Remember When You Thought You Could Change the World?

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Remember When You Thought You Could Change the World?

By Joyce Tischler, Founder and General Counsel, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF)

Each of us needs to return to that place and it’s not an external location; it’s something that within each of us.

Let’s dream about that world together.

Let’s dare to believe that against the odds, we can change the world and make it a far better place for the animals.

I’d like to ask a simple question, “Do you remember when you thought you could change the world?” Do you remember how positive and powerful that felt? Because, that is why I started the Animal Legal Defense Fund and it is a question that we often ask people.

I am energized when I meet law students, lawyers and supporters of ALDF who want to establish greater legal protections for animals. We share common values and we are passionate about our beliefs. And, we know that it is our job to change the way the world views and treats animals. We know that animals are abused and exploited on a level that boggles the mind; we know that animals are sentient, that they feel pain and pleasure and that they have interests of their own that have nothing to do with being a mere resource for humans.

But, we also know that animals cannot speak for themselves and they are powerless. As long as they remain powerless, they will suffer and die in large numbers. Thus, it is we who must speak on their behalf. It’s in our hands.

As it stands today, animals’ interests are ignored and the suffering that results from that is overwhelming. I became a lawyer because I wanted to use the power of the law to protect those who cannot protect themselves. I know this sounds odd to people who are hearing it for the first time, but animals need lawyers. Humans have lawyers to represent their interests, why not the animals?

In the last few years, I have spent a fair amount of time telling people how animal law began, how we shaped it and how it shaped us. I talk about that because I think we need to take stock of what we have learned and use that knowledge to better understand where we are heading. I’ve told people about an attorney named Henry Mark Holzer, who was the first animal rights lawyer, in the early 1970s. When I was still in college, Hank Holzer started filing lawsuits focused solely on protecting the rights and interests of animals who were being abused on a large scale. He was also the first lawyer to envision law reviews, animal law classes and the growth of a field of the law devoted to creating legal protections for animals.

Back in 1981, Holzer held a conference and brought together all of the attorneys and law students he could identify as having an interest in animal rights law. That conference marked a turning point, because that’s when and where our core group of animal lawyers met. Out of that conference, ALDF formed its first national board of directors, with people who shared our values and our passion and were willing to put in countless hours to work toward our mutual goals. We began to dream together and talk and plan the kinds of cutting edge lawsuits we could bring and the direction that we should take.

Those first cases were very ambitious because we were going to change the world. We were grabbing it by the shoulders and giving it a good shake. We filed lawsuits to challenge the intensive confinement of calves raised to be eaten as veal, hunting, leg hold traps, poor conditions for animals in research labs, removal of wild horses from federal lands, hot iron face branding cows, and on and on.

So, have we changed the world? I wish the answer were yes; the change is complete, the animals are saved and you can all go home now. But that is not how social justice movements work. We have laid a solid foundation. And, who could have imagined that today, animal law would be taught in over 120 law schools in the U.S., as well as law schools in Canada and Australia? Or that there would be bar association sections, student chapters, casebooks filled with just a fraction of the lawsuits that have been brought, and law journals with scholarly articles written about legal issues related to animals. Or that leading constitutional lawyers would embrace animal law, which they have.

Still, we have a long road ahead of us and much hard work to do. So many animals are still in a persistent state of suffering. Thus, I caution each of us to keep our focus and remember to ask ourselves on a regular basis:

Building a successful animal law movement won’t just happen. We must effectively make inroads into a pervasive system that denies even the animals’ most basic needs. Whether you break it down species by species or issue by issue; it doesn’t matter—there is no dearth of problems faced by animals. If you are with us, don’t be a bystander; pick an issue, pick a species, pick what you are passionate about, then roll up your sleeves and take action.

So, I’ll ask once again, “Do you remember when you thought you could change the world?” Were you ever that passionate; were you ever that hopeful?

Was there a time in your life when you believed that through hard work and sheer force of will, you could bring us closer to a world in which the lives and interests of animals are respected by the legal system?

Each of us needs to return to that place and it’s not an external location; it’s something that within each of us.

Let’s dream about that world together.

Let’s dare to believe that against the odds, we can change the world and make it a far better place for the animals.