.. -human species. But while animal advocates generally call themselves environmentalists, the reverse is not true. Jim Motavalli writes that “environmentalists tend to see the animal movement as hysterical, shrill and one note.’ They’re often embarrassed by the lab raids, the emotional picketing and the high-pitched hyperbole.” If the rhetoric of groups like COK alienates groups with a natural affinity for animal issues, how can it change the mind of a 55 year old wealthy white woman who’s always loved the look and feel of a fur coat? Although the White House simply stood silently in response to COK’s sidewalk activities, the scene was quite different when Compassion Over Killing picketed Miller’s Furs in early April. Slightly less people turned out, but the makeup of the crowd was similar to the one at the Pennsylvania Avenue protest; many of the faces were the same at both events. However, a certain contrast was clear; this protest was targeting a finite business operation, while the White House demonstration seemed to address the entire United States legal system as well as foreign policy. COK’s call for the release of ALF members convicted of various felonies had an air of futility about it, as the activists claimed the right to break all sorts of U.S.
laws in the name of their cause. The Miller’s Fur protest was more of an even fight. This time the activists seemed more powerful, as if they were in reach of their goal to close down the Bethesda fur salon. Their signs had a few more incendiary phrases than those at the presidential protest; “Boycott Murder- Don’t Buy Fur” and “Stop the Killers Boycott Miller’s” appeared in addition to those used at the White House protest. The activists excitedly talked about a recent ALF action; the underground group had recently spray painted animal right slogans over Miller’s windows and canopy.
As they circled the group broke into chants directed by COK leaders, which seemed to add energy to the protester’s message. Passing cars beeped their horns as their drivers waved in support, in contrast to the tepid response from the pedestrian traffic at the protest downtown. However, with one or two exceptions those who passed by the fur protest on foot in Bethesda seemed to be just as hostile as those in D.C. Some speculate that the entire concept of a fur salon picket is faulty, that COK just angers “people when [they] say, don’t buy fur!’and makes them want to go and do it.” The women that dared to cross Miller’s threshold attracted every protester’s attention, as they shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” in unison. As one customer left the store loud voices yelled out, “That’s Disgusting!”, “Shame!”, “How’d They Get The Blood Out Of Your Coat?” and other slogans which were drowned out by others’ hissing and boos. The effect was very much like that of an angry mob; tension and vitriolic energy filled the air.
This atmosphere may release pent up emotion, and discourage people from buying fur in the short term, although in the long term it runs the risk of damaging the animal rights cause. A recent survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of Americans strongly disapprove “of protesting fur coats in a harassing manner.” Animal advocates certainly don’t need their tactics compared to radical pro-life groups that make abortion clinics warzones. As all the activity unfolded outside their door Miller’s Furs taped a small sign to their window that read “Medical Research Saves Lives.” This seemed off-topic at first glance, but after visiting the FICA web site and reading other pro-fur literature, it was apparent that the sign was part of a pattern. The fur industry initially ignored criticism from animal rights groups and relied on their product’s glamorous image to state their case. As the column inches devoted to the animal rights movement’s allegations of cruelty began to accumulate and sales began to drop; the industry’s strategy shifted.
Fur companies began to try to draw attention away from themselves by pointing out the most controversial parts of the animal rights agenda to the mainstream society. Arguably the animal rights issue with the least amount of public support is medical animal testing. Although this topic divides the animal rights community, many of the movement’s leaders favor total abolition of any testing on animals. The fur industry is only too happy to point this out to anyone who’ll listen. Compassion Over Killing and other animal rights groups are actively trying to change the social “rules” that prevail in this country. While in the short term they may not be advocating a ban on fur coats, COK’s protests are aimed at making it socially unacceptable to wear fur. This effort has shown signs of succeeding, as fur sales have fallen almost 50% below their peak volume in 1987. However, they have begun to creep upwards again in recent quarters.
As with every social movement, animal advocacy groups need to pause and reevaluate their public relations strategies. Perhaps it’s time for organizations like Compassion Over Killing to cut back on their use of emotionally charged phrases and tacit endorsement of felonious acts a la ALF. Without considering these issues, COK runs the risk of marginalizing the group and losing its battle against fur. — Works Cited Cowit, Steve. “Hollywood Hypocrites.” Fur Age 04/06/97 11:35:32. Feitelberg, Rosemary. “Surge in Luxe Business, Designer Participation Bode Well for Fur Week.” Women’s Wear Daily 14 May 1996: 1+. “Freak Show Protest Falls on Deaf Ears.” Fur Age http://www.furs.com/FUR/FurAge76.html> 04/06/97 11:41:16.
Fur Information Council of America. “Fur, Your Fashion Choice.” Motavalli, Jim. “Our Agony Over Animals.” E Magazine Oct 1995: 28-37. People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Annual Report.” 1994. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “The PETA Guide to Animals and the Clothing Trade.” Responsive Management. “Americans’ Attitudes Toward Animal Welfare, Animal Rights and Use of Animals.” Riechmann, Deb. “A Harvest of Fox Fur And Anger.” Washington Post 5 Jan 1995: M2. Shapiro, Paul.
“An Interview With the Owner of Miller’s Furs.” The Abolitionist Summer 1996: 3-4. Shapiro, Paul. Personal Communication. Bethesda, MD. 5 April 1997.
Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics For Our Treatment of Animals New York: Avon, 1975. Stern, Jared Paul. “Are You Fur Real?” Fashion Reporter June/July 1996: 5-6.