Our Policy Agenda
Phoenix Zones Initiative envisions that public policies, institutions, and practices can become socially, environmentally, and economically just, and that they can uplift the most vulnerable.
Accordingly, Phoenix Zones Initiative campaigns for public policy that is inclusive, evidence-based, and catalytic. Our primary objective is to highlight the indelible links between the rights, health, and wellbeing of people, animals, and the planet by advocating for synergistic policy solutions. We lead, build, and work with coalitions to eradicate the oppression of the least-empowered individuals and of populations who have been systematically harmed by privileged industries.
We acknowledge the centuries of hubris and the institutions underlying current systems of oppression. We also see opportunities to promote justice and equity through movements composed of diverse groups of people from all over the world who see a better way forward. We use our voice in solidarity with those fighting against racist laws, sexist culture, xenophobic nationalism, ableism, homophobia, the exploitation of children and animals, and any other systemic abuse of power.
No manner of exploitation is a necessary means to any goal that truly benefits us all. Since the most vulnerable are usually the first and last to be exploited, they are where Phoenix Zones Initiative puts its focus. If the most vulnerable thrive, the rest of us will too.
I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.—Audre Lorde
Our Policy Priorities:
Stop Exploitation and Abuse to Obtain Food, Fiber, and Knowledge
If we want to survive and thrive on our life-sustaining planet, our legal frameworks must internalize the fact that the rights, health, and wellbeing of people and animals are symbiotic. Denial of the deep interconnections between people, animals, and the planet is especially damaging in the systems that are intended to provide basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and knowledge.
How we feed, protect, and educate ourselves is compromised when we pursue food, shelter, and knowledge through a worldview that is entitled, belittling, or oppressive toward the rest of life. However, institutions and laws that govern the industrial pursuit of food, fiber, and knowledge often protect, promote, and underwrite the exploitation of people and animals for economic profit.
No one’s economic interests should be vested in exploitation and abuse.
At Phoenix Zones Initiative, we strive to:
- Ensure that public resources do not enable exploitation.
For decades, food and fiber subsidies and regulations have been driving the exploitation of animals and people. US agriculture relies on human and animal trafficking and global food imperialism, and it contributes significantly to the most common causes of illness and death worldwide including chronic and disabling conditions, emerging infectious diseases that have pandemic potential, and the climate crisis.
At the same time, tens of millions of Americans live in communities that are designated as food deserts, with little or no access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and many Americans continue to go hungry and to struggle to attain adequate shelter.
Likewise, the pursuit of knowledge in the form of health research relies on the exploitation of the most vulnerable populations, while too little attention is given to addressing social and political determinants of health.
We advocate for policy changes that require the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, and other government agencies to abide by principles that safeguard people and animals against exploitation, rather than encourage it. We are especially focused on publicly-funded activities that these and other agencies oversee and regulate, including food and textile production, medical research and public health priorities, and international development programs.
- Ban or end exemptions for practices that exploit people and animals.
Industrial farming and ranching profit from privileges granted by policymakers, including through explicit exemptions from regulations that are intended to protect people, animals, and communities. Factory farms are permitted limitless expansion, and they often receive direct subsidies rather than penalties for failing to obey mandates to abate the water and air pollution they produce.
Similarly, certain federal worker visa programs too often exploit workers and protect industries such as slaughterhouses, the wool industry, and seasonal crop harvesting, while these industries simultaneously advocate for restrictions in legal immigration.
We advocate for policy changes that end industry exemptions for exploitative practices, including the exploitation of workers and of human and animal communities.
- End the trafficking of other beings, especially of children and animals.
Trafficking is one of the cruelest ways to limit basic freedoms and to foster abuse and exploitation. However, worldwide, human and animal trafficking is commonly employed to obtain food, fiber, and knowledge.
Trafficking is often a sign that communities lack basic services, which makes children and animals especially vulnerable to various forms of exploitation. Trafficking live animals is closely tied to the emergence of novel pathogens such as COVID-19, and animal trafficking is an important aspect of the global exploitation of animals for food, fiber, and research.
We advocate for policies that end child and animal trafficking and forced labor. We also push for adequate resources to strengthen and enforce existing relevant laws.
Expand and Strengthen Legal Rights
Many forms of exploitation and abuse can be addressed by ensuring that individuals possess basic positive and negative rights. Negative rights include the right to not be abused or tortured. Positive rights include access to healthy and safe homes and communities, and opportunities to thrive.
At Phoenix Zones Initiative, we aim to:
- Achieve clear next steps for expanding human rights and establishing animal rights in domestic and international law.
We advocate for bringing the US into alignment with the global community’s acceptance of certain human rights; for example, through US ratification of the 1990 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since Somalia’s ratification of the Convention in 2015, the US remains the only member of the United Nations that has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
We also advocate for formal recognition of the basic rights of nonhuman animals. Expanding principles like dignity to be inclusive, while also recognizing that people and animals have different needs, will boost the rational and moral legitimacy of laws intended to protect against exploitation and abuse.
- Align public health priorities, as reflected in legal rights, with public policy.
We advocate for further development and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals so that they reflect basic principles of justice, equity, and self-determination for both people and animals.
We also push for multilateral agencies and international frameworks such as the One Health concept to better address the need for interspecies and ecological justice and the right to health.
- Affirm and ensure the right to a healthy and safe home and environment.
Communities should be constructed to encourage vitality, ethical and sustainable productivity, and happiness. Public service should be normalized, and the communities most in need should receive the most attention from public resources.
No one should be unhoused or live in a toxic environment, be denied sanctuary from oppression, or be arbitrarily denied the right to freedom of movement. Neither humans nor animals should suffer because of infrastructure or contrived borders that restrict them from meeting their basic needs.
We advocate for better urban and rural planning at the local level and for more ambitious international laws that acknowledge the right to a healthy and safe home, community, and environment.
In his book Eunomia, Philip Allott called for a new system for international public policy, beginning with the recognition “that the human species is one species of living beings among countless species in a natural habitat shared by all…”
Phoenix Zones Initiative is working toward such a world—a world that is itself a Phoenix Zone.