It was never my plan to start a nonprofit animal rights organization, but in the early 80s, there were a lot of underground/Animal Liberation Front (ALF) activities going on in southern California and their activities – although heroic – received limited news coverage. When there was no such thing as an organized “animal rights movement” movement, I decided to create one by launching Last Chance for Animals (LCA). Our goal would be to commit “civil disobedience” at facilities, to shine a light on vivisection (research on live animals) and the true horror unfolding behind the locked doors of a research lab, animal farm, breeder or other animal facility. These acts of civil disobedience would be followed by comprehensive information campaigns to maintain awareness and spark action.
Back then, there was no social media. Civil disobedience and in some cases, old-fashioned demonstrations served as our primary tool to expose animal abusers and call for action on existing or absent animal protection laws. The widescale acceptance of social media was a game-changer for us in terms of educating citizens and maintaining a dialogue. Undercover and covert investigations were still required to bring the issue to the forefront, but social media kept the story alive almost indefinitely.
Over time, the law became more stringent for activists. Some acts of civil disobedience can now be classified as a felony and so-called agriculture gag (Ag-Gag) laws in many states seek to silence whistleblowers when animals are mistreated. These laws – many of which are unconstitutional – were created solely because we are making “real change” for animals.
While we can execute much of the same animal rights actions as we did 20, 30 or 40 years ago, we have had to alter our tactics. There were always strong penalties for covert/underground actions as far back as the 1970s, but things got much harder when the label “terrorists” came into play in the early 1980s. The FBI began scrutinizing laboratory raids and as a result, we had to be faster on our feet and wiser in our decisions.
Many of these laws were passed to protect industries that abuse animals, it is important for us then to not let these laws deter us from doing our jobs. Each LCA investigation is thoroughly researched before it commences and we routinely modify our approach in order to remain savvier than the opposition. The key is to remain fluid in attacking our opposition, discover their Achilles heel (which is almost always the Truth about how they mistreat animals) and aim for it. It’s a martial arts approach that uses the enemies’ energy against themselves while maintaining a spotlight on animal suffering long after the news has been written.
Being an activist for over 40 years, I have seen the immense changes that social media and the 24-hour news cycle have brought about. It’s far easier to engage people directly and we have come a long way from using public telephone booths and cumbersome undercover camera equipment. The good news is that the results of our activism are apparent; global outrage over animal abuse grows each year as we and other animal rights groups adapt to how the news and social media handle animal cruelty. However, it will always remain that the nucleus of “getting the word out” is based on excellent well-based factual investigations with visual proof. The combination of global news, social media saturation and great investigations have advanced the “animal rights movement” to the point at which all persons can be engaged and called to action.