Editorial: Fighting the fur-clad spectre of Attila the Hun

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2003:

The importance of fur-wearing, apart
from the lives of up to 40 million animals killed
for fur each year, is that after meat-eating it
is the most visibly conspicuous public symbol of
attitudes toward animals. Mass media and the
general public began to view animal advocacy as
an authentic socially transformative force after
fur garments abruptly vanished from the streets
of much of the U.S. and Europe in 1988-1989-and
perceive the cause as waning if they see more
fur, whether or not fur is actually the focus of
much active campaigning.
Today more fur is visible, and that should be cause for worry.
U.S. retail fur sales fell from a high of
$1.85 billion in 1987-1988 to $950 million in
1991-1992. In 2000 and 2001, sales recovered to
$1.69 billion, then dipped to $1.53 billion.
Adjusted for inflation, the real increase from
the low point to the recent high was barely 20%,
and the trend is apparently again downward, but
perhaps mostly because of two years of economic

British retail fur sales fell farther,
faster, and sooner, from £80 million in 1984 to
£11 million in 1989, bringing the closure of 175
of the then-200 British retail fur stores. Yet
the British Fur Trade Association claimed a 35%
sales increase in 2000-2001.
French fur sales plummeted 70% from 1990
to 1995, but then rose to 61% of the 1990 level
in 2001. In the European Union as a whole, fur
sales were reported up 13.6% in 2001. Globally,
according to the International Fur Trade
Federation, sales jumped 7%, to $9.5 billion.
U.S. ranched mink production is still in
a decade-long slide. Britain and Scotland
actually banned mink ranching in 2002, but
world ranched mink production, down to 20.4
million pelts in 1994, has risen again to 30.8
million pelts in 2002.
The British and American fur sales
collapses in the late 1980s, with a similar
slide in The Netherlands, represented the most
obvious successes to date of the pro-animal
message. Falling meat consumption among each
younger age group may be still more indicative of
enduring progress, and killing in U.S. animal
shelters has fallen even more steeply than fur
sales, but meat products are usually processed
so as to no longer resemble animals, while
shelter killing occurs behind closed doors.
Fur, by contrast, is most often plainly
of animal origin, and is worn to be seen, as an
intended display of status.
When fur was no longer seen often in
status-conscious places, the absence of it
signified that caring about animals now conveyed
more status and won more admiration and approval
than the ruthless arrogance toward other beings
that fur-wearing has symbolized at least since
the fur-clad hordes of Attila the Hun ravaged
Europe in 450-452, raping and killing almost
every human they found, and eating almost every
Though dictionaries link the term
“barbarian” to facial hair, the Huns had little
or no facial hair. They were stopped by an
almost unprecedented alliance of bearded and
nonbearded peoples who had clothing and banners
of woven cloth in common. Not exactly apostles
of nonviolence themselves, and certainly not
animal advocates, they nonetheless agreed that
their civilizations were imperiled by the Hun
disregard for both human life and the lives of
the cattle and work animals who were essential to
the European economy.
Dressing like a Hun returned to vogue
centuries later with the Vikings, and again when
furs became the preferred costumes of the likes
of Ivan the Terrible and the serial wife-killer
Henry the Eighth.
Fur-wearers have tried to maintain a
somewhat more mannered image in recent centuries.
Yet the spectre of Attila remains evident, and
the risk still exists that if fur-wearing is not
confronted where it remains in fashion, fur-clad
hordes may once again surge into Europe-and this
time, the U.S.
It is not surprising that fur-wearing is
ubiquitous this winter in corruption-plagued Kiev
and Moscow, as ANIMAL PEOPLE recently observed
first-hand. Low pelt prices in recent years,
reflecting the success of anti-fur activism
elsewhere, have brought fur within the grasp of
those who coveted it but could not afford much of
it during the years of Communist and
post-Communist deprivation.
The challenge to animal advocates in the
former Soviet Union is to ensure that this
response to repressed demand exhausts itself
rapidly and subsides into shame, as the reality
of fur is made more evident than whatever the
wearers think they get from buying it.
The challenge to animal advocates
elsewhere is to keep the shame of fur visible.
ANIMAL PEOPLE was appalled, after visiting Kiev
and Moscow, to find fur displayed even more
ubiquitously in shop windows in Geneva,
Switzerland, without evident trace of
opposition. This may reflect the paradox that
Geneva commemorates the local founding of
countless humanitarian organizations with
prominent monuments, yet is affluent in part
through providing secret bank service to foreign
dictators and criminals.
Street-level activism is not a strong
tradition in Geneva, nor in Kiev, nor Moscow,
nor in most of the cities where cold winters
allow the pretense that fur is needed for warmth.
Yet the absence of the street-level activism
which accompanied the decline of fur sales in the
U.S., Britain, and The Netherlands during the
1980s is in itself a reminder that the fur issue,
perhaps more than any other animal advocacy
cause, requires the sustained presence of
“troops on the ground.”
Pushing fur out of vogue requires an
effort similar to the drive to stamp out smoking
in public places in the U.S. Those who commit
the offensive acts must encounter omnipresent
reminders that what they are doing is disgusting
to a majority of the people around them.
Tabling, leafleting, and solitary vigils with
picket signs were the tactics that built the
success of the anti-fur movement in the 1980s,
serving a purpose similar to that of the “no
smoking” signs now seen throughout the U.S.
Momentum was lost when the organizational impetus
behind omnipresent small demonstrations was
usurped by mostly unsuccessful attempts to win TV
attention with mass rallies-because mass rallies
are more easily avoided than handfuls of
protesters who may be almost anywhere at any time.

Anti-fur tactical lessons

ANIMAL PEOPLE newswire monitor Cathy
Czapla found only three “Fur Free Friday”
features in major U.S. newspapers during late
November 2002, the fewest ever. Yet Internet
postings, letters to major news media, and
correspondence directed to ANIMAL PEOPLE all
indicate that opposition to fur among individual
activists is no less intense now than ever.
Indeed, anti-fur views may now be stronger among
today’s young activists, who are much less
likely these days to have grown up with
fur-wearing parents or grandparents, or to have
ever worn fur themselves.
What they lack, to revitalize the
anti-fur movement in the U.S. and Europe, is
first-hand experience in waging successful
anti-fur campaigns. Young activists today can
barely remember the tactics that worked in the
late 1980s. More accessible on the Internet is
information about efforts which accomplished
little or nothing in the 1990s.
There were, and are, people who would
rather go naked than wear fur, whose
exhibitionism-as Coalition Against the Fur Trade
founder J.P. Goodwin eventually pointed out-tends
to attract attention without furthering the
message. The effort, though well-meaning and
brave, invites dismissal rather than emulation.
There were the Animal Liberation Front
mink releases, vandalism, arsons, and
pipebombings at fur farms and fur stores, which
also still occasionally occur. These acts may
have done more to discourage law-abiding
activists from pursuing anti-fur campaigns, lest
they be identified with illegality and violence,
than they accomplished to economically harm the
fur industry.
There was the use of hired celebrity
spokespersons, which backfired when the fur
industry paid some of them more to become literal
There was also the great false hope that
the European Union might eventually implement a
ban on imports of trapped fur which for some
years existed on paper and was lauded as a
victory, but was dismantled by U.S., Canadian,
and Russian governmental pressure before
preventing the sale of even one trapped pelt.
Finally, there have been ballot
initiatives to ban commercial fur-trapping and/or
the use of leghold traps. These have mostly
succeeded with voters, yet with enough
exemptions to enable serious trappers to go right
on trapping, now in the name of nuisance
wildlife control.
A self-defeating aspect of the campaigns
focused on trapped fur is that they erroneously
convey the message that wearing ranched fur is
less objectionable-although the animals ranched
for fur suffer misery throughout their lives,
not just at the painful end.
Common to all of these ineffective
campaign approaches is the pursuit of shortcuts,
instead of taking the message directly to
consumers in a sustained, focused manner.
Fur-wearing will end not when protests
get TV time, nor when the fur industry pays
higher insurance premiums, nor when any
particular capturing or killing technique is
outlawed, but rather when informed individuals
choose to avoid fur, including garments with a
small amount of fur trim.
Expediting that day, whether in Kiev,
Moscow, New York, Chicago, Amsterdam, or
London, requires one-to-one communication.
As ever, the time-consuming hard work
must be done by local activists, who must also
manage to remain cheerful and attractive despite
the difficulties and frustrations of campaigning
outdoors in the winter. If people who wish to be
attractive and influential also wish to be like
the anti-fur campaigners they encounter, the
anti-fur movement will grow; if not, it will be
tuned out.
Well-funded national and international
organizations can do three things to help local
campaigners maintain their spirits and be more
1) Antifur literature must be kept
up-to-date, and must be distributed to local
activists without charge. Some national
organizations rationalize charging for literature
by asserting that this keeps furriers from
ordering and dumping materials, but it should
not be terribly difficult to distinguish
authentic activists from saboteurs.
2) Paid anti-fur advertisements must be
prominently placed in all affordable media. If
TV time is too expensive, some of the same
audience may be reached through printed
television program guides. If daily newspapers
are too expensive, try weeklies. The more
people see the anti-fur message, the more
effective it will be-and although the anti-fur
message in mass media will not convert directly
into cash donations, as it does in direct
mailings to confirmed supporters, greater
campaign success and organizational prominence
will bring more financial success later.
3) Almost every other cause long since
discovered the importance of providing “strike
pay” to the people who staff the tables and carry
the picket signs. “Strike pay,” usually barely
exceeding the minimum wage, is not lucrative
enough to attract people who are not already
committed to the cause, but does enable students
and older people on fixed incomes to put in more
hours doing the work that needs to be done,
instead of taking menial jobs at unrelated tasks
to help make ends meet. Organizers in other
causes long since learned that donors who have no
free time for tabling and picketing will
cheerfully pay other dedicated activists to do
it-so why is this not being done in animal
Individual activists and donors meanwhile
need to remind the organizations they support,
as well as the people they meet and the stores
they patronize, that opposition to fur is a
priority. Clothiers who stock fur-trimmed items
of any sort need to get polite complaints.
People who wear fur, even fur trim, must be
reminded that it is offensive, which can be done
as discreetly as quietly discussing fur within
their hearing.
There are countless ways to effectively
convey the message, person to person, in an
effective manner. Anyone can find a way that
works for her, or him.
Whether or not the big groups demonstrate leadership, it must be done.

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