I've been witnessing quite a lot of infighting among vegans in the animal rights movement between those who call themselves "animal welfarists" and those who call themselves "animal abolitionists".
"Welfarists" put forth that first and foremost animals should be treated with compassion and in ways that prevent their mistreatment and suffering. They assert that even small improvements in animals' lives are important steps in moving toward alleviating suffering, such as passing laws to improve conditions on factory farms. On the other hand, "Abolitionists" vehemently support the immediate and total liberation of animals from being used by humans. They assert that no intermediary steps are acceptable in working to achieve this goal, and actually perpetuate animal suffering by allowing people to feel that subjecting animals to use for humanity's purposes is "okay" as long as they aren't hurting as much or have access to more fresh air.
Some would try to label me a "welfarist" over an "abolitionist", but I reject both labels. They add to the divisiveness in our community and ignore that each vegan or vegetarian falls along a spectrum of beliefs and ethics and choices. In my opinion, there's room for everyone. We all ultimately share the same goal: free animals from suffering. The essence of the disagreement is the most effective path to make this happen.
The truth is, the welfarist and abolitionist stances are not mutually exclusive. Making inroads toward lessening suffering, as welfarists express, is better than maintaining the status quo of treating animals without love, respect, and kindness. But only as long as the end goal of eliminating suffering altogether is not forgotten. And in terms of the abolitionist approach, if it were up to me or anyone with an ounce of compassion, of COURSE the optimal solution is to abolish suffering of any kind- people included- immediately and completely. I think all vegans believe that to the core. And indeed, there are those in society who might feel better about eating eggs if they know that the chickens have grass to run around in. However, smaller steps are preferable to no action, and the reality is that in the world today most of the population will not or are unable to commit 100% immediately to liberating all animals from suffering at the hands of humans. That probably won't happen for a very, very long time. The all or nothing approach is unrealistic and allows for no forward movement- in fact, it obstructs it. So what to do until the day when freeing animals totally from the bonds of slavery, abuse, and suffering?
Horrible suffering by animals at the hands of humans exists. The eradication of all suffering will not happen for a terribly tragic length of time. Subsequently, reducing suffering until this is possible is the ONLY solution. Looking into the faces of those being neglected and brutalized and subjected to painful deaths and denying them some relief of that suffering because some activists claim it doesn't go far enough is so not acceptable! If suffering must exist, we must minimize it by advocating for better living conditions and more humane treatment until that suffering can be ended. It's not about what activists believe is the most viable solution, but about doing all we can to reduce the suffering of the exploited. Taking no action because "ideal" action can't be achieved does not benefit the beings who are hurting and struggling NOW! Acting together does! Divisiveness and judgement accomplish exactly nothing.
WE in animal rights, no matter what our stance on how to liberate animals, are aware and see the truth and are willing to open our hearts and minds to commit to end suffering, but WE are a very small minority (sadly). In today's world, animal exploitation and consumption continues to grow. Society will not hear a message that makes veganism and/or ending animal suffering seem extreme and judgemental, an unattainable goal they must to put into action in their everyday lives or else it's pointless. Setting people up for failure is not the way to get their attention and gain their support. That's like walking up to someone and telling them that if they don't accept such and such a religion they will go directly to hell. Most people will not *hear that*.
In making the message more universal, more openness is created in those who hear it. An attitude of embracing intention and small action vs. no action welcomes involvement and fosters a feeling of relation. People who hear "your action doesn't matter if you don't commit 100% and do it *this* way will react to the hostility and turn a deaf ear. Effective action must consider the environment in which it will be taken. And that means accepting and reinforcing the steps everyone makes toward compassionate living, looking for common ground as we work towards a day when all beings will live as equals. This is how we and our movement will grow.
Here's a very similar article, much better expressed. :)