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January, 2006

A group of concerned Syracuse University students and Syracuse community members don't care that a local entrepreneur thinks they "have no brains."

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George Politis, owner of Georgio's Furs in downtown Syracuse and at the Carousel Mall, expressed frustration over being the unwitting focal point of the fur debate in Syracuse for more than ten years.

On Sunday, the newly formed Syracuse Animal Rights Organization planned to continue a Syracuse tradition of protests at Georgio's Furs on Friday, Nov. 21. Only this time, they intend to prove that animal rights activists do, in fact, have brains.

"I could care less about all that stuff, I'm a businessman," Politis said. "Those people (protestors) have no brains and they shouldn't even have a right to be in this country."

Politis refused further comment.

In September, Anthony Nocella, a first-year doctoral student at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Billy Prusinowski, a sophomore social work major, along with eight other founding members felt there was a need for an animal rights organization that welcomed both SU students and Syracuse community members.

SARO meets every Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Schine Underground. Members have not yet applied for university recognition.

At Sunday's SARO meeting, there were 17 members in attendance. Discussion focused around disproving Politis' and other's claims that animal rights activists are uninformed and unintelligent.

"The only people that really have fur is people that can afford it, so you need to appeal to those people's intelligence or their compassion," said Tom Ranger, a non-matriculated graduate student and former member of the Animal Defense League.

Members emphasized the importance of remaining professional and articulate with the media during the event. They designated Ranger to be the media liaison and discussed how they can get their message across in a clear and peaceful manner.

"The media will talk to as many people they can until they find that one kid with green hair who gets all fired up and says something stupid like, 'I'm going to burn Georgio's down,'" Ranger said

Syracuse has been home to a number of animal rights organizations over the past 10 years. The Syracuse Animal Defense League protested Georgio's Furs from 1992 until 1998, Ranger said.

SARO is organizing the Nov. 21 protest in collaboration with several other animal rights groups in the Central New York area.

Groups that are tentatively scheduled to attend the protest include the Animal Rights Alliance of Upstate New York that is based out of Rochester, SUNY Albany's Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, SUNY Geneseo's Club for Animal Rights Education (CARE), and the Syracuse-based People for Animal Rights, Prusinowski said.

Organizations will meet in the Panasci Lounge at 11 a.m., where they will listen to a speech by prominent Syracuse animal rights activist Jeff Watkins. At 1 p.m., protestors will walk to Georgio's Furs downtown location, 358 S. Salina St., where they will begin picketing.

Al LaFrance, president of the New York State Wildlife Management Association and member of the Independent Fur Harvesters said men like Watkins are not charismatic leaders but dangerous terrorists.

Watkins and fellow ADL members have threatened LaFrance because of his beliefs since the mid 1990's, LaFrance said.

"If they are opposed, let them go about it through legal means," LaFrance said. "Their whole agenda is so off-base that the government won't listen to them, and they turn to desperate means."

Yet Nocella emphasized at Sunday's meeting the importance of a calm, peaceful protest on Nov. 21. He said he wants the signs they carry to speak for themselves.

Protesters are making signs for the event that will get their message across, in a clear and sometimes grotesque way, said Nicholas Ryan, a sophomore psychology major and SARO member.

Signs depict graphic images of skinned foxes, raccoons and mink, Ryan said. They will have slogans such as, "fur is dead," and "no skin off your back."

The protest will be from approximately 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., said Eileen Curley, a sophomore illustration major and SARO member.

Protestors will then peacefully dissemble, Curley said. They will walk to the Alibrandi Catholic Center to celebrate the event with a vegan potluck dinner.

Not all Syracuse University students think that this event is something to celebrate.

"I think it's stupid because fur is a part of our economy that people depend on," said Garrett Kruser, a junior finance and supply chain management major who hunts and traps with his father in his hometown of Franklin, N.Y.

"Guys used to supplement their income by trapping to make ends meet," Kruser said. "Now, because of this anti-fur movement, the money's not there."

Kruser's father used to trap fox for extra income when he started out as a teacher, Kruser said.

These days, if Kruser's father needed extra money, he would have to get a second job, Kruser said.

It is not animal rights activists' first intention to hurt people's livelihood, said Marissa Lupia, a sophomore in SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry.

Lupia recently transferred from SUNY Geneseo, where she was an active member of CARE.

This organization focused on education students about becoming vegetarians, Lupia said. Their main campaign was to get dining halls to include vegan cuisine.

"We were less about outright activism than SARO," said Lupia.

Last Saturday, about eight SARO members protested in the parking lot across from the Carousel Center because Georgio's Furs recently opened a new location there, Ryan said. They plan to continue these small protests every Saturday for the rest of the semester.

The protest last week posed no security problems for the mall, said Rosa Hapanowich, director of marketing for the Carousel Center.

"To tell you the truth, we didn't even notice," Hapanowich said.

The Carousel Center has had no protestors since the Bonwitt Teller department store, which sold many fur items, closed its doors, Hapanowich said.

During the weekly mall protests, SARO members will not hold up signs that specifically attack Georgio's furs, because many stores at the Carousel Center sell fur, including Wilson's - The Leather Experts and several department stores, Curley said.

When asked whether animal rights protesters have hurt their business, A manager at Wilson's, who was unwilling to give her name, said, "It is Wilson's policy to have no comment about these kinds of things under any circumstances."

Yet SARO members are less concerned with the sale of leather than the sale of fur, Nocella said.

"Everybody wears leather, and fur is a needless commodity," Nocella said. "Asking people to stop wearing leather is like asking the whole world to go vegan."

SARO would like to see Georgio's shut down and all stores that sell fur to stop this practice, Ranger said.

It is much easier to convince people to stop wearing fur than leather, Ranger said.

"You can say, 'Fur is a pretty ineffective way to keep warm, so you're doing it more to look fashionable or show your opulence'," Ranger said. "Hopefully they'll choose something else, maybe one of those popular designer handbags that Jennifer Lopez rocks."