Resignation Letter, July 2021
To CEO and Council,
I am writing to inform you of my resignation, as Vice Chair and Trustee of The Vegan Society. I request that you share my resignation letter in the next meeting minutes for full accountability to the membership. I will also be cancelling my membership.
I joined Council in 2019 and then was voted in as Vice Chair in 2020. I was clearly naive in my joining, I believed that the democratic processes within the society, both council and membership, would at the very least be functioning, transparent and not overridden by a long-standing clique. And I believed that my time, energy and input would be respected and welcomed as someone that the membership had voted into council.
When I joined I was 23 and I'm now 25. According to the Young Trustees Movement, fewer than 3% of trustees are under 30 (yet 1/12 trustees are named either John or David). As a young and multiply marginalised trustee, being Black, queer, disabled and working class, I brought a perspective to council that challenged not just trustees as individuals, but also the systemic racism and oppression that exists in any organisation set up without any time taken to look at diversity or inclusivity and with a hierarchical, patriarchal and white supremacist structure that certain council members have spent years honing. And when we have council (and even some members) wishing we could run The Vegan Society in 2021 to a 1944 ideal, without any room for growth it's not a surprise that The Vegan Society is institutionally racist.
I can confidently say that The Vegan Society is not a safe place for young people, for Black people, for Queer people or for any other marginalised people. I can not allow myself to be harmed any more and rather than spending any more time trying to use the masters’ tools to dismantle the masters’ house, which resulted in a smear campaign, abuse and targeted bullying, I would rather leave. I have stayed for 2 years already, despite it being a hostile work environment from the beginning, because I wanted to try, but I can not and will not stay nor subject anyone to this abusive charity in my name and watch them be treated the way I have been. I can't do it. I'm not giving up, I have been forced out. I have no choice.
I have anxiety from the ping of my emails, I receive threats and hate mail (some of which are indiscernible from emails I receive from council), I have a folder full of slander and false allegations against me made by family and friends of those on council. The recent Queen’s Counsel external investigation report shows some of the abuse I have faced and yet I am still being told by some members of council I am in the wrong and treated the same way with no change. I am leaving here feeling broken and disheartened.
Within the first hours of being voted on council, one trustee said the N-word in conversation with me and I was then also told that most trustees did not vote for me. Since then it has been continuously hostile. I was told my clothing (a jumper reading ‘token’) was inappropriate. I was not supported with induction as a new trustee (this year a new trustee received emails and even an email care package to help her understand the current conversations on council). And within the first year when I received racially motivated ‘complaints’, I was treated as the problem and asked to remove me being a trustee of The Vegan Society from my social media bios, despite other trustees having them and when racially motivated complaints came in about the then CEO George Gill, he was supported and it was treated as harassment towards him and the society, not as his fault. I had an article (in a brand new Black magazine) censored, despite being factually accurate at the time of writing and no evidence being provided to counter my claims and the magazine removed it for fear of legal action being taken against them. I have been misgendered repeatedly, my name was not correct on the website for a while and there have been many other microaggressions I have been subjected to whilst on council.
During my time on council, I have twice proposed motions for pay rises for our hard working and underpaid staff, which has brought our staff up from below average pay to unfortunately still low pay within the charity sector but was as much as I could do. I have proposed anti-racism training and although that took a little while for me to bring together all the information around this, it was because I was not supported in one of my first motions as a brand new young trustee, who was already facing abuse and racism on council. I put forward a motion to the 2021 AGM on term limits for trustees, which is not only the Charity Commission recommended practice in the charity sector but also now has been recommended by the Queen's Counsel External Investigation. Stephen Walsh, the trustee who argued against this at the AGM, not only being the only trustee with a conflict of interest but also one of the trustees benefiting from a hate campaign against myself that also focused on trying to invalidate my motion despite it being legally recommended.
I am unfortunately leaving before my motions on The Vegan Society joining the Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign in support of Palestine go to a vote, as already I am being labelled as antisemitic and I know these motions will fail from the fight that the remaining trustees are putting up against my motions. The same with my motions under the same umbrella of us moving away from supporting and trademarking Nestle, Burger King and other (human and non-human) animal exploiters, which the remaining trustees instead wish to continue The Vegan Society’s working relationship with. I also have motions pending on bringing more transparency to membership and staff from council, including hosting online forums where we can engage membership, update on council plans and get feedback. I regret that I cannot stay to see these to votes, but unfortunately my two years on council has shown me that anything that changes the status quo will be shut down and hidden in confidential minutes, as if it never happened. I will attach these motions in the format I sent them to council at the end of this letter.
There is more that I had come on to council to discuss and try to put in place, especially around the need for a separation between business and charity. As The Vegan Society hoards money and focuses on trademark and income over all else - and is even a landlord to a (unrelated) vape company, rather than providing free space for vegan activism. The Vegan Society is increasingly irrelevant in a society that is diverse and at least amongst young vegans of my own age, who want to see intersectional and inclusive spaces focused on activism, not a business minded dictatorship where the promotional material has more diverse faces than the staff and trustees. A council that forces out anyone with different, progressive or intersectional views is not going to be able to lead The Vegan Society into the future, or even the present. The Vegan Society currently isn’t even ‘animals first’ (which still would be up for critique) but is currently just ‘business first’.
I am not the first person to be forced out of The Vegan Society (council or staff) and nor will I be the last without some serious changes and an overhaul of council and the governance structure, which I would hope the Charity Commission will consider upon reading this letter. There are records and people who have spoken out about bullying, abuse and being unable to perform their job roles due to some of the same council members as I am experiencing this behaviour from. I have provided the Charity Commission with the information I have on this, and if I was to add all of the multiple accounts from the last 15 years, it would add pages and pages onto this letter. But in the words of one of the people I have spoken to ‘the society is run like a personal fiefdom and vanity project’. Council as it is currently is non-functional, I receive tens of emails a day yet nothing for the society actually seems to be getting done. Most of these emails are filled with jargon and ill-will intended to bully, prolong processes or force submission.
In addition to all my other concerns about supporting The Vegan Society, I do not feel comfortable recommending VEG1 vitamin supplement to anyone, especially to Black people or People of Colour. Not only because the person who developed it has a PhD in Process Systems Engineering, not nutrition. But mostly on the point of how can we feel safe taking something developed by a man who in my opinion, and the opinion of others, is racist, and from a Vegan Society that enables and supports racism, and excludes and forces out Black people and People of Colour.
I have had my own professional experience and reputation, as well as my lived experience, questioned by the remaining members of council, as has another Black council member Joel Bravette. The remaining members of council, in particular David Gore and Stephen Walsh, have questioned the expertise and qualifications of every Black person we have paid for their skills since I have been on council, including the anti-racism trainer and the Queen’s Counsel – despite these council members having no expertise or qualifications in these areas themselves but because they personally disagreed with the training and the result of the external investigation. These challenges were very clearly racially motivated, and came from a place of white and patriarchal superiority. This mindset of certain trustees’ opinions being worth more than professional advice then also showed itself in the remaining council members rejecting and arguing against direct advice, even advising membership to vote against legal advice, from the Charity Commission (to postpone the 2021 AGM), from our lawyers Bates Wells (to adjourn the 2021 AGM) and also from our crisis communications team on multiple occasions.
I am leaving prior to mediation completing as I have said what I needed to say to the mediator about my time on council (in a tear-filled and emotional meeting) and I refuse to go through yet another process where I will be gaslit, abused and our Black service provider will be discredited and torn apart. This will be used to silence myself and others should we try to speak up after mediation, and we will continue to be seen as ‘troublemakers’ for trying to challenge oppressive behaviour and do our jobs as trustees to lead the society in the best way possible.
Upon becoming Vice Chair in November 2020, a smear campaign of complaints, facebook posts, threats and abuse began against me (and Chair Robb Masters), by Tim Barford (ex-trustee, left before being asked to leave for oppressive behaviour) who has had a personal issue with me for over 4 years over his support for someone and an event he since has come to decide was problematic after all, despite me not speaking to him once since then. But who also explicitly calls Jenifer Vinell and Stephen Walsh, ex Vice Chair and Chair, his friends. This campaign is also joined by Jenifer Vinell’s daughter Isis Clegg-Vinell, and Stephen Walsh’s wife, Vanessa Clarke (ex-trustee removed by membership but now on the appeals committee) pops up on posts also. Tim Barford’s public posts are available on his Facebook page, although I am not asking anyone to interact with him for my own and your own safety. I have collated folders full of evidence from him and other people closely related to remaining council members for my own safety. I have lost work and been harmed personally and professionally by their slander and defamation and unfortunately I expect this abuse from them will continue even after leaving council as they will feel rightly so that their abusive campaign has impacted on me leaving and on my mental and physical health and so most likely continue to try to further cause me harm.
I hope The Vegan Society releases the full external investigation report publicly, and doesn’t hide it on their website like they currently are with this page below with the Executive Summary on. The lack of transparency and support for marginalised, targeted and vulnerable trustees has been eye-opening and experiencing this has made me feel dehumanised, unsupported and victim-blamed, as well as giving me mental health and physical health issues as a result.
I have accepted the lesson from the report on professional language and as always appreciate the chance to do better. However what the report shows is that this was a calculated attack on myself (and Robb and other trustees who aren’t part of the status quo clique) and you can read the Executive Summary above. I do not trust that The Vegan Society will accept the recommendations made by the Queen’s Counsel and the Charity Commission following this external investigation and corresponding serious incident reports, based on the historical and current evidence to show this.
One thing I would like to make very clear to all reading is that it will take me a long time to heal from my time on council. That as a young Black and multiply marginalised person who joined council with my best intentions, I naively was not expecting to immediately be faced with such backlash for daring to step ‘above their station’. Read some of Sistah Vegan’s words to understand more of this as a strategy. http://sistahvegan.com/2019/04/29/the-ngger-breaker-strategy-the-vegan-edition-2019/
You might read my social media and feel threatened or challenged, and it’s easy to take away the softness, the caring, the human animal I am when you start out intending to break me and hate me. I saw a Twitter post by @kellynotbrecht (I don’t know them) recently that said: ‘Recently one of my friends said that their radical politics are often misunderstood as harsh and unnecessarily critical, but that their political views and behaviours come from the softest part of them: they just want everyone to be ok.’ And I feel that. As someone who has been vegan for around 15 years, who has been running a vegan community for Black people and People of Colour for 5 years, a support network for marginalised people for 3 years, who is a community doula and activist and who really grew their love of veganism travelling from across the country to animal rights and vegan events for years in the back of a vegan catering campaign van from the age of 13. I am soft, I am caring and I came here to share that, not be bullied and abused for it.
The Vegan Society will colour me as the villain in this, try to make people believe this was a ‘power grab’ or an ‘intersectional coup’ as some trustees have said to hide what this really was. This was just individuals who joined council to do what they thought best, to try to bring fresh and up to date perspectives of veganism and the charity sector and our own expertise and love for all animals and the Earth and who are being forced out for not bowing down to the status quo. A status quo which leaves all animals worse off. That rejects anyone who is different. That wants to run a charity as a business and would rather work with fascist and settler colonial countries and some of the most exploitative businesses in the world, than small independent ethical and diverse vegan people and communities in the UK and worldwide. I hope that membership will ask for more transparency from council in this current situation and going forward and see this as a chance to maybe start from scratch not allow this pattern to continue for another 15 years. We are not ‘difficult’, we have been asking questions, raising concerns around the society’s lack of compliance with the Charity Governance Code, current trustees conflicts of interest and personal agendas, the society’s cliqueness and the fact the society isn’t really doing very much of anything and it certainly isn’t the leading vegan charity as it claims.
There are many articles, reports and other information I could share to show that I am not the only person speaking up about oppressive behaviour within The Vegan Society and the vegan community as a whole, but I have done that, I have shared, I have given my time, my energy, my care and my last two years to this and I am now going to let people do their own learning in their own time and I hope that you can reach a more mature conclusion than ’new ideas bad, Black people bad’ that the current council and the society will not let go of.
I would however like to pass my support and appreciation on to the staff and to Louise directly, who is Interim CEO. My critiques of the society are not a reflection of the staff. The staff aren’t choosing what to do, they are doing the job asked of them to the best of their abilities. Whether the job asked of them is wrong or not, they don’t get to decide. I do sincerely hope that the staff decide to unionise and fight for better rights and pay because if nothing is going to change going forward, they will need all the help they can get. Best of luck to them all.
I would also like to pass on my support to Ali Ryland (ex-trustee) and Sally Anderson, Joel Bravette, Robb Masters and Michele Fox (resigned trustees).
But I can not support The Vegan Society and the current council any longer.
Eshe Kiama Zuri (Graham)
I use they/them pronouns.
‘Hi all. I’d like to put forward these two motions for the next council meeting.
I believe that we should be engaging our membership more and be more transparent and accountable as a council. So I am proposing these two motions which I feel go together as they both are steps towards more transparency and accountability.
I also believe we should be looking at how to support our members from diverse backgrounds and who may not feel ‘experienced’ enough and work with them on showing The Vegan Society council as an option for them. As a young trustee, I have reached out to the Young Trustees Movement and am awaiting a reply, but this training is suggested as a great start point for charity boards.
And once trustees are on council we should be offering them more support in their new role, with induction into how contact with the council works, minutes and information packs etc. And allowing time for questions to be asked and answered.
For trustees and staff to hold an accessible online members forum, twice yearly to start with, where we will engage membership, discuss recent decisions and current plans of The Vegan Society and take questions and feedback.
As part of this to allow space and time for members who wish to have Queer only or BPOC only space for safety to discuss the above that will be managed by trustees and staff who are part of those marginalised groups. Ask for feedback to membership on whether they would also like to access additional safe space forums for marginalised groups eg for disability.
For chosen Council representatives to hold induction training for new trustees once they are elected in.
For Council and CEO to join a free one hour Young Trustees Movement Champion Training session.’
I'd like to put forward that The Vegan Society takes a stance on supporting Palestine and joins the global Boycotts Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign. I’d like these to go to the next council meeting for discussion.
This would mean we would remove any Israeli or Israel made, supporting or location businesses from our trademark and pledge to not support or use them in the future. We can check our trademark businesses against the extensive BDS lists that are easily accessible publicly online.
BDS is a campaign that has been going on for a long time (since 2005 I believe) and with support from charities, organisations and political groups worldwide.
There's also Vegans For BDS which was set up in 2018 and my business Yemoja Foods was the first vegan business to sign up. They are not very active as an online campaign group currently due to admins being busy but have support from Palestinian Animal League (PAL) and it could be something we could put some time into helping become a more active campaign.
We would put out a statement explaining our support for BDS and Palestine and link to more information like here:
As the Palestinian struggle continues to worsen, making a firm stance against genocide is important. We can also talk about our support for Palestinian Animal League and the non-human animals that are also suffering through this violent occupation.
We should also give a donation directly to Palestinian Animal League as well.
I hope that we will consider this as a progressive and positive move towards fighting against injustice worldwide.
What is BDS?
BOYCOTTS involve withdrawing support from Israel's apartheid regime, complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions, and from all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights.
DIVESTMENT campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.
SANCTIONS campaigns pressure governments to fulfil their legal obligations to end Israeli apartheid, and not aid or assist its maintenance, by banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending military trade and free-trade agreements, as well as suspending Israel's membership in international forums such as UN bodies and FIFA.
To join the global Boycotts Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Boycott products/services of, and/or mobilize institutional pressure to divest from, Israeli and international companies and banks that are complicit in Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine and genocide of the Palestinian people.
This would include removing from our trademark any current businesses, such as Burger King, who support and participate in the above.
This would include not holding or joining events or promoting The Vegan Society in Israel or in spaces that support or are supported/sponsored by Israel (or its lobby groups and complicit institutions and businesses).
This would include making a public statement of our decision to join the BDS campaign.
To donate £5000 to Palestinian Animal League (PAL)
To allow Palestinian led animal rights groups, Palestinian Animal League or others, the opportunity to put out their resources through The Vegan Society social media if they choose to. To support them in creating this content if necessary, but to allow them their autonomy and to not speak over or for them.
To make a public statement on our website and social media of the society's support for a free Palestine and condemning Zionism and Israel.
Including information about The Vegan Society joining the BDS campaign, if approved.’
Personal Statement, May 2021
Having been on Council for two years and now the current Vice Chair, I'm reflecting on my candidate statement below from 2019. I'm looking forward to continuing to help shape a more inclusive Vegan Society and I’m pleased to be on Council with other trustees like Joel, Ali, Michele, Robb and Sally who share that vision.
I have implemented anti-racism training during my time on Council, as well as staff pay rises and have seconded and voted for other motions (you can view the minutes of meetings in the Members Area) and I will be bringing more forward thinking ideas as I continue as Vice Chair and a trustee.
I'm very proud to be the youngest member of Council and despite all the challenges that have been thrown my way, I continue to grow, learn and fight for a Vegan Society that represents me and my communities!
Candidate Statement, March 2019
As a young (22 year old) yet long-term vegan, I have skills in a wide range of areas that complement those of current Trustees, and believe I am the right fit for a Trustee role.
During my 12 years as a vegan, I have campaigned tirelessly for animal rights, for human rights, and to push veganism towards the future.
As a Black, Non-Binary, Queer, Disabled, Working Class vegan, I would bring a much needed diversity to Council. I strongly believe this would encourage the sign up and participation of communities of vegans who otherwise feel under-represented. I would also bring a fresh and up-to-date Vegan Society image, outlook and approach.
Diversity, inclusivity and intersectionality are my main focus both online and offline. I offer workshops, training and accountability to organisations, businesses and grassroots groups. Most recently I gave consultation on racial awareness and diversity accountability to Lush's owners and Head Office. I would bring these skills and create structures and resources for The Vegan Society to implement in all areas.
Since the age of 19, I have run a vegan British-Caribbean food business that has led the way in Nottingham to understanding Caribbean veganism, traditionally known as ital. We work closely with Veggies Catering Campaign, with whom I also volunteered with from ages 13-15, as a part of my homeschooling, and (used to) share the same vegan cooperative kitchen. And we were the first business to sign up with Palestinian Animal League's Vegans for BDS campaign.
As a social media 'influencer' with a strong vegan following, I promote intersectional veganism with a firm understanding of human and non-human rights. I currently run social media accounts for many campaigns, including pages with 15k+ followers, and would be very happy to help support social media initiatives.
I am the co-creator of Vegans Of Colour UK, a national online network, including a Facebook group for Black and PoC vegans in the UK to interact with and support each other. I am also sole creator of the Vegans Of Colour UK Instagram page, which promotes and features Black and PoC vegan businesses in the UK and has been at the forefront of supporting old and new businesses and entrepreneurs.
I am co-founder of UK Mutual Aid, an intersectional group for supporting marginalised people and communities that offers both financial and resource-based support. And I am creator and director of Notts Activist Wellness, a community based organisation focusing on the revival of our local, working class area. We created Nottingham's first ever noncorporate alternative to Nottingham Pride with the Big Queer Picnic, and this year are expanding to a week's worth of events with our new Notts Queer Pride.
I strongly believe that I would bring something much needed to The Vegan Society, a youthful and modern approach to veganism, with a wide set of skills that would elevate The Vegan Society's standing with younger, political, and marginalised vegan groups. I have the time, energy and fight to make this happen.