A Letter to Gen Z

Actress and Activist Harley Quinn Smith on the importance of everyday activism

By Harley Quinn Smith
Photography by Ryan Pfluger
Tuesday, March 2, 2021

This essay was original published in LAIKA’s 7th issue cover story when Harley was 18 years old. Now 22, she has continued to passionately use her platform as an actress to advocate for issues ranging from animal rights, to racial justice, to election integrity. Her dad, the Mallrats and Clerks filmmaker Kevin Smith, went vegan in 2019. And today, father and daughter host a podcast together, Vegan Abattoir. Here, the original essay she penned in our “Haven Issue,” the message of which remains as vital as ever. 

Dear Gen Z,

We live in such a unique time because we are the generation of social media. It has created a world in which there is an exceptional amount of compassion, but also hatred. I believe that no matter what sort of response is received, it’s absolutely vital to push through. I think that’s what makes our generation special; we do push through. We embrace discomfort because we know that change cannot ensue until we do.

It is always going to be daunting to put yourself out there, but it’s important to not get discouraged. For instance, I get nervous when I post something regarding animal rights or social justice, because there’s a part of me that already knows there will be a downpour of negativity. But I’ve come to accept that. Whether you’re advocating for animal rights, the LGBTQ+ community, Black Lives Matter, women’s reproductive freedom, environmental wellness — there will always be someone trying to retaliate against your cause. You can’t let that stop you from speaking out against injustice.

"I know for sure that once my generation is at its prime, the world is going to be a better place."
Harley with Cinnamon, who was rescued from hoarders. The bunny inspired her to take the leap from vegetarian to vegan. "I couldn't look at her and not feel guilty. I felt that it was my duty to become fully vegan."

No matter how large your audience is, you could say something about a cause that you’re passionate about, which ends up making an impact on a friend, who then can relate that same sentiment back to another friend, and so on. Past activists have had to experience so much blood, sweat and tears to get their message out. The internet allows for a massive-scale domino effect, which is a game changer for social justice. We can’t take that for granted. Now is the time to incorporate activism into your everyday.

“Now is the time to incorporate activism into your every day.’’

With that said, I ask you to listen to me with an open heart. We celebrate each other for our differences, which is a beautiful part of our generation. We recognize the value in humans and are more open than ever before, which is why it’s devastating to me that so many still disregard the lives of nonhuman animals.

There is a soul inside each animal that wants to be seen and valued and respected. I believe that every human knows that the abuse inflicted upon animals through the meat, dairy, fashion and cosmetic industries is not OK in any way, but some choose to overlook it because of an overwhelming sense of guilt. I’m very familiar with that guilt, which is why I know it exists. Humans have normalized animal abuse to the point that so many of us are completely brainwashed and therefore oblivious to the exploitation that we are allowing to happen, but all you need is a moment of realization that what we as humans are doing is wrong.

We cherish our dogs, so why can’t we cherish cows or chickens or pigs? It drives me crazy when people combat my activism with comments like, “Well, cows obviously can’t feel anything, so why does it matter? They’re not smart enough to know what’s happening.” That is completely unfair and incorrect. Humans have put themselves so far above all living creatures that some people refuse to acknowledge that animals too can feel love and happiness, and unfortunately, most often, pain and suffering.

Mother cows cry in agony as their calves are ripped away from them moments after they give birth. Their babies are either bound for slaughter, or they too will one day be hooked up to a machine and abused for their milk, just like their mothers. It’s an excruciating process that cows are unable to escape from, unless they are lucky enough to live in a sanctuary. Can you take a moment and think about what a life of abuse from the day you’re brought into this world would be like?

In our shoot, Harley dressed in all vegan and sustainable fashion from small manufacturers, and wore vegan and cruelty free beauty products. Styled by Jessica Zanotti.

I had a moment of realization in which I finally understood that by eating meat and dairy, I was directly contributing to, and encouraging, more animal abuse. If everyone can access this truth, then we can hopefully one day provide a better world for all living beings, including humans. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, plants are living, and you eat them, so you’re being a hypocrite!” — let me tell you why that’s wrong. Plants don’t have a nervous system, brain or heart, and therefore no ability to feel. Animals have all of those functions, which is why it’s ridiculous to assume that they can’t feel.

Humans fall under the category of animals, which people often forget. We truly aren’t that different. So I ask you, please, as a generation that is more loving and accepting than ever, think about your choices and how your actions could be contributing to needless suffering. Animal rights advocacy has the same fundamental values as human rights advocacy: the extending of compassion and acceptance to all living beings. They’re both about standing up for the oppressed and shedding light on inequality. They both discourage being a bystander when faced with injustice, and instead encourage active participation in fighting for positive change. Most importantly, they both teach a very important lesson of allyship — if you yourself aren’t a target of injustice, then you have a responsibility to be an ally to those who are.

“If you are an advocate for human rights, then you’re a lot closer to being an advocate for animal rights than you might think.’’

Animals are unable to fight against all the abuse that is inflicted upon them, and if we don’t speak out for them, they will continue to be prisoners of exploitation. No living being deserves to spend their entire life suffering at the cost of another’s pleasure. So for the sake of all the animals who are being abused every single day, I ask you to please keep this idea of allyship in mind. Be a voice for the ones whose future depends on our willingness to fight for them. Remember: If you are an advocate for human rights, then you’re a lot closer to being an advocate for animal rights than you might think. I truly feel that we are the generation that’s going to change the world for the better, so keep fighting your fight and don’t let anyone derail you from using your voice. Never stop speaking up.