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Electing for Animals

Every four years, presidential elections offer an unparalleled opportunity to introduce animal rights to our nation’s power brokers and the media. The process starts with the early primaries and culminates at the national political conventions. Our upcoming election offers an opportune time frame to recount our own past efforts.

How It All Began

In November of 1980, former California governor Ronald Reagan swept 49 states with the largest number of electoral votes in American history. Two years later, Democratic leaders scheduled an unusual midterm convention at Philadelphia’s Convention Center to figure out what went wrong and how they could do better.

In 1981, we at FARM were still reeling from the aftermath of arranging our first animal rights conference, nurturing high ambitions for presenting our case to the American public. The 1982 Democratic convention seemed like the right forum, and Philadelphia was only three hours away.

We booked a function room right next to the convention center, publicized our evening reception throughout the convention, and prepared attractive handouts and a delightful vegan spread. Then we waited and waited for the delegates to show up.

Eventually, he did – a vegan labor union leader who patiently explained that all the delegates were being bussed to their hotels in a “safe” part of town. He advised us to pack up and take our handouts to the receptions at those hotels. He also became a valued mentor for our future ventures into America’s political process.

Accessing the Conventions

In the following two decades, our Compassion Campaign visited a half dozen national political conventions, which culminate every presidential election process. These events offer an unparalleled opportunity to present the case for animal rights to America’s power brokers and the media that cover them.

A typical convention would be held for four days in a metropolitan convention center surrounded by a temporary fence defining an outer perimeter. A remote corner of the outer perimeter would have a “free speech” area, where people could advocate out of sight of the delegates and the media – obviously, not an acceptable solution.

We needed access to the actual convention center, which housed the massive evening sessions for thousands of delegates, some smaller daytime sessions, and hundreds of news organizations in the basement. That access required delegate, media, or other special credentials. Obtaining two such credentials called for advance planning and some ingenuity. With two credentials, we could then smuggle in the rest of our team, one at a time.

During the day, we would raise our issues at appropriate daytime sessions, or just leaflet inside the convention center. We would look up the name of the chief of security, so we could drop his name whenever questioned. That worked, until we were challenged by the actual chief of security.

What Goes Up…

Each evening we would attend the massive evening session, with thousands of delegates, but only in the remote, unlit upper tiers, where no one would see the signs we had carefully wrapped around our bodies to get them past security.  Some of the times, we were able to work our way down briefly to display our signs in the brightly lit delegate sections, where they could be seen by TV cameras.

But tight security at the 1996 Republican convention in San Diego would not allow that.  As I was sitting in the upper unlit section, I noticed the thousands of balloons up in the rafters waiting to be released on the last day upon conclusion of Bob Dole’s acceptance speech. It occurred to me that balloons are supposed to go up – not come down. And that provided a solution to our sign visibility problem.

Our signs would have to be large enough to be seen from far away, yet light enough to be supported by a couple of toy balloons. We spent the next morning experimenting in our hotel room.

Only one of our two sets of balloons made it past security that evening, along with the sign hidden under our jacket. But that sign, proclaiming “Republicans for Animal Rights,” floated bravely up to the rafters, where it could be seen by thousands.

Getting Media Attention

A national political convention would draw 5,000 delegates, but three times as many media representatives. They were all under considerable pressure to file news stories in a setting that does not generate much news. Their little cubicles in the basement of the convention center would welcome news releases and an occasional interview.

In order to be considered seriously, our news release had to fit within the media’s current mindset. The concept of animal rights did not, but health and environmental consequences of animal agriculture did. So did opposition to animal cruelty and agricultural subsidies. Then it was just a matter of finding an appropriate hook like mention of the topic in one of the many convention events.

Each evening, we would review the day’s events and start writing. The following morning, we would distribute pertinent news releases to the hundreds of news media cubicles.

And There Was More…

One year, we decided to go visit Iowa and New Hampshire during their early primaries. Here, the events were less well attended, and presidential candidates and covering media were relatively more accessible to our message.

At the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, we recruited TV celebrity Casey Kasem to address visitors at the “free speech” zone. At this same memorable event, a couple of high party donors allowed us to reach a number of top media and Democratic power brokers in person by giving us their passes to the evening’s VIP receptions.

Former California governor Jerry Brown led a large delegation to the 1992 National Democratic Convention in New York, including our labor union friend from the 1982 event in Philadelphia. With his assistance, we came very close to getting an animal rights plank in the Democratic platform. At the evening session, he and his fellow delegates did a conga dance holding up our animal rights signs on the very floor of the convention, for the most spectacular TV exposure in our political convention experience.

The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement

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17 thoughts on “Latest Post”

  1. Incredible what you experienced over your lifetime. A true survivor and someone who has dedicated a lifetime to saving lives. I’m going to subscribe to your blog.

  2. Thank you so much for this. Very wise words that must be spread and shared. Many people will not want to hear these words because they don’t want to think of themselves as bad people but the animals depend on us to share.

    1. I don’t think anyone but a survivor could openly own and say this, without being totally shamed by so many, because it sounds disrespectful, but I totally agree,I’ve used those rotten comparisons in my mind,and you sir have the ultimate right to shout that out. My respect for you sir, immense. Thank you for your compassion for the defenceless.

  3. Dr Hershaft is one of the very few who can refer to the Holocaust when referring to animal rights. To the best of my knowledge PETA previously drew comparison and it caused controversy.


      I am very happy to meet you, even if it’s on the computer. I have thought for many years that in order for there to be peace in the world, we have to stop killing and eating animals. We have to start with the animals and work our way along our paths to people. It’s horrible what we do to animals not even giving the smallest thought to the suffering we are causing them. I am not without guilt in this area as I ate animal flesh for the first forty years of my life until I met my husband to be who was a vegetarian. Now we are both vegetarians, but we do eat frozen yogurt and ice cream causing suffering to cows. I am now pledging to become a vegan and hope I will have the willpower to stay a vegan. Since I am now 83 years old, I will have to begin again doing some cooking as vegan food, I’ve found, is difficult to find. So I said to myself, this is too hard. So wish me well that I can stick to a vegan diet.

  4. Carla Sofia Salas

    THANK YOU só much for speak for animals and for show to the world the meaning of what they eat, and that a steak in your dish is more than a piece.of meat and potatoes! It’s a dead body part of a living being who had a cruelty life and a brutally dead!
    We are what we eat!

  5. Hi.
    What you quoted as similar between Holocaust and animal slaughter, stems from both been brought to us by same people. Modern “farming ” and slaughter comes from Germany and was brought to the States by Germans who went to live there. Four years after Neuremburg, all the scientists sentenced to death were freed and brought to America. They became CEOs in all the mayor companies, including pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.

    However, how can you compare what is done to animals, though wrong, to the Holocaust? By doing so you disgrace your parents’ memory, which is up to you, but also that of all the others who were murdered. It cheapens the Holocaust and is especially insulting because you mention your parents died there. I really don’t think it helps the cause either.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Nicole.
      The Holocaust and killing animals for food are two manifestations of the common capacity of otherwise normal people for committing unspeakable acts. The victims are not comparable, because we relate to them differently, but the oppressive mindsets, sanctioned by prevailing social norms, are amazingly similar.

      Please don’t presume how I should deal with my parents’ memory.

  6. Thank you Dr Hershaft for this very moving informative piece, I have read it twice so far. I agree that animals must think of us as Nazis but I think not all animals because some animals are in sanctuaries but unfortunately very few compared to the many billions of land animals murdered unnecessarily for food every year and trillions of sea life. I became a vegetarian in 1979 merging into veganism by 1999. In 1981 I went to the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on a 2 week trip to Israel with my husband & his parents, some of what I saw at that museum is still in my mind now. Some years later we visited the Holocaust Jewish Museum in Sydney & later still I became a member of the museum. Thank you again Dr Hershaft.

  7. Thank you so much, Dr. Hershaft, for your words and thoughts and for sharing them with us. You show us how similar the victims were/are tortured and killed, and you can do this, because you know what you are talking about. Though the victims are different, the methods of torment are more equal than different. We have to stop the wars against other beings, any war against any being. It is not humanlike and we can do it better. The first step is very easy: GO VEGAN (and talk about it)! Best wishes from Germany and stay healthy.

  8. Thank you, Alex, for your heartfelt expression of what I have known for at least 30 years. Your beautiful testimonial underscores why I became a vegan over 26 years ago while in college (27 as of New Year’s Day 2021). As a Reform Jew who experienced ample anti-Semitism throughout my formative years, I can’t stand to see anyone subject to bigotry of any kind. I have no tolerance for moral hypocrisy that segregates non-humans from our moral sphere simply based on their different species, as if we should only respect the dignity of humans, and all other beings are legitimately exploitable for any purpose. I believe Tikkun Olam, the Jewish principle that advocates “healing the world” by definition must include veganism as a moral imperative. The notion of intersectionality also must include non-human beings in our moral community, lest we undermine the values we claim to uphold. As an agnostic Jew, I prioritize moral consistency over superstition. I don’t celebrate Jewish holidays or attend synagogue for Shabbat as I did when I was younger, though I had a Bar-Mitzvah and Confirmation, but I cannot accept any self-described Jew who consumes non-humans, has no qualms about vivisection and other myriad abominations against non-humans so ubiquitous in our daily lives as being consistent with Jewish values. Mohandas Gandhi advised us to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “No one is free when others are oppressed.” I am personally offended by anyone, especially Jews, who proclaim that comparing non-human animal exploitation to the Nazi Holocaust “cheapens the memory” of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Third Reich. This is patently hypocritical and willfully ignorant, particularly when most of us know firsthand what bigotry feels like. This is exactly why I rebel against all true bigotry, regardless of who the subjects of such discrimination happen to be.

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