How NYC is Unifying Its Animal Rights Movement

Last Thursday was autumn’s first chilly night in New York City, complete with lashing rains that had fallen as snowflakes just a few hours north. It was definitely a dank trek to NYU School of Law for the inaugural kickoff of New York City United for Animals (NYC UFA), but nothing could keep folks from packing the lecture hall – me included.

Just shy of 7pm, people began pouring in, and organizers scrambled to accommodate over 250 attendees vying for a savory sampling of vegan delights donated by Terri, VSpot, and Treeline Cheese before the program began. Discussions bubbled with excitement over the previous week’s New York City Council hearing on Intro 1233. “We packed the chamber,” one woman exclaimed before taking a bite of spicy empanada. “Mendez and Johnson asked all the right questions,” another replied.

Indeed! After ten years in the making, a bill to ban wild and exotic animals from being forced to perform for human entertainment within the five boroughs was introduced by Council Members Rosie Mendez and Corey Johnson – two animal rights champions who made us all proud to be New Yorkers that day (you can keep informed on the progress of the bill by signing up for our email newsletter).

It was only my second week on the job as NhRP’s Campaigns Director, and already I knew from the energy in both rooms that I’d finally found my true professional community: people whose life and work centered around justice for animals in a world where so many are treated inhumanely.

With everyone’s palate sated, the room quieted for but a moment as Lauren Gazzola was called to the podium to give the opening rally cry. Lauren—a Communications Associate for Publications at The Center for Constitutional Rights—has a long history of animal advocacy in New York City and a record to prove it: she served 40 months in federal prison for her Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty campaign work to bankrupt the animal testing labs at Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Given her history of direct action and current position with a legal advocacy non-profit, it seemed fitting for Lauren to kick off this historic event designed to bring together groups from all points on the animal rights spectrum. Speaking with a sense of urgency, she called on the crowd to unite as New Yorkers in our fight to protect animals while respecting each other’s diverse strategies and tactics. As NYC UFA articulates on its website, this is the basic tenet upon which the coalition was founded:

NYC UFA participants reflect a diversity of strategies, tactics, structures, and focuses. In collaboration, we seek to draw upon the unique contributions that we can each make, honoring the diversity of our approaches as complementary and additive to the whole of a movement that at once fights many battles by many means.  We neither seek nor need to achieve total agreement regarding the work of each of our individual groups. We are united in the recognition that we can achieve more together than we can separately. NYC UFA aims to create a rising tide that lifts all ships (NYC UFA, “What is the Coalition?”)

The speakers of the evening reflected this diversity and NYC UFA’s commitment to be an all-inclusive coalition.

Donny Moss of Their Turn talked about efforts to secure funding for the 66 chimpanzees the New York Blood Center abandoned after exploiting and using them in lab testing for decades. Sentience Politics discussed their ballot initiatives in Europe, with hopes of bringing their work to the United States. Clare Farrow of The Humane League shared a recent update regarding the United Egg Producers’ announcement to end chick culling methods by 2020. Caring Activists Against Fur announced a NYC UFA-sponsored protest rally, scheduled for Nov. 20 in front of the new SOHO Canada Goose store. And the NhRP’s Executive Director, Kevin Schneider, described our ongoing campaigns to free our chimpanzee clients—Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo—to sanctuaries.

From grassroots efforts to public policy initiatives to litigation, attendees learned of the myriad approaches to animal advocacy being taken throughout the city and were invited to get involved during the break-out sessions. At the end of the evening, we all left energized, sharing a common goal of mobilizing for animal rights in NYC.

The tide seems to be rising for nonhuman animals and their advocates, and all are welcome to join!

Lisa Rainwater is the NhRP’s Campaigns Director. Follow her on Twitter @LisaARainwater.

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