all slavery—that movements for proto-abolition—the ending of human slavery—did not have to face.
Another significant difficulty that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement is an evidentiary problem, specifically, the lack of victim testimony. When slaves are human, those human slaves are articluate survivors of and eyewitnesses to the atrocities that are perpetrated against slaves. When given the opportunity to do so, human slaves or former slaves can immediately describe—in human language—what happened to them or their fellow slaves. Virtually no testimony is more powerful than that of the eyewitness or the victim himself or herself; thus, the ability of human slaves to provide such testimony is an enormous benefit to a proto-abolition movement.
The uniquely powerful value of the eyewitness and survivor can be illustrated though comparison of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Garrison was undoubtedly one of the most committed and articulate proto-abolitionists of any generation, and he played an integral role in the U.S.’s proto-abolition movement of the 1800s. But, upon meeting Douglass, Garrison recognized that Douglass—as a first-hand survivor of and eyewitness to human slavery—could speak with an authority that Garrison could not fully possess. Thus, after the two met, Garrison redirected much of his energy into elevating Douglass’s voice over his own.
Unfortunately, a full abolition movement cannot expect any such testimony from slavery survivors who are not human. No turkey will write an article about the bloodbath that Americans call “Thanksgiving.” No hen will deliver a speech about life in a cage that was too small for her to raise her wings. No pig will recount the experience of being castrated without anesthesia. There may, in short, never be a Frederick Douglass for the modern abolition movement.
Notwithstanding this absence of testimony from actual survivors, abolitionists still can get eyewitness information. One way to get eyewitness information is through undercover work: a human can infiltrate an animal-killing or animal-raping business and use a camera to take footage of the horrors perpetrated against the victims of such businesses. This route is employed today by organizations such as Compassion Over Killing and Mercy for Animals. Also, certain animal abuses leave a physical effect on the victim’s body which can be seen by a third party, even if the victim cannot verbally convey the pain of experience such abuse.
In short, while the challenge is greater without the benefit of first-hand survivor testimony, this absence can be partly offset through human effort and observation.
A look ahead…
In this “Special Challenges” series, we’ll explore additional ways in which proto-abolition or proto-emancipation movements differ from abolition and emancipation movements. If you have comments, suggestions, or contributions, please feel free to send them along.