unfolded in New York’s Broadway venues and spread to the opera housesand ballet productions of major cities across the country. Itscharacters include angry college students, aging rock stars,flamboyant B-movie queens, society matrons, and sophisticated fashiondesigners.
You can’t buy tickets for this production, but you mightcatch a glimpse of it while driving in Bethesda on particular Saturdayafternoons. If you’re lucky, Compassion Over Killing (COK), an animalrights civil disobedience group, will be picketing Miller’s Furs,their enemy in the fight against fur. These impassioned activists seethe fur trade as nothing less than wholesale, commercialized murder,and will go to great lengths to get their point across. Suchenthusiasm may do them in, as COK’s often divisive rhetoric and tacitendorsement of vandalism threaten to alienate the very people it needsto reach in order to be successful.Order now
The animal rights idealogy crystallized with the publicationof philosophy professor’s exploration of the way humans use and abuseother animals. Animal Liberation argued that animals have an intrinsicworth in themselves and deserve to exist on their own terms, not justas means to human ends. By 1985, ten years after Peter Singer’swatershed treatise was first published, dozens of animal rights groupshad sprung up and were starting to savor their first successes. In1994 Paul Shapiro, then a student at Georgetown Day School, didn’tfeel these non-profits were agitating aggressively enough for thecause. He founded Compassion Over Killing to mobilize animal rightsactivists in the Washington metropolitan area and “throw animalexploiters out of business.
” Since then, COK has expanded to over 300members with chapters across the country, including one at AmericanUniversity, which formed in the fall of 1996. COK organizes protestsas a primary activity of the group, although some chapters may chooseto expand into other areas if they wish. COK’s focus on direct-action protests and demonstrations isjust one way that the animal rights movement has mobilized to end thefur trade. The larger animal rights organizations have conductedattention grabbing media blitzes with the help of stars like PaulMcCartney, Melissa Etheridge, Rikki Lake, Naomi Campbell and ChristyTurlington. Lobbying efforts by animal advocacy groups have resultedin trapping restrictions in numerous states and an end to federal furindustry subsidies. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)has persuaded several fashion designers including Calvin Klein andDonna Karan to stop using fur in their clothing lines.
In addition,anti-fur concerts, videos, compact discs, t-shirts, drag revues andaward ceremonies have been used by animal rights groups to advancetheir cause. Each side of the conflict over fur coats has an entirelydifferent way of conceptualizing and talking about the issue. Animalrights groups bluntly describe fur as “dead. .
. animal parts” andemphasize that animals are killed to produce a fur garment. Thoseinvolved in the fur industry consistently use agricultural metaphorsand talk of a yearly “crop of fur” that must be “harvested. ” MannyMiller, the owner of Miller’s Furs, refused to describe his businessin terms of the individual animals; “I don’t sell animals.
I sellfinished products. I sell fur coats. ” These linguistic differencesextend to the manner in which both sides frame the debate over fur. COK refers to the industry in criminal terms; fur is directly equatedwith murder and those involved in the industry are labeled killers. Industry groups like the Fur Information Council of America (FICA)always describes fur garments as objects and clothing; it is “theultimate cold weather fabric” that is “your fashion choice. “On Saturday, April 12th, Compassion Over Killing demonstratedoutside the White House, protesting the Clinton administration’sopposition to a European Community ban on the importation of fur coatsmade from animals caught in the wild.
In addition, the demonstrationcalled for the release of several Animal Liberation Front (ALF)members imprisoned for vandalizing property and liberating animalsfrom research labs and factory farms. Several dozen high school andcollege students turned out for the event, but the protest attracted ahandful of thirtysomethings and an elderly woman as well. Most of theyoung people there seemed to dress in a similar style; baggy pants,piercings and t-shirts advertising obscure “hard-core” rock bandsadorned most of the activists. The organizers of the protest providedmore than enough signs for everyone to carry.
Each sign had a sloganstenciled on the cardboard in boxy black letters, including “Abolishthe Fur Trade,” “Fur is Murder,” “Stop Promoting Vanity and Death,”and “Fur is Dead- Get It In Your Head. ” Some of the signs displayedgraphic photographs of skinned animal carcasses. In contrast to thedramatic messages they carried, most of the activists were subdued asthey slowly trudged in a circle. The inclement weather seemed to dampen their spirits a bit, asfor most of the three hour protest it alternated between drizzle andhalf-hearted rain showers. The few passersby seemed intent on gettingthrough the rain, and quickly walked past while giving the protesterswide berth. In periods when the precipitation was less intense, themajority of people passed by with expressions of studied indifferenceor disgust and seemed to have a visceral reaction to the bloody,explicit posters.
It is not necessarily bad to show people what youare against; no one in COK likes to look at those photographs. At thesame time, it’s important to try to reach people at a level where yourmessage can resonate. Using words like “murder” may attract attention,but it has just as much potential to turn people off. The fur industryis trying its hardest to paint groups like COK as a radical fringe;one FICA press release said, “the more bizarre the activists look, thebetter we look — and what they had outside were freaks. ” COK’s choiceof words might just be playing right into the other side’s hands. Environmentalists would appear to be natural allies of animalrights groups; after all, they both profess concern for the Earth’svaried inhabitants and passionately organize to protectther-than-human species.
But while animal advocates generally callthemselves environmentalists, the reverse is not true. Jim Motavalliwrites that “environmentalists tend to see the animal movement ashysterical, shrill and ‘one note. ‘ They’re often embarrassed by thelab raids, the emotional picketing and the high-pitched hyperbole. ” Ifthe rhetoric of groups like COK alienates groups with a naturalaffinity for animal issues, how can it change the mind of a 55 yearold wealthy white woman who’s always loved the look and feel of a furcoat?Although the White House simply stood silently in response toCOK’s sidewalk activities, the scene was quite different whenCompassion Over Killing picketed Miller’s Furs in early April. Slightly less people turned out, but the makeup of the crowd wassimilar to the one at the Pennsylvania Avenue protest; many of thefaces were the same at both events.
However, a certain contrast wasclear; this protest was targeting a finite business operation, whilethe White House demonstration seemed to address the entire UnitedStates legal system as well as foreign policy. COK’s call for therelease of ALF members convicted of various felonies had an air offutility about it, as the activists claimed the right to break allsorts of U. S. laws in the name of their cause. The Miller’s Furprotest was more of an even fight.
This time the activists seemed morepowerful, as if they were in reach of their goal to close down theBethesda fur salon. Their signs had a few more incendiary phrases thanthose at the presidential protest; “Boycott Murder- Don’t Buy Fur” and”Stop the Killers Boycott Miller’s” appeared in addition to those usedat the White House protest. The activists excitedly talked about arecent ALF action; the underground group had recently spray paintedanimal right slogans over Miller’s windows and canopy. As they circledthe group broke into chants directed by COK leaders, which seemed toadd energy to the protester’s message. Passing cars beeped their hornsas their drivers waved in support, in contrast to the tepid responsefrom the pedestrian traffic at the protest downtown. However, with one or two exceptions those who passed by thefur protest on foot in Bethesda seemed to be just as hostile as thosein D.
C. Some speculate that the entire concept of a fur salon picketis faulty, that COK just angers “people when say, ‘don’t buyfur!’and makes them want to go and do it. “The women that dared to cross Miller’s threshold attractedevery protester’s attention, as they shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” inunison. As one customer left the store loud voices yelled out, “That’sDisgusting!”, “Shame!”, “How’d They Get The Blood Out Of Your Coat?”and other slogans which were drowned out by others’ hissing and boos. The effect was very much like that of an angry mob; tension andvitriolic energy filled the air. This atmosphere may release pent upemotion, and discourage people from buying fur in the short term,although in the long term it runs the risk of damaging the animalrights cause.
A recent survey revealed that an overwhelming majorityof Americans strongly disapprove “of protesting fur coats in aharassing manner. ” Animal advocates certainly don’t need their tacticscompared to radical pro-life groups that make abortion clinicswarzones. As all the activity unfolded outside their door Miller’s Furstaped a small sign to their window that read “Medical Research SavesLives. ” This seemed off-topic at first glance, but after visiting theFICA web site and reading other pro-fur literature, it was apparentthat the sign was part of a pattern.
The fur industry initiallyignored criticism from animal rights groups and relied on theirproduct’s glamorous image to state their case. As the column inchesdevoted to the animal rights movement’s allegations of cruelty beganto accumulate and sales began to drop; the industry’s strategyshifted. Fur companies began to try to draw attention away fromthemselves by pointing out the most controversial parts of the animalrights agenda to the mainstream society. Arguably the animal rightsissue with the least amount of public support is medical animaltesting. Although this topic divides the animal rights community, manyof the movement’s leaders favor total abolition of any testing onanimals. The fur industry is only too happy to point this out toanyone who’ll listen.
Compassion Over Killing and other animal rights groups areactively trying to change the social “rules” that prevail in thiscountry. While in the short term they may not be advocating a ban onfur coats, COK’s protests are aimed at making it socially unacceptableto wear fur. This effort has shown signs of succeeding, as fur saleshave fallen almost 50% below their peak volume in 1987. However, theyhave begun to creep upwards again in recent quarters.
As with everysocial movement, animal advocacy groups need to pause and reevaluatetheir public relations strategies. Perhaps it’s time for organizationslike Compassion Over Killing to cut back on their use of emotionallycharged phrases and tacit endorsement of felonious acts a la ALF. Without considering these issues, COK runs the risk of marginalizingthe group and losing its battle against fur. —Works CitedCowit, Steve. “Hollywood Hypocrites.
” Fur Age 04/06/97 11:35:32. Feitelberg, Rosemary. “Surge in Luxe Business, Designer ParticipationBode Well for Fur Week. ” Women’s Wear Daily 14 May 1996: 1+. “Freak Show Protest Falls on Deaf Ears. ” Fur Agehttp://www.
furs. com/FUR/FurAge76. html 04/06/97 11:41:16. Fur Information Council of America. “Fur, Your Fashion Choice.
“Motavalli, Jim. “Our Agony Over Animals. ” E Magazine Oct 1995: 28-37. People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Annual Report. ” 1994.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “The PETA Guide toAnimals and the Clothing Trade. “Responsive Management. “Americans’ Attitudes Toward Animal Welfare,Animal Rights and Use of Animals. “Riechmann, Deb. “A Harvest of Fox Fur And Anger.
” Washington Post 5Jan 1995: M2. Shapiro, Paul. “An Interview With the Owner of Miller’s Furs. ” TheAbolitionist Summer 1996: 3-4.
Shapiro, Paul. Personal Communication. Bethesda, MD. 5 April 1997. Singer, Peter.
Animal Liberation: A New Ethics For Our Treatment ofAnimals New York: Avon, 1975. Stern, Jared Paul. “Are You Fur Real?” Fashion Reporter June/July1996: 5-6.