October 29, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Outrageous For A Cause

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To the Editor:

Re: “Disturbed and Unmoved,” Opinion, Oct. 23

I am writing in response to Kirat Singh’s Oct. 23 editorial, “Disturbed and Unmoved.” I appreciate and share the desire to try to reach people with literary arguments. Sadly, informative books like Silent Spring became cultural touchstones in the ‘’60s, but today’s hits are racier diversions like Fifty Shades of Grey. For better or worse, society changes, and unless social movements present issues in a way that grabs the current mainstream, they will die off. Anyone who visits PETA.org can see that most of what we do takes a serious approach, but it’s the more provocative campaigns that grab the public’s attention.A few years ago when I was invited to speak on PETA activism at a Harvard course, the professor and I decided that the best way to illustrate PETA’s tactics would be to stage a demonstration before class and invite students to join in. So a co-ed gaggle and I held a “bed-in” in Harvard Square, where we stripped down to our skivvies and wielded signs proclaiming, “Fur Out—Love In,” from a makeshift bed. The event (and the resulting arrests for indecent exposure) drew loads of onlookers and garnered national media attention, and the students learned that a little strategic exhibitionism can enable a handful of activists with no budget to reach millions. A month later, PETA held a “serious” demonstration at Harvard to show students the contrasting reactions that we get. Activists and I gathered at the same location and time as for the mattress melee, only we were fully clothed and carrying posters showing animals on fur farms and mangled in traps. Our news release met with a chorus of snores from the media. When people looked at our signs, most quickly averted their gaze, strode faster and refused to take a leaflet. It’s not that they weren’t sympathetic — they just didn’t want their hectic day darkened with grim reality.Animal rights is a consumer movement more than a political one, so PETA’s aim is to reach the largest number of consumers possible, not just an intellectual niche. We try to make our actions colorful and controversial in order to grab headlines and spread the message of kindness to animals to people around the world. And, as we’ve found after decades of attempting to promote our serious investigations and legal cases, nothing gets attention like nudity and celebrity. It’s simply the way the world is today, so we don’t fight it; we’re too busy fighting animal abuse.

Dan MathewsSenior Vice President of CampaignsPETA