At what point does a vision induce people to act on it? At what point do individual actions become a movement? And, what is the role of publications, conferences, trigger events, and public perception? Let’s take a look at our own history.
The original notion that animals should be endowed with their own rights, precluding their human exploitation, was introduced by British social reformer Henry Salt in 1892. In 1965, the concept was resurrected as an extension of recent advances in human rights by another British social reformer, Brigid Brophy, in an editorial in the London Sunday Times.
In the early 1970s, a group at Oxford University became intrigued by Brophy’s editorial. They coined the term “speciesism,” to denote a prejudice based on morally irrelevant physical differences. They compiled 13 essays on the intriguing new concept in the book Animals, Men & Morals.
One of the Oxford group, Australian philosopher Peter Singer, published a review of Animals, Men & Morals in the prestigious New York Review of Books and was invited to teach a course on animal rights at New York University. In 1975, Singer turned the lesson plan he developed for the course into his celebrated book – Animal Liberation.
The concept of animal rights, as we understand it today – that all sentient beings are entitled to equal moral consideration – was introduced in extensive detail by Tom Regan’s 1983 book The Case for Animal Rights. Many other writers have contributed to expanding the concept and its consequences since then.
The Founding Actions
Some actions have played a pivotal role in our movement’s founding by inspiring us or by enhancing the public perception of our vision.
One of Singer’s students at New York University was Henry Spira a merchant marine seaman, union organizer, and civil rights activist. In 1977, Henry led a small band of local activists to shut down outrageous cat blinding experiments at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. By 1981, his Coalition to Stop Rabbit Blinding Tests prevailed on major cosmetic companies to develop animal-free alternatives to these cruel practices.
Henry’s accomplishments, with no formal organization and little funding, inspired a generation of grassroots activists. His successful record of standing up to major corporations transformed animal rights from a philosophical concept to a force to be reckoned with.
In 1980, Alex Pacheco, a student at Washington’s George Washington University launched a small student group which he named People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). The following year, he signed up as a volunteer intern at the Institute for Biomedical Research in suburban Washington, so he could document the institute’s grisly experiments on macaque monkeys.
The documentation he collected resulted in the first ever criminal conviction of an U.S. animal experimenter for cruelty to animals. The associated publicity for what came to be known as the case of the Silver Spring Monkeys became our movement’s “trigger event.” Almost overnight, it transformed PeTA into a national organization and implanted the animal rights concept in the national consciousness.
The Formative Actions
Although not instrumental in the founding process, several actions that followed became very influential in consolidating and forming our movement.
The NIH Sit-In. In 1984, PeTA released Unnecessary Fuss, a 30-minute documentary on cruel head bashing experiments on baboons at the University of Pennsylvania. During the following year, PeTA conducted an intensive lobbying and media campaign to shut down these experiments, but to no avail.
On the morning of July 15th, 1985, one hundred of our movement’s top leaders and activists, under PeTA’s guidance, took over the National Institutes of Health offices responsible for funding the head bashing experiments. We were there for four days, until Secretary of Health and Human Services announced that she was suspending funding of the experiments.
The Hegins Pigeon Shoot. Each Labor Day since 1934, the little town of Hegins, 40 miles northeast of Harrisburg, PA, held a pigeon shoot attended by hundreds of paying spectators, including entire families. Typically, some 5,000 pigeons would be released from traps in seven killing fields and used as target practice by designated shooters.
In 1986, a local animal rights group called on our entire movement to get involved. Each year several hundred animal protesters would show up, peaking at 1500 in 1992. With tempers flaring and lots of beer on tap, insults and physical skirmishes became routine. Finally, in 1999, following protracted public relations campaigns and legal battles by The Fund For Animals, shoot organizers decided to cancel the event in perpetuity.
The March On Washington on June 10th 1990 was definitely our movement’s largest action, with an estimated 25,000 participants from nearly every animal organization. The action was organized by the National Alliance For Animals, led by former FARM employee Peter Gerard. A second attempt six years later did not turn out as well, and Peter left the movement.
Another key marker of a movement are its periodicals, and we have had some fine ones. With the growing availability of animal rights and vegan information online, most of the periodicals have now ceased publication, or gone online.
The Animals’ Agenda was a bimonthly news and commentary magazine co-founded in 1979 by Doug Moss and Jim Mason. It had an array of talented editors, including Patrice Greanville, Kirsten Rosenberg, Merritt Clifton, Kim Bartlett, and Kim Stallwood. It stopped publication in 2002.
Satya was a monthly magazine featuring essays related to animal rights and veganism. It was co-founded by Beth Gould and Martin Rowe in 1994 and folded in 2007.
The Animals Voice is an online publication for helping animals and activists. It features the latest news, investigations, editorials, and stunning photography. It was founded in 1986 and is still edited by Laura Moretti.
The only major vegan-oriented magazine currently in print is VegNews, a colorful bimonthly magazine co-founded in 2000 by Joseph Connelly and Colleen Holland and still edited by Colleen. It prints 80,000 copies, with half sold in newsstands, and may be viewed on-line.
A number of animal organizations still publish a quarterly print magazine about their work.
The ultimate vehicle for forging a movement are the conferences, where people of similar persuasion can gather to learn, consult, train, and inspire one another.
The very first conference focusing in part on animal rights actually predates the founding of our movement. It was the 1975 World Vegetarian Congress held in Orono, ME, in August of 1975. The Congress basically launched the U.S. vegetarian movement, which would provide the ground troops to carry the torch of animal liberation for six years later.
Indeed, in August of 1981, we held the founding conference of the animal rights movement in Allentown, PA. That led immediately to the formation or breakout of PeTA, Farm Animal Rights Movement, and eventually, to a number of other organizations.
We will expand on the role of conferences in the growth
of our movement in a future essay.
The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement