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LGBT Compassion is a new group run by gay San Francisco Bay Area animal advocates, in affiliation with the non-profit organization Bay Area Vegetarians. Their activism focuses primarily on farmed-animal issues, though they also campaign against rodeos and other injustices they feel strongly about. When I caught up with founder Andrew Zollman he was working on the group’s campaign to eliminate live poultry markets in the Bay Area. He took a little time to answer some questions about LGBT Compassion.
Please tell me about LGBT Compassion. When was the group founded and what was the inspiration for creating it?
For about four years, I’ve been working with gay friends who are members of Bay Area Vegetarians on various campaigns, including issues that touch us personally, such as the Gay Rodeo (which Warren Jones and Eric Mills campaigned against many years before I become involved). Also, we want to promote the health benefits of plant-based diets to the LGBT community, as there are some sub-cultures that are particularly resistant to vegetarianism for various reasons, contributing to many of our friends suffering from preventable health problems at relatively young ages. The website LGBTcompassion.org was launched in April 2009 primarily to share our information about the live chicken vendors, but I hope to use it to reach out to other members of the LGBT community and inspire them to make compassionate choices ― not only for animals, but for other social justice issues that we should be concerned about.
There are many prominent gay animal advocates, such as Eric Mills from Action for Animals, Dan Mathews from PETA and Nathan Runkle from Mercy For Animals. I think we’re compelled to help animals due to empathy we’ve developed from our own experiences of oppression and abuse, and we’ve also developed useful strengths and skills from learning to cope with and fight discrimination. Not being accepted by mainstream society has helped us to be independent and true to our own ethics, which, of course, helps when being a veg*n and/or an animal activist.
We also hope to help dispel the stereotype that gay people are self-absorbed, materialistic and vapid (like television and movies usually portray us), as well as help show the diversity in vegans and animal activists.
What outreach efforts is LGBT Compassion using, and what do you find to be most effective?
We’ve leafleted with Vegan Outreach pamphlets at Gay Pride, and people were very receptive. We’ve leafleted against the Gay Rodeo in the Castro (alongside the rodeo promoters) and also directly contacted their sponsors ― likely contributing to the rodeo’s cancellation this year. We’ve conducted monthly protests with leafleting at KFCs. We’re active on Facebook and Yahoo! Groups. It’s difficult to tell which is most effective, but we’ve seen results from all activities. I also plan on soon showing videos and distributing Vegan Outreach fliers in the Castro neighborhood.
What kind of equipment will you use to show the videos?
I have a 22″ LCD TV/DVD player, with a deep-cycle battery power supply. I put it all on a microwave cart.
You mentioned doing outreach at Gay Pride and leafleting against gay rodeos. Do you think organizers of LGBT-related events and those who attend them are more receptive to a group like yours than they might be to other animal advocacy groups?
I think that members of the local gay community do pay more attention to us, as many of them know us personally, or recognize us as “regular” people in many of the same social circles, and see that we’re not stereotypes of vegans and animal activists. It’s also difficult for them to label our protests as anti-gay, thus avoiding the issue of animal cruelty ― though they still sometimes try. There’s also the element of peer pressure, when they learn that people within their own community are making compassionate and healthy choices. I believe that our ability to work from within an influential community in a major city can be very powerful.
Recently, there has been a surge of vegan food options in the Castro neighborhood, where we’ve long complained that few existed. We’ve also recently seen more people in the LGBT community become vegan or express interest. We’re excited to see these changes, and hope to help accelerate them.
You have a couple of campaigns that assist people who have AIDS. Some advocates, such as Dan Mathews, have been criticized by the gay community for not supporting animal testing in HIV/AIDS research. How does LGBT Compassion respond to such criticism?
I can’t speak for other gay activists, and we probably have different perspectives. I had friends and acquaintances who died before effective medications were available, and I’m happy that people can now have long, productive lives with HIV, but it’s unfortunate that these advances are a result of untold animal suffering. I don’t know the extent that animal testing materially contributes to the advancement of HIV/AIDS treatment, and I am doubtful of its value. I do know that there are some non-animal testing methods being employed that are effective. I don’t disapprove of anyone using medicine that resulted from animal testing, as the testing has already been done and they’re not directly contributing to it.
Currently, there are many obviously abusive, unnecessary or redundant animal tests being conducted that I’d prefer to eliminate first, before arguing whether any testing is productive or “necessary.” However, I do try to avoid supporting campaigns that support animal testing for the treatment of any disease.
Additionally, I’ve gathered anecdotal evidence — confirmed by Dr. Milton Mills from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — that a healthy plant-based diet may tremendously benefit persons with HIV, and I prefer to promote that information in the hopes of delaying, reducing or eliminating the need for medicine, just as with any other disease.
What lessons does the animal rights movement have to learn from other social justice movements like gay rights?
I suppose that, just like people who have advanced LGBT rights and other civil rights, we need to put the goal of necessary social reform above our fears of social ostracization, physical harm and threats from the government and that social change will definitely come if we fight, speak up and make ourselves known to everyone.
As you know, after the passage in November of California’s Prop 8 and Prop 2, some advocates of same-sex marriage accused voters of caring more about chickens than gay people. How do you respond to someone who makes that claim?
Following is a letter I submitted to the editor of a local gay newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter:
“I’ve been hearing complaints from fellow members of the gay community that animals now have more ‘rights’ than we do, due to the passages of California’s Propositions 2 (farm animal confinement standards) and 8 (elimination of the right to same-sex marriage). While I understand the intent of this assertion, it’s problematic for both our community and the animals.
“Animals received no rights with Proposition 2. Some animals (primarily egg-laying hens) are simply granted a few more inches of living space, and relieved of a little suffering during their short, miserable lives. For more information about what most egg-laying hens endure on factory farms, please visit farmsanctuary.org.
“The comparison is not valid. It trivializes the suffering of animals and the hard volunteer work on Proposition 2 by gay animal advocates like me. It trivializes the issue of equal rights, comparing our current lack of one of them to the suffering and abuse of animals raised for food. It also sounds like we would prefer that they continue to suffer until we receive such rights.
“Compassion is not finite. The animals did not steal the voters’ compassion from us, and the majority of the voters who voted yes on 2 also voted no on 8. For some of the voters, they are completely different issues: granting ‘innocent’ animals a little relief from cruelty while protecting our food safety and environment, versus trying to ‘protect’ society by preventing gay people from actions that are against their religious views.
“As a group that has experienced oppression and abuse, we should be sympathetic to others who are abused (especially those who have no voice of their own), and celebrate when they receive a little relief, instead of complaining.
“If people wish to continue to bring attention to this issue, it would be more appropriate to use the word ‘compassion’ instead of rights.”
What are some ways advocates can help both animals and the LGBT rights movement?
I don’t really know, but I think it’s obvious they are intertwined. From what I’ve experienced with my non-gay friends and during Proposition 8, all the compassionate people out there — particularly animal advocates — are already doing a wonderful job fighting for LGBT rights! I would ask that they continue to help fight for the right to marriage in California and other states.
Today’s Montreal Gazette features an interesting profile of how the media views animal activism. “Do Small Victories Affect Big Picture in Animal Rights Debate?,” by Richard Foot, is clearly inspired by the European Union’s recent vote to ban Canadian seal products, a victory due in no small part to the decades-long battle animal activists have been waging on behalf of seals.
In addition to the annual seal massacre, Foot addresses the Ottawa Animal Defense League’s campaign to rid the city’s restaurants of foie gras (the fact that Foot refers to foie gras as a “culinary treat” may provide some clue about his feelings on the issue), animal testing in the United States, fox hunting in England and the anti-whaling efforts headed by Sea Shepherd.
Though these might seem to represent a good cross-section of animal activism, from Foot’s perspective, it’s all bad news. Fur will still be sold in China and Russia, foie gras is available in supermarkets, animals continue to suffer in labs, British politicians are thinking of overturning the fox-hunting ban and whalers from Japan and Norway each still kill about 1,000 whales a year (though even Foot admits this is a far cry from the 20,000 whales killed every year during the 1970s).
Moreover, Foot focuses on extremist activities, such as the recent fire-bombings in California, and of course he has to mention that the FBI has labeled animal activists one of the country’s “most serious domestic terrorist threats.”
The reality is, we have seen a number of victories for animals in recent years, including the passing of Prop 2 in California, which will ban confinement systems for egg-laying hens, sows used for breeding and male calves used for veal. Meanwhile, Russia has banned its own seal slaughter, penalties for animal abuse are getting tougher every year, we are gaining traction against the exploitation of animals for vivisection, egg producers throughout the world are eliminating battery cages and much more.
Yes, it’s easy to spin just about any success and focus on the negatives. Prop 2 won’t go into effect until 2015 and will not eliminate all animal suffering. Animal abuse is not a felony in every US state. Cage-free does not mean cruelty-free. But the media often overlooks the positive and zeroes in on the sensational, treating every arrested animal activist as if he or she were a murderous desperado ― twenty-first century versions of Bonnie and Clyde.
If you wonder how effective animal advocacy is, one of the best barometers is animal agribusiness, which gets downright apoplectic when asked about animal activism. Big Ag’s attitude may be best summed up by Al Pope, former president of United Egg Producers, an industry trade group. Referring to the campaigns of animal activists, Pope declared: “WE ARE AT WAR.”
Animal activism is a long struggle, no question. We have our successes, and we have our failures. Sometimes our victories seem small to us, but I’m betting they don’t to the animals they affect. As Foot quotes Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson as saying, “We do what we can with the resources that are available to us. We don’t focus on whether we’re going to win or we’re going to lose. We do what we think is right, because it’s the right thing to do. If we don’t succeed, well, then it’s going to affect all of humanity.”
Can I get an “Amen”?
Like any social-justice movement, the struggle to advance the interests of animals has its share of detractors. The most vocal of these critics come from animal enterprises such as factory farms, labs, puppy mills, circuses and other industries that exploit animals for profit. And, of course, there’s a segment of the population ― sport hunters and those who believe they have a “right” to eat animals, for example ― that enjoys blogging about their affinity for cruelty.
But there are some within the animal-protection movement itself who criticize the methods other individuals and organizations use to advocate for animals. Chief among these cynics’ targets are Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Those who disparage these nonprofits argue that they have sold out to animal agriculture and non-vegetarian businesses by cooperating with them. Here’s one example: Following pressure from Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and PETA, Smithfield Foods — the world’s largest pork producer — announced in 2007 that it would begin phasing out cruel gestation crates on all its company-owned farms. While many lauded this as step forward for animals, one longtime critic of animal-welfare campaigns decried it as a “sad defeat for nonhumans” and cynically labeled it a fundraising ploy.
Although I agree with those who argue that “humane meat” is oxymoronic, I believe that while we promote the benefits of veganism, we owe it to farmed animals to fight for every bit of humane treatment we can win for them as soon as we can. I understand there are those who think this position only benefits animal exploiters; yet, if that were the case, you would expect agribusiness and fast-food chains to be thanking animal advocates.
Let’s consider some of the comments from agribiz. Corporate farmers across the U.S. have their collective knickers in a twist in the wake of California’s Proposition 2 ― which, in case you’ve been meditating in a cave for the last year, will make it a crime to confine hens in battery cages, pigs in gestation crates and calves in veal crates and was primarily sponsored by HSUS and Farm Sanctuary. As Bryan Black, president of the National Pork Producers Council, put it: “It is regrettable that animal rights groups were successful in vilifying hardworking, honest farmers and ranchers who treat their animals humanely and provide them with a healthful and safe environment in which to grow.”
More to the point was Steve Kopperud, senior vice president of Policy Directions, Inc., which lobbies on behalf of agribusiness. Kopperud told attendees at a farm forum in Ohio this month: “The Humane Society of the United States say they aren’t pushing for a vegan society; however, if you cut the crap you’ll find they are in a PETA-kind of agenda. If you think you can sit down with an animal rights group and give them something and they go away, you are absolutely insane.”
Doesn’t exactly sound like they consider HSUS or PETA to be helping them, does it? In fact, Kopperud and many others declare animal rights organizations to be the biggest threat to their way of making a buck: raising and slaughtering animals for food.
And these complaints go back well before Prop 2. In its 2006 outlook report, Poultry Times quoted United Egg Producer President Al Pope (since retired), who noted that at a recent convention, an HSUS official stated that “its goal was to ELIMINATE the poultry industry.” The report goes on with more of Pope’s concerns: “Activists’ actions force the industry to add substantial costs to producing its product. Higher prices affect the customer’s willingness to purchase as we compete with other protein products. Long-term this issue has the potential of greatly impacting the demand and thus the economic well-being of the industry. It is imperative that animal agriculture look beyond 2007 and recognize ‘WE ARE AT WAR.’”
Gene Gregory, now president and CEO of United Egg Producers, used similar rhetoric three years ago in an Egg Industry Magazine article. “I’m afraid we’re losing the battle,” he said. The article described Gregory’s struggle “to compete with the budget of $100 million that the Humane Society of the United States has, and it’s relatively easy for the Humane Society to recruit members on college campuses…. [Gregory] also thinks that when universities go cage-free, it means egg consumption declines because total costs go up and that translates into fewer eggs that end up on student plates.”
In contrast to the grumbling from Big Ag, which is vociferous and frequent, you don’t hear much from fast-food companies, even though Burger King, Carl’s Jr., KFC, McDonald’s and Wendy’s have all been targets of campaigns encouraging them to adopt policies that reduce cruelty to animals (usually by sourcing from suppliers with higher welfare standards, such as not keeping laying hens in crowded cages, or that slaughter animals using methods that minimize suffering, such as controlled-atmosphere killing). That’s not to say these restaurant chains don’t have their gripes against animal activists ― not by a long shot. They just let front groups like the ironically named Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) do the griping for them. You’d be hard-pressed to find many purveyors of hamburgers or chicken nuggets complaining in public about PETA, Farm Sanctuary or HSUS. It’s much easier for them to support CCF, infamous for fighting consumers’ right to have nutrition labels in restaurants and maintaining that humans must eat animal flesh to be healthy. CCF has complained about PETA offering anti-meat and anti-dairy “propaganda” to children, has called Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Turkey project “a farce” and continues to criticize efforts by HSUS to outlaw cruel agricultural practices, to name but a few examples. (As a paid lobbyist for tobacco, alcohol, meat, soft drink and fast-food interests, CCF is likely to attack anyone who criticizes their clients’ products.)
Animal rights organizations are also putting pressure on corporations by owning stock in the company. PETA, for example, which currently owns 478 shares of Smithfield Foods stock, recently submitted a shareholder resolution calling on the company to publicly disclose a timeline for fulfilling its promise to phase out gestation crates, and McDonald’s shareholders will soon be asked to vote on HSUS’ resolution urging the chain to begin switching to cage-free eggs.
It is not my contention that the tactics and campaigns of Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and PETA are always right. They have their share of misses just like any organization. But when animal exploiters or those paid to shill for them are raising the battle cry against animal advocates, I know we’ve got them on the run. Their vitriol is a signal that we ― the individual activist and nonprofit group alike ― are impacting their bottom line and making a difference for animals.
I love how Steve Kopperud, the trusted advisor to factory farms, characterizes the situation. Warning his Ohio farm forum audience about the reforms animal-protection organizations are working on, he said: “This is a collective threat. If all of the Ohio agricultural community does not sit down and figure out a collective way to stop this right now, you will all wind up as crop producers.”
And that’s supposed to be a bad thing?
One of the most exciting results of Proposition 2 — California’s successful campaign to ban battery cages for hens, gestation crates pigs and veal crates for calves — is that it energized activists across the United States, introducing a new generation of animal advocates to the horrors of factory farming. Many of these people had known little, if anything, about agribusiness practices. But they literally took up the Prop 2 banner, getting involved in the fight to end the use of intensive-confinement devices in California.
Now, taking advantage of the momentum generated by the California voter initiative, a group of activists has formed the Farm Animal Protection Project (FAPP). Located in Sonoma County, FAPP is an all-volunteer group that will use the knowledge, skills and tactics learned during the year-long Prop 2 battle and apply them to a permanent campaign for animals. The group will use leafleting, tabling, food outreach, film screenings, special events and other tactics to educate companies, schools and the public on how easy it is to reduce cruelty to animals, including not buying eggs from caged hens — or, better yet, not buying eggs at all.
“Throughout the Prop 2 campaign, we heard from farmers who were concerned that people would buy cheaper eggs from out of state once the measure passed,” says FAPP Director of Campaigns Hope Bohanec, who served as the Sonoma County coordinator for the Yes on Prop 2 campaign. “So FAPP will be reaching out to restaurants, grocers and school campuses in Sonoma County, urging them to support California egg producers once Prop 2 takes effect in 2015.”
Hope suggests that every county in the state form a grassroots organization similar to Sonoma’s FAPP. “Imagine the power this would create,” she says. “We’ll be able to say, ‘See how well Prop 2 works!’”
Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ Factory Farming Campaign, applauds the new group. “Prop 2 was the most important victory for animals to date, but it’s only one chapter in the movement’s history, and it’s time to start writing the next chapters,” he says. “As much momentum as we have from Prop 2’s overwhelming passage, progress is not going to be self-executing. Progress requires that we remain vigilant and active. We want to make sure that the advocacy community that was cultivated throughout the Prop 2 campaign continues to wage more and more victories for farmed animals. By working with local retailers to get them to stop using eggs from caged hens, we can make sure that progress does indeed continue.”
Although FAPP will be focusing on factory farming, the group’s campaigns will benefit other animals as well. “Helping people go vegan brings attention to fur, circuses, vivisection and other animal-related issues,” explains Hope. FAPP will offer monthly potlucks, bake sales, cooking classes and more, all outlined in an e-newsletter. The group will meet one Sunday each month in Rohnert Park.
With FAPP blossoming, two smaller animal rights groups in the county are folding. Members of Sonoma People for Animal Rights, co-founded by Marianna Mayer and Paul Toussiant 25 years ago, and Vegan Voices, which Hope founded in 1994, recognized the sense in channeling their energy and limited financial resources into one larger grassroots organization, thus compounding their outreach ability. (Other animal- and vegan-advocacy groups in Sonoma County include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, headquartered in Cotati, and Organic Athlete, located in Sebastopol.)
Hope says the Farm Animal Protection Project will be reaching out to other social-justice causes, such as the environmental movement, to work together. You’ll be able to learn more about FAPP at www.FarmAnimalProtection.org (the site is still under construction).
The Animal Agriculture Alliance is reporting (complaining, actually) that donations to some of the world’s largest animal rights and animal protection organizations have gone up.
According to a study carried out by this coalition of agribiz producers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer-processors, private industry and retailers, “In 2008, there appeared to be an increase in well-funded animal rights activities directed at animal agriculture…. In 2007, the latest reporting period available for review, charitable donations to animal rights groups rose 11%, providing activist groups funds to develop activities such as California’s Proposition 2, undercover video operations, legislative initiatives and legal actions. Donations to the extremist People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and its subsidiaries increased 11%.”
“Much of this increased funding is attributed to donors who are not fully aware of the anti-animal use campaigns of many of these groups,” said Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of the Alliance. “It’s unfortunate many portray themselves as mainstream and working to improve animal care, yet their funding is primarily spent on campaigns to ban or restrict essential uses of animals such as being raised for food or for research to find cures for diseases.”
Donations to Humane Society for the United States (HSUS), the largest animal rights activist group in the U.S., remained about the same as last year when including subsidiary organizations the Fund for Animals and Doris Day Animal League.
On the international front, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) increased its donations by 80%, displacing PETA as the third-largest activist group targeting modern animal agriculture.
Total donations to the most significant domestic and international animal rights groups reached nearly $330 million in 2007. “This level of funding will only improve the ability of animal rights groups worldwide to continue their multi-dimensional efforts attacking animal agriculture and other animal use businesses,” says an editorial on AgWeb.com.
So, if you can afford to donate to an animal rights or animal protection organization this year, please do so. Let’s keep animal abusers on the run.
Shouting “Fur hag!,” an animal rights activist in Paris showered celebrity Lindsay Lohan with a bag of flour early Saturday morning (November 15). Lohan, wrapped in a mink stole, had just arrived at a club when a French activist rushed toward the actress, dumping a hefty bag of white flour all over the shocked star. The activist, possibly associated with PETA, was momentarily detained but broke free and ran off down the Champs-Elysees.
A statement from PETA reads, “Lohan has enraged animal lovers by appearing in at least two different fur coats in recent days, despite PETA’s repeated pleas that she consider how animals suffer for every fur garment and stop wearing their skins. She was named on PETA’s annual Worst Dressed List earlier this year.”
PETA Europe spokesperson Robbie LeBlanc added: “There is nothing remotely ‘fashionable’ about the torture and death of animals killed for fur. Lindsay Lohan might be able to ignore images of bloody animals skinned alive for their pelts, but we hope a dash of flour will help her rise to the occasion and forsake fur once and for all.”
Lohan’s girlfriend Samantha Ronson posted a rant on her MySpace page about the incident, calling the activist “an animal” (she sure knows how to make things worse, eh?). Ronson recently caused a stir in the activist community when she complained Californians care more about chickens than gay people because voters passed both Prop 2, which bans animal-confinement devices, and Prop 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state.
Naturally, the flour-power incident has been posted on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.
In November 1973, under pressure to resign as President of the United States, a defiant Richard Nixon addressed the nation on television. “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook,” Nixon said. “Well, I’m not a crook.” By using the word “crook,” Nixon made people think that’s exactly what he was, and he ended up leaving office the following the year, disgraced.
This lesson in how not to frame your debate begins George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, which outlines how progressives can better articulate their message. “When we negate a frame, we evoke the frame,” writes Lakoff in explaining Nixon’s blunder. In other words, never use the language of your opponent. This is why you won’t find the Humane Society of the United States initiating debate on the criticisms made by agribusiness in the current Proposition 2 ballot measure in California, or bills like it. HSUS might carefully respond to attacks that Prop 2 will increase the cost of eggs, for example, but the organization does not present this as part of its central argument in op-eds and other communication to the public; no, the cost increase is part of the opponent’s frame ― an attempt to scare consumers. Instead, HSUS asks voters to imagine what it must be like for an egg-laying hen, pregnant pig or baby calf to live in confinement, unable to even turn around.
Lakoff, who teaches linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, is a specialist in “framing”: the way that language shapes how we think. Though it primarily deals with political discourse, Lakoff’s book has a few things to teach us about presenting the animal rights argument. Indeed, Don’t Think of an Elephant is one of two books on framing that activists would do well to study.
Our job as activists is to frame the vision of the animal rights movement ― its values and mission ― in a way people can easily understand and embrace. Although most people today are probably not in agreement that the world should go vegan, the majority of people do agree that animals should be not abused. The problem is, people almost never see animal abuse, and when they do, they think it’s an isolated incident. By framing our message so it resonates with a person’s core values, we demonstrate that those values are already aligned with the goal of ending animal suffering and exploitation. One way to do this is to explain the abuse of farmed animals within the frame of companion animals, since people are more familiar with dogs and cats. Whether speaking to people on the street or writing letters to editors, we can remind the public that “Farmed animals are offered no protection against such routine abuses as debeaking, toe removal, branding, dehorning, tail docking and castration ― all performed without any pain relief. Yet, if someone were to treat a dog or cat this way, he or she would be charged with animal cruelty.”
As Lakoff observes, people think in frames, and every word evokes a frame. The word “elephant,” for example, evokes a frame with an image of an elephant and certain knowledge: an elephant is a large animal (a mammal) with large floppy ears, a trunk that functions like both a nose and a hand, large stump-like legs and so on. I believe the animal-rights movement has done well to frame corporate agribusiness as the architects of “animal factories” and “factory farms.” These pejorative terms are much more widely used ― and understood ― than the term agribiz prefers: “concentrated animal feeding operation.” Indeed, a search for “factory farm” on Google comes up with 182,000 results, vs. 29,100 for “concentrated animal feeding operation”; “animal factory” yields 175,000 results. “Puppy mill” is another example. You’ll find 1,680,000 results for that term on Google, while the innocuous-sounding “commercial dog breeder” comes in with only about half a million.
The lesson here is to use our own language ― frames that will help people see the connection between their choices and animal abuse ― rather than the language of those who exploit animals.
Lakoff’s conservative counterpart is Frank Luntz, author of Words That Work. Luntz is probably best known for convincing Republicans to use words like “climate change” instead of “global warming” and “energy exploration” rather than “oil drilling.” His point is these words sound better to the public, because, according to Luntz, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear” that matters most. Many of the examples Luntz offers come straight from companies exploiting animals, which illustrates just how well they do their job and make animals suffer.
Luntz provides readers with his Ten Rules of Effective Language:
1. Simplicity — Use small words. Avoid words that might force someone to reach for the dictionary (because most people won’t).
2. Brevity — Use short sentences. Never use a sentence when a phrase will do, and never use four words when three can say as much.
3. Credibility is as important as philosophy — People have to believe it to buy it.
4. Consistency matters — Repetition, repetition, repetition. Finding a good message and then sticking with it takes extraordinary discipline, but it pays off tenfold in the end. You may be making yourself sick saying something over and over, but many in your audience will be hearing it for the first time. (During the Prop 2 initiative battle in California, supporters of the measure to ban intensive confinement have constantly said Prop 2 would allow animals “to stand up, turn around, lie down and fully extend their limbs” — often several times in the same interview or debate).
5. Novelty — Offer something new. Words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea (such as when author Ruth Harrison used the term “factory farms” in 1964 to describe what the ag industry calls “concentrated animal feeding operations”).
6. Sound and texture matter — A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds (see #5).
7. Speak Aspirationally — Messages need to say what people want to hear. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his “I have a dream” speech. (This can be difficult when addressing the plight of animals. I often speak about rescued animals living on sanctuaries, free from pain and fear. Getting people to visit a sanctuary so they can meet these animals themselves is even better.)
8. Visualize — Plant a vivid image. There is one word in the English language that automatically triggers the process of visualization: imagine. (Asking people to imagine their dog or cat being forced to undergo painful medical tests or to be locked in a wire battery cage for two years and then slaughtered can be a way to help people see things differently.)
9. Ask a question. Luntz cites the dairy industry’s “Got Milk?” as perhaps the most memorable print-ad campaign of the past decade.
10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance. You must give people the “why” of your message before giving them the “therefore” and the “so that.” Some people call this framing, but Luntz prefers the word context.
Finally, remember: Rhetoric is an art used to persuade your audience, and like any art, it takes practice and discipline. Activist Bruce Friedrich recommends that we become familiar with the atrocities committed against animals, so that we’re better able to paint a picture with our words. “Although hard,” Bruce says, “it is very useful to watch videos with some regularity so that images of some of the forms of cruelty in factory farming are always fresh in your memory. This way, when people ask you, ‘Why are you a vegan?’ or, ‘Why are you an activist?’ you’re able to describe concrete and specific examples of the horrors that are routinely inflicted on animals. For example, rather than saying, ‘Animals are treated badly on factory farms,’ you will be able to say, ‘On factory farms, chickens grow so fast that they become crippled under their own weight,’ or ‘Cows and pigs often have their limbs hacked off while they’re conscious and able to feel pain,’ or ‘Animals are denied their every need and desire, they’re mutilated and cooped up in their own waste, they’re violently loaded onto trucks, causing injuries, and they’re slaughtered in the most painful and inhumane manner that you can imagine. If a dog or a cat were treated the way farmed animals are treated, everyone involved could be thrown in jail on felony cruelty-to-animals charges.’”
Such videos are not easy to watch, but they do remind us that relatively few people ever witness what goes on in the darkened corners of animal enterprises, and it’s up to activists to shine a spotlight on them.