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Effective Doorstep Protesting

[New York Times]

ON a recent Sunday afternoon, a varied group of 20 or so protesters -- some wearing nose rings, others sensible shoes -- gathered on Central Park West on the Upper West Side and started shouting insults like "animal murderer" at the top of their lungs, standing a court-ordered 45 feet away from the apartment of Robert J. McSweeney, a former senior vice president of the New York Stock Exchange.

Mr. McSweeney is one of many figures from the business world to be swept up in the international movement to close down Huntingdon Life Sciences, a large animal testing laboratory, whose parent, Life Sciences Research, used to be based in Britain but has been chased to East Millstone, N.J.


The job of keeping these protests going has fallen to Camille Hankins, 54, of Brooklyn, who runs the organization Win Animal Rights (or WAR). She says she has been able to manage the task only because of the Internet.

"This is the great equalizer," said Ms. Hankins, who likes to wear combat boots and a camouflage hat, though a folder holding her papers is graced with an adorable beagle.

She runs a Web site, , which she has moved offshore; an e-mail list of more than 2,000 people who are active members; and a MySpace page with more than 18,000 friends. She also belongs to mailing lists at the activist site Rise Up that connect her with 10,000 or so people committed to animal rights protesting. She communicates with friends and allies around the world with free encryption software.


In 2006, the United States government successfully prosecuted six members of SHAC, for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, the first such prosecution under the law that was passed in 1992 .

All sides in this conflict agree that it is largely sustained by the Internet. Not only does the Internet allow activists like Ms. Hankins to reach supporters quickly and cheaply, it also allows protesters easily to find out personal information about their targets -- including home addresses, phone numbers or religious affiliation.

In the past, one Huntingdon executive noted, a protest would be planned and announced in the neighborhood in the weeks before, giving all sides plenty of notice. Now, with cellphones, protesters can congregate with only minutes' notice.

"The impact of the Internet can't be underestimated," said Mark L. Bibi, general counsel of Life Sciences, adding that he has been subjected to vandalism at home during his six years with the company.

"In the old days, if you had an unlisted number, it was hard to find you. Now you do a Google search and find out the most intimate details."


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