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On “Animal Activism”

I've used the term "animal activism" lately as an experiment. I'm trying to gauge people's receptivity to what I'm about to say. I notice that if I use "animal rights activist" or anything with the word "rights" in it, because it's loaded and misunderstood, my listener often has an immediate bias of some kind. People have a relationship, whether or not they are aware, to the term "animal rights." And that relationship usually has something to do with PeTA.

But I don't want to talk about PeTA. I want to talk about why we shouldn't be using animals and that it's infinitely easier to be a vegan than it was 20 years ago. If you believe your dog has a right to a life free of torture and slaughter for no reason, then you really ought to think about extending that right to mice, rats, chickens and fish.

A recent post by Sara Krupp ("Can Animal Activism Go Too Far?") unfortunately equates "animal activism" with PeTA, I noticed. All I could think about was: Does everything that has to do with an intention to help animals have to be equated with PeTA? They've hijacked enough already! Don't give them another term to co-opt!

But I'm sure that was not Krupp's intention, and she might not even know that animal rights has become such a problematic phrase.

The most telling part of Krupp's post, which addresses and questions the way women are used in PeTA campaigns has nothing to do with that controversial concept at all. Read on . . .

Weighing the Impact
At some level, PETA’s tactics have worked. With more than 2 million members across the globe, PETA is the largest animal advocacy group and comparable in size to the human rights organization, Amnesty International. Yet as effective as their guerilla tactics are at grabbing the passerby’s attention, they also make PETA seem ridiculous at times.

First, note that now PeTA is an "animal advocacy group." But that's not the telling item. We're "weighing the impact," and the "tactics have worked," right? So there are more vegans and fewer animals used by humans, right? I mean, the "tactics have worked," haven't they? But no. The tactics have made PeTA "the largest animal advocacy group" "with more than 2 million members across the globe." The tactics that have worked have worked for PeTA. And not necessarily for animals.

Part of the reason my interest in blogging daily has waned is because of the infighting and mean-spiritedness that can be read . . . daily, in the blogosphere. And though I think that it's necessary to help others think critically about what it is they are trying to do and why they would align themselves with certain groups and/or give of their wallets and time, I think that can be done without being nasty.

A long-ago banned commenter who enjoyed abusing me personally once wrote the hackneyed: "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." Heated discussions are fine, but hate-filled ones aren't interesting to me and I think they make us all look like fools.

And I don't see how they further our goal of getting humans to realize that nonhumans are not resources for them to exploit.

"Animal activism," to me, is listening to the person I'm speaking with and finding a way to have a discussion they're receptive to about what they believe and why, and how they might expand or otherwise adjust that thinking. It's not about making a gigantic group even bigger. Especially when that group doesn't appear to want us to stop using animals.

But it might have to involve addressing the gigantic group(s) briefly and moving on to the real message.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stephanie E. #

    Imagine me applauding, applauding not the bit about the waning interest in blogging of course–I don't want the blogosphere to lose your incredibly important, independent, thoughtful voice–but applauding what else you've said here. We agreed on much of this already, as you know, and talking about related matters with you has helped shaped some of my further developing thoughts–which reminds me that I still need to give you a call. Chaos in these here parts in recent days.

    May 23, 2009
  2. Bill #

    Good post!

    May 24, 2009
  3. Brandon Becker #

    Even though "animal rights" and "PETA" are synonymous in the minds of many in the public, this does not mean we should quit using the term "rights" to describe our activism. If this means "addressing the gigantic group(s) briefly and moving on to the real message" then so be it. It takes little time and offers an opportunity for education.

    May 26, 2009
  4. Adam Kochanowicz #

    I've getting a little frustrated with the uber hippie "don't be negative, we're all into this together" response to our criticisms of PETA.

    But I'm beginning to feel like advocates are treating animal rights as a sort of paper mache club: "Now Billy wants to use blue paper mache instead, let's not in-fight and just work together."

    Have we lost sight of the fact that this is largely an issue of life and death? An issue of slavery?

    Conversely, if I am to disagree with PETA (and I do), why shouldn't PETA be the one accused of in-fighting, have you heard of their string of lawsuits against Friends of Animals over bogus accusations against their primate sanctuary?

    No animal rights advocate who defends the interests of animals over the agenda of a welfarist organization is in-fighting. We're enabling PETA to lure the public into humane meat nonsense and ultimately helping the exploitation of animals in response to the fear of in fighting.

    I happen to think investing in and advertising for the animal industry and euthanizing 80-90 percent of 'rescued' animals is a serious crime for anyone, let alone an organization who take in advocates' money with the promise for fighting for their rights.

    May 28, 2009
  5. Mary Martin #

    I'm not saying PeTA infights or doesn't. Same with Friends of Animals. In fact, last summer you may recall the FoA counter-PeTA protest that I covered and that Will Potter ended up commenting on (and many, many others on both blogs). I was the one saying it's NOT infighting when you're not on the same team to begin with (though to the untrained eye that's certainly not the case, as the mainstream will lump us all together).

    Here's the post that I believe references the entire thing (

    What I come back to and refer to here, though, is that in my old age I've decided to focus on people who aren't vegans rather than on pointing out the problematic aspects of another's veganism. We all decide where we want to focus our time, and I believe that in one sentence I can differentiate myself from PeTA and move on to the kind of vegan education and animal advocacy that is working for me (meaning: I get results).

    May 29, 2009
  6. Bea Elliott #

    Your term "animal activism"… it's catching on! Unfortunately, in a different way than what you intended:

    "Seminar to Focus on Animal Activism"

    From Farm and Dairy in Ohio:
    "The ultimate goals of the seminar are to inform the audience about the myths that surround animal activist groups, inform about current actions happening in the community and Ohio, prepare individuals to peak out with confidence about the animal agriculture industry and prepare individuals that wish to participate in a speaker’s bureau to begin the process of reaching out to the community.

    In response to radical animal rights extremists, a group has been formed to help educate and inform everyone about the outstanding care farmers and ranchers give their animals and to ensure a safe and affordable food supply."

    I just think that's so funny… that farmers want to be "animal activists"!

    June 5, 2009

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