I whittled it down to just a few questions out of the tactics and strategy section. And then actually a lot of the questions still from the final section of my original interview schedule on the goals, successes, and challenges of the animal rights movement. So this first section is all based on your opinions. You’re not being a spokesperson for any specific organization. But your opinions about tactics and strategies, what you think works, what you think could be improved. And the final section equally is your opinion on the animal rights movement in the United States in general. So this is why I’m so excited to be able to talk to you as someone who’s been here for the whole thing.
So first in this tactics and strategies section I’ve typically been asking was thinking about campaigns or activities that the activists specifically worked on but if you’d rather answer about other animal rights campaigns or activities please feel free. So first if you could please think of a time that you worked on a campaign or activity that you thought was particularly successful and tell me about it.
Well, there are quite a few things I can think about. I guess the March for the Animals in Washington DC was a — the first march — was a highly successful event. And I’m trying to remember when we did that. I think it was 1990, I’m pretty sure. Do you want to know how it came about or what?
I guess maybe if you could please tell me why you thought it was successful?
Well, I think, in the history of the movement, there was the greatest number of like-minded people in one place, at one time. And everybody who was there was on emboldened and encouraged. It was altogether a positive experience in every respect.
And you had mentioned where the idea came from. I actually would be interested in knowing — where did you come up with this idea to do a march for animals?
It wasn’t an idea of mine, really it wasn’t. It was an idea that sprang from some activists in California, especially in Los Angeles. I happened to be out there at that time — I’m going to guess, it must have been 1987 or 1988. I met with these people and at the meeting they said, “We think it’s time we had a march for the animals.” So it came from California activists and in particular Diana Baseheart and her mother Gwyneth Snyder. I would identify them as the two principal spirits behind it all. Then I think there was a subsequent meeting with them. They basically said that they didn’t feel that they were capable of organizing it and would I undertake to do so. And I met with other people, in particular a fellow named Peter Gerard who was at that time in Washington DC and he was the head of an organization called the Alliance for Animals, since extinct, but he headed back then. And he and I served as the co-chairs of the committee that organized the march. But Peter did most of the work really. I just went around and drummed up spirit, participation, and tried to raise funds. But in terms of the day-to-day organization, Peter did that.
Okay. And just as a sort of a verification with the archives. This is was in 1990. And you didn’t — that was the only one that I found.
Yeah. The ’90 March, I was involved in. And as they say — I mean what happened was, oh gosh — if you would just come over here and just look at the picture there.
[We look at photo of 1990 marchers.]
This is Alaska, with their banner.
Yep. So the estimates vary but there were certainly tens of thousands of people. We thought there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 or 70,000. And as you can see from the photograph, each state marched with identifying banners. And I don’t know whether you’re familiar with Washington DC.
Okay. Well, you know where the Capitol is —
At the end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And then you go all the way up Pennsylvania Avenue and there’s the White House. Okay. Well the march formed up near the White House, at Lafayette Park. And there were so many people that when people were arriving at the Capitol at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue people were still coming around the White House that far up. It’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So there’s 16 blocks, big blocks, of Washington DC. And it was pretty amazing.
Excellent. Alright. And did everyone think this was a success?
I didn’t know anyone who thought it wasn’t. I mean, I didn’t. I personally didn’t know anybody who thought it wasn’t. They thought — it was a time of great optimism in the movement and part of the reason it was a time of great optimism was because the march was so enabling and enobling for all those who participated. They had never experienced anything like it, remotely like it, in their life. My wife and I were involved in the anti-war movement and I took part in marches with 500,000 people. We had the experience of lots of people, but nothing for animals like that day.
Wonderful. It’s hard for me to keep my experiences on the side, but one of my friends went to the ’96 one, but I was vegetarian and not vegan yet.
The ’96 march was a disaster. Three thousand people.
Yeah. Seventy thousand, three thousand. It was a disaster. And it actually it is a good question, I think, to try to understand what happened in those six years that would explain the difference — because Peter was in charge of the second march as well. So he was experienced. He knew what he was doing. But nothing happened.
Hmm. Okay. The next question is always a little touchy because I’m not trying to cause any rifts in the movement and it’s not to get anyone in trouble. So sometimes people answer confidentially and you had just alluded to this here if you wanted to continue. But the next question was if you could please give me an example of an animal rights campaign or activity that you personally felt was not so successful and tell me about it.
I think the second march. And I’m not sure why, so let me just think about this for a second. [Pauses] I think between the years, 1990 and 1996, that one of the things that happened was that there was an increasingly sharp divide in the animal advocacy movement between people who were willing to work for welfare improvements and how animals were treated, on the one hand, and people who were against that kind of campaigning. The former, the ones who favored it, thought that even though it wasn’t what we wanted it would still improve the quality of life for animals. For example, if you improve their transportation to slaughter, that’s not what we want, but there are people who thought that would be at least something, some benefit to the animals. And then there were the people who were against that, who thought that making it better for the animals was simply to encourage business as usual — continue exploiting them. If you could say, “Oh, they really have it pretty good,” well then you exploit them. So there was this sharp divide I think that I don’t think was evident or manifest or hardened, leading up to the 1990 march. So when you had some people and organizations who were supporting the march who were in favor of this welfarist approach then there were other people who said, “Well, we’re boycotting this event. We don’t want to have anything to do with this.” There was a kind of naiveté, you might say, in the late ’80s that permitted people who had different ideologies to celebrate their commitment to trying to help animals. But by the time 1996 rolled around I think there was a real cleavage between the two ideologies — involving some powerful organizations. And there were some people who simply wouldn’t support something if organization X supported it. It was that kind of mentality. So it was pretty much a disaster.
And just another follow up question. So did everyone else think that this wasn’t so successful?
I didn’t know anybody who thought it was successful. Not a single person. But it could be that people who had not gone to the first march and went to the second one, maybe there were some people who really did get a lot out of it. But I didn’t know anybody like that.
And if you had worked on this campaign, is there anything you might have changed or done differently?
I didn’t work on the second one.
On the first one, in general, no. In general, no. I think we did what we needed to do.
Right. Or, pardon me if I misspoke. I meant for the ’96 march, if you had worked on this one, is there anything that you would have —
I think what I would have tried to do is I would have tried to test the water, so to speak, before going forward, to see if there was the kind of support in the movement that a successful event required. I would have tried to find out in a variety of ways if this is going to be — if it had a good chance to be successful — before staging it. You know what I mean. I mean you can sign all the necessary papers to have a march down Pennsylvania Avenue but that doesn’t mean anybody’s going to be there if you do it. So you need to find out ahead of time whether you’re going to have support. I don’t think that was done the second time around. That’s my guess.
And you had also mentioned this sort of abolitionist-welfarist divide. And this was one thing I was spending a lot of time looking because I could have sworn that I had read something by you on this debate. So if you’ve already written something on this issue I would be happy to look that up rather than asking you to repeat it here. Sorry to ask you for citations in the middle of an interview, but I think it will save some time.
I think there’s something, I think, in Animals Agenda, called “A Movement’s Means Creates a Movement’s Ends,” that Gary Francione and I co-authored.
That’s what I was thinking because I had seen some citations of works that you and Gary Francione co-authored.
So thinking of the animal rights movement in the United States, what do you think was one of the best strategic or tactical moves that activists have engaged in?
Again I think there are quite a number of possible answers, but I think the thing that has helped immensely is the heroic work of undercover activists who have brought out footage behind closed doors of how animals are treated in laboratories and in farms and circuses, horse racing, whatever. The people who run these businesses are not going to let the public really see what’s going on. They’re obviously not going to do that. And if it hadn’t been for the courageous work of these people working undercover we wouldn’t know. You wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know. No one would know. So that essential, educational function that comes about because of these acts, vitally important. But, let’s see, I think the Internet has been a great benefit to the movement because of our ability to share information with people worldwide with literally a click of a key. I mean there it is; the information’s there. That’s, I think, helping change the world.
Excellent. Thank you. So still thinking of the movement in the United States, what is a strategy or tactic that activists have used in the past that you would like to have changed in some way?
Oh, I think [pauses]. I think that it’s important that the movement have a moral core and that we never use means to promote what we’re trying to do that denigrate identifiable groups of people or denigrate identifiable individuals. And what I have in mind as an example would be if you’re trying to have a campaign to encourage people to be vegetarians, for example, and you use the plight of some public figure who has, say, some cancer of one form or another. And then you insinuate that they have this cancer because they’re meat eaters or milk drinkers, whatever. I mean I just don’t think that — if somebody’s battling cancer then it’s not the time from a whole human point of view to single that person out to try to advance our agenda. I think those of us who want people to respect non-human animals must always respect human animals. I think sometimes the tactics of the movement do not do that.
And I’m talking in the general way because I don’t want to say this group and that person or whatever.
And I also would — I’m going to try very hard to do that as well when I write this up. We’ll see how it all goes but I don’t want to cause any problems. Not that my one dissertation would be causing a huge risk but I’d rather make things vague. What I’m trying to write about is about ideas and what things work don’t and not saying, “This group doesn’t do a good job.” Or, “This group does a better job than this group.”
Yeah, I mean. What I’m saying is you don’t pile on somebody who’s having a hard time. Not only because I think that’s not a proper thing to do, but also I don’t think it’s a good strategy because then people don’t react favorably. I know from my experience, just people I know, who know I’m an animal rights person. When this sort of thing I’m talking about occurs, they say, “What’s wrong with you people?”
Yeah. Alright. So the last question in this section on tactics and strategies is: What is a new tactic, strategy, campaign, some new idea, that you would like to do or that you would like to see the movement do in the future?
Hmm. Well, I think personally that the movement is very fractured. There’s no place, so to speak, that everybody can call home. It’s splintered. And, of course, it’s dominated by a handful of very powerful national organizations. And I’d like to see two things. One, a greater democratization of the movement, away from the kind of corporate business model we find in the most powerful national organizations, on the one hand. And then, on the other hand, I’d like to see some sense of universal unity. So what I would have wanted to see created is what I call the Animal Rights Nation, which basically ends up just being a web-based, universal identity. A place that everyone can call home to. And it would be the repository of all the relevant information, all the relevant links. It would be a way of trying to create universal unity — without any hierarchical, structural business structure. Just a place we all can call home.
Excellent. And I know when I came to the Culture and Animals Foundation Conference in 2005 you gave a speech on the animal rights nation. And there is a —
Video and a sort of anthem.
I was actually wondering — well I shouldn’t have asked this. Because I’ve been focusing on one thing in the archives so if this is there I’ll be embarrassed to say — but I don’t think that I found that speech or the song in the archives.
There’s a lot of stuff that’s in my attic that’s not in the archives.
I don’t want to ask you to go up in your attic, but I am interested in this concept.
Yeah. I’ll look and see if I can’t find a copy of the video. [To view the video, click here.]
I bought the recording. No, we didn’t have recordings of that one, did we? Sorry. I say “we.” I purchased all the recordings for the other conferences I went to but maybe that one.
No I don’t think so. So let me see if I can find it.
But anyhow, it ended because the people who were trying to make it happen, things just came down in their life, in some cases. For them, they didn’t have a job — this was essentially working for nothing. And some people need a job. [Laughs, facetiously]. For a fact, we all need a job that pays enough to live on. People can’t always give their time and talent for nothing. So right now it’s on hold, shall we say.
So now I’d like to ask you your opinion on the state of the animal rights movement, where you see it going in the future, and I have some specific questions in this. And the first question sounds a little bit — sounds very vast and it is kind of vast. But the next question I think will rein it in. So the first question in this section is: What goals are you working towards in your activism?
Well I don’t have any — obviously everybody’s working for the goal of ultimate emancipation of non-human animals from the hand of human tyranny. But I mean that’s not going to happen in my lifetime. So the sorts of things that I work for are associated with promoting the work of people who are from the arts and letters and the like and who’s work is focused on a positive concern for animals, whether it’s a painter or a poet or a sociologist. That’s the sort of work that the Culture and Animals Foundation has always supported and we will always continue to support. When we looked around we thought there was what we called a “hole in the movement.” I mean there were all these people doing specific campaigns for dolphins and whales and preparing educational materials for children. That was quite common. And then they were producing their slick quarterly magazines and legislative activism, etc. It was all the usual stuff but nobody was saying, “What about the power of art? What about the power of literature? What about the power of informed research?” What about any of that? There was a hole in the movement and that’s why we founded the Culture and Animals Foundation. And so our goal is to continue to support people like yourself. And what we have seen, what we know happens, is the following. We have seen that people in philosophy, once we produce the literature, once books are written, and anthologies are put together, and so on. If the work is high quality, it finds its way into the classroom. If they’re good they’ll be in the classroom. And if they’re in the classroom that means that people are going to discuss it and we don’t have to pay anything for this to happen. It just happens. And we’ve seen how this does happen in philosophy. We’ve seen how it has happened in law. We’re now seeing how it’s happening in other areas in the humanities and social sciences. So you can’t go to the academy, to a university, and say, “We want you to teach this material because we want to bring about progressive social change for animals.” The academy is going to shut their door in our face. But if you can produce high-quality materials, then animals might be helped.
Good. Excellent. Thank you. And I also just wanted to add in: Normally I start out with sort of a personal history of your activism but I felt like I could get a lot of this information from previously published sources. So I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring the more personal contributions.
So thinking about these goals, the larger goal and even the more immediate goals that you were just describing, what do you think are some of the challenges that you face while working towards those goals?
What we’re talking about is trying change the culture of higher education in particular in a way that is receptive to discussing issues that are related to how non-human animals are being treated. We want the door open to that discussion, not the door closed to that discussion. Now the barrier to that, of course, is that there are very powerful special interests who want the door closed. And these are going to be the people who have a vested interest in keeping animals right where they are, under their boot. And anything that would have the potential of changing the status quo, these powerful interests are going to want to resist. And of course what they’ll want to do is to say one of two things. One is that the work that is produced by the people in sociology or anthropology or whatever isn’t fair; it’s not up to standards. Well, I think we can satisfy that objection. But the other thing of course they’ll want to do is to — it’s related to the first thing because what they’ll want to do I think is to say that the work is deficient because it’s emotional and not scholarly and not rational. And this is what the special interests always want to say against those of us who are challenged. The status quo. We’re irrational, emotional, this sort of thing. So we have to answer that by producing work that satisfies the standards.
Excellent. Alright. And this question — well we see how it goes. So are there any particular aspects of the culture in the United States or even in North Carolina that you think play a part in these challenges to your work?
Just the usual suspects. As I’ve tried to explain in some of my work, there are institutional obstacles that resist change. [Pauses] Let’s see. How should I put it? [Pauses] If we look at history, just take the status of women as an example. And we see how over time in the United States, but also throughout the Western civilization, and I would go so far as to say nearly universally, two spheres have been identified: the private sphere and the public sphere. And the public sphere is the world of having a profession and being out in the world, earning an income, getting an education, advancement like that. And the private sphere is the sphere of staying at home, tending the house, raising the children, and so on. And it’s pretty clear that historically women came into the world and they were basically assigned to stay in the private sphere. That’s where they belong. There was an ideology of that. You say, “Well, where did that come from?” It came from religious teachings. And it came from a scientific assessment of the capability of women. Women were not the equal to men when it came to what they could learn and how they could compete in the world of business. They were emotional, not rational, etc. Well you’re not going to make headway for the emancipation of women if you don’t address the inadequacies of the religious denigration of women or the scientific denigration of women. In other words, you have to address these institutional ideologies that try to place women in their particular sphere and keep them there. I think that that same thing is true when it comes to the emancipation of non-human animals, that it’s not just the purchasing powers of individual people that is holding back their emancipation. It’s these powerful institutional forces. So that for hundreds of years and longer it was just normal for boys to be taught this was true and girls to be taught that was true of them. Well, for hundreds and hundreds of years people have been taught that animals belong between two slices of bread. That’s why they’re here. And unless we address the deep, cultural currents that have historically justified the exploitation of non-human animals we’re not going to emancipate them. So my focus is on changing the culture in which we live.
Excellent. Thank you so much. So thinking about the culture in which we live, on the other hand of that issue — you were just describing particular aspects of the culture that play a part on the challenges to your work. So on the other hand, are there any particular aspects of the culture in the United States or even here in North Carolina that you think are helpful to your work?
The only thing that I think is helpful is the extent to which there has been at least mild and sometimes strong support for a freedom of inquiry. Let’s see if I can find. [gets book] These are words of Thomas Jefferson that were on the building where I took my classes in philosophy at the University of Virginia. They say, “So here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead or to tolerate the possibility of err so long as reason is left free to combat it.” So this idea of open inquiry, as he says, to not be afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead or to tolerate the possibility of error so long as reason is left free to combat it. To me that’s vital to what I’m talking about. And to the extent that there is this willingness to explore, to that extent there is a highly-valued ideal in the American experiment. And to that extent it is helpful.
Excellent. So this next question is moving a little bit more broadly to the animal rights movement in the United States. How do you think that animal rights activists are viewed by the public?
I think that animal rights activists tend to be viewed by the public in the way the media represents who they are. And the dilemma of activism is that the media likes a scandal and something outlandish. The media loves a plane crash. The media’s not interested in safe landings; that’s not a story. The challenge then becomes how you get the media to cover what we’re doing. Well, you do something illegal or outlandish, then they’ll cover it. With that, the downside of that, is that then the public’s perception of animal rights activists is that they are people who do things that are outlandish and illegal because that’s how they’re represented in the media. The great challenge then is how you have animal rights values and beliefs and ideals represented in the media without doing things that are illegal and outlandish. That’s what I think. I think basically we have a — I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong. But it does seem to me that the public has a pretty dim view of who we are. But I don’t know.
Before I omit this question I just wanted to make sure, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. So I have a question that said: How would you describe the current state of the animal rights movement in the United States. And you had previously said “fractured.” I don’t know if you had anything to add.
Splintered. Yeah. That’s what it seems like to me.
Okay. So the final question is then: What is your view of the future of the animal rights movement in the United States?
Well, if you know the name Stephen Douglas. Stephen Douglas is a great leader of the anti-slavery movement. And he was on his deathbed and a young man came to visit him and said to Douglas, “I so respect you. You’ve been at this for so long and I’m just beginning. What would you say are the three most important things for me to do?” And Douglas, so the story goes, I mean the man was going to die in a matter of hours or days. And he said, “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.” And I often thought about that because I think if someone were to ask me what were the three most important things to do for the future of the movement I would put it a little differently. I would say, “Educate. Educate. Educate.” And I mean educate in terms of informing the public about how animals are being treated, but also educate in a deeper way, kind of in a way that I’ve been talking about earlier in terms of changing the culture in which we live through the work of people in arts and letters and social sciences and humanities. A deep cultural change not just something that’s faddy. The last thing we want is animal rights to be a fad. So I’m optimistic about it because of what Jefferson says. So long as reason is left free to investigate I think that we will win the battle of ideas. I don’t think we ever lose the argument. I’m very confident about that. I think we have the best arguments on our side. And I want to make it clear of course that I don’t think that it’s only a matter of being able to reason logically. Human beings have a heart and not just a head. And it’s vital of course that we make it clear that the feelings that we are calling forth from people, the emotions that we’re inviting people to feel, are very good and very positive. They’re compassion and respect. They’re love and care. These are all very positive feelings. So it’s this combination of the head and the heart, reason and emotion, care and logic. Those sorts of things. It’s the whole package, not just one or the other.
Excellent. Well thank you so much. Those are all my questions. I don’t know if there’s anything else you’d like to express. Usually it’s at the end of two hours and they say, “No.”
Well, what I want to encourage you to do is — you’ll transcribe this and send it back. And I’ll have a chance to edit and make it clear and everything. And when you’ve done all that if you have further questions, if we need to meet or communicate or whatever, then I’ll look forward to spending time with you again.