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March 2006
A Gripe in the City
By Teresa D’Amico

 

I am proud to call myself an animal rights activist. Okay, now what image does that bring to mind? A pierced, tattooed college student? A middle-aged woman with several cats? An aging hippy? An angry anarchist? How about a well-dressed professional?

Animal rights activists are representative of the general population in that we are not all the same. Some of us are even conservative Republicans. It is in our dissimilarity that our different approaches and, indeed, disparate opinions as to what the goals may be, present a problem.

I overheard some distressing bickering at a recent anti-fur protest here in New York and it had nothing at all to do with the police or ignorant hecklers who insist that all animal rights protesters don leather shoes! It was among us—the animal defenders, the protesters.

I, for one, am tired of the overall disharmony. It is time to focus on the animals. On the whole, things are not getting better for them. As far as farmed animals are concerned, they are most certainly worse. Recent legislation may be marginally affecting how they are raised and slaughtered but the truth is, more and more are being raised and slaughtered every year, and on an ever-increasing international scale.

I don’t personally break into labs and liberate animals but I am on the side of those who have the courage and conviction to do so. Likewise, I don’t believe that “welfarist” legislation is really helping the animals, but I respect those who believe it could and do continue to fight for their belief. I will as soon take to the streets as I will to the courts because the animals need all of us. One struggle; one fight.

The animal rights movement seemed to be steadily gaining speed during the 1980s and 90s, growing in numbers, achieving some respect with the general public and the press. PETA has become a household name. Issues regarding the rights of animals routinely crop up in newspapers and in the plots of television shows. Fur sales went down, even here in New York. Vegetarianism (including veganism) no longer seems strange and products like soymilk and veggie burgers are in nearly every supermarket in the country.

But we seem to have hit a partially self-induced standstill. Today, more and more people may be accepting of a vegetarian diet but more and more people are also eating more and more meat, though it may be chicken or fish as opposed to hamburger or steak. Fur, especially as trim, is once again fashionable. Fifth Avenue is lined with animal pelts. The number of hunters is steadily decreasing but the number of hunters managing our public lands and game commissions isn’t. The earth loses more and more wild habitat every year. Dog fighting is on the increase. The bushmeat trade in Africa is growing along with the foreign logging operations. The seas are red with the blood of seals and dolphins. Animals, including cats and dogs, are skinned alive in China. And it goes on and on.

Politically the U.S. seems to have reverted to the 50s McCarthy era and the issue of animals’ rights is most certainly on the back burner. The baby boomer generation that was going to change the world has succeeded in only making it more selfish. Who cares about the animals and the environment when you’re busy adding to human overpopulation, building enormous houses, driving giant energy-consuming vehicles and buying and buying and buying? Recycling newspapers and wasteful plastic water bottles is not enough.

What can we do? Those of us who still care. Those of us who try as hard as we can to live a life that does as little harm as possible and get labeled as terrorists for our efforts. What can we do? We can start by speaking and listening to each other! We need to remember who we are fighting for and try to understand what they need, not what we want.

And we need to reach out to those activists we have lost. I’m thrilled to see more and more young people joining the movement and adopting a vegan lifestyle. But we also need to bring back those who were once with us, who perhaps were driven away by all the bickering and indecision and what ultimately began to look like impending failure. We need to find common ground.

Activists here in New York and elsewhere need to “Act up; fight back” against the oppressors and the ignorance, not each other.

Teresa D’Amico is a longtime vegan and animal activist.


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