Memories of Steve Siegel

Rocky Totino

Steve Siegel, 51, a powerful crusader in the struggle for animal rights, passed away on December 18, 1997 due to liver failure. Steve is best remembered as the New York Director of Trans-Species Unlimited (TSU). Under his leadership from 1987-1990, the New York chapter compiled a series of stunning campaign successes that catapulted TSU to national prominence. One such victory was the monumental triumph over Cornell University Medical Center in April 1987 that ended barbiturate experiments on cats. For the first time in history, an animal research grant from a government agency was turned down by a leading medical establishment due to intense public outcry and media pressure. Steve later addressed a national audience when he appeared on ABC-TV's "Nightline" and skillfully debated medical experts on the use of animals in research. He also appeared in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, as well as other television and radio programs.

Steve organized some of the largest animal rights demonstrations ever attended in New York City. He transformed Fur Free Friday from an event that first drew six people into a major annual event attracting thousands of protestors and a frenzy of national media attention. Many celebrities also joined in the event, such as TV's Bob Barker of "The Price is Right," who, after learning of Steve's passing said "Steve's death is a loss to all of us who had the good fortune to know him and a devastating blow to the animals for which he worked so diligently and successfully." Steve organized weekly anti-fur protests throughout the winter months targeting many of New York's most famous fur salons. His strategy of direct outreach--whereby several groups of activists ventured out into the public to confront fur-wearers face to face--was just one of the many innovative techniques that separated him from other activist leaders. The protests proved successful as they encouraged many public debates about the inherent cruelty of the fur industry.

Steve's declining health forced him to step down from his demanding role at TSU. He went on to join the International Society for Animal Rights (ISAR) as an issues specialist and was elected to the Board of the New York State Humane Association. Again, finding the challenges too exhausting, he resigned from ISAR and taught English as a Second Language for several years up until his death. While Steve was deeply committed to the cause for animal rights, he was also a person who cared about humanity, family, friends and the environment. He leaves behind a legacy rich with accomplishments that will continue to inspire future generations of activists everywhere who seek to stop the senseless slaughter and abuse of animals. He is survived by his parents and many devoted friends.

Elizabeth Forel

My introduction to the animal rights movement in New York City began in the late 1980s, when I attended a TSU meeting. Leading the meeting was a man, Steve Siegel, who was at once unassuming, dynamic, charismatic, sensitive and smart. It was standing room only, as was often the case in those days. This was important, exciting stuff and kindred spirits abounded. Steve would go on to have a big impact on my life as he did on the lives of so many other activists. In the early 1990s, the anti-fur movement was growing in New York City, catching the ire of a newly organized fur industry. The ever-fickle media was very interested in this relatively new, hot topic. At one of TSU's regular meetings, a representative of the Fur Information Council disrupted Steve by climbing on stage, attempting to provoke him into an argument. After much booing and jeering by the audience, he eventually left, playing to the TV cameras that just happened to be there. As he was leaving, Steve shouted after him "you're lucky to get out of here alive," an obvious figure of speech. Subsequently, he threatened to press charges, accusing Steve of making a death threat.

Steve has been sorely missed since he left TSU in 1990, creating a void that only worsened when TSU discontinued their presence shortly after. But times change, there are new faces and new energy mixed with the old timers, and for several years now the animal rights movement in NYC has been solidly back on track. Life goes on and we need to continue to fight the good fight. Thank you Steve for providing the ground work.

Dawn Willis

One would be hard pressed indeed to find a New York City animal liberationist whose path began in the early 1980s, who wasn't immensely affected by Steve Siegel. As head of TSU/NYC, Steve was a leader, a teacher, and a good and solid human being.

Two stories come to mind when thinking about Steve. Recently, a longtime animal liberationist told me about his first "tabling" experience. ("Tabling" is when you set up a table in a public place and distribute literature, etc.) Ben was to meet Steve at a certain time and place, and when he arrived Steve greeted him warmly and explained to him the business at hand. During the course of the day, Ben noticed that occasionally Steve would glance at his, Ben's, hat and then get back to "tabling." Steve never mentioned anything to Ben but, upon returning home that night, Ben realized that all day he had been tabling for animals wearing a leather hat! That was the way Steve was. He knew that Ben was new to the movement and, like all of us, had a bit to learn.

The second story is about a person who went to her first TSU meeting not knowing a soul and feeling intimidated walking into a large room crowded with several hundred people. After a few phone conversations, Steve asked me to introduce myself to him at the meeting. When I did, Steve, who was surrounded by many people trying to get his attention, gave me a brief hello and turned to the next person waiting to speak to him. Two days later, I received a large envelope containing information that would change my life forever. Included in the package was a note from Steve apologizing for not having the time to speak with me longer at the meeting, hoping that I found it rewarding and that I would attend again.

For many of us in the 1980s, Steve was our guide, the example we all wished to emulate. Because of his dedication, patience, and loving friendship, Steve has left behind an enormous corps of animal liberationists who will carry on his fight for the rest of our lives. Thank you, Steve, for showing us the way.