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Moving the Animal Rights Movement:
Interview with Kim Stallwood
Kim Stallwood is a long-time
animal activist. He is Editor-in-Chief of The Animals' Agenda and
Executive Director of the nonprofit that publishes it, The Animal Rights
Network. He is the editor of Speaking Out for Animals: True Stories
about Real People who Rescue Animals (Lantern, 2001), a collection of
articles and columns from the magazine that talk about animal issues
through the eyes of activists and the stories of rescued animals. Works in
progress include two more anthologies, the second of which, The Animal
Rights Primer, along with a directory of animal organizations, will be
published by Lantern next summer. Stallwood is also working with pattrice
jones on another anthology—Coming Out for Animals—which will
explore the relationship between animal liberation and gay and lesbian
Satya invited a seasoned young activist,
Patrick Kwan, to ask Kim Stallwood about his 25 years of animal activism.
Here, Kwan and Stallwood discuss the history of animal rights, the role of
the media and hopes for the future.
First, a pretty standard question: How did you first get
started in animal rights?
In 1973, when I was
a student in London, I got a summer job working in a chicken processing
plant because I needed the money—I worked in the post-slaughter bit, never
in the slaughter bit. When I returned to college, I was friendly with a
vegetarian and she and I argued from September until December. The result
was that in the beginning of '74, I decided to become a vegetarian. In
'75, I watched a program produced by The Vegan Society, and I decided to
go vegan the next year. After I left college I wandered around doing
various things; ultimately the opportunity became available to work for
Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) in October of '76.
Was CIWF as involved in politics when you were there as
they are now?
When I went there, it was a
very small organization and was not involved in politics. In '75, a
campaign was initiated by a coalition of animal groups to mark the
centennial of the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act. This was the legislation
that was used to regulate the way animals are, or were, experimented on in
the UK. And because the act was so old and so out of date a bunch of
groups, including CIWF, organized what was known as Animal Welfare
Year—1976. This campaign gave birth to the effort Putting Animals Into
Politics, the subsequent coalition effort of which CIWF was a member. The
purpose of that was to place animals within the mainstream political
arena. Up until that time, animal issues or animal rights—whatever you
want to call it—was never viewed as a political issue, it was always
viewed as an emotional or educational issue and this was a groundbreaking
effort. We chose to get involved in politics during that period of time
and subsequent to that, CIWF has always been involved in political
What was the British Union
for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) like when you went to work for
them after you left CIWF?
In the ‘70s, it
was very inactive, but it was quite active in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It
doesn't compare to what we now know as animal rights activism, but in
their own time they were active and did demonstrations, campaigns and
public education efforts. But as the leadership had grown old, the
organization had grown old with them. At the time, there was a growing
movement of what was called “The Young Turks,” of which I was a leading
member, to change the leadership of the organization to make it more
contemporary. After a bitter struggle between the “Old Guard” of BUAV and
the “Young Turks” of the animal rights movement, we ultimately won control
by filling our own slate of candidates to the Board of Directors in
That's the year I was born.
Is it really? That is so frightening. So in
the beginning of 1981, there was a new leadership at BUAV; and my job was
to organize campaigns and demonstrations and continue to put the issue of
antivivisection in the mainstream political arena. I was with BUAV from
'78 until '86.
What led you to move
to the United States and to
The Animals' Agenda?
I had visited the U.S. throughout the 1980s, and moved
here in 1987 to be the first Executive Director of People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals; I left them in 1992. The position of Editor-in-Chief
of The Animals' Agenda became available in '93 and I have been
there ever since. What's worth noting is that I was in correspondence with
the founders of the magazine—which was then known as Agenda—particularly
with Jim Mason, whom I met when he was researching his book Animal
Factories. Through correspondence we exchanged information about what was
developing in the UK and the U.S.; and we felt a need to involve more
people in that exchange. He launched Agenda and I was involved with the
Coordinating Animal Welfare Bulletin. Both were cataloguing what was going
on in the very young animal rights movement in the 1980s. So when the
position at The Animals' Agenda became available, I was coming to work for
an organization that I in a way helped bring about.
Did you have a hard time adjusting from being an
organizer to becoming an editor of a publication?
It is significantly different. I am also the Executive
Director of The Animal Rights Network, which publishes The Animals'
Agenda. So, I wear two hats: I manage and develop the organization and
I oversee the editorial direction of the magazine. There is significant
difference between a director of an organization and a magazine. For
example, what is nice about producing a magazine is that you produce a
finite thing every two months. Whereas directing an organization, much of
the work kind of flies from one thing to another. With a magazine, you see
something being accomplished and there's something satisfying about that.
What is it like to be the
Editor-in-Chief of The Animals' Agenda?
This position comes with quite a lot of responsibility.
We are historically the movement's media, the Time or Newsweek of animal
rights. So we take very seriously that our job is to record what goes on
and publish responsibly and choose articles that comment and critique on
Is there some sort of
philosophy behind the layout of the magazine?
Yes there is. We work with designers to lay out the
magazine in a very specific format. We have to be very mindful of cost, so
we only use color on the cover. The contents are packaged in units of
pages so that people can copy them easily. We do have a policy of
copyrighting the magazine, but we really don't mind people copying
articles. The positive news is packaged as “Making A Difference,” other
news is in the “Bulletin Board.” We work very closely with the writers of
the articles. We also adhere very strictly to a policy of not getting
involved in any disputes among organizations or
Does the magazine
receive much criticism for this policy? Some may say that an independent
media outlet should publish all opinions and dissent.
We have had some, but not a lot of criticism. Far more
people speak out in support of it. We do try to address issues of
controversy but we do not frame these discussions where it's one group
attacking another. I think there is always going to be a small number of
organizations that are led by individuals who are difficult and
problematic and who infuse their organizations with their persona. I think
it is unfortunate that many of the hot button issues are fueled by
people's personalities and their own aspects rather than by the issues
How do you think the
opinions expressed in The Animals' Agenda affect the movement as a
It's difficult for me to assess quite
frankly. We know that the magazine is read, we get feedback and people are
very quick to tell us if they don't like something. I think the magazine
influences a small but important group of movers and shakers, but I don't
think it is as widely read or known as it should be. The greatest source
of new readers is from door-to-door subscription sales. We also go to
1,500 schools and libraries, but I'd like to see the magazine far more
influential than it is. I also would like to see programs develop which
augment the impact that we have—conferences for example. And we are
building a very large library archive which is collecting our history. So,
there is still a lot of work that we have to do.
In an essay published in 1996 called “Utopian Visions and
Pragmatic Politics” in Robert Garner's Animal Rights: The Changing Debate,
you wrote about how the mainstream media offers a very narrow perspective
on the struggle for animal rights and about the value of alternative media
like The Animals' Agenda and E Magazine. Can you talk a little about this?
I think that is a very important point that
is not fully understood by a lot of animal activists. Mainstream media has
a job to fill column inches and minutes of airtime. We have the same duty
as we produce the magazine. But with the mainstream press, they have a
different approach with an issue like animal rights, which is on the
fringe and difficult for people to grasp. Unfortunately the issue of
animal abuse and exploitation does not merit justification for coverage in
the mainstream media's eye. So those who are concerned about animals and
want to get attention, are in a way forced to do things or behave in a way
that will get the mainstream media's attention. And I think this is a
dilemma that a lot of social justice movements have to deal with. So in
part, this gives rise to direct action, the more confrontational aspect of
animal activism, the development of stunts and celebrities. In particular,
I think PETA entered into an unstated pact with the mainstream media; we
learned that if we provided the media with what they want, they will
report on the issues.
unfortunate that the majority of the coverage I have seen of PETA goes
into the Entertainment section or Page Six of the New York Post.
I think that is what it has become and that
wasn't the intent on PETA's part. We went from having very little media to
a lot of media when we learned how to play the media's game and give them
what they wanted. The plus of that is that it gave animal issues coverage.
The negative is that it has subsequently ghettoized the issue in a way
that doesn't really give the issue full credit of what we are about. A
book that helped me see all of this was The Whole World Is Watching (UC
California Press, 1981) by Todd Gitlin. It helped me understand how social
justice movements have to play this game with the media and the negative
fall-out that results.
I have a
growing concern, and I'm wondering if you do too, that for much of the
animal rights movement's actions, the goal is not really to make the most
strategic or meaningful change for the animals, but that they are done to
get the most media. I think it's really interesting to note that when I
work with activists in other causes, they don't consider the media as
important as animal rights activists do.
would answer this question by first talking about the five stages of
evolution that issues go through. Issues like the environment or human
rights are further advanced down the stages than animal rights are. The
stages as I understand them are: 1) public education, 2) public policy
development, 3) legislation, 4) litigation and enforcement, and 5) public
acceptance. Although we do some litigation, legislation, and some public
policy development, I think the animal rights issue is still very much in
stage one—public education. I think that's why media coverage is still the
goal. We need to understand that the more we can propel the issue of
animal rights into the public policy development and legislation stages,
the more that we will expedite the cause.
Depending on which poll you look at, at least 70 percent
and as many as 85 percent of Americans are against fur. Do you think we
perhaps dropped the ball in the early 1990s when we had public opinion on
Yes, we didn't convert that public
opinion into public policy.
And then we decided to move on to other
issues, because we thought we had won the fur issue.
Yeah, I think we
ghettoized the fur issue into the popular press and celebrities. Some
efforts succeeded in getting retailers to stop selling fur, and that has
to be recognized and celebrated, but we didn't push the issue enough. We
didn't push the issue further by attempting to pass legislation to make it
more difficult for furriers to be in business. We didn't pass legislation
to attack the fur trade on environmental grounds, for example. And I think
we have dropped the ball. It's worth noting how fur farming is going to
become illegal in the UK because they were able to convert the public
opposition against fur into the mainstream political
And finally, where do you
see the animal rights movement going in the next 20 years?
Well, where I see it going and where I think it's going
are two different things. As I said, I think the movement is stuck in a
public education stage. I don't see that we understand enough how social
change is brought about and how we need to extend further into the
subsequent stages of achieving change. There are some encouraging signs,
but I think the movement is not maturing to the extent that it has to.
It's not to say that there are not good indicators of progress going on.
But I think the bottom line is that animal rights is still, very much, on
the fringe. To move us into the mainstream, I think, is going to require
us to reinvent who we are and how we interact with the rest of
I guess I see the animal
rights movement as being the step-sibling of the other social justice
That's one way to put it. I think
that the way to address this challenge is for the animal movement to
portray and sincerely hold the very beliefs we advocate; and one of them
is relating the issue of how we treat animals within a broader social
context of how we treat people. And we've got to address the issue of
violence and the perception that we will act violently to save a rat at
the expense of saving a baby. I think we have been cornered into a place
where we are viewed as people who are quick to act violently at the
expense of humans.
As for The Animals' Agenda, we're in the
midst of an internal conversation, for example, who we are and where do we
want to go; we're in the process of figuring that out.
Patrick Kwan is an
activist based in New York City. He is the founder of Student Animal
Rights Alliance, which is coordinating Liberation Now!, a student animal
rights conference taking place February 15 to 17. Visit