PODCAST: Lierre Keith on One Billion Rising & creating a culture of resistance

On February 14th, 2013, women across the globe are invited to ‘rise up’ and dance, in order to address the global epidemic of violence against women. The event, organized by Eve Ensler, is called One Billion Rising.

The website states:

“… We are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders. What does ONE BILLION look like? On 14 February 2013, it will look like a REVOLUTION.”

But how does this event contribute to a larger political movement to end violence against women?

I spoke with author and radical feminist, Lierre Keith, about some problematic aspects of events such as these and looked at how to create a culture of resistance that confronts systems of power and effects change.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • copleycat

    Wow odd absence of comments here. I’m glad you did this interview and that Lierre Keith gave her analysis of this. I would like to be enthused about it but … when I think about that woman in New Delhi who was raped to death the last thing I feel like doing is dancing.

    • Grackle

      That was how I felt. I actually went down to the art gallery to participate in the Missing Women’s march and either got there too late or was at the wrong location, because the only people there were the dancers. Most of them looked like they were having a great time and I think it was probably very cathartic and necessary for some women, but thinking about an epidemic of violent rape doesn’t really make me feel like dancing to Adele and Deee Lite.

      Also: the signs there said “1 Billion Rising”, but there was no further explanation of what that meant or why they were dancing or anything like that. I think many of the people passing by weren’t sure what was going on. Some good signs would have made the event more worthwhile, at least.

  • MLM

    “We could bring the system to a halt by noon using an incredible non-violent technique like having a global strike…Why aren’t we organising for that?”

    A very good question.

    Great interview, Meghan. So many intelligent and significant points made here by Lierre Keith.

  • AJ

    “Who is doing what to whom? That is what feminism has always asked.” Goddamn,I always enjoy listening to Lierre Keith. Thanks, as always, for all the work you do Meghan.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Thanks all! So glad you enjoyed the interview. Lierre is always wonderful to talk to.

  • Leigh

    Another great interview. This whole site is like manna from heaven.

    I remember when I first went to the One Billion Rising site and watched the video. I remember thinking “What!? We’re supposed to get up and dance to change our condition? And then what?”

    Interviews like these are so needed. Like many women out there I am hungry for a movement, but think many of the recent actions (dancing and calling ourselves sluts) are off-base.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Leigh! (And thanks Lierre for the great interview)

  • Taylor

    While Lierre Keith makes a good point in the podcast about the problematic nature of One Billion Rising, the idea that her own political message is progressive is highly problematic, as detailed in the following critique. It’s lengthy, but well worth reading.

    • Me

      Sorry, but the article you linked to does not make sense 🙂 Its author has not understood Lierre’s book The Vegetarian Myth at all. It’d be one thing if he constructively disagreed with what Lierre put forth in that book, but he doesn’t seem to have understood her points or her perspective at all. All he does is make a nearly tldr and very convoluted case for universal veganism. I wish when people argued for veganism they at least had a sensible case to make and showed some concrete concern for what it would look like on the ground, maybe even had ideas to share. For example, I don’t know of any small farmers with animals who don’t enjoy their veggies and gardens, or who couldn’t learn more about them and about culturing them sustainably and in an integrated way. There are vegans with good ideas, you know, like there are omnivores with good ideas.

      To give just one example of the critic’s lack of reading comprehension, he writes “[Keith’s] millenarian vision would have us destroy civilization in order to save it.” You can’t find anything out there by Keith that would talk about saving civilization. She does talk about civilization and it’s enabler, agriculture, being the root of human exploitation and domination of the planet. Yet the critic here calls her “[an] apologists for human domination”. Seriously? Only if domestication is pure evil and always means a factory farm and disregard for animal welfare, and as if domestication was only for animals, not plants. That’s dogma. Lierre does not make a case for not having a garden either. That would also be dogma.

      The critic doesn’t seem to have a basic understanding of biologically reconstructive agriculture, which all over the world would require animals integrated into polycultures. See, for example, this talk by Allan Savory http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEAFTsFH_x4
      And do bear in mind nobody’s perfect in their vision or political understanding and there are racist, colonialist elements to this that are not addressed, but nonetheless there may be something good there you might find worth considering.

      Here’s another example of a clear lack of reading comprehension. Throughout her book, Lierre tries to make the case that we should try to see other beings than animals also as sentient, that their lives have value and meaning to them just as ours have to us. The critic doesn’t understand her point and writes:

      “First, Keith suggests that the ability of animals to experience the world—sentience—is a capricious or arbitrary basis for ascribing moral interests, because it leaves out insentient entities. [As said above, she suggests no such thing.] “Maybe you don’t find trees and grasses compelling as species,” Keith writes, because “you” don’t see them as “sentient or suffering”; they just don’t “tug at your heart and your conscience.”

      “Yet having once gone to lengths to show that sentience is morally irrelevant [she didn’t], Keith then contradicts herself by arguing that the ability to feel is morally relevant–to plants.”

      The contradiction he “exposes” is inherent in his not understanding what she’s saying, not in what she says. Lierre has not argued that sentience is morally irrelevant, but that in our conception of sentience we tend to elevate beings that most resemble us and disregard the ones that don’t, which we shouldn’t do.

      And here’s the gem really: right after the quote above, after using so many words to shoot down arguments Lierre hasn’t made, he glibly suggest had Lierre’s argument about sentience something going for it (which he dismisses), that would obviously only make his case for universal veganism that much better. Get it? In one of the few parts in his very lengthy piece where he actually acknowledges real points of contention and a real argument Lierre has made, he gives no meaningful counter arguments to support his own position other than to say, in effect, that “it’s obvious”:

      “No credible biologist or philosopher alive today believes that they are [that plants are sentient]. Be that as it may, even if Keith were right about plants, she would have demonstrated only that we also need to take plant interests into consideration, i.e. along with the interests of animals too. Even then, we would still be left with a moral imperative to become vegans, since universal veganism would still take far fewer plant lives than would animal agriculture (even in the small-scale, locavore version). [often arguably and demonstrably untrue]”

      From what he writes, I don’t even know what “universal veganism” means, and it does sound a bit totalitarian. He does not go on to elaborate what taking plants’ interests into consideration would mean, which I think is an important question and which is also something Lierre actually wrote a book about that he claims to have read. All he seems to say is that small farms are better than industrial ones, and that we shouldn’t expect people to eat food from around where they live. But I already know that’s what strict veganism in many parts of the world entails and I disagree with the vision for good reason. He doesn’t elaborate what people should do if they wish their food to support as much diversity and plant and animal life as possible, which I think is an even better question that would bring it all down to earth. As a small farmer, I had to laugh at the ignorance.

      Btw. Paul Stamets makes a case that mycelia in the soil are sentient. Just something to look into that at least for me opened up the world in a wonderful way.

      • Taylor

        @Me: Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your point, and if so I apologize, but I have to agree with Sanbonmatsu that there is no credible scientific evidence for the claim that plants are sentient. I could provide many links; here’s one:
        If it is true, as science currently strongly indicates, that plants are not sentient, then it is impossible for their lives to have any value or meaning to them. But let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that plants are sentient, after all, and that, as a consequence, we should accord them significant moral standing. Since a vegan diet requires far less in the way of killing and consuming plants than a meat-eater’s diet does (since each animal that humans eat has consumed countless plants, or has consumed other animals that in turn have consumed countless plants), the moral case for abstaining from meat thus becomes even stronger.

        Of course, there are further ecological aspects to consider, and Allan Savory’s argument is most interesting. I’m certainly no expert on land management, but you may be aware that Savory’s claims have not gone unchallenged. For example, one critic says, “Savory has been around for a very long time preaching the same fallacious grazing gospel…. He’s merely the latest practitioner of a tradition a couple centuries long of land management mythologies based on wishful thinking that don’t turn out to work.”

        • Me

          1. The article you posted a link to had nothing to do with One Billion Rising, the podcast or the discussion about creating a culture of resistance. It was an off topic way to try to turn this into a rant about the morality of veganism.

          2. You don’t understand land management or the nature of life. Grazing a perennial plant and creating litter through trampling in the process feeds the soil and creates more life. It is not a linear type of extractive killing process like annual cropping typically is. It renews growth, feeds the cycle decay and birth, and hence there is no equivalence in terms of “killing” except from a very ignorant point of view.

          I’ve only practiced high-density managed grazing for some years myself, but in that time I’ve seen an absolute explosion of life: worms, birds, voles and mice, predators, insects I’ve never seen before, and certainly vastly more diverse and lush growths of grasses. Do tell me that these fields’ life has no value of meaning to itself, please. Then I could just as well run over it all and put it to grain. No folly in that, obviously. It is arrogant and stupid of you to say that “[if] plants are not sentient, then it is impossible for their lives to have any value or meaning to them.” I’m not going to try to debate that any further.

          The animals that I have and work with are my partners in bringing soils that annual cropping has left largely sterile back to life. They are not out of place here and with their help I’m not either. So let’s not suppose anything for the sake of an argument. You clearly don’t have an understanding of what you’re talking about, and the original article I took the time to read similarly lacked perspective and a basic understanding of what it was trying to critique. This ignorance and lack of information and perspective was why Keith says she wrote her book. She says so in the book and she does try to be very kind about it. She does a good job of filling in some gaps for people who are open to hearing what she and others are saying. We need to learn from nature how to create more life and find our place on this planet.

          3. If you want to find someone to blame for animal abuse, pick your targets better. Keith doesn’t deserve it. A lot of young people burning with moral indignation and a will to live differently turn to vegan dogma to make living with the atrocities around us bearable and to solve the issue of responsibility for themselves. But when what they turn to is dogma, as it often is, it’s not helpful. I’ve seen too many friends take a body-punishing route and starve their bodies and minds into a persistent state of depression not to tip my hat off to Lierre for trying to help them snap out of it and not go that way, and especially not to put their kids through it. It is not automatically responsible environmentally or otherwise, and a starving attitude to eating, food and our bodies is not healthy. It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the cosmos and of how life and death work together, to focus on not killing as the epitome of responsibility and respect for life. It’s a variation of the same false paradigms science, patriarchy, anthropocentrism and so on hand down to us, it does not constitute a breaking out of those false paradigms. If stating these truths like this seems to you like an endorsement of factory farming of animals, domination of animals, or a total put-down of anybody choosing to eat vegan, that’s your problem, not mine.

          I’m not going to go into this argument any further than this comment.

          • lizor


            What an absolutely wonderful post. I am only just seeing it now, but wanted to give you a loud cheer.


            and thanks.

  • Words of truth from Lierre Keith. Yes, we have to NAME who is in charge and confront that before women will see any real change. Thank you! We have the power to change patriarchy but first we have to name it. Male violence. It’s a relief to hear her powerful words, finally.