Why do we deny other species the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Most countries in the world celebrate an Independence Day to commemorate the anniversary of when their nation won sovereign statehood. In this longstanding tradition, for more than two centuries the United States has observed the Fourth of July as a national holiday to memorialize the signing of The Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was then, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, that the "Colonies" formally asserted their right to self-rule without interference from the British Empire. So it is that on July 4th Americans celebrate the freedoms we enjoy and express our commitment to upholding the ideals upon which our country was built.
The Founding Fathers originally wrote the Declaration as a manifesto to proclaim a radical affirmation of individual rights for certain classes of Americans. Since then, the U.S. has extended these rights to all citizens, regardless of race, creed or gender. According to this seminal document, "all men are created equal," and "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," and "that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." However, while humans have long benefited from democratic self-determination, animals are still considered property under the law simply because they are a different species from us—essentially denying them their most basic rights.
It is a tragedy of the greatest magnitude that every year, our society imprisons and tortures billions of living, feeling creatures and ignores their cries for mercy before heartlessly taking their lives for food, clothing, "entertainment" and experiments. It is the height of arrogance to claim ourselves emancipated individuals or an enlightened society while our species heartlessly enslaves billions of sentient beings. To achieve true justice in this world, we must keep fighting for the liberation of these abused beings who, like us, want to live, be free, and pursue their own version of happiness.
Animal advocates are working to end humanity's exploitation of animals in much the same way that other political and social liberation movements throughout history have fought against the oppression of humans. Every day, millions of people participate in a worldwide revolution on behalf of other species, and we are gradually winning the war against human tyranny—one battle, one victory at a time. And yet this struggle continues with no end in sight, and though we make progress the opposition is powerful, entrenched and often ruthless in their defense of the status quo.
So, for inspiration's sake, let us start by taking the long view. Perhaps one day, decades or centuries from now—after the slaughterhouses, vivisection labs and other death dungeons are dismantled and all species live free from human-inflicted cruelty—our descendants will celebrate Animal Independence Day. Perhaps this is an implausibly Utopian vision that will forever remain merely an idealist's dream, but that does not mean it's impossible. That is, it could actually happen some day if we keep working today to bring a new and better world into being.