It is almost difficult to believe that the accomplishments of Rod Coronado can all be attributed to a single person with abilities not too different than our own; in this way he has demonstrated what is possible. It does not take superhero powers to sink a whaling ship, light a match, or set an animal free from a cage. It does, of course, take a fair amount of bravery to put one’s beliefs into action but that is well within our abilities.
Rod Coronado has dealt serious body blows to the whaling industry, the fur industry, and the animal experimentation industry. Animals who seemed destined to spend their lives in locked cages only to meet violent deaths were set free by a stranger who arrived in the night, risked—and ultimately—sacrificed his freedom to give them a chance to be free. The mind reels at what an animal be must be thinking and feeling as a cage door is opened by a stranger, her torment is over, and she escapes into the night.
Having been released from prison and now off of probation, Rod Coronado is once again defending animals. With the profile he has created for himself and the scrutiny he will forever be operating under, his tactics, at this point, are exclusively within the confines of the law. Coronado is currently engaged in a speaking tour aimed at building momentum amongst the grassroots to stop wolf hunting in states where it is currently legal.
But is He Vegan?
But there is a lingering question about Rod Coronado that many animal rights activists can’t help but worry about: Is Rod Coronado currently vegan? In 2006, he told the LA Weekly that he was not vegan at that time; he was also not vegan during his time as a fugitive. On the current speaking tour, Coronado was asked by Jon Hochschartner if he was currently vegan and Coronado said he was not. (I was not present at that talk at Skidmore College but did see Coronado speak in Eugene, Oregon where the question was not raised.) The question has also been raised and vigorously debated in various online venues. Comrade Black conducted an interview with Coronado for Profane Existence regarding the current speaking tour and was criticized for not explicitly asking if Coronado is vegan.
The question then becomes what to make of this fact: Rod Coronado is not vegan. One who strictly adheres to the notion of “veganism as a moral baseline” would necessarily have to condemn Coronado.   Such condemnations run the risk of dismissing what Coronado has done, and continues to do, for animals. It may prioritize his consumer choices over and above the fact that his actions for animals have indisputably saved lives and served as inspiration for others to perform similar actions; and it is not an abstract set of animals that Coronado has “saved” but particular individuals.
The “veganism as a moral baseline” idea is most commonly used to demarcate “us” and “them”; it goes beyond the claim that veganism is praiseworthy or even morally obligatory and posits the veganism is the litmus test for credibility and participation within the movement. Deviating from a vegan diet (or perhaps more accurately a vegan lifestyle) cannot be compensated for with other actions. If Coronado is not vegan, then he can and must be dismissed; his actions on behalf of animals are essentially irrelavent in this discussion. Theoretically he could have delivered a knock-out blow to the fur industry and we could be living a in a world free of fur farms and his non-vegan diet would nonetheless mean that he was not one of “us” (animal advocates in good standing) but essentially still one of “them” (animal exploiters).
This not only seems bizarre to me but also depressingly self-defeating. Is there genuinely no room in the animal rights movement for Rod Coronado?
To be clear, I would fault Coronado for consuming animal products but could not deny that he is fighting more passionately for the world I want to see than I am. The animal rights movement need not excommunicate someone for deviating from veganism; at some point we came to feel as though we must but we really do not have turn people away like this. At the same time, letting go of the “veganism as the moral baseline” idea does not mean we should stop promoting veganism. Veganism can be zealously promoted while simultaneously accepting the support and the participation of nonvegans and ex-vegans in an animal rights movement. We may see wider acceptable of veganism if people are allowed to participate and share what is in their heart before they have radically altered their diet.
“Veganism as the moral baseline” may simply create an unnecessarily high barrier to entry into the animal rights movement. As Dylan Powell recently wrote “An issue…that should have a broad focus gets presented through a very specific and normative lens and typically one that is very demanding”. The demandingness likel y satisfies our ego but may do so at the expense of the overall movement. Furthermore, it is an idiosyncratic demandingness: foregoing dairy creamer is perhaps demanding in some sense but liberating animals from cages and risking imprisonment is demanding in a whole different way. Perhaps both are morally obligatory but the former is expected according to the “veganism is the moral baseline” catechism while literal liberation is not even consistently lauded (as it happens, many of “veganism as the moral baseline” adherents would would likely condemn such an act as violence).
A Movement Without Allies
The full threat that Rod Coronado has represented is his commitment to earth liberation, animal liberation, and indigenous resistance. The ability of someone like Rod Coronado to unite these movements is a real danger to industries that exploit the earth and its animal constituents. As he explained in the Profane Existence interview, “animals and nature…are ground up by the same machines” and so opportunities for solidarity between these movements are everywhere.
Yet “veganism as the moral baseline” dogma effectively eliminates the possibility of the animal rights movement building meaningful alliances with other social justice movements even ones as closely related to its aims as earth liberation and indigenous resistance.
The animal liberation movement has proven itself quite skilled in finding enemies but given the industrial scale of the atrocities compared with the meagerness of our resources, we would be wise to start looking for friends.
Conclusion: Rod as Reductio
In the end, it is my claim that any movement dedicated to animal rights and/or animal liberation, that does not have room for someone like Rod Coronado is seriously flawed to the point of being almost incoherent and self-defeatingly insular. The example of Rod Coronado serves as a reductio ad absurdum argument against the “veganism as the moral basline” position. If Rod Coronado is not for animal liberation, then no one is.
NOTE: Future dates on Rod Coronado’s speaking tour include:
- Thursday March 20th Oakland CA. 7PM at The Holdout: 2313 San Pablo Avenue, near 23rd ST.
- Friday March 21st San Francisco CA. 7pm at The Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics: 518 Valencia Street, near 16th Street BART.
- Saturday March 22nd Animal Liberation Forum in Long Beach CA at 12pm.
- Sunday March 23rd Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena CA. at 6pm.
- Monday March 24th Fresno State University at 6pm, building TBA.
- Thursday March 27th Humboldt State University.
Rod Coronado at Strong Hearts Cafe in Syracuse, NY (www.strongheartscafe.com)