(Featured image: author Kim Bartlett with foal circa 1976)
This article was originally written and delivered by Kim Bartlett as a statement on behalf of The Animals’ Agenda to the April 1986 “Summit for the Animals,” hosted annually by the Animal Protection Institute of America (now National Council for Animal Protection). It was then adapted for publication in the June 1986 issue of The Animals’ Agenda magazine. Kim Bartlett, now a veteran of more than 40 years’ animal rights advocacy, currently serves as the President of Animal People, and her insights and advice are as relevant today as ever. By republishing “Toward a Summit for Animals” on the Animal People Forum, we hope to inform present day activists as to the movement’s history and progress so far, and empower them to carry it forward effectively toward greater victories in the future.
The animal rights movement deals with every aspect of life on our planet: health, hygiene, diet, clothing, education, recreation, entertainment, companionship, and so on; and animal rights thought is opposed by deeply vested interests on every front. No other social movement has ever had to deal with such a diversity of issues. This great diversity of issues combined with the multifarious differences of opinion held on each issue, both within the movement and by the general public, presents us with a challenge faced by no other “cause.”
We carry a banner first officially raised about 150 years ago, making animal rights one of the oldest movements now struggling for popular acceptance. We are all aware of the problems plaguing the humane movement in the past, and we surely realize the enormity of the task facing us now. Isolated attempts to change societal attitudes about animals and restructure existing systems of oppression will fail as they always have before. It is only by working together – by forging a cohesive, directed movement – that we will be able to translate the growing public support for animal rights into significant advances toward the goal of ending cruelty and exploitation.
We would like to highlight two steps the major national organizations can take to foster unity: 1.) establishing coalitions, and 2.) supporting grassroots activism.
Coalitions must be designed so that the issue to be dealt with is simple, clearly defined, and one on which the different factions of the movement are likely to unite. The best example, of course, is Henry Spira’s Coalition to End the LD50 which is hacking at the bureaucratic inertia that continues this archaic test. Though pound seizure is a stickier subject to handle, and campaigning against it stirs up considerable opposition, formation of the PRO-PETS coalition was a glowing achievement.
The possibilities for successful and popular coalitions are almost endless, but we suggest a few for starters:
1.) High priority should be given to forming a coalition to fight the fur industry. An all-out national campaign to depopularize fur will be required before we will make permanent gains in the battle against the fur mystique and those who promote it so profitably. We should consider a double-pronged approach, revealing the animal suffering involved and de-glamourizing fur wearing by showing it as the primitive, barbaric habit it really is. Resources should be pooled to purchase slick multi-media advertisements and finance personal appearances of anti-fur celebrities acround the country. For the time being, the major thrust of the campaign to ban the steel-jaw trap should be shifted to state legislatures.
2.) A coalition to end classroom cruelty and experimentation at school science fairs would elicit relatively weak opposition. These efforts would also be directed at the state level.
3.) On the farm front, let’s liberate egg-layer chickens with a united effort to ban battery cages, and let’s get the veal calves out of the crates. Legislation is also desperately needed to protect livestock animals during transportation and establish some humane standards of handling.
Though no one should ever ignore any form of animal exploitation or abandon any vital long-term programs, a significant portion of movement resources and energy should be focused on a few issues at a time – issues chosen because they appear relatively easy to win, or because the animal suffering involved is acute. Through effective coalitions, the movement would develop synergy, and through good-natured cooperation, the movement might rise above the organizational chauvinism and pride that has so often divided us.
The big national groups must, if they want to be a more positive force in the movement, begin to foster and accommodate the trend towards grassroots activism. For those few that are still ignoring or keeping their distance from grassroots energy, may we suggest that instead they join the growing number of major organizations that are nurturing and encouraging local efforts and offering funding and guidance to local activists.
Fifteen years ago when I joined the movement, what one generally did was to send a check to one of the large organizations. Writing letters to editors and members of Congress was just about all that was required. Now there is definitely a tendency toward individual action. Newcomers to the movement are joining local activist groups because they want to do more than paper lobbying. Animal rights activists feel empowered to change the status quo through their own personal efforts. Instead of trying to deflect or ignore their zeal – as a few out-of-step national groups are – they should be encouraging it, and should consider becoming a part of it in whatever way possible. We offer the following suggestions:
1.) To some extent, de-centralize. Consider opening regional and state offices, if you don’t already have them.
2.) Make your experts available to grassroots organizations (without asking them to pay expenses). Provide your literature at no charge to local activists willing and able to distribute it.
3.) If a local event is planned or some significant battle is underway, be willing to send out invitations or notices to your area members. Help local activists plan events and campaigns.
4.) Form a joint certification board for all organizations handling animals. Agree on a set of realistic standards for accreditation of shelters and shelter workers, and act more vigorously to raise standards in shelters so that they can become accredited. Consider establishing a registry for animal cruelty investigators, humane educators, and shelter workers. Another cooperative possibility is a joint certification board for all other types of facilities which use animals, such as pet shops or zoos. Though we may deplore the very existence of such places, as long as there are businesses and institutions exploiting animals, there will be a need to establish and enforce humane standards, and employees working with animals should be properly trained and encouraged to become licensed or certified.
A knowledge of the history of the humane movement, gained by studying its philosophical evolution and its past failures and accomplishments, will help us to grow and should allow us to avoid some of the pitfalls on the road ahead. However, dwelling on past mistakes and resentments will keep us from realizing the promise of the future.
Human sensibilities do evolve. A glance backwards into time reveals that the human being is slowly, but surely, developing into a more “humane being.” Our task is to speed up the process. In this modern world of instant communication, new ideas which once took generations to spread and blossom can rapidly bear fruit. Though it may take years for a revolutionary idea to sink down into the human psyche and germinate, by using the tools at our disposal to scatter the seeds of humane thought, and by carefully tending the flowers that will begin to grow, we will see – in a relatively short time – a change in attitudes that once might have taken centuries to cultivate. The enlightenment of the 18th century freed us from medieval ignorance. The enlightenment of the late 20th century will free us from barbarity.
The enemy we battle is the disease of the human spirit which allows our species to wallow in prejudice and cruelty. Our culture has brutalized us all to some extent by the way it teaches us to relate to animals and to one another. The “animal rights enlightenment” will heal us and raise our consciousness – both individually and collectively. A new awareness is dawning in spite of the movement’s past problems, and the light will continue to shine even if those of us who preach respect and compassion for the animals fail to practice it in our dealings with one another. But by joining together in a spirit of fellowship, our influence will be greater, the humane process will be speeded, and a bright future of freedom and peace will arrive sooner for all the inhabitants of our world.