Wisdom From the Women of PETA: Animal Activism, Challenges, and Memorable Moments
Women have always ruled PETA – from the day in 1980 when Ingrid Newkirk founded PETA US to today, with most of our workforce composed of tough, smart, strategic female activists.
Read on to find out what four of PETA’s leaders have to say about working for the organisation, hear about their most memorable moments, and get their advice on standing up to speciesism and being an advocate for animals.
Who We Interviewed
PETA’s managing director and founder, Ingrid leads the world’s largest animal rights organisation and its international affiliates. Her passion and dedication to making this world a better place for all living beings has inspired countless others to do what they can to help animals.
Dr Julia Baines
Julia serves as science policy adviser for PETA. With a background in animal behaviour and welfare, she has a PhD from the University of Liverpool and has lectured for many years on animal ethics, law, and philosophy. Before joining PETA, she worked to improve the welfare of mice in animal testing laboratories, and she now campaigns to have animals removed from these hellholes altogether.
Mimi began working for PETA in 2008. As director of international programmes, she provides the organisation with leadership and management, as well as consulting on the strategic direction and practical operations of PETA’s international affiliates, including their campaign, media, marketing, and corporate programmes.
Elisa is the director of PETA. She’s involved in everything from giving interviews to the media and recruiting vegan musicians for campaigns to working with street artists to put the plight of animals in the spotlight – if it’ll get people talking about animal rights, it’s on her agenda. As a stylish “woman about town”, she loves shopping for vegan shoes and exploring London.
What do you enjoy most about working at PETA?
What I enjoy most is being able to work every day for what I want more than my own life: animal liberation. It’s about getting people to relate to “others” and to change, to act, to realise what a force they can be in creating a kinder world.
I love that my work directly contributes to saving animals’ lives and that I can influence changes in regulations or procedures to help prevent animals from suffering. This may involve supporting companies when they appeal against decisions requiring them to test cosmetics ingredients on rats or rabbits, speaking up in meetings with government officials and regulators, or participating in technical expert groups.
I love working in an organisation that entirely reflects my own values and with colleagues who care passionately about animal liberation. Being in a position to speak up for the individuals who can’t speak for themselves but who desperately need our assistance is a responsibility that I take very seriously. As one of my heroes, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, put it, “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.” I feel very grateful that for 11 years, I’ve been working alongside amazing people at PETA who are as dedicated as I am to eradicating speciesism from our society, just as social justice warriors before and beside us have fought and continue to fight against other toxic “isms”, like sexism and racism.
Being a part of a global movement for animals is extremely rewarding. I enjoy working every day with smart, dedicated, clever people to push the message that – as our motto reads – “animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way”.
What advice would you give to people who want to speak up for animals?
If nature endowed you with a tongue, for goodness sake put it to good use or you might as well have been born mute. There’s nothing to fear in speaking up, whereas in not doing so, you allow the status quo of immeasurable animal suffering to persist. Seize every opportunity to suggest alternatives to the health charity that still funds appalling tests on animals, the chicken burger, the leather shoe, and the cashmere cardigan.
Do your research, know your facts, be persistent, and share your knowledge widely.
Never be silent. Be the change you wish to see in the world – which means doing everything you can. Share our videos on social media. Cook vegan food for friends, family, and colleagues. And don’t be afraid to have awkward conversations with people. Most of us weren’t born vegan – we went vegan after learning about the terrible abuse of animals in the experimentation, food, clothing, and entertainment industries. Take every opportunity you get to inform people and help them make kinder choices. The billions of animals suffering at human hands in laboratories, on factory farms, in abattoirs, and in other dire places desperately need every single person who cares not to be a bystander.
Do it loudly or do it quietly, but just do it. What reaches one person may not reach another, so try everything. Hold protests (PETA will give you resources!), post video footage from investigations on your social media feeds, hand out leaflets (again, we’ll give them to you), have a quiet word with someone you see wearing fur, send letters to your local papers, and bake yummy vegan cookies to share with your neighbours – there are so many ways to speak up for animals.
At PETA, no two days are the same. Please describe the most memorable day of your time working here.
The most memorable day might be the one when PETA US won the Silver Spring Monkeys conviction, or closed down Professional Laboratory and Research Services and got all the animals out, or ended the cat experiments at the University of Washington, or … There have been so many memorable days, but really, all that matters is the future – and how hard we must work to bring about that memorable day when every human being faces the fact that they are one animal among many, all of whom must be afforded respect.
My most memorable moment was giving a speech to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, which led the committee to support further action to address our concerns about animal testing.
The best days are the ones when we achieve victories that shift things and force industries to change. After our exposé of the angora industry revealed that rabbits screamed in pain as workers ripped out fistfuls of their fur, it was all hands on deck: campaigners organised protests, our media team made sure the exposé was covered in the news, our marketing department shared the footage far and wide on digital platforms, and our corporate team pushed retailers to implement policies against the use of angora. To date, over 300 retailers have pledged to be angora-free, and the market for angora from China, the world’s largest producer, has been absolutely decimated.
I’ve also had totally surreal days, like the one when the baddie from Beverly Hills Cop (which was one of my favourite movies growing up) “force-fed” me through a steel pipe outside Fortnum & Mason in a protest against its sale of foie gras.
Part of my role is speaking up for animals in the media in order to inform the public about their horrific mistreatment in the industries that exploit them. Just last week, I was invited to Sky News to discuss the animal abuse rampant in the wool trade. It’s an issue that many people aren’t yet aware of, so I see it as an immense privilege – and responsibility – to be able to share our findings with millions of viewers around the world. It’s through platforms such as these that PETA has woken people up and made them think about what – or rather, who – they’re wearing, eating, or otherwise harming through their daily choices. I’m grateful to be a part of that.
What’s the most challenging part of being an activist, and how do you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is persuading people not to go along with the normalisation of unthinkable cruelty, and so the task of each of us who cares must be energetically and constantly persuading people to reject the mindset that causes such injustice and actively oppose all discrimination, regardless of the victim’s species.
You have to pick and choose your battles in order to win the war. There’s only so much that one person or one organisation can take on, and sometimes you find yourself at a dead end with no way forward unless there are changes in the law. It’s essential that you plan well ahead in order to be the most effective advocate for animals possible.
The most difficult thing is never being able to do enough – knowing that right now, so many animals are suffering and dying in laboratories, on farms and in abattoirs, at the hands of the skins trade, and in circuses and zoos for trivial human purposes. If I get overwhelmed, I stop for a moment and cuddle my cats. They have their unique personalities and their funny traits, they make me laugh, and they’re such amazing company. And of course, they’re no different from other animals, like cows, chickens, and pigs. Those animals all have their own personalities, too, and their own families. It would break my heart if someone took one of my cats away from me, just as I know that a cow’s heart is broken when one of her babies is torn away from her so that the milk nature intended for her baby can be consumed by humans instead. Knowing how awful it would be if one of my cats were suffering like that compels me to get back to work helping other animals who weren’t lucky enough to be born into a species that many humans currently deem worthy of consideration.
A big challenge is people’s willingness to disrespect others just because they’re “different” – because they have four legs instead of two, for example – rather than recognising that all living beings are sentient and should be treated with respect. One way I try to overcome this is simply by telling people about the rich, complex lives of animals. Because the more you know about the astonishing beings we share our world with, the harder it becomes to justify abusing or killing them for a sandwich filling, a lipstick, or some fur trim.
Whether you’re up for organising an eye-catching street demonstration, adept at liaising with celebrities, interested in science, or skilled at raising the funds that make this vital work possible, there might just be a place for you at PETA. Check out our job vacancies and apply to join our fun and energetic team!
You can also join PETA’s Action Team to become part of a growing movement to help animals. We’ve already achieved many wonderful victories for animals – and with your help, we’ll win many more.