Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact


Fun? Yes. An energy solution? No.

Who could object to efforts to bring clean, renewable energy to people without electricity? Donors and investors love social enterprises (D.Light, Greenlight Planet, BrightLife) and nonprofits (SolarAid, GivePower) that bring solar panels, lights or phone chargers to poor households in Africa and south Asia. Why, even President Obama, on a visit to Tanzania, played with a Soccket, a soccer ball that generates just enough energy to power a light bulb or charge a phone.

Trouble arises, though, when these well-intentioned, small-scale initiatives draw attention away from utility-scale energy projects that can power businesses and drive economic growth–the kinds of big projects that lifted the US, Europe, Japan, China and much of the rest of the world out of poverty. Or, worse, when an absolutist devotion to renewable energy stands in the way of big, centralized projects–specifically, the natural gas, coal and nuclear power projects that, even today, provide more than 80 percent of the electricity used in the US.


Photo credit: Shawn Miller

This is Todd Moss’s concern. Moss, 48, is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a former state department official and a PhD economist who recently launched the Energy for Growth Hub. The Energy for Growth Hub is a network of scholars and advocates who want to bring some common sense to the conversation about how get energy to everyone in Africa and Asia. They are focused not just on the 1.3bn people whose homes are without a light switch but the 3bn or so who live in places where a lack of reliable, abundant electricity remains a barrier to progress.

Moss sat down with me recently in Bethesda, MD, where we both live, to talk about how he and his colleagues want to convince policymakers to help poor countries achieve the high-energy future they need to become prosperous. 

Household solar panels won’t get the job done. Big wind  and solar farms, natural gas plants, hydroelectric dams, geothermal plants and, perhaps, nuclear power will be required.

Even if that means — dare we say it? — taking a small step backwards in the battle against climate change.

“Climate change is real, it’s caused by human activity and it’s likely an existential challenge to humanity,” Moss tells me. “I don’t think it can or should be solved on the back of poor Africans.”

After all, the world’s poorest people didn’t cause the climate crisis. It’s not fair to ask them to sacrifice, particularly as those of us in the west enjoy the benefits of abundant, cheap energy.

Consider this graphic, via Moss, that went viral a few years ago:

energy pov 2 fridgeOr this one, timely because it shows that decorative holiday lights in the US use more energy in a year than entire countries:


There are opportunities here for philanthropy, if only because the impacts of energy poverty are so far-reaching. Millions of people die every year because they cook over open fires. Health care clinics operate without reliable power. Schools lack electricity, Students can’t study at night. Most of all, robust economic growth–the only thing that can lift large numbers of people out of poverty–requires high rates of energy consumption. Anyone who cares about global poverty should care about energy.

“A low energy future is a jobless future,” says Moss.

What’s more, without industrial-scale energy, people in energy-poor places will be ill-equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change. They are the most likely to suffer from extreme heat, drought, crop failures, rising sea levels and floods. Of the 2.8 bn people living in the hottest parts of the world, only 8 percent currently have air conditioning, compared to 90 percent ownership in the US.

As Moss told me: “They’ll need more energy, not less. They need to live in resilient houses. Their roads and airports can’t be washed away by storms. They will need steel and concrete, which require lots of energy. They need to be richer.”

None of this should be controversial. It is. Some environmental groups, as well as global development agencies, are reluctant to support fossil-fuel projects or big dams, even in countries that desperately need energy and are blessed with energy resources.

Opposition to large-scale hydroelectric dams, for example, has dramatically curbed support for such dams from development institutions such as the World Bank. “Major dam projects have been cancelled or suspended in Myanmar, Thailand, Chile, and Brazil,” Jacques Leslie reported at YaleE360.

In an effort to halt development funding for fossil fuels, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the city of Boulder, Colorado, filed a lawsuit years ago alleging that the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provided financing and insurance to fossil fuel projects without assessing whether the projects contributed to global warming or impacted the U.S. environment, as they were legally required to do.

And, as recently as last month, the International Energy Agency warned that the world has so many existing fossil fuel projects that it cannot afford to build any more and still achieve international climate goals. Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based group, told the Guardian: “We have no room to build anything that emits CO2 emissions.”

Really? Tell that to the millions of people who burn wood inside their homes to cook their dinner.

It should go without saying that wind and solar farms should be the technology of choice to power the developing world. But it seems unlikely that they can do it alone. Battery storage remains expensive, and a sophisticated electricity grid is needed to manage intermittent sources of power. Despite rapidly falling costs, wind and solar produced just 7 percent of the world’s electricity in 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. They produce even less of the energy needed for industry, transport, heating and cooling. Those percentages will grow rapidly–thank goodness–but major energy transitions take decades.

“The scale of the energy poverty problem is so great that we shouldn’t ex ante take any options off the table,” Moss says.

Consider Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, which is awash in natural gas. It just built a 461mw natural-gas plant, with help from OPIC, but it needs many more. With more than half the population of the United States, Nigeria can generate less than one percent as much electricity, Moss has written. That’s stunning. “The specter of a Nigeria that cannot come close to meeting its growing population’s demands for jobs and modern lifestyles—all underpinned by high volumes of energy—should be alarming,” he says. To its credit, the MacArthur Foundation has a grant-making program to support anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria, including in the energy sector.

The Energy for Growth Hub’s network of academics intends to bring its knowledge to  development institutions, as well as governments in poor countries. “We’re trying to influence decision-makers in a few capitals,” Moss says. The organization has fellows in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, India and a Thailand-based expert who focuses on Bangladesh. Its principal funders are the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pritzker Innovation Fund, and the Spitzer Charitable Trust.

Moss, by the way, has made things happen before from his perch at the Center for Global Development. Just this week, Devex reported on a rare bipartisan reform success in DC that took root at the think tank, in a story headlined  How policy wonks, politicos and a conservative Republican remade US AID.

He also has an interesting side gig as an author of political thrillers. His fourth and latest book, called The Shadow List, sends a state department crisis manager and his CIA agent wife into the heart of a corruption scandal in Nigeria. He enjoys writing novels, he told me, because “works a different part of your brain,” although writing fiction about Washington has become harder than ever. “Reality is too crazy,” he says. That’s for sure.

This special report was made possible by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Journalism.

* * *

p1040385Eric Reynolds was despondent. He had poured his heart and soul, his best ideas and a chunk of his life savings into Nau, the radically sustainable, greener-than-green apparel company that he founded in 2003. The global apparel industry had caused all manner of environmental and social problems, he thought. Nau was designed to fix them.

Instead, after Reynolds recruited managers from Patagonia and Nike to help launch Nau, a clique of senior executives, along with an investor, forced him out.

“I was wounded, quite profoundly,” he says.

What now, he wondered.

Some middle-aged CEOs would have sought consulting gigs or board seats, or tried painting or golf. Not Reynolds. A world-class alpinist, he had dropped out of college to co-found Marmot, the outdoor gear company, with Dave Huntley, a climbing buddy. “Dave was the genius,” he says. “I barely knew what an invoice was.” Later, Reynolds ran a startup called Sweetwater that made water purification devices. Business was interesting to him only insofar as it helped to solve problems, the bigger the better.

So it happened that, after some soul-searching, Reynolds put his Boulder, Colorado, home on the market, sold his $80,000 wine collection and moved to a small city in Rwanda, a small east African nation he’d visited a couple of times as a volunteer helping a village of genocide survivors. He started a company to distribute cookstoves and renewable fuel that, if all goes well, will serve the world’s poorest people, curb deforestation in the global south and, most importantly, save many millions of lives–and, not incidentally, do so while earning investors a profit. Only then will his company, known as Inyenyeri, be able to grow to a meaningful scale.

Scale, Reynolds says, means reaching 100 million households before he dies.

Today, Inyenyeri serves between 5,000 and 6,000 homes.

Which tells you that operating a cookstove company in rural Rwanda has, so far, been a tough slog, tougher than Reynolds had imagined. “This is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life so far,” he says. It’s harder than it might otherwise be because Reynolds runs his company with a commitment to excellence and customer service that is unusual for the sector, which for the most part has fallen short of its promise.

The good news is that Inyenyeri has been made headway lately. Its supporters include Sustainable Energy for All, a UN-backed initiative; the IKEA, Mulago and Osprey Foundations; a few impact investors and, importantly, the government of Rwanda, with which it recently signed an agreement calling for the company and the government to support a rollout of stoves across the nation.

“It’s a breakthrough,” Reynolds says.

Lanky and balding, with wispy gray hair and a ready smile that belies his intensity, Reynolds recently turned 66. He has a Rwandan wife and two children and, like most entrepreneurs, an unshakeable belief that he can overcome whatever obstacles lie ahead.

“I came here and burned the boats on the beach,” he told me, when we met last spring in Rwanda. “This is going to work.”


Copy+of+3+Stone+Fire+PictureIt’s hard to get your head around the fact that about three billion poor people, most in Africa, south Asia and Latin America, still burn wood, charcoal or dung in smoky, open fires to cook their food and heat their homes. Three billion! Millions die annually from lung and heart ailments caused by the pollutants produced by cookingaccording to World Health Organization (WHO). Dubbed “the killer in the kitchen,” household air pollution is thought to be the world’s leading environmental cause of death and disability.

So-called clean cookstoves have been touted as a solution, notably by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a coalition launched by Hillary Clinton in 2010. Clinton declared that cookstoves “could be as transformative as bed nets or even vaccines,” which have saved millions of lives. Clean cookstoves can “save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and protect the environment, the global alliance says.

But mostly they have not. There are many reasons why. Low-cost cookstoves deteriorate or break. They are commonly used alongside an open fire, instead of replacing it, all but negating their health benefits. It’s almost impossible to design a stove that can adapt to all kinds of wood–wet or dry, twigs, branches, or logs–as well as other fuels, like dung, crop residues and charcoal, that are burned by the poor, and burn all of them cleanly. Continue reading

The giving season is almost upon us, and so millions of Americans soon will turn to Charity Navigator or GuideStar for help in vetting nonprofits. Unfortunately, neither is entirely up to the job. 

That once again became clear to me when I began looking into a charity called Alley Cat Allies that, by coincidence, is headquartered just a few miles from my home in Bethesda, MD. Alley Cat Allies is, to be blunt, a mess. Even so, it has been given the best possible scores by both Charity Navigator and GuideStar.

This is a big problem for the nonprofit sector, and one that deserves more attention from foundations (Hewlett, Gates, Raikes) that are trying to improve the practice of philanthropy and the performance of nonprofit groups. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy just published my story about Alley Cat Allies, a group that has been around for decades and advocates for feral cats. Alley Cat Allies is not a mom-and-pop charity; it brought in nearly $10m last year. 

The story is behind a paywall, so you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that Alley Cat Allies has engaged in a variety of questionable dealings in recent years. It used charitable donations to acquire two residential property in Arlington, VA, including the home next door to the home of its executive director, Becky Robinson. (I’m told this helped resolve a dispute with the neighbor over Robinson’s backyard full of cats, but could not confirm this.) Amazingly, in neither case did Robinson inform the full board that Alley Cat Allies was buying the properties. (One board member learned about the real estate dealing from me!) The board chair, a woman named Donna Wilcox, for years has been a full-time, paid employee of Alley Cat Allies, which is crazy. How can a paid staff member evaluate or provide oversight of her boss? (Wilcox left her job days ago, she wrote on Facebook.) The board, which includes some well-credentialed folk, including a PhD economist with the FDIC, has not met this year.  Top executives get generous pay. The organization pursued a costly copyright lawsuit against a former freelance photographer and his wife, for what appears to me to be no good reason. Employees say it’s an awful place to work. Etc.

And yet….those stellar rankings.

I write this not to critique Michael Thatcher, CEO of Charity Navigator, or Jacob Harold, CEO of GuideStar, who are doing the best they can with limited resources. I like and admire both of them. But they don’t have anywhere near enough money or staff to independently examine hundreds or thousands of nonprofits. They might have uncovered the governance problems at Alley Cat Allies by closely reading its Form 990, but they could not have known that the charity was buying the house next door to its executive director. To their credit, neither claim to be watchdogs, although they are often portrayed or perceived that way.

What can the charitable sector do to better evaluate nonprofits? That’s hard to say. Maybe community foundations could come up with lists of best local nonprofits. Maybe other funders could focus on niches that they care about, by evaluating the education nonprofits that try to help poor kids get through college, or the climate-change advocacy groups, and then recommend the best of them, explaining why. (Animal Charity Evaluators does this for animal welfare groups, but, of course, that didn’t stop donors from sending money to Alley Cat Allies.) Independent evaluations collected by others could then be distributed on broad-based platforms such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar. Maybe there’s an opportunity here for Feedback Labs or the broader feedback movement, to reward well-run nonprofits that listen to those they are trying to serve.

Meantime, what’s a donor to do? By all means, consult Charity Navigator and GuideStar. They will spotlight problems with a nonprofit after those problems become public, and they will help you, as a donor, avoid fake charities that spend most of their budgets on fundraising. But do a little of your own digging, too. Research a charity with as much seriousness as you’d research a car, a vacation or, for some, a restaurant. Or give to a nonprofit that you know well and trust. Or turn to organizations like GiveWell or the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, which identify a small number of effective charities.

Do keep giving if you can. Thankfully, charities like Alley Cat Allies are the exception and not the rule.

sleepoversfb-900_1274-88a172This is an image from the Facebook feed of a man named Macintosh Johnson. Pictured is Katie Meyler, the founder of a charity called More Than Me that operates schools for poor, vulnerable girls in Liberia, like the girls in the photo. Macintosh Johnson and Katie Meyler were lovers. They ran More Than Me together until 2014 when Johnson was arrested and charged with raping at least 10 girls–likely, there were more–who studied at the MTM Academy, More Than Me’s flagship school. Two years later, after a jury trial in which he was neither convicted nor acquitted of the rapes, Johnson died in prison of AIDS.

All of this is according to ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization, which on Oct. 11 published a long (13,000 words) and absolutely devastating investigative story and a  45-minute documentary, both called Unprotected, about More Than Me. Here’s the trailer for the film, which argues, persuasively, that More Than Me missed opportunities to prevent the rapes and didn’t respond adequately after they became known. The school, for example, failed to test all of Johnson’s potential victims after learning that he had AIDS. This is a heartbreaking story.

Last week, Meyler, who is 36, took a leave of absence from More Than Me. Skip Borghese, the charity’s board chair, has resigned. In a statement, More Than Me said it was “deeply profoundly sorry” and acknowledged that it had failed the rape victims. But Meyler has insisted that her only mistake was to hire Macintosh Johnson. On the very day the ProPublica story appeared, she paid to be interviewed on a Liberian radio station where she defended herself and More Than Me’s work.

Here’s the thing, though: Katie Meyler didn’t build More Than Me on her own. She had lots of help. She has been financed by foundations and U.S. government agencies that, arguably, should have known better, especially once the rapes came to light; she won a popularity contest funded by JPMorgan Chase that awarded More Than Me a $1m prize to build MTM Academy; she was repeatedly lauded by credulous reporters; and she benefited from the persistent appeal of what has been called the white savior complex, a mindset that regards people in Africa, especially children, as helpless victims awaiting rescued by western do-gooders. Continue reading


Dylan Matthews

Can journalism supported by a traditional foundation ask tough questions about what foundations are doing right–and doing wrong?

Future Perfect intends to try. It’s off to a promising start.

Launched this week by Vox, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, Future Perfect plans to “carve out a space, away the regular news cycle, to cover and think about crucially important issues that are currently undercovered,” writes Vox’s Dylan Matthews, who with senior policy editor Elbert Ventura will oversee the site.

Global poverty. Malaria. Communicable diseases. Farm animal suffering. Existential risks to humanity, including runaway artificial intelligence. Organ donations.

That list may sound familiar. Those are causes that the effective altruism movement has identified as important and neglected. Future Perfect is “deeply inspired” by the ideas of effective altruism, according to Matthews. He has done more than any other reporter to bring the movement into the mainstream.

He writes:

Effective altruism has hit on a really fundamental, important insight: Relatively few people and organizations conduct themselves as though they’re actively trying to do as much good as possible. To some degree, that’s okay (not everyone has to act with that goal in mind), but it leaves a lot of obvious, high-impact ideas on the table, ideas that begin to come into focus if you start looking at the world through this lens.

Put another way, effective altruism argues that all of us can and should make value judgments about which nonprofits do the most good. Simply giving from the heart is not OK.

Importantly, effective altruists also pays close attention to costs. Nonprofits talk all the time about the good that they do, but rarely are they explicit about the costs. And, of course, costs matter a lot. It’s all well and good, say, to want to educate girls in Africa, but if one school spends twice as much as another per student, that’s an important data point for donors.

Future Perfect will live on the web and in a weekly podcast hosted by Matthews, who has been with Vox since its launch. In the first episode of the pod, he interviews Alexander Berger of the Open Philanthropy Project about effective altruism, and explains why he gave a kidney to a total stranger two years ago. (For more about effective altruism and Open Philanthropy, the giving arm of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna, you read my long story in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.)

Among other things, Future Perfect will report on big philanthropy. Matthews writes:

We’re also going to be interrogating the decisions that big foundations (like the Gates Foundation, Open Philanthropy, and even our sponsors at the Rockefeller Foundation) are making. We’re trying to figure out the best ways to do good, and that means critically scrutinizing what existing institutions are trying.

This is welcome news. Foundations–arguable the least accountable institutions in America–deserve more scrutiny, for better or worse. Future Perfect has already spotlighted some success stories, and warned about a possible flop.

Here, for example, is a deeply-reported, nuanced story  by Matthews about programs that, at a reasonable cost, help extremely poor people “graduate” from poverty. It explains how they work, what we know, and what we don’t know about programs run by such NGOS as BRAC, Trickle Up and Village Enterprise. [See my 2017 blogpost, Village Enterprise: Alleviating poverty, delivering results.]

Equally impressive is Kelsey Piper’s thoughtful critique of Jeff Bezos’ $2bn gift to charity. Instead of jeering or cheering, Piper did some reporting about Bezos’s plans. (Always a good approach.) His promise to spend $1bn on preschools for children may not be the best idea, she notes pointedly, because “this has been tried before — and we really don’t know whether it works.” What’s more, she writes, Bezos isn’t starting small, with pilot programs to learn how to improve early childhood learning; he seems to be going ahead full bore, despite the fact that “starting at scale is a great way to waste a lot of money, and even do damage if your intervention turns out to be a bad idea.”

By phone, Matthews told me: “Keeping a critical eye on philanthropy — writing about philanthropic failures and successes — is going to be important going forward…We’re not here to be cheerleaders.”

Matthews hasn’t pulled his punches before. See, for example, his 2015 story, For the love of God, rich people, stop giving Harvard money. It begins: “There is a special plaque in philanthropist hell for John Paulson.” (This, from a 2012 Harvard grad, no less.) He has also written skeptically about elements of the effective altruism movement, including its focus on long-term risks, its lack of diversity and smugness.

Could the Rockefeller Foundation funding imperil critical reporting on philanthropy? The foundation gave Vox a $380,000 grant for 14 months to get Future Perfect up and running. Vox and the foundation were annoyingly vague about how this came to pass; it’s not clear to me whether Vox went to Rockefeller to ask for money, or whether the foundation approached Vox. Foundation support for journalism has been a godsend in recent years, but there’s always the risk that funding can distort coverage. You have to wonder, for example, about The Guardian’s reporting on factory farms, since it is backed by a grant from Open Philanthropy, which strongly opposes factory farming. (As do I, incidentally. But I want my journalism to be independent, and to challenge my priors.)

In any event, Matthews says that Future Perfect is a project that Vox believes in, and that it will persist, with or without more grant money from Rockefeller. “This is core to Vox’s mission,” he said.

You can sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter here.

LastChanceForAnimals-inviteLast Chance for Animals says that it is dedicated to ending the exploitation of animals.

The exploitation of women? Not so much, it seems.

Otherwise, why would the Los Angeles-based animal advocacy group honor Erika Brunson with an “Albert Schweitzer Award” at its annual benefit gala?

Those who have paid attention to the #metoo problem in the animal rights movement will remember Brunson. An 80-something interior designer whose clients are said to include members of the Saudi Arabian royal family, Fortune 500 CEOs and celebrities, Brunson served on the board of the Humane Society of the US where she steadfastly and unapologetically stood by Wayne Pacelle, its former CEO, even as he faced multiple, credible allegations of sexual harassment.

When Rachel Perman, who oversees charitable giving at Tofurky, asked HSUS’s board to investigate the complaints against Pacelle, Brunson responded to her in an email saying: “Are you out of your mind? Don’t you have anything better to do in life, than air your repressed sexual fantasies in public?”

Subsequently, Brunson told POLITICO: “This country is crazy. … It’s like this lynch-burning hysteria.” ** She suggested that women needed to “get tougher, don’t go around whining, saying you’ve been sexually harassed.”

Later, Brunson defended the HSUS board’s decision to keep Pacelle on the job in an interview with The New York Times. “Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody?” she was quoted as saying. “Women should be able to take care of themselves.”

Say this about Brunson: She’s consistent.

Brunson is a longtime donor to animal advocacy groups. Money talks. Maybe Last Chance for Animals hopes that she’ll bring some of her Saudi clients to the gala, where tables sell for as much as $50,000.

But honoring her with an award, at this moment, sends a terrible message to the women as well as men in the movement.

Emails and phone messages left with Last Chance for Animals were not returned. The group was founded in 1984 by Chris DeRose, an actor, who remains its chief executive. It’s a small organization, with less than $2m in annual revenues, according to its latest IRS tax return. Past supporters include Pamela Anderson, Ben Stiller, Courtney Cox and Kathy Freston, according to Look to the Stars.

** Lynch-burning hysteria?

Wayne_pacelle_5212919Last week, the Humane Society of the US announced a “reconciliation process” that is intended to heal its workplace. HSUS is inviting “anyone who may have experienced or witnessed sexual or other kinds of harassment, inappropriate workplace behaviors, a hostile work environment and/or retaliation” to share their experiences in confidential interviews with Kate Kimpel, a respected DC lawyer and advocate for women.

Aside from the language around reconciliation — it’s not the job of those who have been harassed to reconcile with those who mistreated them — this is welcome news. It’s an open-ended investigation, at last, into the widespread allegations of sexual harassment lodged against Wayne Pacelle, the former CEO of HSUS.

His behavior, it appears, enabled others to engage in inappropriate conduct and set an unhealthy tone for the organization; at least three other senior executives at HSUS have been accused of workplace misconduct affecting women in recent years.

A fish rots from the head down, as the saying goes. “Women could be preyed on for years,” said Kelly Dermody, a lawyer representing women at the animal advocacy group. By email, Dermody told me that she is pleased by this latest development: “The selection of Kate Kimpel as the outside investigator gives the whole process enormous credibility, and certainly serves my clients’ interests in advancing the mission of serving animals.”

By way of background: Pacelle resigned in February under pressure from staff and donors, a day after HSUS’s 31-member board abruptly curtailed an investigation into his conduct and, incredibly, voted to keep him on the job. No one has held the HSUS board accountable for its bungling–this is likely the biggest outrage of all–although along with the so-called reconciliation process, a governance review is underway at HSUS, as is a pay equity study and work “with culture experts on culture change,” the group says.

None of this should have happened, says Carol J. Adams, the longtime vegan advocate, feminist and author, and much of it likely could have been avoided had more animal rights activists paid attention to her work. The animal advocacy movement, she argues, should ally itself with broader efforts to secure social and environmental justice, whether for women or workers (particularly those in slaughterhouses) or people of color.

“The movement has to get beyond a single issue,” Adams says.

7ae3c4d0-ab9e-11e8-81c9-1b431fd718bc-rimg-w526-h295-dc838383-gmirBy chance, Adams visited Washington just before the HSUS announcement to talk about her new book, Protest Kitchen: Fight Injustice, Save the Planet and Fuel Your Resistance, One Meal at a Time. Its original title was “The Anti Trump Diet,” she said, and even now the book includes recipes for “Trumped Up Vegan Cutlets a L’Orange,” “Stop the Wall Taco Salad Bowl with Fire and Fury Salsa” and, naturally, “Impeach Cobbler.” Who says feminists don’t have a sense of humor?

Speaking at East City Bookshop, a women-owned independent bookstore on Capitol Hill, Adams noted that it has been 28 years since the publication of The Sexual Politics of Meat, her landmark book exploring the relationship between patriarchal values and meat-eating. Ever since, Adams has collected images that connect the oppression of women with the oppression of other animals.

“They treated women like meat”

The connections between demeaning animals and demeaning women are everywhere, once you are alert to them. Adams pointed to a recent New Yorker story by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer about Brett Kavanaugh that quoted a woman who socialized with boys at Georgetown Prep, his high school, in the 1980s, who recalled that male students tried to get girls drunk and then take advantage of them. “It was disgusting,” the woman reportedly said.“They treated women like meat.”

The argument, if I understand it correctly, is that exploiting one group of beings — chickens, pigs and cows — makes it easier for the powerful to exploit others who are vulnerable, including women.

In Protest Kitchen, Adams and her co-author, nutritionist Virginia Messina, write: “The oppression of farm animals strengthens misogyny…Animal agriculture is a major vehicle for maintaining and disseminating misogynist attitudes…Female animals are forced to spend their lives producing babies, milk and eggs solely for human consumption.”

How, then, could animal advocates mistreat women at HSUS, Mercy for Animals and the Farm Animal Rights Movement? Partly it’s a matter of culture, as I wrote in January in The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

The culture of the movement creates conditions that are ripe for exploitation, insiders say. Female staff and volunteers are often idealistic, sensitive souls who empathize with the suffering of animals. They assume that men in the movement are kindred spirits. Bonding over their refusal to eat meat or wear animal products, they socialize as well as work together.

Adams argues that the narrow focus of the animal advocacy movement also comes into play. She told me:

To have leading animal advocates treat women as pieces of meat when they know exactly what a piece of meat was, is very disturbing…These were the men framing how to do advocacy in the movement, pushing the movement to be single issue, who then, as serial sexual exploiters, benefited from a movement that was framed in this way.

When I asked Adams whether the movement is coming to grips with its #metoo problem, she replied: “On a scale of one to 10, I’d say two. I just don’t think we’ve really dealt with it. I think we’re further behind than the culture at large.”

The HSUS “reconciliation process” hasn’t changed her mind.

“What took so damn long?” said said. “The HSUS Board made a terrible mistake in January, and this ‘reconciliation’ could begin with them saying so, and saying they should have fired Wayne.”

True enough. The lack of clarity and transparency around who did what to whom hasn’t been good for the movement, for the women who were harassed or, for that matter, for the men who accused of harassment, sometimes with little in the way of specifics to back up the charge.  This has led to debate about who should be welcomed back into the movement, and when. Pacelle, for example, is already attempting a comeback as a prominent volunteer with a new political action committee called Animal Wellness Action.

I asked Anna West, senior director of public relations at HSUS, whether the findings of the reconciliation process would be made public. By email, she replied:

We plan to make an announcement at the conclusion of the reconciliation process and expect, as part of that, to share information about the process and any resulting changes to the organization’s practices. We will be guided in our communications by our commitment to restorative accountability – accountability and transparency that facilitates healing and growth – and the protection of the identities and individual experiences of participants will be prioritized at all times.

Accountability would require taking a hard look at the role of the board, which, like most nonprofit boards, answers to no one but itself. That’s a problem with no obvious solution, and one that goes way beyond HSUS.

Photo of Wayne Pacelle by SlowKing4, via Wikimedia Commons