the Animal Rights Movement: The Satya Interview with
By Patrick Kwan
Kim Stallwood is a long-time animal activist.
He is Editor-in-Chief of The Animals Agenda and Executive Director
of the nonprofit that publishes it, The Animal Rights Network. He is
the editor of Speaking Out for Animals: True Stories about Real
People who Rescue Animals (Lantern, 2001), a collection of articles
and columns from the magazine that talk about animal issues through
the eyes of activists and the stories of rescued animals. Works in progress
include two more anthologies, the second of which, The Animal Rights
Primer, along with a directory of animal organizations, will be
published by Lantern next summer. Stallwood is also working with
on another anthologyComing Out for Animalswhich
will explore the relationship between animal liberation and gay and
Satya invited a seasoned young activist,
Patrick Kwan, to ask Kim Stallwood about his 25 years of animal activism.
Here, Kwan and Stallwood discuss the history of animal rights, the role
of the media and hopes for the future.
First, a pretty standard question: How
did you first get started in animal rights?
In 1973, when I was a student in London, I got a summer job working
in a chicken processing plant because I needed the moneyI worked
in the post-slaughter bit, never in the slaughter bit. When I returned
to college, I was friendly with a vegetarian and she and I argued from
September until December. The result was that in the beginning of 74,
I decided to become a vegetarian. In 75, I watched a program produced
by The Vegan Society, and I decided to go vegan the next year. After
I left college I wandered around doing various things; ultimately the
opportunity became available to work for Compassion In World Farming
(CIWF) in October of 76.
Was CIWF as involved in politics when
you were there as they are now?
When I went there, it was a very small organization and was not involved
in politics. In 75, a campaign was initiated by a coalition of
animal groups to mark the centennial of the 1876 Cruelty to Animals
Act. This was the legislation that was used to regulate the way animals
are, or were, experimented on in the UK. And because the act was so
old and so out of date a bunch of groups, including CIWF, organized
what was known as Animal Welfare Year1976. This campaign gave
birth to the effort Putting Animals Into Politics, the subsequent coalition
effort of which CIWF was a member. The purpose of that was to place
animals within the mainstream political arena. Up until that time, animal
issues or animal rightswhatever you want to call itwas never
viewed as a political issue, it was always viewed as an emotional or
educational issue and this was a groundbreaking effort. We chose to
get involved in politics during that period of time and subsequent to
that, CIWF has always been involved in political efforts.
What was the British Union for the
Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) like when you went to work for them
after you left CIWF?
In the 70s, it was very inactive, but it was quite active in the
50s and 60s. It doesnt compare to what we now know
as animal rights activism, but in their own time they were active and
did demonstrations, campaigns and public education efforts. But as the
leadership had grown old, the organization had grown old with them.
At the time, there was a growing movement of what was called The
Young Turks, of which I was a leading member, to change the leadership
of the organization to make it more contemporary. After a bitter struggle
between the Old Guard of BUAV and the Young Turks
of the animal rights movement, we ultimately won control by filling
our own slate of candidates to the Board of Directors in 1981.
Thats the year I was born.
Is it really? That is so frightening. So in the beginning of 1981, there
was a new leadership at BUAV; and my job was to organize campaigns and
demonstrations and continue to put the issue of antivivisection in the
mainstream political arena. I was with BUAV from 78 until 86.
What led you to move to the United
States and to The Animals Agenda?
I had visited the U.S. throughout the 1980s, and moved here in 1987
to be the first Executive Director of People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals; I left them in 1992. The position of Editor-in-Chief of
The Animals Agenda became available in 93 and I have
been there ever since. Whats worth noting is that I was in correspondence
with the founders of the magazinewhich was then known as Agendaparticularly
with Jim Mason, whom I met when he was researching his book Animal Factories.
Through correspondence we exchanged information about what was developing
in the UK and the U.S.; and we felt a need to involve more people in
that exchange. He launched Agenda and I was involved with the Coordinating
Animal Welfare Bulletin. Both were cataloguing what was going on in
the very young animal rights movement in the 1980s. So when the position
at The Animals Agenda became available, I was coming to work for
an organization that I in a way helped bring about.
Did you have a hard time adjusting
from being an organizer to becoming an editor of a publication?
It is significantly different. I am also the Executive Director of The
Animal Rights Network, which publishes The Animals Agenda.
So, I wear two hats: I manage and develop the organization and I oversee
the editorial direction of the magazine. There is significant difference
between a director of an organization and a magazine. For example, what
is nice about producing a magazine is that you produce a finite thing
every two months. Whereas directing an organization, much of the work
kind of flies from one thing to another. With a magazine, you see something
being accomplished and theres something satisfying about that.
What is it like to be the Editor-in-Chief
of The Animals Agenda?
This position comes with quite a lot of responsibility. We are historically
the movements media, the Time or Newsweek of animal rights. So
we take very seriously that our job is to record what goes on and publish
responsibly and choose articles that comment and critique on the movement.
Is there some sort of philosophy behind
the layout of the magazine?
Yes there is. We work with designers to lay out the magazine in a very
specific format. We have to be very mindful of cost, so we only use
color on the cover. The contents are packaged in units of pages so that
people can copy them easily. We do have a policy of copyrighting the
magazine, but we really dont mind people copying articles. The
positive news is packaged as Making A Difference, other
news is in the Bulletin Board. We work very closely with
the writers of the articles. We also adhere very strictly to a policy
of not getting involved in any disputes among organizations or individuals.
Does the magazine receive much criticism
for this policy? Some may say that an independent media outlet should
publish all opinions and dissent.
We have had some, but not a lot of criticism. Far more people speak
out in support of it. We do try to address issues of controversy but
we do not frame these discussions where its one group attacking
another. I think there is always going to be a small number of organizations
that are led by individuals who are difficult and problematic and who
infuse their organizations with their persona. I think it is unfortunate
that many of the hot button issues are fueled by peoples personalities
and their own aspects rather than by the issues themselves.
How do you think the opinions expressed
in The Animals Agenda affect the movement as a whole?
Its difficult for me to assess quite frankly. We know that the
magazine is read, we get feedback and people are very quick to tell
us if they dont like something. I think the magazine influences
a small but important group of movers and shakers, but I dont
think it is as widely read or known as it should be. The greatest source
of new readers is from door-to-door subscription sales. We also go to
1,500 schools and libraries, but Id like to see the magazine far
more influential than it is. I also would like to see programs develop
which augment the impact that we haveconferences for example.
And we are building a very large library archive which is collecting
our history. So, there is still a lot of work that we have to do.
In an essay published in 1996 called
Utopian Visions and Pragmatic Politics in Robert Garners
Animal Rights: The Changing Debate, you wrote about how the mainstream
media offers a very narrow perspective on the struggle for animal rights
and about the value of alternative media like The Animals Agenda
and E Magazine. Can you talk a little about this?
I think that is a very important point that is not fully understood
by a lot of animal activists. Mainstream media has a job to fill column
inches and minutes of airtime. We have the same duty as we produce the
magazine. But with the mainstream press, they have a different approach
with an issue like animal rights, which is on the fringe and difficult
for people to grasp. Unfortunately the issue of animal abuse and exploitation
does not merit justification for coverage in the mainstream medias
eye. So those who are concerned about animals and want to get attention,
are in a way forced to do things or behave in a way that will get the
mainstream medias attention. And I think this is a dilemma that
a lot of social justice movements have to deal with. So in part, this
gives rise to direct action, the more confrontational aspect of animal
activism, the development of stunts and celebrities. In particular,
I think PETA entered into an unstated pact with the mainstream media;
we learned that if we provided the media with what they want, they will
report on the issues.
It is unfortunate that the majority
of the coverage I have seen of PETA goes into the Entertainment section
or Page Six of the New York Post.
I think that is what it has become and that wasnt the intent on
PETAs part. We went from having very little media to a lot of
media when we learned how to play the medias game and give them
what they wanted. The plus of that is that it gave animal issues coverage.
The negative is that it has subsequently ghettoized the issue in a way
that doesnt really give the issue full credit of what we are about.
A book that helped me see all of this was The Whole World Is Watching
(UC California Press, 1981) by Todd Gitlin. It helped me understand
how social justice movements have to play this game with the media and
the negative fall-out that results.
I have a growing concern, and Im
wondering if you do too, that for much of the animal rights movements
actions, the goal is not really to make the most strategic or meaningful
change for the animals, but that they are done to get the most media.
I think its really interesting to note that when I work with activists
in other causes, they dont consider the media as important as
animal rights activists do.
I would answer this question by first talking about the five stages
of evolution that issues go through. Issues like the environment or
human rights are further advanced down the stages than animal rights
are. The stages as I understand them are: 1) public education, 2) public
policy development, 3) legislation, 4) litigation and enforcement, and
5) public acceptance. Although we do some litigation, legislation, and
some public policy development, I think the animal rights issue is still
very much in stage onepublic education. I think thats why
media coverage is still the goal. We need to understand that the more
we can propel the issue of animal rights into the public policy development
and legislation stages, the more that we will expedite the cause.
Depending on which poll you look at,
at least 70 percent and as many as 85 percent of Americans are against
fur. Do you think we perhaps dropped the ball in the early 1990s when
we had public opinion on our side?
Yes, we didnt convert that public opinion into public policy.
And then we decided to move on to other issues, because we thought we
had won the fur issue.
Yeah, I think we ghettoized the fur issue into the popular press and
celebrities. Some efforts succeeded in getting retailers to stop selling
fur, and that has to be recognized and celebrated, but we didnt
push the issue enough. We didnt push the issue further by attempting
to pass legislation to make it more difficult for furriers to be in
business. We didnt pass legislation to attack the fur trade on
environmental grounds, for example. And I think we have dropped the
ball. Its worth noting how fur farming is going to become illegal
in the UK because they were able to convert the public opposition against
fur into the mainstream political process.
And finally, where do you see the animal
rights movement going in the next 20 years?
Well, where I see it going and where I think its going are two
different things. As I said, I think the movement is stuck in a public
education stage. I dont see that we understand enough how social
change is brought about and how we need to extend further into the subsequent
stages of achieving change. There are some encouraging signs, but I
think the movement is not maturing to the extent that it has to. Its
not to say that there are not good indicators of progress going on.
But I think the bottom line is that animal rights is still, very much,
on the fringe. To move us into the mainstream, I think, is going to
require us to reinvent who we are and how we interact with the rest
I guess I see the animal rights movement
as being the step-sibling of the other social justice movements.
Thats one way to put it. I think that the way to address this
challenge is for the animal movement to portray and sincerely hold the
very beliefs we advocate; and one of them is relating the issue of how
we treat animals within a broader social context of how we treat people.
And weve got to address the issue of violence and the perception
that we will act violently to save a rat at the expense of saving a
baby. I think we have been cornered into a place where we are viewed
as people who are quick to act violently at the expense of humans.
As for The Animals Agenda, were in the midst of an
internal conversation, for example, who we are and where do we want
to go; were in the process of figuring that out.
To learn more about The Animals Agenda and to order a subscription
($22), visit www.animalsagenda.org
or call (410) 675-4566. To order copies of Speaking Out for Animals
($18), visit www.lanternbooks.com
or call (212) 414-2275.
Patrick Kwan is an activist based in New York City.
He is the founder of Student Animal Rights Alliance, which is coordinating
Liberation Now!, a student animal rights conference taking place February
15 to 17. Visit www.LiberationNow.com