Fighting to Win
In PETER SINGER (ed), In Defense of Animals
New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985, pp. 194-208
You start with six albino rabbits. You take each animal and check that the eyes are in good condition. Then, holding the animal firmly, you pull the lower lid away from one eyeball so that it forms a small cup. Into this cup you drop 100 milligrams of whatever it is you want to test. You hold the rabbit's eyes closed for one second and then let it go. A day later you come back and see if the lids are swollen, the iris inflamed, the cornea ulcerated, the rabbit blinded in that eye.
That is the Draize test, named after John H. Draize, a former official of the Food and Drug Administration of the United States. It is the standard test applied to every substance, from cosmetics to oven cleaners, which might get into someone's eye. It is responsible for the suffering and death of hundreds of thousands of rabbits each year.
This test has been the target of the Coalition to Stop Draize Rabbit Blinding Tests, a coalition of more than 400 animal rights and animal welfare groups, which I initiated. The Coalition has been unusually successful for an animal rights campaign, in that it compelled the commercial giants of the cosmetics industry -companies like Revlon and Avon - to respond to our pressure for the development of alternatives to the Draize test. For this reason the story of this campaign is worth telling; there are lessons to be learned about the strategies which work for the animal liberation movement.
To explain the thinking behind the Draize Test campaign, I need to say something about earlier campaigns in which I was involved, and also about my background before I entered the animal liberation movement. That background is not one normally associated with concern for animals, but it has helped me to bring a fresh approach to problems which have faced animal welfare groups for a century or more.
I was born in Belgium in 1927. At sixteen I left home and became a seaman. I worked on European and American ships, and eventually became an American citizen. At that time the maritime union was corrupt and cared little for the interests of the seamen. I was active in the struggle for union reform but was forced off the ships during the McCarthy period, when loyalty was equated with unquestioning acceptance of the status quo.
In the 1960s I worked on an automobile assembly line. I kept up my political activities by marching for civil rights in the American South and writing for small, leftist publications. Among my writings was a series of twelve articles on J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which was then considered sacrosanct. This work gained me the experience of FBI surveillance, which much later gave me some amusement when I obtained my file under the Freedom of Information Act; but it also taught me that careful research can often turn up internal contradictions in what a large organization says and does.
When the McCarthy period was over I returned to the ships. Joseph Curran was boss of the maritime union. While his unfortunate union members were lucky to earn $5,000 a year, his annual salary was $100,000, and his boast was, 'I've made mine'. To hammer the point home, seamen were forced to use the back door in their own union headquarters, appropriately named the Joseph Curran Building. I became editor of a union paper which challenged Curran. Although our alternative candidate for union president had his skull fractured by lead-pipe-wielding thugs, our small group was instrumental in Curran's eventual resignation and indictment.
At that point I settled for the relatively quiet life of a New York high-school teacher. I still had no inkling of animal welfare as a political issue, although a friend foisted a cat upon me, and I soon began to wonder about the appropriateness of cuddling one animal while sticking a knife and fork into others.
It was then that I came across Peter Singer's essay on animal liberation, published in the New York Review of Books in 1973. Singer described a universe of more than 4 billion animals being killed each year in the USA alone. Their suffering is intense, widespread, expanding, systematic and socially sanctioned. And the victims are unable to organize in defence of their own interests. I felt that animal liberation was the logical extension of what my life was all about -identifying with the powerless and the vulnerable, the victims, dominated and oppressed.
New ideas gather strength slowly. In 1974 I heard that Singer was to give a course on animal liberation at New York University's School of Continuing Education. The course was based on the materials that Singer was accumulating for his book, Animal Liberation, which would appear the following year. During that semester, between classroom and conversations, it all began to gell.
The confluence of events included my activist background, the personal experience of living with first one, and then two, cats and the influence of Peter Singer. Singer made an enormous impression on me because his concern for other animals was rational and defensible in public debate. It did not depend on sentimentality, on the cuteness of the animals in question or their popularity as pets. To me he was saying simply that it is wrong to harm others, and as a matter of consistency we don't limit who the others are; if they can tell the difference between pain and pleasure, then they have the fundamental right not to be harmed.
In selecting material for his course and his book, Singer based his priorities on the number of the victims and the intensity of their suffering. In one way this was obviously right, but my personal concern was rather: what can we do about it? My background had made me ready to question anything, be it the FBI, trade union bosses, or animal welfare organizations with millions of dollars in their bank accounts. In looking at the immensity of animal suffering and then at the state of the animal movement, I felt that it was going nowhere.
The standard strategy of animal welfare groups seemed to be to send out literature saying: 'Look how the animals are suffering. Send us money!' And then, next month, the group would use the money to send out to the converted more descriptions of atrocities in order to generate more money to mail more horror stories. Moreover, interest was focussed largely on the 1 per cent of animal suffering most conducive to sentimental fund-raising efforts - that of dogs, cats, seals, horses and primates. Thus the 99 per cent of animal pain suffered by animals in factory farms and in the laboratories, by species who did not make it on to the popularity list, was ignored.
Certainly, self-righteous antivivisection societies had been hollering, 'Abolition! All or Nothing!' But that didn't help the laboratory animals, since while the antivivisection groups had been hollering, the numbers of animals used in United States laboratories had zoomed from a few thousand to over 70 million. That was a pitiful track record, and it seemed a good idea to rethink strategies which have a century-long record of failure.
I knew that power concedes nothing without a struggle. The meek don't make it. But audacity must be fused with meticulous attention to programme, strategy and detail.
A few of us met and planned what we could do. We did not want to build a tax-exempt charity to raise money in order to be able to raise more money. We wanted to adapt to the animal movement the traditions of struggle which had proven effective in the civil rights movement, the union movement and the women's movement. We realized that we were surrounded by systems of oppression, all related and reinforcing each other, but in order to influence the course of events, we knew that we must focus sharply on a single significant injustice, on one clearly limited goal. Moreover, that goal must be achievable. The animal movement had been starved of victories. It desperately needed a success which could then be used as a stepping stone toward still larger struggles and more significant victories.
The Campaign at the American Museum of Natural History
Our first target was on a series of experiments being carried out by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I started thinking about the Museum during the summer of 1975, when a United Action for Animals leaflet listed the Museum as conducting experiments which involved mutilating cats in order to investigate the effect on their sexual behaviour. The experiments also turned up in a computer search I did of animal experiments being carried out in New York City.
We wanted experiments carried out in the New York City area because we knew it would be easier to mobilize public support and media attention if there were no travel problems. The Museum, conveniently located on Central Park West only a few blocks from where I lived, certainly satisfied that criterion. It also satisfied a still more important criterion: we wanted an issue which we merely had to describe in order to put our opponents on the defensive. Here we had just such an issue: 'Do you want your tax monies spent to deliberately mutilate cats in order to observe the sexual performance of crippled felines?'
We prepared ourselves carefully, without haste. It took us a year to get ready. We launched our campaign in June 1976. The laboratories were dismantled by December 1977. Here is how it happened.
The animal research industry cloaks itself in the guise of noble protector of our health and saver of lives. We wanted to spotlight the lack of real scientific pay-off and the fact that much research exists only to create more tax-supported work for the scientist, at immense cost to animals as well as to the taxpayer. Here was a twenty-yearlong sequence of deliberate mutilation of cats, all in order to observe the effects of the particular mutilations on their sexual performance. Our preparations began with my request, under the Freedom of Information Act, for all project proposals, progress reports and other papers. I asked that fees be waived on the grounds that this was in the public interest. As a result, the total cost of this investigation was 62 cents. I had the papers evaluated and summarized by Leonard Rack, MD. This was the beginning of a thinktank composed of first-rate professionals, among them Dr Andrew Rowan, author of Mice, Models and Men and a specialist in the field of alternatives to animal testing.
Armed with this documentation, we tried to talk with Museum officials. They refused to talk to us. We then circulated Museum documents which set out how the experimenters planned to deafen cats, blind cats, destroy the sense of smell of cats, and remove parts of the brains of cats. I wrote a detailed expose for Our Town, a Manhattan weekly newspaper. Then we set up pickets outside the Museum. For eighteen months we had pickets or demonstrations outside the Museum every weekend.
The nature of the protest was later described by the Museum director, Thomas Nicholson, in the Museum's 1977 Annual Report:
A broad section of the public - by no means limited to antivivi-sectionists - became involved in questioning the research. More than 8,000 letters were received and an uncounted number of telephone calls were taken. . . . [Those] who initiated the campaign in the spring of 1976 kept it alive throughout the year through a well-executed campaign. Advertisements were taken out in the media, attacks were written in humane society publications, letters and telephone calls of harassment (some threatening) were directed at employees and Trustees, demonstrators picketed the Museum on most weekends, inflammatory handbills were distributed, the granting agencies that supported the research were attacked, political intervention was sought and contributors to the Museum (particularly corporations and private foundations) were pressured in various ways.
At first the Museum refused to budge, but the pressure grew. New York Congressman (as he then was) Ed Koch toured the laboratories and didn't like what he saw. After his visit he recorded the following conversation in the Congressional Record:
I asked them to tell me what it is they were actually doing, and they asked me if I would like to go in and see the cats in their cages. I said yes, and I went there, and there were about thirty-five cats. They appeared well-treated, in the sense that they were in clean cages and they did not seem to be in any pain. So I said to the doctor who was explaining what was happening: 'What do you do here? What is the purpose of this experiment?' And she said 'Well, the purpose is to look at the effect of hyper- and hypo-sexuality in cats. We find,' said she, 'that if you take a normal male cat and you place that cat in a room with a female cat that is in heat, the male cat would mount the female cat.'
I said, 'That sounds very reasonable to me.'
Then she said, 'Now if you take a cat, a male cat, and you put lesions in its brain-'
I interrupted and asked, 'What are lesions?'
She said, 'Well you destroy part of the brain cells.'
I asked, 'What happens then?'
She said, 'Well, if you take that male cat that has lesions in its brain and you place it in a room with a female cat and a female rabbit, the cat will mount the rabbit.'
I said to her, 'How does that rabbit feel about all this?'
There was no response.
Then I said to this professor, 'Now, tell me, after you have taken a deranged male cat with brain lesions and you place it in a room and you find that it is going to mount a rabbit instead of a female cat, what have you got?'
There was no response.
. . . I said,'How much has this cost the government?'
After this, 120 members of Congress joined Koch in questioning the National Institutes of Health over its funding of the experiments. A long and surprisingly favourable report on our campaign by Nicholas Wade appeared in Science, 8 October 1976. It seemed that at least some of the scientific community wished to dissociate itself from the experiments that the Museum was conducting.
The Museum was vulnerable. The demonstrations hurt its image, and the cancellations of members' subscriptions that began pouring in were threatening to hurt its budget. Finally the National Institutes of Health stopped funding the experiments, and the Museum dismantled the laboratories where the work had been done.
We had won a rare victory. Perhaps for the first time in American history, the public protests of ordinary citizens had saved animals from suffering in a scientist's laboratory.
Admittedly, it was a small victory. The Museum's experiments had involved about sixty cats. When you consider that about 70 million animals are used in United States laboratories each year, and nearly 4 billion farm animals die annually in the United States, that isn't a great triumph. But it showed that we could win, and we were determined to use this first victory as a stepping stone to larger things.
The Repeal of Pound Seizure
Our next target was a New York State law known as the Metcalf-Hatch Act. This law allowed researchers to seize stray dogs and cats from the very pounds ostensibly built to save them from the misery of the streets. For twenty-seven years New York animal welfare groups had been trying in vain to get this insulting law repealed. We felt that it was a betrayal of the public which had worked to create the animal shelters. Both the law itself and the failure of the animal movement to get the law repealed were symbols of the powerlessness and political ineffectiveness of the animal welfare movement. So I organized a coalition and started lobbying the state legislators.
We soon discovered that in all these years no one had tried to talk to the legislator who had been the chief stumbling block in the way of repeal: Senator Lombardi. As chairman of the relevant committee, he had prevented the issue from being even debated. The animal groups had accused him of being in the pay of the pharmaceutical industry and had taken the attitude that there was no point in talking to him. We went the other way. We checked him out and found that he had a good track record; we went to him and indicated that we were not looking to start a fight, but that we wanted to get the issue debated on its merits and voted on. We suggested that whatever his beliefs about the issue, we had the democratic right to have the issue debated. Because we approached him without animosity, we were able to develop a really good relationship with him. He maintained his opinion that pound seizure should not be repealed, but he allowed the issue to be debated, which was crucial. When the debate was over the issue was voted on, and we won. We then put out a press release thanking Senator Lombardi for giving us a fair shake. This was important. It showed that we weren't out to 'get' anybody, but only wanted to get things done for animals.
This was a second victory, and again an important one for our morale; but it was still largely symbolic, involving maybe a few thousand animals. Now it was time to move on to something much more significant.
The Draize Test
We had begun by saving sixty animals and had gone on to save a few thousand. Now we decided to take on the Draize test, which involves hundreds of thousands of rabbits every year. We had two reasons for selecting the Draize test as our next target. First, David Smyth, head of the British Research Defence Society, a group which exists to counter attacks on animal experimentation, had admitted in print that the Draize test would be a good candidate for replacement by non-animal-using methods, both because it clearly caused suffering and because the development of an alternative should not present any major scientific problems. So from the start, when we asked for the development of an alternative to the Draize test, we were covered against the criticism that it wasn't possible. Here we had a scientist who was the head of a pro-research group saying that it was possible. The other reason for choosing the Draize test was that it is very dramatic. For instance, the United States Government Consumer Product Safety Commission had a film which was used to train technicians to do the Draize test. The film shows lye, ammonia, oven cleaner, and then it shows the rabbit, the experimental tool on which these substances are to be tested. The same government department also put out a set of colour slides consisting of close-ups of the eyes of rabbits after they had undergone the Draize test. The slides were supposed to serve as a basis of comparison for technicians seeking to grade the amount of damage caused by various products. They were more appalling than any photographs taken by antivivisectionists, and in view of their origin, they could not be attacked as coming from a biased source.
Adding to the suitability of the Draize test as a target was the fact that the purpose of the whole thing is so trivial. We could pose the issue this way: is another shampoo worth blinding a rabbit? It was so incongruous for the cosmetics industry to be carrying out these tests. The cosmetics industry is trying to sell dreams, but the reality is that they are creating a nightmare for the rabbits. Exposing the reality of what they are doing threatens the whole image of the industry. Blinding rabbits isn't beautiful.
As in the case of our previous campaigns, we used the Freedom of Information Act to document what was happening. We got the official reports submitted by the cosmetics companies to the US Department of Agriculture. These returns showed that companies like Revlon and Avon were performing the Draize test on thousands of rabbits each year. They also showed that the rabbits received no anaesthetics.
Armed with this information, we approached the industry leader, Revlon. We said that we thought they should take the lead in overcoming this problem, and that what was needed was a contribution of a couple of hundred thousand dollars to develop non-animal alternatives to the Draize test. We pointed out that such a sum was no big deal for a company like Revlon, which spends millions on advertising. All we were asking for was one-hundredth of 1 per cent of the company's gross revenues. Leonard Rack even developed position papers showing some good strategies for research that could yield alternatives.
We got as far as the vice-president for public affairs. He had a big office; a butler came and asked us what we would like to drink; he was very polite; but nothing happened. A year passed, during which we had more meetings and there was a lot of correspondence, but still nothing happened. So we organized another coalition, building on our record of success. Now that we had shown what we could do, the normally more cautious, old-established animal organizations were eager to lend their names to our efforts. We ended up with a coalition of 407 organizations, with a combined membership in the millions.
We devised a plan for an advertising campaign which we submitted to Pegeen Fitzgerald, president of the Millennium Guild. She decided on the spot to provide financial support. So one morning in April 1980 readers of the New York Times opened their newspaper to find a full-page advertisement featuring a picture of a white rabbit with sticking plaster over his eyes. Above was a single question: 'How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty's sake?' The text beneath gave the answer, described the Draize test and asked readers to write to the president of Revlon stating that they would not use Revlon products until Revlon funded a crash programme to develop non-animal eye irritancy tests.
The New York Times advertisement was followed by advertisements in other newspapers. In May 1980, 300 people, some dressed in bunny costumes, demonstrated outside Revlon's New York offices. In September the campaign went international, with demonstrations against Revlon in Britain, Canada and Australia. By December Revlon had had enough. The vice-president for public affairs was replaced along with some of his staff, and his successor began serious discussions with us. Within a few weeks Revlon came up with an offer to make a grant of $250,000 a year, for a minimum of three years, to Rockefeller University, so that it could carry out a search for alternatives.
This was an enormous breakthrough. It transformed the search for alternatives from some kind of flaky antivivisectionist issue to something that received large-scale support from a multi-billion-dollar corporation and was linked with one of the most respected medical research institutions in the country. Once Revlon had done this, it was a simple thing to go to Avon, the second flagship of the industry, and tell them that they couldn't do any less than Revlon. Avon soon put up the money and started a centre for research in alternatives at Johns Hopkins University, again a most prestigious medical school. This set the pattern, and Estee Lauder and a number of other companies soon came into line.
At this point we realized that we had the formula for liberating money from just about every company that experiments on animals and wants to keep its image clean with consumers. But then we decided to re-evaluate what we were doing. This led to two changes. First, we decided to broaden our target. Just as our past successes had given us the strength to tackle larger goals, involving more animals, so now we thought the time was right for doing something about the biggest test of all, the notorious LD50. This test, which has been used since 1927, is so named because it aims to find the lethal dose for 50 per cent of a sample of animals. In other words, the test tells you how much of a chemical, per body weight, kills half of groups of between forty and 200 animals. It is the universal death test: every chemical, every 'new improved' product is automatically tested to find its LD50 value. This merely provides the regulatory agencies with meaningless figures because while you can find a precise LD50 value for a given population of rats, or dogs, or guinea pigs, this can't provide any precise indication at all about how lethal the substance is for humans. Different species vary too much. So who needs to know how many tubes of improved toothpaste will kill half a population of beagles or rodents? But half a century of inertia is difficult to overcome, and the LD50 test causes death and suffering to about 5 million animals each year in the United States alone. So this was a really big target.
The second change caused by our re-evaluation of what we were doing was that we thought that perhaps our strategy was not going to be the best way rapidly to bring down the total amount of pain and death. Our reasoning was that the real expertise for reduction and replacement might reside in the corporations themselves rather than in the universities. The universities, after all, are interested in obtaining more money and doing more research. Perhaps that will prompt them to achieve quick successes so that they can boast of their achievements, but then again perhaps it won't. Anyway, we didn't want to be simply unpaid fundraisers for every medical school in the USA. So from this point we switched our strategy. We went to Procter and Gamble, and we told them we weren't interested in bucks; we wanted an internal plan and programme to reduce and replace the use of animals, and we wanted the plan publicized so that it could be used as a model for other companies to follow. Procter and Gamble went ahead and did just what we asked. They formulated a plan and documented it in a three-page article, 'Taking Animals out of the Labs', which appeared in their house magazine. They set up an 'Animal Science Task Force' to make recommendations on minimizing animal use and suffering in safety assessment, and they agreed to publicize any discoveries in this area so that they could be used by other companies. They also took several practical steps which significantly reduced both the numbers of animals they were using in safety testing and the severity of the pain suffered. For instance, one test which used 300 rats at a time has now been replaced by a battery of tests which does not use live animals at all. Another test involving between 10,000 and 20,000 mice has been replaced by a test using fruit flies.
Procter and Gamble's initiative has now been followed by another major company, Smith, Kline and French, and their plan looks like becoming the industry pattern we wanted. According to industry figures, a number of the major companies have reduced by about 30 per cent the numbers of animals they have used in the past two years. That means an awful lot of animals have been spared suffering and death in laboratories. There is a whole new climate in the area, a climate which encourages the leap from the scientific barbarism of Draize tests and LD50s to the scientific elegance of cell biology.
Increasingly, the scientific press, professional meetings and research centres are focusing on non-animal methods. The Food and Drug Administration responded to our lobbying by reviewing its policy on the LD50, and it has now given a clear signal to industry that it does not require the LD50. This deprives industry of the excuse that the test must be performed because the FDA requires it. So now there is hardly anyone left who will defend the LD50. There is no opposition to overcome except apathy. The LD50 is tilting and needs just one more push to topple it for good.
Similar things are happening worldwide. For instance, West German health authorities have announced that they are reducing by 75 per cent the number of animals they require for LD50 testing. It won't be long before both the Draize test and the LD50 test are things of the past. Then the time will come to face the larger issue, that of using laboratory animals as if they were mere tools for research. The science community must become aware that you don't go around ordering 1,000 rabbits or 10,000 mice in the way you order a case of light bulbs on a Monday morning.
Why We Won
Basically, the strategy for all freedom fights or struggles against injustice is similar. The other side has the power, but we have justice on our side, and justice can mobilize people. We need to draw on all available energy and expertise. We need to work out our short-term goals so that we can reach people and eventually bring about fundamental change.
The victories we have achieved show that citizen activism can succeed even against prestigious scientific institutions, multinational corporations and inert bureaucracies. The lessons to be learned from our successes are implicit in the account I have given, but some of them are worth reiterating.
There are several reasons why we succeeded where other animal groups before us failed. We chose our targets carefully. They were small enough, at first, for us to have a chance of success despite our very limited resources, but at the same time the first small targets could serve as symbolic victories which would lead on to bigger goals. We were meticulous in documenting the abuses against which we were protesting, so that we could not be accused of getting our facts wrong. Credibility is the most precious resource any campaign against injustice can have.
We also tried to accentuate the positive. Many people perceive the movement against animal experiments as negative and anti-science. It would have been a mistake to ignore these perceptions, wrong-headed as they may be. So we offered realistic options to the Draize test and the LD50 test. To support our claim that these options were realistic, we drew on the opinions of scientists and medical people outside the antivivisection movement. We were always saying that there is a better way, that non-animal science is more elegant, less expensive and, in the end, will be more precise and more reliable.
We avoided being personally hostile to our adversaries. Before we took any public stands, we always asked them to talk to us. When they refused, as the officials of the American Museum of Natural History did, that gave us the advantage because we could present ourselves as the reasonable ones and them as the ones who refused to discuss the issue. And when collaborative approaches work, they can provide a very fast track to change.
We did not focus on people's intentions or motives. If humane groups supported us in order to show their members that they were participating in the victories we won, we let them take as much credit as they liked. For us the important thing was to gain their support and to show that our coalition had a broad base. Similarly, if a large corporation reduces the numbers of animals it uses, it isn't important whether it does this because it cares about animals or because it is seeking to avoid unfavourable publicity. The animals who are spared suffering will be better off either way.
It is equally a mistake to claim that research scientists get their jollies from torturing animals. The public won't believe this, and it is no way to get support from anyone in the scientific community. Our aim is not to conquer our opponents. We are not on a macho ego trip. We want to win over our adversaries so that they become our allies. We are not going to achieve this if we start out villifying them. There is no percentage in making anybody lose face. We are interested in getting things done, not in pushing people around. It is good politics to put yourself in the position of those you are trying to change: if we were in their shoes, what would make us want to change?
By tackling the issues one at a time we isolated our opponents rather than ourselves. Few scientists were prepared to support the cat experiments at the American Museum, and much of the research establishment was prepared to agree that cosmetics experiments involving pain to animals should stop. Against a scientific establishment which spoke with one voice, we might not have prevailed.
When we started something, we did not let up until we had finished it. Any organization can shrug off a single protest or demonstration. It is tenacity which pays off and encourages a positive response. Any let-up, unless it is in response to a really major concession, reduces the issue to business as usual, and then nothing happens. And a track record of victories won is a priceless asset when the next struggle is begun.
We avoided bureaucratization by keeping our organization down to an absolute minimum. We have never set up a formal group of our own but concentrated instead on bringing people together to get things done. And we did not see the legislative system as a major target. Legislation is no substitute for direct action against the institutions and corporations that are involved in animal abuse.
If I had to sum up all these points in a single phrase, it would be: keep in touch with reality. Dreaming about how great it would be if animal experimentation were totally abolished does nothing to bring that day closer, and it does nothing to help the animals who will suffer tomorrow and every other day we continue to dream. We need to be realistic about where our society is today and where it may be persuaded to go tomorrow. To liberate some animals today and to have some chance of liberating all the animals eventually, we need to study the realities in a detached way as a guide to action. Who profits by animal abuse? Who holds the levers of power? Who calls the tune?
To fight successfully we need priorities, plans, effective organization, unity, imagination, tenacity and commitment. We need, too, to remember the words of Frederick Douglass, the black leader of the movement for the abolition of slavery:
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.