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29 March 2000 Issue
Why We Are Fighting An Uphill Battle

by Michelle Rivera MRivera008@aol.com 

Most of us that have been animal rights activists for a while have become moderately familiar with all the famous people who have been quoted for their views on animal rights. And while Winston Churchill has never been among those famous folks, there is one thing that he is credited with saying that could truly be interpreted as a jewel of an animal rights sentiment.

Winston Churchill said: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”.

What makes this pronouncement so significant to the animal-rights movement is that it succinctly describes the brick wall most of us run into when we attempt to educate our beloved friends, co-workers and family members. How often do we hear "I’m an animal-lover” from a fur and leather clad friend who is holding a purebred, petstore-bought puppy and eating a hot dog? Most decent people, people WE know, would never think of deliberately harming an animal, or putting an animal in danger. Yet, they think nothing of attending a rodeo or circus, purchasing a puppy from a petstore and, yes, eating a Big Mac.

We have ranted from the rooftops, we have taken out ads and billboards, we have worn t-shirts with slogans and we have subjected our friends to graphic photos, videos and books. Yet, incredibly, they still eat meat, they still wear leather, they still drink milk and they still patronize animal exploitation events. These people aren’t monsters. They have seen the truth and yet somehow they are able to “hurry off as if nothing had happened”.

What makes us different from them? How is it that we can watch a video of footage taken inside a slaughterhouse and swear we will never again eat meat while someone we love and cherish can watch the same video without consequence? How many of us have seen the brood bitches in puppy mills and the squalor in which they live and felt a physical pain while others seem unaffected? Now that we know, without a doubt, how circus elephants are treated, why is it we can never again enjoy a circus while others are oblivious to the cruelty?

That which is learned can never be unlearned. Could it be that the non-animal rights people, those “others” choose not to learn in the first place? I have a friend who is a registered nurse working in a gynecologists’ office. She’s a good soul, she rescues stray animals, would never wear fur, likes cats and dogs of every size and shape and would never think of harming an animal. One day I told her that I was helping with the campaign against Premarin by taking photos of all my friends with PeTA’s famous sign -- “I will never use Premarin!” and sending the photos to Wyeth-Ayrst. She stopped me cold and said “Oh, don’t tell me! I take Premarin and I don’t want to know!” Famous last words, I Don’t Want To Know. Of course you don’t. I don’t want to know either. But I do, and now that I do I can never go back to not knowing. Ignorance truly is bliss. This friend’s adult son is an animal-rights activist so I enlisted his help. I gave him the materials to give to his mother and asked him to make sure she read them. How can she ignore her own son? Well, of course, not only did she stop taking Premarin, but she got her doctor to stop prescribing it to other patients as well! If I had just respected her wishes to “not know”, she and all the other patients would still be Premarin customers, and the suffering horses would be suffering in their names. Most of us don’t go to such great lengths to teach a friend something they don’t want to learn because we risk losing the friendship. Indeed, many of us have lost friends over the issues that we try to discuss but cannot because, “they don’t want to know”.

And how are we to fight the dairy industry when they have convinced the American public that we MUST drink milk in order to survive as a species? We read the literature about milk and bovine growth hormones, we know how milk consumption contributes to untold cruelty in the veal market, the arguments make perfect sense to us and yet, when we try to educate others, we are fighting against a belief that is so ingrained that it is un-American to believe otherwise! Elsie is a happy cow! Of course she is, just look at that smile!

The reason people are slow to embrace animal-rights philosophy is because it means they might have to change and that makes them uncomfortable. Humans resist change with great skill and effort. We put milk on our cereal, we eat hamburgers on the Fourth of July, and turkey at Thanksgiving. It is all part of the American experience. We don’t want to give that up and become “different” so we close our eyes to the truth. Tell them about soymilk and garden burgers and tofurkey and they say “yuck” without even trying it! They say “yuck” to these healthy, cruelty-free foods while burying bacteria-laden corpses in their bellies! But once you see how animals die for your taste, your comfort, your entertainment, you can never, never deny that if you aren’t part of the solution you are part of the problem.

“Animal rights” means that animals have the right to do what their nature dictates without interference by humans. We don’t even have to necessarily love animals to believe they should have the same rights as any other sentient being. And animals aren’t even lovable a lot of the time! Just watch the videos of how a lion pride takes down a zebra, or an orca pod’s cruelty toward seals and you’ll see just how unlovable they can truly be. So those who say they “love animals” really don’t get it, because animals aren’t asking for love, they are asking for respect. They deserve that much because they are sentient, because they are here for their own purpose, and because they are deserving of our stewardship and our protection. There was a time when slavery was “the American way”. The free people who fought for the freedom of slaves didn’t do so out of “love” for enslaved people, they did it out of recognition and respect for right of all people to be free.

Don’t ever let someone “pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”. Keep speaking up for the animals. Insist on telling the truth. The truth will, in time, set the animals free.

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