Ultraradical Benjamin Lay Inspires Activists Today
Abolitionist Benjamin Lay embodied the popular activist chant, “One struggle, one fight! Human freedom animal rights!” Author Marcus Rediker describes Benjamin as the consummate “ultraradical,” a class-conscious, gender-conscious, race-conscious, and environmentally conscious vegetarian who was most likely vegan centuries before the word existed.
Most readers of The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist would think this combination of beliefs possible only since the 1960s, two full centuries after Lay’s remarkable life ended. He lived the principles that today animate a global movement against sweatshops, where logo-adorned clothing and shoes disguise the horrific conditions under which workers produce them. As the first known person to boycott slave-produced commodities, Benjamin pioneered the politics of consumption and initiated a tactic that would become central to the ultimate success of abolition movements in the nineteenth century. He helps us to rethink what was politically and morally possible in the first half of the eighteenth century—and what may be possible now.
In his time, Benjamin was likely considered the most radical person on the planet. Lay was born January 26, 1682 in Colchester, United Kingdom, and died February 3, 1759 in Abington Township, Pennsylvania. In his long life, he was known for his stand on slavery as well as animal rights. Lay, author of All Slave-Keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates, excoriated his fellow Quakers to divest themselves of slaves. To him, the keeping of slaves was diametrically opposed to the Quaker message. His introduction to the works of Pythagoras supported his own beliefs that to kill “lower level beings” leads men to kill each other, thus his choice to be vegetarian. He was also an early proponent of the environment, eating lightly off the land, making his own clothes, and living frugally in cottages and caves.
Read about other notable Quaker activists in our Quaker Advocacy Kit, which we designed to help you veganize your Quaker community.
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