I skipped the turkey this year at Thanksgiving. It was purely a symbolic gesture; we served turkey at my house, so my decision not to eat it didn’t mean much. Still, over the last year or so, I have radically reduced my meat consumption, largely because of the time I’ve spent with people in the animal welfare movement, in particular while reporting on the Humane Society of the United States.
This week, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published my story [paywall] about the Humane Society and its hard-charging chief executive, Wayne Pacelle. It’s a story about how to make social change. The animal welfare movement, led by HSUS and with the cooperation of smaller, nimbler groups like Mercy for Animals and The Humane League, has made great strides in the last decade on behalf of animals who cannot speak for themselves, particularly around the issues of the intensive confinement of hens and pigs.
How have Pacelle and Humane Society succeeded? By deploying every tool at their command: Ballot measures, lobbying, litigation, undercover investigations, cooperative agreements with corporate allies, mergers with smaller groups, even investments in plant-based protein startups like Beyond Meat. Any social-justice organization that wants to succeed in the Trump era would do well to study Pacelle’s playbook.
The animal welfare movement is energized these days by the commitment, brainpower and moral fervor of a impressive group of activists in their 20s and 30s, working inside and outside of HSUS. I think of them as today’s abolitionists–they are crying out in opposition to what they see as an evil but widely-accepted practice, just as the founders of the abolitionist movement did in 18th century Britain. Those early abolitionists built the world’s first social-justice movement, according to Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains, a wonderful history.