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What Has Brought Us Together

The basic elements of a movement are vision, campaigns, publications, and conferences. How did those elements play out in forming, shaping, and nurturing our own animal rights movement? What do they portend for our future? Let’s take a look.

The Vision

The original vision of animals being 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 British social reformer Brigid Brophy, in an editorial in the London Sunday Times.

In 1975, Australian philosopher Peter Singer introduced the importance of considering animal suffering to the American academic community in his seminal book Animal Liberation. Today’s concept of animal rights – that all sentient beings are entitled to equal moral consideration – was presented 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 implications since then.

Our Founding Campaigns

Founding campaigns are those that 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. 

In 1980, Alex Pacheco launched a small student group at George Washington University, named People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). The following year, he documented grisly experiments conducted by a local lab on macaque monkeys, leading to the first ever criminal conviction of a U.S. animal experimenter. The associated publicity transformed PeTA into a national organization and implanted the animal rights concept in the national consciousness.

In the summer of 1981, FARM brought together a couple hundred vegetarian and animal rights activists to a conference in Allentown (PA) that became the launch pad of the animal rights movement.

In the two years that followed, Ohio child welfare worker and social justice activist Richard Morgan formed a coalition of 80 groups and recruited thousands of participants for massive antivivisection rallies at the Boston, Davis (CA), Madison, and Yerkes (GA), national primate research centers, as well as in New York and Washington, DC. Our movement remained focused squarely on vivisection till the mid-1990s.

Our Formative Campaigns

Several campaigns that followed became very influential in forming, shaping, and consolidating our movement.

The NIH Sit-In. On the morning of July 15th 1985, PeTA recruited one hundred of our movement’s top leaders and activists to take over the National Institutes of Health offices responsible for funding baboon head bashing experiments at the University of Pennsylvania. We stayed there for four days, until Secretary of Health and Human Services suspended funding of the experiments.

The March On Washington on June 10th 1990 was definitely our movement’s largest event, with an estimated 25,000 participants. The action was organized by the National Alliance For Animals. A second attempt six years later did not turn out as well.

The Hegins Pigeon Shoot. Each Labor Day since 1934, the little town of Hegins (PA) held a pigeon shoot attended by hundreds of paying spectators. Beginning in 1986, hundreds of animal protesters would show up each year, peaking at 1500 in 1992. Following years of protracted physical, legal, and public relations battles, the shoot was canceled in 1999.

Our Publications

Our movement has enjoyed several print publications in the past, including The Animals’ Agenda (1972-2002), Satya (1994-2007), and The Animals Voice (1986 – still publishing online). VegNews, a colorful bimonthly magazine co-founded in 2000 is still in print, with 80,000 copies and a large online readership. Some animal organizations still publish a quarterly print magazine about their work.

With the rapid rise of social media and the attendant shrinking attention span, long articles have been pretty much replaced by podcasts and blogs, Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, and Tweets, as a means of communicating within our movement. Unfortunately, that has led to some loss of content, judgment, and accountability.

Our Conferences

Conferences have proven to be highly effective in offering activist training, inspiration, and networking opportunities. Since the beginning of this century, they have become the only movement-wide events.

The very first conference leading to the formation of the animal rights movement was the 1975 World Vegetarian Congress held in Orono (ME). The Congress launched the U.S. vegetarian movement, and provided the ground troops for the animal rights movement six years later.

Indeed, in August of 1981, we organized Action For Life, the founding conference of the animal rights movement in Allentown (PA). That led to the formation or breakout of PeTA, Farm Animal Rights Movement, and several other organizations. The Action For Life conferences continued for six more years in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and Montclair (NJ).

By 1987, a legislative training seminar offered by The National Alliance for Animal Legislation had grown in size and scope to become a full-fledged annual conference that eclipsed our Action For Life events, so we stopped for the next decade.

However, following the 1996 conference, our movement became highly abusive to the conference organizers leading them to quit and disappear from sight.

The Animal Rights National Conference Is Born

It occurred to us that cancellation of the national conference, at that early stage of our development, could have a disastrous impact on our movement’s morale. So, we took up the challenge and organized a 1997 conference in suburban Washington (DC), fully expecting that other organizations would step in in 1998 and 1999… But no one did.

Then, 2K happened. All computers were supposed to stop working at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999. Prophecies ranged from the second coming to impending apocalypse. People were planning all kinds of strange things. But no one had planned to do an animal rights conference. So, we did it again. And kept doing it, until now.

The AR Conference has led a storied life.

At a 2002 plenary session, the MC referred to a female speaker’s “great shape,” leading a dozen attendees to mount the stage in protest. In 2003 and several subsequent years, other animal advocates attempted to borrow conference attendees for conflicting presentations or outside events. One year, a small group of outside animal activists actually disrupted a plenary session and damaged some exhibits, because they did not like our program.

In a 2003 fit of madness, we arranged two conferences one month apart, in Washington and Los Angeles to determine whether the West Coast would be receptive. Both events proved highly successful, leading us to alternate between the two cities in subsequent years.

In 2004, The Humane Society of the U.S. led a permanent exodus by five major sponsors to protest a couple of our more radical speakers. They organized their own biennial conference called Taking Action For Animals, no longer active. PeTA withdrew sponsorship for a decade because attendees criticized their deadly dog and cat policies.

This year’s switch to a COVID-mandated virtual format may become a harbinger of things to come. Our society is becoming increasingly dependent on electronic communication, leading to loss of personal contact and the associated civility. Our movement may well reflect this troublesome social change.

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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43 thoughts on “Latest Post”

  1. Amazing post. Some people are shocked at the comparison between the Holocaust and what humans do to animals, but this is just speciesism. They feel that comparing human and animal suffering somehow discredits or diminishes human suffering, because they believe animals are lower than humans. Thank you Alex Herscaft for making this important point and hopefully the no vegan majority will see the truth soon. Peace and Love

    1. I’ve always believed that animals are higher than humans not lower. They seem to be more evolved than we are. Compassionate loving and only by necessity… not for monetary gains or ego. As you all know! I don’t kill bugs either 🙂

  2. Thank you. I often reference the holocaust in my animal activism and now here are your world changing words to back me up. Thank you thank you. Blessings.

  3. Dear Alex,

    I am moved and humbled by your experience as a young child and the journey it has taken you on. I am finding it hard to put in to words my gratitude that you have been able to find a positive trajectory for the suffering, pain and loss of life among your loved ones, not to mention countless others.

    I am only months in to living a more compassionate life. Vegan eating has been an easy conversion for me and my only regret is having not done it sooner. I have often been saddened by peoples’ lack of empathy towards fellow humans and found it hard as a child to understand racism. Little did I know I was implicitly being taught that oppression (in its’ many forms) was ok. I guess it has never sat well with me, but until only recently the connection between eating animals, animal cruelty and our oppression of people, has eluded me.

    Thank you for giving voice to such a big topic and sharing your experience. I look forward to reading more from you.

    Sincerely, Cyntra

  4. I was never in a camp. But I recognized oppression, and resolved to stop eating meat many years ago. Interestingly enough my own mother tried to guilt me about my decision. And she was raised on a farm.
    So thank you. I firmly believe that you cannot say you love animals and continue to eat meat…it’s more appropriate to say you love certain animals and hate the rest.
    And if you eat meat, you are harming the climate. That’s a proven fact. So thank you sir for your convictions. They are entirely correct.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have been a vegetarian since I was a child and a vegan for ten years.
    It is so refreshing to read that others see how this evil, everyday like slaughter, slavery and torture is acceptable if someone else does it for you

  6. Thank you very much for this website, for this clear message.
    I am from Slovakia, and I woul like to make translations of your blog posts, so people, who do not speak English, can read your important thoughts, if it is ok with you.
    I never heard thoughts about our beloved animal toys in our childhood opposing the teaching, that animals are food. I is very strong image of our internal incoherency.
    Thank you. I is honor to read your kind words!

  7. It’s awesome to become acquainted with a four-decade Vegan. I will keenly anticipate your periodic sharing of wisdom and advice

  8. Thank you. Sir for your incredible insight…
    World must start to understand that
    Savagery is. Savagery… no matter the species 🙏

  9. This Text was verry emotional and show the same Violence to animals in high level how the Violence to jewish people before many years ago. Changes was only the Spezies,the cruelty ist the same and so unnessesary!!! Love all beeings is our learning Prozess! I fight for every Animal!💪💪💪✌️I’m a vegan.❣️

  10. Thank you very, very much for calling on your family’s tragic experience, and that suffered by so many others, to advocate for fairness and compassion for all sentient beings. When will the world learn? “Peace on Earth, goodwill towards ALL.”

  11. This was the first time I heard of you. I’m already vegan , 3 years only unfortunately.
    I wish you can reach more and more people , your words are so powerful. I wish you health and happiness and that many people will hear you out

  12. Alex, I’m so grateful that you are still so active in fighting for the animals! Keep it up as there is still too much work to do. We are fighting against our own government which subsidizes the animal industry!

  13. Dear Alex, dear, dear man! I have for many years referred to the killing of these precious beings we share our Earth with as another holocaust! It has always saddened & sickened me. I am forever grateful for the work you do to try and bring awareness, awakening to the human species about what is REALLY going on!!! There are many times I cannot even leave my home for fear of what I might see! I pray and oh I do so hope one day this horrifically heinous treatment of these beloved beings, the innocents indeed will end! …. Thank you!

  14. This is a great reminder of how far we have come. Sometimes it seems as if we have stalled and that there is no way to reach the 8 billion people on this planet.

    But comparing the progress over the past four decades does reveal a real move forward. I can remember the day when wanting a veggie burger meant boiling lentils or soaking beans to start with!

  15. Thank you for this stunning, informative perspective that most people never consider. After going vegan in July 2014 I had a gut-punch realization that we do not live in a civilized society. The atrocities against nonhuman sentient beings remains hidden, justified with baseless rationalizations, or dismissed. The comparison to the holocaust has been controversial mostly because of this indoctrinated, false belief of human superiority. Equally tragic is the suffering people cause each other.

  16. Hello Alex,

    Our movement of the last few years has had a lot of infighting, dealing mostly with tactic, effectiveness, funding, pc culture and #ARmetoo (or intersectional veganism vs not). I know these are big questions, but I was mostly wondering where you stand in all this.

    Specifically, with the #MeToo and intersectional veganism. Is there room for this in the movement or should everything just be focused on the animals? I feel we are missing goals here and forgetting the animals, but also I am conflicted because I do see how things are connected and that we can’t just look past it. Is it everything and anything for animal liberation, or is it a larger more interconnected fight and where do we start? What if someone is accused of sexual misconduct in the movement? Do we support trans rights? Farm workers? There just seems to be a lot and I’m fairly new to all this.

    I know this is a lot, and maybe a future blog article? But I’m curious your views on this.

  17. 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.

  18. 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. Thank you for all your throught-out informed beneficial points. Indeed you have touched upon many that I have been saying for years, being an ARA about 2 decades and Animal lover/rescuer from childhood. I’m the daughter of WWII Holocaust survivors and recognize 100% the parallel of the Animal Holocaust. At my demos I’ve advocated for communication via love and tolerance, in order to build a bridge of communication instead of a wall of defense. Aka NVC (Non-Violent Communication) and the importance of early education to counter the indoctrination via the ‘not yet vegan’ homelife and community. All you have mentioned shall be indeed beneficial. 🌟🕊💖🌱🌸✌🌷Thank You
      Mitzi Ocean global coordinator of the International Anti Fur Coalition (IAFC)

    2. It’s an honour to follow someone who proves what I’ve been saying for, what feels like, ever. Much respect and admiration to you sir.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. Taking ethics “off the table” directly undermines the message of veganism and animal rights, which is that what humans are doing to other animals is a form of radical evil–not merely wrong, but terribly, unspeakably wrong. “Taking ethics off the table” sends the message to the public that it is acceptable to make light of, to obscure, to trivialize animal suffering and trauma. See:

  25. I have to disagree with you this one time. The last medical school to use animals for teaching, Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga, finally moved into the 21st century and stopped using animals in 2016.
    As a side note, when I was confronted with this barbaric practice (AKA “The Dog Lab”) in medical school, I refused to participate on moral and ethical grounds. The head of the Physiology Department pointed out that shoes and belts were leather. When I showed him that I was wearing synthetic shoes and a web belt, and explained that I had stopped using animal products to the extent practicable twenty years earlier, he accepted my refusal. Things can change, on an individual, and institutional level. Thank you for your good work, helping to make the world a better, safer place for all sentient beings.

  26. Mrs Julie Gaudry

    Hello, yes Thankyou so very much. This write up truly amazing. Yes, all killing must be halted. For true peace to ever achieve, On this earth, and people do justifiy ,that they are above the animals. That the animals, are for them. For all, they want. I am a good person vegetarian. Perhaps to more and more, reachvegan. ? I wear my animal Justice tShirt. And peta necklace, the sheer hate? I have always believed ,animals are way above us. Before I die, The hope this will finally, be stopped? To my animal, friends all. God Bless all. And esp the animals. Sincerely, Julie Gaudry

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