Could a U.S. “Party for the Animals” politically succeed?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:
GUILFORD, Conn.– Should U.S. animal advocates form a “Party
for the Animals,” to consolidate support and seek leverage?
Dutch Party for the Animals founder Marianne Thieme, elected
to the Dutch Parliament in November 2006, has already visited the
U.S. twice to promote the idea, most recently at the Animal Rights
2007 conference in Los Angeles.
Similar Parties for the Animals have already formed in
Britain, Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Luxembourg, and
Austria. The idea of starting a U.S. Party for the Animals has
gained momentum from their example, and because all of the declared
candidates for the 2008 U.S. Presidential election have either weak
or negative records on animal issues except for Democratic contender
Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich, a longtime Ohio Con-gressional
Representative, is rated only an outside chance of winning the
But National Institute for Animal Advocacy founder Julie
Lewin warns–as author of a recent book on political organization
entitled Get Political for Animals and Win the Laws They Need–that
investing time and money in organizing a U.S. Party for the Animals
would be a mistake.
“Marianne Thieme is remarkable,” Lewin concedes. “Yet our
political systems are very different. Most importantly, we have a
two-party system and the Dutch have a parliamentary system,” as do
all the other nations which have Parties for the Animals.
“Attempting a U.S. Party for the Animals could weaken us,”
Lewin told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “First, U.S. lawmakers would doubtless be
terrified that by voting for a piece of animal rights legislation,
or voting against a piece of anti-animal legislation, they would be
labeled as supporters of a ‘radical’ animal rights agenda,” as
already happens, but without the opportunity to attach the
allegation to a fringe political structure.
“This fear would lose us lawmakers’ votes, even on mild
legislation,” Lewin believes. “The way for us to become power
players in the lawmaking arena at any level of government is to
organize locally, from the ground up, in local political groups”
capable of mobilizing the few dozen or few hundred voters whose
support often decides closely contested city, county, state, and
“Third,” Lewin says, “just like lawmakers, most
people whose voting behavior would be influenced positively by your
local group’s political endorsements would shy away from supporting a
candidate who carries a U.S. Party for Animals label. You would be
asking them to cross the threshold of an ideological divide.
“Fourth, the notion of structuring and organizing an
effective national political party is enormously difficult and
time-consuming,” Lewin reminds. “Other issue groups, and Ralph
Nader, all politically sophisticated and experienced, have tried
“One partial exception,” Lewin concedes, “may be the
Working Families Party. But WFP formed through the already
politically established, experienced, heavily funded and heavily
staffed labor movement. It operates solely through local
chapters for local legislation, not nationally, in six states that
allow cross-endorsement of candidates. And it is multi-issue.
And in some areas it has no real structure. It exists simply
to warn Democratic lawmakers who take labor endorsements for granted,
but don’t fervently support the labor legislative agenda, that if
they don’t get with the labor program, the WFP candidate will draw
votes away from these Democratics and be spoilers who throw elections
to Republican candidates. WFP’s influence is possible only because
the labor movement is already organized.”
Barely remembered today, there was in 1947 an attempt to
start a pro-animal political party. Incumbent U.S. President Harry
S. Truman had succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt after Roosevelt died in
office during his unprecedented fourth term. Truman was believed to
have little chance of winning re-election if he could not mobilize
support from outside his own Democratic Party. Therefore numerous
independent parties organized to try to win platform concessions from
either Truman or Republican nominee Thomas A. Dewey.
Reported the August 11, 1947 edition of Time magazine, “In
Manhattan last week, 500 delegates to a convention of the American
Naturopathic Association formed the American Vegetarian Party and
nominated a 1948 presidential candidate. Their man: Dr. John
Maxwell, 84, Jove-bearded, pint-sized proprietor of a Chicago
vegetarian restaurant, who says he has tasted no meat for 45 years.
He hoped to get some 5,000,000 votes: 3,000,000 from vegetarians,
the rest from ‘prohibitionists, anti-vivisectionists,
anti-cigarette groups, and other people of similar high moral
Time appeared to be less skeptical of the political viability
of an anti-meat, anti-vivisection octogenerian candidate than of his
prospect of winning Prohibitionist support. The Prohibition Party,
Time pointed out, had already nominated Los Angeles clergyman and
former minor league ballplayer Claude A. Watson, 62. Watson had
received 75,000 votes running on the Prohibition ticket in 1944.