11 min read

One RPA Member's Journey

By Beverly Foster, RPA Outreach Assistant I have long been deeply concerned about the countless ways we human beings make other animals suffer. In the late 1970s, I read Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation, which made a groundbreaking case for improving the treatment of nonhuman animals by giving equal consideration for equal interests while revealing many atrocities human beings perpetrate against other animals. I eliminated all animal products from my diet and dedicated myself to rescuing stray and feral cats and demonstrating against some of the worst abuses. I gave money to animal-welfare groups and read their literature. As an attorney, I litigated against wasteful government projects that damaged the local environment.

Without recognizing the significance, I had become an animal welfarist. I believed my words and actions would change other people's minds about nonhuman animals and that changing attitudes would change practice and policy. If you were aware of factory farming, the widespread abuse of pets, the horrors of hunting, trapping, live-pigeon shoots, and other lawful atrocities, how could you not object? And the literature constantly told me I was "making a difference."

After the Internet emerged, I spent hours online reading about the burgeoning field of animal law. I joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization established by attorneys mainly to help enforce anticruelty laws. I took a course in animal law. As legislatures strengthened laws aimed at protecting pets and Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act, I thought the animals' plight must be improving.

Eventually I heard about Gary Francione, a Rutgers University law professor who criticized animal welfarism and promoted abolitionism. Francione brilliantly explained how eliminating nonhuman animals' legal status as property of humans, legislating bans on extremely inhumane uses of other animals, and promoting veganism – consuming and purchasing nothing derived from or tested on nonhuman animals – could abolish all nonhuman-animal exploitation as our recent ancestors had abolished human chattel slavery.

As the years passed and I kept at it, I didn't see improvement to the plight of nonhuman animals. The standard American diet ("SAD" to nutrition scientists), with its factory farming and ancient atrocities like mutilations, continued to predominate in the United States. And it expanded abroad. I read at one point that McDonald's planned to open a new restaurant in China every day for the next three years. The government, the mass media, and even universities were dominated by Big Meat, the biomedical industry's animal-experimentation apparatus, the fossil-fuel industries, forest-razing, and other animal-abuse industries.

I despaired every day, thinking of the suffering, including so much human suffering, caused by so many practices and policies; not being able to do anything about it personally despite being vegan; and not being able to locate any organized effort with a strategy capable of eventually creating the kind of basic change that is needed. At times, I actually wished I could be a member of some other species not responsible for so much avoidable and preventable suffering.

Then I came upon www.RPAforAll.org – Responsible Policies for Animals' website. I had a great awakening. I couldn't believe that I hadn't seen this anywhere before: Policies! That's the answer, I thought. We need fundamental policy change to save ourselves, the other animals, and Earth. The piecemeal, half-baked, fragmented, rarely-enforced laws and campaigns with no discernible overarching purpose, guiding principle, or coherence could never make a meaningful difference.

From reading RPA's website, I came to believe that only the fundamental policy change RPA promotes can lead to the countless smaller remedies the animals need. Other animals' lack of rights – a major policy deficiency – is the reason anticruelty laws are ineffectual. They don't acknowledge nonhuman animals' personhood – their being bodies like humans, as RPA explains it – a requirement not only for rights but also for respectful treatment overall. I also appreciate RPA's articulating that its new-wave animal-rights strategy reflects the way rights have always come to exist for new groups of persons, whereas what RPA calls the first wave of the "animal rights movement" (not a true rights movement) relies on limited human traits like compassion and caring about animals – positive, but not significant factors in the concept and implementation of equal rights.

So, what can we do to create the needed 180-degree shift? Every human being has a contribution to make. Each of us can do our utmost to communicate to others that only supplanting millennia-old irresponsible policies with responsible policies toward all animals can save us from ourselves and direct us to a more balanced, equitable, and just world.

Since becoming an RPA member, I have written letters to the presidents and head trustees of every land-grant university on RPA's list on the Campaigns page of www.RPAforAll.org, demanding a long-overdue policy change: eliminating false and harmful teachings about animals in their agriculture colleges. I have introduced more than 500 university scholars to RPA by e-mail. In a perpetual project, I provide RPA Executive Director David Cantor with addresses of authors whose books are in the RPA Library – David tells them how their knowledge and concerns link to equal rights of all animals. And I am steadily supplying RPA's color brochure Animal Abuse: The Whole Story to three public libraries in my area.

Spreading the word is central to all RPA activities, because few people today, no matter how well educated, know what kind of animal we are, the misery in animal abuse, or the roots of human misery in animal abuse, or the concepts that lead to rights of new groups of persons. In a nutshell, here is what I recommend:

~Read RPA's website – www.RPAforAll.org. It not only recommends many activities – some easy, some difficult – but frames them in the understanding of rights that we need to promote equal rights of all animals.

~Distribute Animal Abuse: The Whole Story in libraries and among friends and family members.

~Organize an RPA presentation in your area or at your home.

~Explain the needed policy change to your officials and university executives as outlined at RPA's website. Write again whether you receive a reply or not. We must create a new agenda – current ones grossly miss the mark. Don't be discouraged or intimidated.

~Avoid wasting time with social media. There is a reason they are called social and not political. No matter how many "facebook friends" we have, interacting online doesn't educate or lead in the necessary way.

~In short, dedicate yourself, for the long term, to the Animal-Rights Conversation Corps that RPA is working to build. Step up, speak out, and write, write, write!

Beverly Foster works full-time as an attorney and resides in Wayne, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at hwlyfstr@aol.com.