The Animal Rights Challenge, By Kim Stallwood (Part 3)
In this blog post, I cover part three of Kim Stallwood’s presentation at the Minding Animals Conference in London, which is serialized on grumpyvegan.com. In this part of his presentation, Stallwood discusses the differences and similarities between the British and U.S. animal rights movements. He notes that most of the activists in Britain have realized the necessity of making animal rights a mainstream political issue, while in the U.S. this is arguably not the case. This may be why the British attitude toward animals seems more progressive.
While the U.S. animal rights movement was just getting started (many people say it began with the publication of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation in 1975), the British movement was already thinking politically. Stallwood mentions an animal rights symposium held in Cambridge in 1977 and organized by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. At that meeting, Lord Houghton of Sowerby (a former member of the Labour Party cabinet) made the following observation:
|My message is that animal welfare, in the general and in the particular, is largely a matter for the law. This means that to Parliament we must go. Sooner or later that is where we will have to go. That is where laws are made and where penalties for disobedience and the measures for enforcement are laid down. There is no complete substitute for the law. Public opinion is what makes laws possible and observance widely acceptable.|
In the U.S., most activists are still more focused on public education and encouraging behavior change than politics. All aspects of advocacy are important, of course, but Stallwood argues – and I agree – that there needs to be a shift in focus toward the politics of animal rights. Becoming involved in the political system is not only necessary to sustain behavior changes and enforce animal protection laws, it also may achieve animal rights more quickly than public education. Changing public opinions and behavior is a long, painstaking process; while passing and enforcing legislation is also difficult, it can affect millions of animals at a time.
Despite this important difference between the U.S. and British animal rights movements, there are also many similarities as well. Stallwood outlines some of those in his presentation:
Regardless of these important similarities, there is one key difference between the British and American movements: the former has succeeded in making animal rights a mainstream political issue whereas the latter has not. This is not to say that the movement in this country can rest on its political accomplishments – the prospect of a future Conservative government and their wish to overturn the Hunting Act is, indeed, a sobering thought – nor does it diminish the significant accomplishments achieved in the US when animal issues are placed onto state ballots.
Fortunately, advocates in the U.S. seem to be making progress on the political front and there are hopes that the Obama administration will open the door for even more progress. While most of the advancements have been on the state level, such as the recent successful ballot initiatives, advocates need to influence the federal government as well. For instance, there are organizations like the League of Humane Voters and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which recently released its Change Agenda for Animals. The agenda offers 100 recommendations to the Obama administration to help improve the lives of animals.