Home Columns Intersectionality: Engaging community, avoiding myopia

Intersectionality, as Jacqueline Patterson of the NAACP and Christie Lagally, local activist, have both expounded on in recent work, is a timely and paramount discussion to be having given the crisis of our current world and what is being asked of us (more more more and the bad headlines keep coming) as committed activists. The realities of our hurting world are daunting and demoralizing to say the least—especially to those of us who have been at battle for the greater good for decades.


Both Patterson and Lagally offer helpful and achievable recommendations for finding balance between the micro and the macro. On the one hand, staying focused is vital so that we can succeed at the healing work on our immediate plates. If you’re not familiar with Derrick Jensen, he both challenges and inspires with his deep ecology books and YouTube feed. In a recent video he emphasized the importance of honing in on a particular area of skill as a means to becoming a healer in what may at first seem small and insignificant but ultimately are transformative ways. When we’re “dialed in” this way as individual members of a collective, maximizing our unique skills with focus and precision, we are quite powerful. This truth should give us impetus to act (or keep acting) even though the mountain of suffering appears to grow ever steeper almost by the hour.


As a counter point, too much laser focus and a miniscule lens can blind us to the big picture. I think all activists/activist communities–no matter their area of focus–are at risk of myopia. As proponents of rights for all living beings, activists in my community certainly resent this narrow thinking when it presents; for example, social justice events that serve up the flesh/secretions of tortured farmed animals, in the process excluding nonhuman animals from their sphere of compassion. These moments can be very alienating. But I know I’m not immune to myopia. I think about some of the vegan products on the market that tempt me which come with ridiculously excessive plastic and packaging waste; I also think of how demoralizing this must be to the die-hard environmental activists who ride their bikes everywhere and are soaking bulk-bought beans for dinner in order to reduce their carbon footprint as they watch vegans load up their carts at Whole Foods with a bunch of plastic-suffused foods. So I think it’s vital to challenge ourselves to be as mindful as we can about staying true to our values along with being as intersectional as we can in the process. As Lagally sagely suggests, being intersectional  doesn’t mean we can’t have a specific focus/priority issue or that we must be forced to spread ourselves too thin trying to do it all.  Simply put, there are so many small things we can each do to help each other’s causes; and collectively these actions move us all forward inch by inch.


The more there are of us, the more power and influence we have. I love how it feels when I see somebody ordering vegan with a Black Lives Matter tee on…and I imagine, similarly, how it might feel to a BLM activist to see a vegan putting up a BLM poster in a storefront or on their car bumper. And so it goes. We need each other, folks—more than ever. And since the roots of all oppression are inextricably linked and all forms of oppression compound each other, when we as activists challenge ourselves to be intersectional in all that we do we break that cycle of suffering in a rather profound way.

Image courtesy of moonjazz (Flickr Commons).

About Stephanie Bell

Stephanie Bell is a longtime vegan and social justice activist in the Seattle area. She started her career out of college as a travel writer but has worked in the animal protection field for nearly 25 years--focused on eliminating suffering and environmental degradation wherever she can.

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