Thursday, December 21, 2006

Successful Outreach Campaign Prompts Furrier’s Move

Activists to continue outreach and education efforts with community leaders and public

After a year of weekly demonstrations by animal advocates that garnered national attention, fourth-generation fur salon Schumacher Fur and Outerwear is leaving the location it has occupied in downtown Portland, Ore. since 1895. This is a major victory for those who ethically oppose the multi-billion dollar fur industry that every year kills over 40 million minks, foxes, rabbits and other species for clothes and fashion accessories.

The Schumacher campaign started in 2005 on Fur Free Friday, a national event held annually for the last 20 years on the day after Thanksgiving (the busiest shopping day of the year also known as “Black Friday”). That year, some 100 activists turned out for IDA's annual march through downtown Portland, a socially and politically progressive city that is also a hotbed of animal rights activity.

Inspired by this success, a group of grassroots activists began holding demonstrations outside of Schumacher’s every Saturday. Otherwise known as the Schumacher Fur Street Party, the weekly protests were typically attended by dozens of activists in a festive atmosphere replete with costumes, creative signs and camaraderie. Matt Rossell, the Outreach Coordinator for Northwest In Defense of Animals, became the group’s unofficial spokesperson when media started covering the story, drawn by the bizarre antics of store owners Gregg and Linda Schumacher.

For example, the Schumachers, along with their employees and supporters, taunted, threatened, spit on and even assaulted protesters, shoving them and knocking signs from their hands. A Schumacher employee made death threats to a high school teen delivering a speech about the fur industry’s abuse of animals at the store’s doorstep. A sign in their window stated that "All protesters should be Beaten, Strangled, Skinned Alive, Anally Electrocuted and Clubbed." These heavy-handed attempts to drive demonstrators away only amplified their resolve and numbers.

Schumacher complained incessantly to authorities, calling the protesters “terrorists” despite the fact that police witnesses testified that participants were acting within their first amendment rights. The Mayor tapped Rossell to represent the protestors in city-sponsored mediation, but the Schumachers dragged their heels and finally refused to participate after activists proposed labeling fur garments with an accurate description of how animals used to make them are killed. Throughout the year, the media fed on the story, with Rossell reminding them at every turn that the real victims are fur-bearing animals—not the Schumachers, as the couple repeatedly claimed.

Just days after Fur Free Friday 2006, when 200 activists marched through Portland’s streets, the Schumachers announced they were moving to a new location. As activists celebrated, Rossell took a broad view. “The real victory need not be measured in moving sales, because with the global media coverage this outreach campaign generated, the story is not just about a single store or city: it’s about spreading a message of compassion for animals for the whole world to hear,” he said. “IDA will continue promoting a consumer warning tag on all fur sold in Portland, and perhaps even propose a citywide ban of fur sales.”

Learn more at

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

House Passes Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

Controversial new law could criminalize currently legal activism tactics

Animal advocates around the U.S. were stunned and dismayed on Monday, November 13th when Congress quickly approved the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a bill that threatens to seriously curtail Americans' basic civil liberties. President Bush is expected to sign the bill, which was sponsored by Republican Congressman Tom Petri. With the bill's passage, many fear that mainstream activists could be arrested and charged as "terrorists," even though Americans' right to legitimate protest is explicitly protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Claiming that the AETA is only a threat to violent animal rights "extremists" who damage property and threaten people's safety, Petri and his supporters point to language in the law that supposedly exempts legal forms of protest from prosecution. Unfortunately, this statement does not cover many important forms of activism, including undercover investigations, whistle-blowing and many forms of non-violent civil disobedience. Those who use these tactics could now be labeled "terrorists" and sent to prison, not for physically harming anyone or damaging property but for causing a business to lose money.

In fact, the law is so broadly written that even activists who organize boycotts and leaflet outside of stores could conceivably be charged under the AETA with economically damaging animal enterprises. These are defined as any business involving animals (factory farms, fur farms, vivisection labs, rodeos, circuses, etc.), and includes manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of animals or animal products. The AETA even applies to third-parties that do business with animal enterprises, such as law firms, insurance companies and investment houses.

The AETA is unprecedented in providing specific penalties based not on the "crime" committed, but rather on who it was committed against: namely animal enterprises. No other industrial sector in U.S. history has ever been given such exclusive legal protections against public criticism. Vegan Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the only Representative to vote against the AETA, stated his opposition to "creating a special class of violations for a specific type of protest." This means that the AETA provides specific punishments for people based on their values -- namely their belief in animal rights.

Congressman Kucinich's objections fell on deaf ears. In fact, he was one of only six Representatives present in the House chamber to vote on the AETA. Few Representatives were even in town on this first day back after a month-long recess. In this "lame duck" session of Congress, the bill was debated for a mere fifteen minutes before being passed. Representatives took a voice vote on the matter, a procedure usually reserved for non-controversial legislation that doesn't require extensive review or discussion, meaning that the vote wasn't even recorded.

Though animal advocates called and wrote their leaders warning them about the AETA's dire consequences, Congress allowed a law to pass that makes terrorists of people exercising their Constitutional rights. In so doing, they failed and betrayed us and the animals we seek to help. It's difficult to understand or accept that our leaders could be so oblivious to the AETA's dangers when our very freedom is at stake.

While corporate interests have clearly won out over democracy, this is but one battle in the ongoing struggle to achieve justice for animals. The moral vision of our country was founded upon the inalienable right to protest injustice, and the animal rights movement is part of this great tradition. Animal advocates must continue to unite, with determination and resourcefulness, to defend our rights against the tyranny of corporate control, even as we face an uncertain future.

As one of the more than 160 members of the Equal Justice Alliance, a national coalition of social advocacy organizations preserving free speech and equal treatment under the law, IDA is committed to doing all we can to safeguard our right to speak and act lawfully against cruelty to animals. No one is sure yet how this new law will be applied -- whether it will be used to silence legitimate activities, and if so which ones. We will update our members on the AETA's implications and let you know how what actions you can take in future alerts.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act Endangers First Amendment Rights to Free Speech

Bill defines animal rights activists who threaten corporate profits as “terrorists”

With tensions running high in the post-9/11 world, powerful forces within the U.S. government appear only too eager to exploit the public’s fear of terrorists to squelch dissent and destroy support for progressive social movements that threaten the status quo. In this climate of free-floating dread, multi-billion dollar corporations and their political hirelings have been able to successfully target animal rights “extremists”—and by extension the entire movement—as one of the most dangerous “terrorist” groups in the world.

As evidence of this assertion, take the case of the SHAC 7—a radical group of grassroots animal rights activists who are going to prison, some probably for many years, not because they committed illegal acts, but simply for running a website that encouraged acts of harassment and property destruction to stop well-documented animal abuse routinely taking place in the corporate research laboratories of Huntingdon Life Sciences. According to the FBI, the SHAC 7 is one the greatest domestic terrorist threats facing the U.S. today, perhaps as great a menace to our national security as Al-Qaeda.

The FBI makes this claim despite the fact that not a single person has ever been killed by an animal rights activist, yet Al-Qaeda indiscriminately murdered more than 2,700 human beings in the World Trade Center bombing alone. However, with ominous forebodings of doom hanging like thunderclouds overhead, it’s not surprising that right-wing propagandists have been able to make the “terrorist” label stick to a small group of animal rights activists who were never charged with destroying property or doing anything illegal themselves but simply for vocally supporting those who did. Neither should it come as a shock to find the “terrorist” term now even being applied more frequently to mainstream social change advocates.

Authorities made the SHAC 7 trial into a sort of test case for using the Animal Enterprise Protection Act to prosecute activists who threaten corporate profits. This obscure law, passed in 1992 to little fanfare, severely increased criminal penalties for anyone who “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any property” of a business that uses animals for profit. The first conviction under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act was handed down in 1998 to two activists who liberated mink from a fur farm. It was next used to neutralize the SHAC 7 in one of the most divisive trials in the animal rights movement’s history. The controversy pitted advocates from different ends of the spectrum against their natural allies so that they often wound up fighting each other instead of attacking animal exploiters as a unified force.

Now some lawmakers are trying to broaden the government’s power to target animal rights activists under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act with H.R. 4239, also known as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. This bill seeks to define even non-violent activist tactics such as civil disobedience, whistleblowing and undercover investigations as “terrorism.” If H.R. 4239 becomes law, causing any business classified as an "animal enterprise" (e.g., factory farms, fur farms, vivisection labs, rodeos and circuses) to suffer a profit loss could become a crime punishable by a lengthy prison sentence—even if the company’s financial decline is caused by peaceful protests, consumer boycotts or media campaigns. No other industrial sector in the history of U.S. democracy has ever been afforded such legal protections against citizens exercising their constitutionally-granted First Amendment rights to free speech.

Journalist Will Potter likens what is happening now to another dark period in U.S. history—the McCarthy trials of the mid-20th century. “The word terrorist is becoming a catch-all for the enemy of the hour, much like the word communist was during the Red Scare,” Potter writes. “It didn’t matter if you were a communist, only if you were branded one. The same goes for the T-word.” If activists are convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism” for exercising their First Amendment rights, it will have a chilling effect on the entire movement and make animal rights advocates and organizations reluctant to engage in effective actions for which they could face arrest. While economic disruption has proven essential to the success of all progressive social revolutions, including the animal rights movement, it could soon become another civil liberties casualty of the expanding War on Terror.

What You Can Do:

Urge your federal Representative to protect our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech by opposing the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Also write and call your Representative personally to have a greater impact. Get contact information for your elected officials

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

China Viciously Massacres 54,000 Dogs in Rabies Scare

Urge Chinese Ambassador to U.S. to stop future culls

In a shocking display of cruelty that has triggered an international outcry, Chinese officials in the southeastern county of Mouding in Yunnan Province ordered the brutal execution of at least 54,429 dogs last week. The reason: A third human death from rabies in a county of 200,000 people.

A massive task force led by the Director of the Public Security Bureau carried out the mass-killing over a five day-period beginning on Tuesday, July 25th. In cities around the county, task force officers stopped guardians who were walking their dogs and beat the animals to death with clubs while their guardians looked on in horror. Sometimes, officers poisoned the dogs, or killed them by hanging or electrocution. Under cover of night, the officers raided the rural countryside, provoking dogs to bark so they could find and bludgeon their canine victims to death. All of this was done on the County Government’s orders.

To save themselves some work, Mouding County officials also offered guardians a financial incentive of 5 yuan (about 62 cents) to kill their own dogs. Guardians faced a horrible choice between putting their own animal companions down using the most humane methods available to them or waiting for the Death Squads to arrive and torture their family members until they lay lifeless. By Sunday, July 30th, over 90% of the county's dogs were murdered in cold blood; only guard dogs and police dogs were spared.

About 4,000 dogs in Mouding County were already vaccinated against rabies, but these were killed as well because a veterinary official claimed that vaccination is only 85% effective in preventing transmission of the disease. Based on this assessment, public health authorities dismissed vaccination plans as inadequate and pronounced the massacre necessary to safeguard the county's human population. However, even if it had been the case that killing dogs was the only way to protect people from rabies, the animals should have been humanely euthanized, not beaten to a bloody pulp. The exceptionally malicious and cruel attacks Public Security Bureau officers perpetrated against China's dogs and their helpless guardians would be inexcusable under any circumstances.

Some medical and legal authorities blame the Chinese Government for not taking enough preventive measures against rabies. Dr. Francette Dusan, an expert from The World Health Organization (WHO) who specializes in diseases people can contract from animals, criticized China's rabies control methods, most of which she said "(consist) of purely reactive dog culls." An editorial in Legal Daily, the newspaper of the central government's Politics and Law Committee, put it more bluntly: "Wiping out the dogs shows these government officials didn't do their jobs right in protecting people from rabies in the first place."

Rabies is on the rise throughout China, with 2,651 deaths attributed to the disease reported in 2004 out of a population of approximately 1.2 billion. There are hundreds of millions of canine companions across China, yet only about 3% have received rabies vaccinations. Mass dog culls are likely to continue until the Chinese government makes preventing rabies through vaccination programs and public education a higher priority.

What You Can Do:

Write, call or fax the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. urging him to ensure that other counties don't follow Mouding's bad example and to push his government to initiate effective preventive measures against the spread of rabies.

His Excellency Zhou Wenzhong
Ambassador of the People's Republic of China
Embassy of the People's Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 328-2574
Fax: (202) 328-2582

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Spanish Parliament Considers Rights for Great Apes

Spain could be first nation to recognize rights of non-human species

Spain has recently been pondering a very forward-thinking and intriguing possibility: granting great apes legal rights of personhood to protect them from exploitation and abuse.

Francisco Garrido, a bioethicist and Green MP representing Seville, recently introduced a resolution in the Spanish parliament's environment committee to extend the basic rights of life, freedom and protection from torture to chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos and gorillas. The committee is expected to pass the resolution, as it enjoys widespread support among both the public and many government officials, and Garrido is hopeful that a full-fledged Great Apes Law will be introduced following the summer recess. If that is approved, Spain will become the first country in the world to grant rights to non-human species.

This could have many beneficial implications not only for great apes in Spain but also around the world. A Great Ape Law would redefine the legal status and standing of certain simian species by eradicating human or institutional "ownership" of apes. They would instead be placed under the "moral guardianship" of the state, preventing their exploitation for profit. With passage of the new law, most apes now in Spanish zoos and circuses would henceforth live in state-sponsored sanctuaries. In addition, harming or mistreating a great ape would be punishable as a criminal offense (barring cases of self-defense and euthanasia). The use of great apes in medical research would also come to an end in Spain, as it has in Britain and New Zealand.

A Great Ape Law would also have global repercussions. For instance, it would impel the state to use its voting power in international forums and organizations to promote the welfare of captive great apes in other countries and help avert the extinction of wild apes. In addition, a Spanish law protecting rights for animals would raise the bar for other European countries, making it likely that they would pass similar legislation. Finally, it would set an important precedent that could be applied to the protection of other cognitively complex species, especially elephants, whales and dolphins.

While the resolution is considered controversial, most who oppose it do so because they believe that every right is by definition a "human" right, so of all the millions of species living on planet Earth, only humans can have rights. From this narrow perspective, granting animals even the most basic right of freedom from abuse would be an affront to our laws and traditions while challenging to the very core the self-centered idea that we have the right to use other species for our supposed benefit regardless of their interests. From the animals' perspective, the fact that human civilization continues to deny these basic rights to all animals in order to keep them powerless and enslaved is the height of speciesist arrogance. Nonetheless, Spain's environment minister Cristina Narbona has already addressed critics' concerns by clarifying the law's intent. "We are not talking about granting human rights to great apes," she stated, "(but about) protecting (their) habitat, avoiding their ill-treatment and their use in various circus activities."

The declaration as it stands was inspired by and based on concepts advanced by the Great Ape Project (GAP), "an international group founded to work for the global removal of non-human great apes from the category of mere property, and for their immediate protection through the implementation of basic legal principles designed to provide these amazing creatures with the right to life, the freedom of liberty and protection from torture." In seeking to secure rights for non-human primates, GAP scientists point to solid scientific evidence of the remarkable biological, psychological and social congruities between great apes and human beings. For example, over 99% of our DNA is identical to that of great apes, and they display thinking, emotions and even moral qualities very similar to our own. There is also wealth of scientific data indicating that great apes and other species are sentient and self-aware.

In 1993, GAP published the first edition a book edited by eminent philosophers Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri called "The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity" in which scientists and legal experts cogently argue that great apes are worthy of protective rights. Learn more and order a copy of the book.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Action Alert: Japan Imperils 20-Year Ban on Commercial Whaling

Pro-whaling voting bloc could set world conservation policy back for decades to come

With whales facing increased threats from global warming, ocean noise (from military experiments) and commercial fishing nets and lines, they could have to deal with an even more imminent threat later this month when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meets from June 16th to 20th on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Since the late 1990s, Japan has been gradually buying up a voting majority at the IWC -- the global organization that regulates whaling and whale conservation -- by offering major financial aid incentives to poor nations for voting in favor of commercial whaling. Using this strategy, Japan has finally achieved a simple majority (more than 51%), and is about to exercise the power of this voting bloc.

Even though an official moratorium on whale hunting has been firmly in place since 1986, Japan and other countries -- notably Iceland and Norway -- have used a loophole in the law to continue killing these endangered and beloved marine mammals. Over 25,000 whales have been slaughtered since the ban took effect, most for the supposed purpose of "scientific whaling," which the IWC considers legal. Considering the fact that meat from most of the whales killed for "science" is sold in Japanese supermarkets and restaurants, it is hard to see this claim as anything more than pure hypocrisy. In fact, only weeks ago an international panel of legal experts deemed Japan's "scientific whaling" to be "unlawful" in light the international ban.

Fortunately, Japan does not yet have the 75% majority vote they need to fully overturn the whaling ban. However, they are already planning several measures that will consolidate their support in the IWC and may soon have enough power to fully reinstate commercial whaling. For instance, voting now takes place openly, but Japan intends to introduce secret ballots so that their future vote buying efforts will be untraceable. This will allow more countries to join the pro-whaling forces without having to worry about criticism from conservationists and consumer boycotts. Japan also wants to abolish the recently created Conservation Committee, which promotes programs to save whales instead of killing them.

Even though surveys show that less than 1% of Japanese people eat whale meat at least once a month, Japan is intent on threatening the survival of endangered species in defiance of international law and world opinion. It is time for everyone who opposes the killing of whales to stand up and speak out -- before it's too late.

What You Can Do:

Please contact President Bush today and urge him to prevent Japan from reversing the international ban on commercial whaling. Also click to send him an automatic follow-up email.

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Tel: (202) 456-1111
Fax: (202) 456-2461

Visit to learn more about how you can help protect whales.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Dreams: "An Illustrated History of Punk" & "Guns N' Roses / Carol Adams"

Dream of Monday morning, May 8th, 2006: An Illustrated History of Punk

I was sleeping in a bed in the large glass lobby of my grandmother’s apartment building in Manhattan. This was my mother's mother (who, in real life, died in 2004). My mother and older brother Andy entered the lobby and started talking. I remained lying down under the covers, still half asleep, but opened my eyes a little. It was night time, and the lights of the city shone in through the wall-to-wall windows. Mom and Andy discussed my grandfather, who they were going to visit in the hospital. He was my father’s father (who, in real life, died over twenty years ago), but he was married to my mother’s mother, whose apartment building we were in. He was expected to die that night, and their conversation concerned making preparations for what they would have to do afterward, dealing with the body and other practical concerns.

I half hoped that Andy and my mom would wake me: I wanted to feel needed, useful. The other half of me hoped they would leave me alone because I really didn’t want to face the disturbing reality of the hospital and witnessing my grandfather’s death. I was feeling regressive, childlike, wanting to avoid the responsibilities and burdens of adulthood. I realized that it was immature of me to sleep in and not volunteer to help, but I was still quite sleepy, so it would have taken some mental and physical effort to get out from under the covers and enter the cold night. They left for the hospital without disturbing me or even referring to me.

Still half asleep, I started watching a television that was turned on in the lobby. On it was a documentary called An Illustrated History of Punk. The first segment took place on a variety show around 1972: I could tell by the fashions and the grainy, washed-out quality of the film. It was the kind of program that might feature plate spinners, schlocky comedians in checkered sportcoats, and family novelty acts.

The MC introduced a performer who walked out on stage. He was a musician, a thin white guy of average height with a short, well-groomed beard, straight light brown hair with bangs that was somewhat longer in the back, very intense dark eyes and a sneaky, secretive smile. He wore a ragged, tight-fitting charcoal gray jacket with light gray stripes around the elbows and shoulders. He performed an outrageous punk song, somehow producing the dissonant music all by himself even though I cannot remember him having an instrument. He more or less jumped around the stage singing into a microphone with a cord accompanied by music that sounded something like a cross between Cat Stevens and the Sex Pistols. When he finished, he smiled serenely as the host stood aghast, open-mouthed in wordless indignation. From the audience came a few angry shouts, women crying, and general fury: it seemed like the crowd might be on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown or a riot.

Then the scene cut to an old hotel lobby exhibition of punk art. Though there was a lot of really bizarre stuff on display, the only visual I remember was a fountain, the centerpiece of which was a large ceramic sculpture of a white frog with green trim around the eyes and legs. Thick, dark yellow pus flowed from the frog’s mouth into a little stream that ran offscreen to the right. I said to myself in the dream, I’ll have to remember to rent this documentary on DVD sometime and watch it from the beginning.

Watching the film while lying in my dream bed (while asleep in my actual bed) made me remember why I have been so drawn to punk since I was a teenager: our society is so fundamentally fucked up, so deeply corrupt, that choosing to protest by withdrawing one’s participation and support from a fraudulent and violent system is a legitimate choice and a valid matter for ethical consideration. These thoughts came to me with an overwhelming rush of intensity in the dream itself and have remained with me.

As I was lying on my side with my head on a pillow watching the documentary, my grandmother came back from the hospital and sat at the foot of my bed. She was wearing a smart, bright-purple skirt and double-breasted jacket with large gold buttons, and she was smiling, beaming in fact. She was radiant, illuminated, and happier than I’d ever seen her in real life. She told me that her husband’s imminent death had made her realize how precious life is, and awakened in her a passion for living that she had not known since youth. She said that there were many things she wanted to experience and enjoy in the time left to her. I was overcome with tears of joy and woke from the dream.

It took me a minute or so to transition from dreaming to consciousness, during which time I held on to the emotional experience of the dream. I felt as though I had been visited by my grandmother’s spirit, and that she had brought me an important message about living life to the fullest. This was also, in a different way, the meaning I took from the punk documentary, which stayed with me as I rose from bed to start my day and write IDA's e-newsletter. It was definitely relevant to the work that I was about to do.

Specifically, any philosophy of resistance must offer a viable alternative that is more than merely a negation or rejection of the status quo: it must be a path to truth. One cannot overcome the pull toward conventional life merely by rebelling against it, as that becomes another form of hopeless conformity. Rather, one needs to create an authentic life, through constant focused effort, that is beyond the very rules of society. Of course, while this may be an actual possibility, it is insanely difficult. Yet it is what I strive for as an animal advocate, and to the extent that I miss the mark, at least I have come closer to it than I would have if I decided to participate mindlessly in humanity's vicious killing cycle or to remain conspicuously silent about it by not writing.

Guns N’ Roses – Carol Adams dream

This reminds me of another dream I had at the Animal Rights 2003 conference in Los Angeles over two years ago.

There was quite a controversy at the conference that year about women’s role and participation in the movement. The previous year, Howard Lyman had apparently made an offhand comment about some fashion model representing “the shape of the movement” or something, and feminists took offense. This also raised issues about representation of women’s views at the conference: feminists charged that women were not taken seriously by the male conference organizers who made undemocratic decisions about who was to present what subjects.

Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat and other seminal books about feminism and animal rights (pictured with me at the conference), distributed flyers inviting conference attendees to a late-night cell meeting in the hotel lobby to discuss how feminists could be heard within the movement. Considering myself a strong profeminist at the time, I chose to attend. I was one of three men who went with maybe a dozen women, none of whom I knew. There did seem to be some legitimate concerns about the way the conference organizers treated women presenters, but I did not feel particularly welcome at the discussion.

I suppose that's because of a specific incident. When Carol criticized PETA for using images of semi-naked women to “sell” veganism and animal rights, I asked (being that I was working in marketing at the time) whether anyone had studied the effectiveness of this approach. There was a moment of silence during which Carol stared at me with a look of utter contempt, then turned back to the group and continued the discussion without acknowledging my comment. I sat in for awhile longer, but felt degraded and didn’t open my mouth again. Neither did I speak to Carol after that during the rest of the conference. That was disappointing, because I liked Carol, had read several of her books, and felt there was a lot I could learn from her. It wasn’t her fault: I guess I'm just easily bruised.

I emailed Carol in September 2006 about this blog entry, and her response did have something to say about my question:

"Academically speaking: do the ads work, is an interesting question, and actually, since that time, I met a feminist undergraduate who did some focus groups using PETA ads and she found out that no, they don't work. But, activist-ly speaking (pardon the coining of a term), do they work? is immaterial, because they are built on the oppression of women."

I now completely understand and agree with this perspective, having learned in my few years of animal advocacy that there is more to ethics and efficacy than meets the eye. But then I'm partial to old-school feminist theory, and suspect that feminism today too often masquerades in the guise of feminine sexual power. That is, women who fit contemporary society's version of beauty and are willing to expose their bodies on camera do weild a certain amount of influence in the world, and there are countless women competing to take advantage of that. However, rather than possessing the social cache to actually change someone's ethical worldview, these sex symbols mainly have the power to sell beer, cars and Axe cologne.

Sex cannot "sell" animal rights, convenient though it might be to assume it would. Even if it somehow could, I would still not support it. Making animal rights sexy is one thing, most likely a good thing, but making people into sex objects or objectifying sex itself to achieve that end is wrong, and damaging to both women and men.

The question of whether a woman who chooses to express her sexuality as part of a media blitz actually still owns her sexual self is open to debate, for the naked female body becomes a commodity as soon as it enters the marketplace of images and ideas. Members of the target demographic probably don't care at that point that the presented body is occupied by a conscious person who is aware of herself and her infinite, unique complexity: what matters to these individuals is that the images can be sexually consumed and set aside at will. Animal rights is at best the second thing on the mind of an average guy who stumbles on a PETA ad: the majority of his attention will be drawn to the T&A on display.

Anyway, putting such controversial debate aside for the moment, I had the following dream at 6:00 a.m. on August 6th, 2003 in my room at the Westin LAX hotel in Los Angeles on the last day of the Animal Rights 2003 conference:

I was watching an episode of a new TV series that was a fictionalized history of Guns N’ Roses. It took place in the late 80s, and during a break in their tour schedule the band walked around a very futuristic looking Los Angeles. Everyone in the city wore ridiculous Guns 'n Roses-inspired fashions, like snakeskin trenchcoats, and had big, thickly gelled heavy metal hair. The band members went into a bar: everything about them was very stylized, airbrushed for TV. Axl was smiling, not a stubble out of place, talking to someone on a payphone. The people, the city, the bar were obviously phony, constructed not as a place for people to live, but to serve only as TV scenery. The extras were choreographed to make it seem as though they were real people walking around, but their stiff, precise movements were too mechanical to look authentic.

Slash had booked the tour and was in charge of the money. He showed the band where they'd be staying: tents made out of blankets and rope in a field of dry yellow grass. Axl complained, accusing Slash of having spent all the money on fancy dinners for himself, so that now they couldn't afford a hotel. The area where the tents were set up was a different part of the city from the TV set: this was where all the poor people lived, mostly people of color. It was something like a barrio, a shantytown, and felt much more real than the other part of the city.

A local a cappella group of about a dozen white people, evenly split between men and women, performed a special honorary concert for Guns ‘N Roses. A small audience gathered. The group members stood lined up on stage in four rows of three, men on the left, women on the right. Their bodies all faced the same direction: to the spectators' left, yet they turned their faces toward the audience. They wore what looked like gender-specific barbershop quartet uniforms: the men in striped shirts with bowties and suspenders, the women in frilly white blouses. They sang a traditional song in harmony unaccompanied by musicians.

Soon, they sang a line at the end of which the men used a slightly different word than did the women. The women tried to keep the song going despite the obvious mistake, but the men stopped to explain, in mumbling disarray, that this always happened: they, the men, sang the line correctly, in accordance with tradition, and the women always sang the wrong word. A few of the women subtly rolled their eyes and sighed, but did not speak. However, I knew the way the song was supposed to be sung, and the women were singing it accurately: the men just didn't realize it and were way too sure of their own superiority to even consider that they might be mistaken. Yet they went on believing that their way of singing the song was the right and only way, even though the women were actually singing the correct lyric.

I was amazed upon waking that my subconscious could pull this symbolic story out of my actual experiences at the conference. I felt I understood what Carol and the other feminists were feeling. Perhaps still fearing rejection, it took me three years to send her the dream.