This past Thursday, I was one of a few hundred lucky souls who get to see Ingrid Newkirk speak in Seattle. Newkirk is the president and founder of PETA. The event was sold out, and the room was packed. She spoke about the future of animal rights.
I have a newfound respect for PETA and Ingrid Newkirk, in particular. PETA is often seen as a polarizing organization, but that’s not a bad thing.
Newkirk is an eloquent, humble speaker and a captivating storyteller. I didn’t feel like I was being preached to or getting a sales pitch. Her words were genuine, heartfelt, and passionate.
PETA is responsible for bringing the animal rights movement into the mainstream. Founded in 1980, PETA’s first act was exposing footage of an animal research lab–an act that resulted if the first ever police raid in the USA of an animal research facility. She and others helping her, got the Animal Welfare Act changed as a result of the cruelty they exposed.
The influence of PETA is immeasurable. I was never not a fan, but I was not a flag-waving PETA apologist. Well, I am now. Just recently, thanks to PETA many victories for animals have taken place, including:
- The bull hook (a cruel device used to beat elephants into submission) got banned in LA County.
- A bill was introduced in California that would end orca shows statewide, at places like SeaWorld.
- Several bears, languishing in a pit in Georgia, were rescued and sent to a sanctuary.
- The EU is banning cosmetic testing on animals.
- Indian courts have agreed to release Sundar the elephant to a sanctuary.
- Major retailers like H&M have stopped selling angora.
And the list goes on. PETA is instrumental in changing the way people think about–and treat–animals. They have great lawyers who challenge the system. They know media (and social media) and use shock value to grab people’s attention. They will not let people get away with injustice to animals.
Whether it’s a celebrity who wears fur, a company that tests on animals, or a school abusing animals for “fun,” people know they can’t get away with it. PETA will find out–and they will come for them!
Newkirk said that it’s important to draw a line in the sand. To question and challenge, and never be silent. Every social justice movement faces challenges, makes people uncomfortable, and is defeated many times before it succeeds.
After the presentation, my friend and fellow activist, Claudine Erlandson, received a PETA lifetime achievement award for her tireless work over the past three decades.
Simulab, creator of the TraumaMan Simulator, also received an award. They created an anatomical human-model surgical manikin for students to practice several surgical procedures–without using animals! They gave PETA a huge discount on 64 of these manikins. PETA donated them to doctor training programs in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Mexico, Mongolia, Panama and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Doctors will be better equipped to treat patients, patients will be in better hands, and animals’ lives will be spared.
Finally, we had delicious vegan desserts, like peanut butter and jam Nanaimo bars, and a goody bag from local, ethical cosmetics company, Gabriel. I received a pretty, peach nail polish and matching lip gloss.
The gift bag, snacks, and award recipients are all proof that it’s possible to live a cruelty-free live and adhere to PETA’s mantra: Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.