“Talk about animals,” Goodwin tells PETA
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2000:
DALLAS––Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade founder J.P. Goodwin, 27, who was among the most militant animal rights activists of the 1990s, told the world on June 4 via the online forum that recent tactics of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are off target, ineffective, and at times “a betrayal of the cause.”
Began Goodwin, “Extra recently did a piece glorifying eating meat. They claimed many celebrities, such as Sarah McLaughlin, had gone back to eating meat, partly as a backlash against ‘political correctness.’ Perhaps there would be no backlash,” Goodwin suggested, “if current vegetarian campaigns focused on compassion for animals rather than impotence, Jesus, models in lettuce, and just about every single other thing possible except animal suffering.
“CAFT opposes goofy stunts, such as the PETA ‘Got beer?’ campaign and pie throwing, which completely overshadow animal suffering,” Goodwin continued.
“I challenge the proponents of goofy stunts to do a poll,” Goodwin added. “I want this poll to ask people what they remember about ‘Got beer?’ I’d bet $2,000 that the great majority will not remember anything positive. I bet $2,000 that the majority have a less favorable view of animal rights since goofy stunts started happening on a near weekly basis.
“Instead of using a strategy to get as much negative, embarrassing attention as possible, I recommend groups work to publicize the real issues,” Goodwin said. “Animal suffering is a real issue. Meat causing impotence or fur making you look like a caveman (a recent Friends of Animals campaign) are not the real issues. Most importantly, they are not convincing. Goofy stunts are permanantly damaging public perception of animal rights.
“I have been involved in this movement since the 1980s,” continued Goodwin. “The respect animal rights activists got then was much greater than what you see today. We are right on the issues. However, some people have positioned the movement as flaky, based on silly claims and goofy stunts. It’s time to say no to pie throwing, manure dumping, and naked models, and get back to talking about animals.”
Where he’s coming from
PETA-bashing on talk.politics.animals is nothing new. Believed to be the oldest online animal rights forum still running, is notorious for flame battles among so-called “vegan police” and blood sports enthusiasts, who equate all animal rights activists with PETA, whether they have ever had anything to do with PETA or not. The board has also carried commentary critical of PETA by former PETA employees, pro-animal rights opponents of specific PETA positions, and mainstream animal welfare advocates.
Goodwin, however, could easily be mistaken for part of the most militant PETA core constituency. He grew up with the animal rights movement, dropping out of Germantown High School in Memphis in the 11th grade to focus on activism, doing janitorial work for a living because the flexible hours allowed him time to protest.
When protests didn’t bring quick results, Goodwin took up direct action, influenced by convicted fur farm and laboratory arsonist Rod Coronado. Caught by a police stakeout and charged as alleged ringleader of a gang that vandalized fur stores, Goodwin and two younger alleged confederates pleaded guilty in April 1993.
Sentenced to three years in prison, they spent the next 30 months under house arrest, secured by an appeal bond. The prison term was finally overturned in favor of six months on probation.
By the time Goodwin completed the probation, he had already become––at 22––a nationally recognized animal rights movement leader, forming CAFT and organizing anti-fur civil disobedience demonstrations throughout the South and Midwest.
The value of protesting fur sales in regions that cumulatively account for under 10% of the U.S. retail fur trade was easily questioned, and so were tactics which seemed mainly to get lots of young activists arrested, photographed, fingerprinted, jailed, and fined. Goodwin himself was arrested six times for civil disobedience, in three states.
In 1996-1997 Goodwin gleefully announced a string of Animal Liberation Front mink releases and arsons against furriers and fur farms. Yet as direct action escalated into pipe bombings in and arround Salt Lake City in 1997-1998, one of which destroyed a mink feed depot while a couple with a small baby were sleeping in a trailer on the premises, Goodwin seemed to develop second thoughts.
In a January 1998 interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Louis Sahagun, Goodwin praised the Straight Edge faction of vegan militants, who often supported his demonstrations, for “breathing new life into the movement.“ Yet Goodwin appeared to exempt the Salt Lake City faction, associated by police with the violence.
“A weird scene,” he called them.
Interviewed about his criticisms of PETA by ANIMAL PEOPLE, Goodwin was especially critical of PETA antifur campaigns, directed throughout the 1990s by Dan Mathews. “PETA became so overly dependent on celebrities,” Goodwin charged, “that they recruited models who clearly did not care about animal rights, but rather were motivated by money and publicity. It should have been no surprise some of their ‘no fur’ models began to wear fur again,” he suggested.
“PETA also failed to release some very good fox farm footage when an Illinois fox farmer was in court on charges stemming from their investigation,” Goodwin asserted. “It was not released until several months later because they didn’t have a celebrity to help them with it. As a result, the story was old and didn’t get the air play in the important Illinois market that it could have received.
“The Humane Farming Association is getting massive media attention for their investigation into a Seattle-area slaughterhouse,” Goodwin added. “HFA isn’t relying on a celebrity, but rather the newsworthiness of the issue. PETA could have done the same with the Illinois fox farm. Fur sales plummeted in the 1980s because of the on-issue message put forth by Trans Species Unlimited,” said Goodwin, who traces his own involvement to sending for a TSU Fur Free Friday action kit in 1989. “Fur sales rose when leading animal rights group took the focus off animals and put it on things like naked models. Does PETA believe arguments about animal suffering are inadequate?” Goodwin asked. “I disagree. For the sake of animals’ lives,” he said, “let’s get back on message.”
In any event, Goodwin said, campaigning on side issues such as opposing meateating because it might contribute to male impotence is self-defeating. “People know the animal rights movement doesn’t care about male impotence,” he observed. “I think people tend to doubt such claims when they realize we are just saying things to get them to stop eating meat.
“I am not opposed to humor,” Goodwin continued. “Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons got a pro-animal message across in a humorous way. I’ve also seen episodes of South Park that used humor to mutilate common pro-hunting arguments. But I think some of PETA’s stunts go beyond humor to just plain stupid. Some are downright offensive. The anti-fur ad with Kurt Cobain, a rock star who committed suicide with a gunshot to the head, and the slogan ‘You need a fur like you need a hole in the head’ comes to mind.
“I definitely appreciate the use of humor,” Goodwin reiterated. “But I think ‘got beer?’ was insanity. PETA may have received requests for 3,500 milk info packs as a result of that, but at what cost? I’d rather have the respect of the untold millions they alienated, than the 3,500 who order the info packs.
“Granted, we needed something, badly,” Goodwin opined, “to counter the image given to us by the Salt Lake City Straight Edge thugs. But I’d like to see an image makeover that leaves us portrayed as a credible political movement, and not just a bunch of kooky people who run around dressing up like condoms, or who knows what.”
Goodwin doubted that the PETA “goofy stunts” are part of a possible strategy to make animal rights activism seem less threatening, since PETA chief executive Ingrid Newkirk “praised people who mail razor blades to animal researchers in an October 1999 issue of the Boston Globe. I couldn’t believe that!” he said.
Goodwin acknowledged that grassroots activist organizations like CAFT don’t have the budget to do much public opinion polling, and accordingly often have to grope their way blindly to tactics that work.
But for that very reason, he argued, the bigger and wealthier organizations, like PETA, should be doing a lot more polling, to help the whole cause become better positioned.
“I do not plan to ever do civil disobedience again,” Goodwin concluded. “I am convinced that politics is the way to go, and to that end I am taking classes in political campaign management. Targeting bad lawmakers, and helping good lawmakers, is what I feel this movement has failed to do, miserably.”
Goodwin also failed in his first campaign, a 1998 door-to-door attempt to dislodge Representative Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), who has vigorously supported federal coyote-killing via USDA Wildlife Services. But Goodwin is determined, he indicates, to learn from his setbacks.[The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade may be contacted at P.O. Box 822411, Dallas, TX 75382; 214-503-1419; <firstname.lastname@example.org>.]</email@example.com>