From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1996:

by Henry Spira (founder and president, Animal Rights International)

Today’s animal rights
organizations are numerous and
powerful. More than ever before,
they are well-financed, politically
connected, with their own legal,
advertising, and public relations
departments. Enormous direct mail
campaigns are routine.
One may well ask what
role, if any, remains for the committed
individual, who has no apparatus
or financial backing. It may be
encouraging to remember that it was
an individual’s initiative, Peter
Singer’s book Animal Liberation,
that 22 years ago launched the modern
animal rights movement.
Few of us can write a book
with global influence, but with
knowledge, imagination, and commitment,
many individuals can
make a difference. Not every
activist’s initiative needs to make the
evening news. Rather, it is the accumulation
of smaller actions by individuals
that has made animal rights
the mainstream concept it is today.

Some activists are truly
ingenious. In 1986, Sergeant Sherry
Schleuter of the Broward County
(Florida) Sheriff’s Department
founded the first law enforcement
unit specializing in animal cruelty
investigation. She has spoken on
animal abuse investigation and prosecution
to both law enforcement and
civilian investigators around the
U.S., clarifying the intricacies of
protecting victims who are considered
property, but are living beings.
Her latest presentation was to the
Los Angeles Police Department. Her
initiatives have received local and
national publicity, including appearances
on the Oprah Winfrey Show
and in P e o p l e magazine. She has
succeeded in combining her police
career with being an activist, a
singer, and an athlete.
Holly Jensen also combines
her career and her concerns.
She is a critical care nurse and
instructor in a community hospital,
teaching groups of 30 to 60 doctors
and nurses. She emphasizes disease
prevention, and provides data that
clearly demonstrates the connection
between lifestyle choices and good
health. Jensen uses the data generated
by Dr. Dean Ornish, who combines
vegetarian diet and exercise in
his well-documented program to
reverse the course of heart disease.
Passing this information to people
who can make a difference, Jensen
helps improve human health while
reducing animal suffering.
Likewise working within
the system, professor of philosophy,
physiology, and biophysics Bernard
Rollin joined the Colorado State
University faculty in 1977. In the
heart of cattle country, Rollin sensitizes
veterinary and agriculture students
to the ethical issues in our relations
with other animals.
Andrew Rowan founded
the Tufts University Center for
Animals and Public Policy, where
he meticulously searches scientific
literature to produce persuasive position
papers, crucial in the campaigns
to end use of the Draize and LD-50
animal tests and influential in many
other aspects of reducing animal suffering.
Rowan brings scientific credibility
to the animal protection community,
and has changed the prevailing
attitude within the scientific
community from “i f an alternative
can be developed” to “w h e n w e
develop an alternative.”
Temple Grandin, an agricultural
consultant, designs and
implements animal handling systems
that take into account the behavioral
and physical needs of farm animals.
She, like other effective individuals,
is totally down-to-earth, practical,
and street-smart. Instead of telling
the industry what to do, she shows
executives and plant managers how.
Becky Sandstedt, an airport
cocktail waitress in St. Paul,
Minnesota, achieved a breakthrough
of a different sort. She had heard
about “downers,” pigs and cattle
either too sick, weak, or injured to
stand up on their own, and decided
to check out local stockyards. With
a video camera, Sandstedt documents
the suffering and abuse over
many months. “When they wrap a
chain around a limb and drag an animal
off,” she reported, “you can
hear the bones cracking and the
cows mooing, and their eyes just
bulge out with fear and pain.” Her
expose was featured on prime-time
televison. This brought the horror of
downers to national attention, and
very possibly closer to a solution.
More recently, English
activists David Morris and Helen
Steel, almost penniless, with little
more than audacity, persistence,
and a fax machine, have managed
to shake the $30 billion McDonald’s
fast food operation to the core. In
1990 they distributed leaflets challenging
every facet of McDonald’s
business, alleging that McDonald’s
contributes to animal cruelty, public
health problems, and environmental
destruction. When McDonald’s
retaliatated with a libel suit, the
activists used the trial as a stage to
expose McDonald’s before the
world. The still running “McLibel”
case is now the longest civil suit in
English history. Said the Canadian
quarterly Adbusters, “They show by
example that average people can
throw a spanner in the works without
specialized knowledge or training––just
an alternative viewpoint
and resolve.”
No action is too small. In
the fall of 1995, we received a scrap
of paper in the mail, unsigned,
without a return address: a photocopy
of an invitation which had
been sent to a few wealthy individuals,
asking them to spend a day in
the country shooting captive-reared
birds as the birds were allowed to
escape for the first time from their
cages. The shoot was to raise funds
for a highly respected charity which
saves children from blindness.
We called and wrote the
chief executive of this organization
and pointed out the irony of executing
animals to prevent children from
suffering. Within 24 hours, we also
prepared a series of ad concepts
which we intended to develop and
run as full pages in The New York
T i m e s if the shoot went forward.
When the chief executive expressed
sympathy with our concerns but also
some ambiguity as to how his board
might react, we faxed him the ad
concepts for use as leverage. From
start to finish, the matter was
revolved within 72 hours, with the
cancellation of the bird shoot and
the organization’s pledge never to
hold another.
The hero or heroine of this
story is the unknown individual who
decided to anonymously intervene.
It took nothing more than a copy
machine, an envelope, a stamp,
and some determination. Similar
actions have shut down unsafe
power plants and ejected crooks
from political office.
What, specifically, can or
should individual activists be doing
today? The quickest way to take a
bite out of farm animal misery is to
cut out or cut down your use of the
products of animal agriculture.
That’s a powerful message for the
moguls of misery in the meat-industrial
Always, stay as informed
as possible and spread the word.
We live in a society where information
is widely accessible to those
who are willing to do a little digging.
The informed activist will
inevitably find that the pursuit of
animal rights offers more challenges
today than ever before––that more
animals suffer today through human
action than at any previous time in
history. While laboratory use has
been reduced by an estimated 50%
since the 1960s, the number of farm
animals slaughtered has increased
fourfold, from two billion animals a
year then to more than eight billion
now. Yet farm animals are largely
ignored. Only about 5% of animal
protection movement resources are
dedicated to addressing this 95% of
the problem.
Activists who want to
make a difference must expand the
movement’s focus from the 5% to
the 95% of animal suffering. Join
major animal protection organiza-
tions and then lobby at meetings, conferences,
and rallies toward getting them to dedicate
greater resources toward liberating farm animals.
It is indefensible to spend 95% of the
money donated to help animals on 5% of the
animals who need help. We need to stop congratulating
ourselves on saving the occasional
celebrity animal while losing ground with the
billions of farm animals. It would be a major
breakthrough if activists could create the critical
mass necessary to convince the major
national organizations to make farm animals
their priority.
Activists can raise public interest in
farm animals by writing letters to the editors of
local and national newspapers. Newspapers
offer access to tens of thousands and even millions
of readers for the price of a postage
stamp. Just clearly and concisely address an
item which recently appeared in the publication
you write to, or is otherwise in the news.
Write as if you’re talking to someone whose
interest you want to hold. Occasionally a published
letter can touch a nerve, sparking dialog
that continues for days, weeks, sometimes
even months.
Seize opportunities to promote the
nonviolent diet. Any restaurant becomes a
place of political action when you ask the
owner to add vegetarian e n t r e e s to the menu.
The same applies to your local supermarket,
your child’s school, or your company cafeteria.
You can likewise request vegetarian alternatives
at all public and private functions that
you attend or are involved in, from PTA meetings
to political fundraisers and social events.
One vegetarian activist can make
meatless meals available to many others with
just one effective message. Eddy Bikales
described his “vegetarian multiplier effect” in
the magazine Satya. He wrote a polite letter to
the food service manager of his company’s
cafeteria, suggesting meatless e n t r e e i d e a s .
He followed up within a week with a telephone
call, and was actually thanked for
offering the suggestion. Within another week
the menu changed. A similar letter to the
Sheraton management decrying the lack of
vegetarian options during a major business
conference promoted further change. The
arrival of meatless options empowers every
customer who follows, saving many animals.
There are also less direct ways to
promote the nonviolent lifestyle. Susan Kalev,
a committed vegetarian, recently approached
the management of the Barnes & Nobel bookstore
chain, pointing out the large number of
vegetarian cookbooks they sell, and persuaded
them to sponsor a series of lectures by authors
of vegetarian cookbooks. This was a valuable
contribution to a growing trend.
Factory farming has implications
beyond animal cruelty, involving environmental
damage, hunger, and public health issues.
Animal protection activists might link up with
colleagues active in these other fields, to work
together, or just to draw their attention to the
overlapping concerns. Some environmentalists,
in particular, need to be reminded that
the greater ecological problem is not the burger
wrapping but the burger itself.
This is already happening within the
New York City Sierra Club, thanks to Sandy
Reid, who in 1991 started an animal protection
committee to oppose canned hunting and
horse carriages. Members and longtime animal
defender Joan Zacharias have more
recently formed a Vegetarian Outings
Committee, spotlighting meat-eating as an
environmental issue. They are now forging
links with Sierra Club chapters elsewhere,
aiming at a national initiative which would
promote vegetarianism within the Sierra Club
as a whole.
Once an activist sets priorities, the
key to success may be more a matter of imagination
and perseverance than of money or
apparatus. Some well-funded organizations
never accomplish anything that makes a difference.
By contrast, resourceful individuals
make a significant difference––and you can be
among them.

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