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Animal Rights Protest


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Animal Rights Protest Essay, Research Paper

Animal Rights Protests: Is Radical Chic Still in Style? Over the past fifteen years a powerfully charged

drama has unfolded in New York’s Broadway venues and spread to the opera houses and ballet productions of major cities

across the country. Its characters include angry college students, aging rock stars, flamboyant B-movie queens, society

matrons, and sophisticated fashion designers. You can’t buy tickets for this production, but you might catch a glimpse of it

while driving in Bethesda on particular Saturday afternoons. If you’re lucky, Compassion Over Killing (COK), an animal rights

civil disobedience group, will be picketing Miller’s Furs, their enemy in the fight against fur. These impassioned activists see

the fur trade as nothing less than wholesale, commercialized murder, and will go to great lengths to get their point across.

Such enthusiasm may do them in, as COK’s often divisive rhetoric and tacit endorsement of vandalism threaten to alienate

the very people it needs to reach in order to be successful. The animal rights idealogy crystallized with the publication of

philosophy professor’s exploration of the way humans use and abuse other animals. Animal Liberation argued that animals

have an intrinsic worth in themselves and deserve to exist on their own terms, not just as means to human ends. By 1985,

ten years after Peter Singer’s watershed treatise was first published, dozens of animal rights groups had sprung up and

were starting to savor their first successes. In 1994 Paul Shapiro, then a student at Georgetown Day School, didn’t feel

these non-profits were agitating aggressively enough for the cause. He founded Compassion Over Killing to mobilize animal

rights activists in the Washington metropolitan area and “throw animal exploiters out of business.” Since then, COK has

expanded to over 300 members with chapters across the country, including one at American University, which formed in

the fall of 1996. COK organizes protests as a primary activity of the group, although some chapters may choose to expand

into other areas if they wish. COK’s focus on direct-action protests and demonstrations is just one way that the animal rights

movement has mobilized to end the fur trade. The larger animal rights organizations have conducted attention grabbing

media blitzes with the help of stars like Paul McCartney, Melissa Etheridge, Rikki Lake, Naomi Campbell and Christy

Turlington. Lobbying efforts by animal advocacy groups have resulted in trapping restrictions in numerous states and an

end to federal fur industry subsidies. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has persuaded several fashion

designers including Calvin Klein and Donna Karan to stop using fur in their clothing lines. In addition, anti-fur concerts,

videos, compact discs, t-shirts, drag revues and award ceremonies have been used by animal rights groups to advance their

cause. Each side of the conflict over fur coats has an entirely different way of conceptualizing and talking about the issue.

Animal rights groups bluntly describe fur as “dead…animal parts” and emphasize that animals are killed to produce a fur

garment. Those involved in the fur industry consistently use agricultural metaphors and talk of a yearly “crop of fur” that

must be “harvested.” Manny Miller, the owner of Miller’s Furs, refused to describe his business in terms of the individual

animals; “I don’t sell animals. I sell finished products. I sell fur coats.” These linguistic differences extend to the manner in

which both sides frame the debate over fur. COK refers to the industry in criminal terms; fur is directly equated with murder

and those involved in the industry are labeled killers. Industry groups like the Fur Information Council of America (FICA)

always describes fur garments as objects and clothing; it is “the ultimate cold weather fabric” that is “your fashion choice.”

On Saturday, April 12th, Compassion Over Killing demonstrated outside the White House, protesting the Clinton

administration’s opposition to a European Community ban on the importation of fur coats made from animals caught in the

wild. In addition, the demonstration called for the release of several Animal Liberation Front (ALF) members imprisoned for

vandalizing property and liberating animals from research labs and factory farms. Several dozen high school and college

students turned out for the event, but the protest attracted a handful of thirtysomethings and an elderly woman as well.

Most of the young people there seemed to dress in a similar style; baggy pants, piercings and t-shirts advertising obscure

“hard-core” rock bands adorned most of the activists. The organizers of the protest provided more than enough signs for

everyone to carry. Each sign had a slogan stenciled on the cardboard in boxy black letters, including “Abolish the Fur Trade,”

“Fur is Murder,” “Stop Promoting Vanity and Death,” and “Fur is Dead- Get It In Your Head.” Some of the signs displayed

graphic photographs of skinned animal carcasses. In contrast to the dramatic messages they carried, most of the activists

were subdued as they slowly trudged in a circle. The inclement weather seemed to dampen their spirits a bit, as for most of

the three hour protest it alternated between drizzle and half-hearted rain showers. The few passersby seemed intent on

getting through the rain, and quickly walked past while giving the protesters wide berth. In periods when the precipitation

was less intense, the majority of people passed by with expressions of studied indifference or disgust and seemed to have a

visceral reaction to the bloody, explicit posters. It is not necessarily bad to show people what you are against; no one in COK

likes to look at those photographs. At the same time, it’s important to try to reach people at a level where your message

can resonate. Using words like “murder” may attract attention, but it has just as much potential to turn people off. The fur

industry is trying its hardest to paint groups like COK as a radical fringe; one FICA press release said, “the more bizarre the

activists look, the better we look — and what they had outside were freaks.” COK’s choice of words might just be playing right

into the other side’s hands. Environmentalists would appear to be natural allies of animal rights groups; after all, they both

profess concern for the Earth’s varied inhabitants and passionately organize to protect other-than-human species. But while

animal advocates generally call themselves environmentalists, the reverse is not true. Jim Motavalli writes that

“environmentalists tend to see the animal movement as hysterical, shrill and ?one note.’ They’re often embarrassed by the

lab raids, the emotional picketing and the high-pitched hyperbole.” If the rhetoric of groups like COK alienates groups with a

natural affinity for animal issues, how can it change the mind of a 55 year old wealthy white woman who’s always loved the

look and feel of a fur coat? Although the White House simply stood silently in response to COK’s sidewalk activities, the

scene was quite different when Compassion Over Killing picketed Miller’s Furs in early April. Slightly less people turned out,

but the makeup of the crowd was similar to the one at the Pennsylvania Avenue protest; many of the faces were the same

at both events. However, a certain contrast was clear; this protest was targeting a finite business operation, while the

White House demonstration seemed to address the entire United States legal system as well as foreign policy. COK’s call

for the release of ALF members convicted of various felonies had an air of futility about it, as the activists claimed the right

to break all sorts of U.S. laws in the name of their cause. The Miller’s Fur protest was more of an even fight. This time the

activists seemed more powerful, as if they were in reach of their goal to close down the Bethesda fur salon. Their signs had

a few more incendiary phrases than those at the presidential protest; “Boycott Murder- Don’t Buy Fur” and “Stop the Killers

Boycott Miller’s” appeared in addition to those used at the White House protest. The activists excitedly talked about a

recent ALF action; the underground group had recently spray painted animal right slogans over Miller’s windows and

canopy. As they circled the group broke into chants directed by COK leaders, which seemed to add energy to the protester’s

message. Passing cars beeped their horns as their drivers waved in support, in contrast to the tepid response from the

pedestrian traffic at the protest downtown. However, with one or two exceptions those who passed by the fur protest on

foot in Bethesda seemed to be just as hostile as those in D.C. Some speculate that the entire concept of a fur salon picket

is faulty, that COK just angers “people when [they] say, ?don’t buy fur!’and makes them want to go and do it.” The women

that dared to cross Miller’s threshold attracted every protester’s attention, as they shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” in

unison. As one customer left the store loud voices yelled out, “That’s Disgusting!”, “Shame!”, “How’d They Get The Blood Out

Of Your Coat?” and other slogans which were drowned out by others’ hissing and boos. The effect was very much like that of

an angry mob; tension and vitriolic energy filled the air. This atmosphere may release pent up emotion, and discourage

people from buying fur in the short term, although in the long term it runs the risk of damaging the animal rights cause. A

recent survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of Americans strongly disapprove “of protesting fur coats in a

harassing manner.” Animal advocates certainly don’t need their tactics compared to radical pro-life groups that make

abortion clinics warzones. As all the activity unfolded outside their door Miller’s Furs taped a small sign to their window that

read “Medical Research Saves Lives.” This seemed off-topic at first glance, but after visiting the FICA web site and reading

other pro-fur literature, it was apparent that the sign was part of a pattern. The fur industry initially ignored criticism from

animal rights groups and relied on their product’s glamorous image to state their case. As the column inches devoted to

the animal rights movement’s allegations of cruelty began to accumulate and sales began to drop; the industry’s strategy

shifted. Fur companies began to try to draw attention away from themselves by pointing out the most controversial parts of

the animal rights agenda to the mainstream society. Arguably the animal rights issue with the least amount of public

support is medical animal testing. Although this topic divides the animal rights community, many of the movement’s leaders

favor total abolition of any testing on animals. The fur industry is only too happy to point this out to anyone who’ll listen.

Compassion Over Killing and other animal rights groups are actively trying to change the social “rules” that prevail in this

country. While in the short term they may not be advocating a ban on fur coats, COK’s protests are aimed at making it

socially unacceptable to wear fur. This effort has shown signs of succeeding, as fur sales have fallen almost 50% below their

peak volume in 1987. However, they have begun to creep upwards again in recent quarters. As with every social movement,

animal advocacy groups need to pause and reevaluate their public relations strategies. Perhaps it’s time for organizations

like Compassion Over Killing to cut back on their use of emotionally charged phrases and tacit endorsement of felonious

acts a la ALF. Without considering these issues, COK runs the risk of marginalizing the group and losing its battle against

fur. Works Cited Cowit, Steve. “Hollywood Hypocrites.” Fur Age 04/06/97 11:35:32. Feitelberg, Rosemary. “Surge in Luxe

Business, Designer Participation Bode Well for Fur Week.” Women’s Wear Daily 14 May 1996: 1+. “Freak Show Protest

Falls on Deaf Ears.” Fur Age http://www.furs.com/FUR/FurAge76.html> 04/06/97 11:41:16. Fur Information Council of

America. “Fur, Your Fashion Choice.” Motavalli, Jim. “Our Agony Over Animals.” E Magazine Oct 1995: 28-37. People For the

Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Annual Report.” 1994. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “The PETA Guide to

Animals and the Clothing Trade.” Responsive Management. “Americans’ Attitudes Toward Animal Welfare, Animal Rights

and Use of Animals.” Riechmann, Deb. “A Harvest of Fox Fur And Anger.” Washington Post 5 Jan 1995: M2. Shapiro, Paul.

“An Interview With the Owner of Miller’s Furs.” The Abolitionist Summer 1996: 3-4. Shapiro, Paul. Personal Communication.

Bethesda, MD. 5 April 1997. Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics For Our Treatment of Animals New York: Avon,

1975. Stern, Jared Paul. “Are You Fur Real?” Fashion Reporter June/July 1996: 5-6. — “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be

part of your revolution.” -Emma Goldman

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