The Death of the Fur Industry?
J. P. Goodwin is founder of the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT), which has staged numerous acts of protest and civil disobedience around the country, and may be the most active and committed group working on the issue of fur today. As the fur-wearing, and fur-protesting, begins for another winter, Satya asked him about the future of the industry and protests against it.
Q: How did you get involved in the movement?
A: About eight years ago I went to see a band play called Dead Silence and they had a seven-inch record that had a 32-page booklet about animal rights in it which contained all sorts of information. I bought that record and took all the literature on the table and it sparked my interest. I dove deeper and deeper into it and I learned more about what happened to animals behind the scenes.
Q: What was your first exposure to the fur issue?
A: The first group I contacted was Trans-Species Unlimited. They're no longer around, but they were powerful organizers for the anti-fur movement. One of the first things I got was a big Fur Free Friday packet sent to me in the mail. That sparked my interest in the fur trade, and the stopping of killing of fur animals. They also had a lot of in-depth literature on trapping and extensive point-counterpoint for you to refute a lot of the pro-trap arguments. That really helped direct me toward fighting the fur trade.
Q: Are you involved in other issues?
A: As an activist, I am a spokesperson for other animal issues. I am a strict vegan. But my focus is on the fur trade because I feel it's important that we try and take them [the fur industry] out and not let them get back up on their feet. If we have a chance to stop the killing of fur animals, it would create a lot of momentum for the animal rights movement.
Q: You feel that fur is the best issue to work on because the industry's the weakest?
A: That's right. I think that you can also build a lot of support for animal rights through the fur issue. There are a lot of people opposed to fur, and a lot are becoming involved in animal rights groups because of the fur issue. Those people will then have their eyes opened to other animal rights issues.
Q: Is fur back?
A: I think that the last couple of years are still starting to take effect. There's been a lot more fur on the streets. That's because after an initial boomerang effect in the late 80s and early 90s, things really died down. There was a lot less activism because animal rights groups were making premature claims of victory. Now grassroots organizations are really starting to put the pressure back on the fur industry again to hopefully reverse that trend. The fur industry is also buying off many fashion designers. They're sending scores of young fashion designers on all-expenses paid trips to Denmark to learn how to work with furs. They're giving them contracts with manufacturers. They're getting kids into fashion designing, which is like a dream for a lot of them, and they use that to increase the fashion coverage in magazines like Vogue, Elle and W. That also contributes to the increase in furs that you have seen in the last few years. Because fashion magazines fall for that trick hook, line and sinker.
Q: What is the state of the anti-fur movement now?
A: I think the movement is better off than it was two years ago because there is a lot more activity going on in local communities. The animal rights movement was probably at its weakest when activity was coming out of one centralized area, generally a couple of organizations in the DC area. People relied on these groups to get things done. Activists needed to get out there and do things themselves in their communities. Power comes from the grassroots level, from having a strong, good core group of people across the country. The movement is on the up and up; we're experiencing growing pains, but these can be rectified.
Q: What advice would you give to someone interested in getting involved in civil disobedience (CD)?
A: To follow their conscience and do what they feel is right. I would tell them that if they are arrested, not to accept deals such as probation or fines because we do not want activists relegated to the sidelines. We want activists up at the front. I'd also tell them to use the courts. Instead of trying to get things dismissed, use the courts to make a big media issue. The system wastes tax dollars to prosecute non-violent animal rights activists while people that break minks' necks and raise foxes walk free. CD is important to re-energize the grassroots animal rights movement. In fact, I think it's been vital and increasingly effective. It helped Macy's West close their fur salon, and it may very well help Macy's East close theirs. I would just say: go out there and do what you feel is right.
Q: Is the goal to avoid arrest or be arrested for the sake of publicity?
A: That depends on the situation. In a lot of instances it's very beneficial to go to jail. It sends a very powerful message showing a strong resolve. It shows that this is a serious social movement that has a lot of parallels to other movements that have used CD. I think it can help when people are willing to lay their bodies on the line and go to jail.
Q: There have been a number of people on hunger and thirst strikes in jail. Do you think that upping the ante to such an extent is effective?
A: The thirst strikes I'm really not that hot on -- because that gives the support team on the outside a maximum of four or five days to get the goal achieved. That's not enough time. Hunger strikes on the other hand are very effective. Thirst strikes are also effective but they are very dangerous. Hunger strikes are very effective in generating support and attention. They help activists get out of jail after CD actions. In Atlanta, 65 of us were arrested during World Lab Animal Liberation Week. We went on hunger strike because we refused to pay bail. Civil rights leader Jose Williams saw it on the news and held a press conference at the jail. We were released three days later, most of us on our own recognizance. It was the top news story for that entire weekend.
Q: What other strategies can one use before arrest or hunger strike?
A: It's just a matter of planning. You can pick protest targets that are strategic such as Macy's -- a department store which can conceivably get rid of fur without going out of business and it would be pretty easy for them to do so. You can pick which type of CD you want to do: whether you want to lock down and block the front doors or go inside and chant really loudly, sit down inside the fur department and cause a disruption in business. You've got to make sure that activists who are willing to risk arrest are mentally prepared to do so and don't freak out in jail, bail out immediately and sell you down the river. Plan exactly what you want to do and make sure you have the right people.
Q: What is the future of CD in the animal advocacy movement?
A: That's a very good question because two of our key organizers in the California area are being charged with felony/conspiracy charges right now because they allegedly organized a protest where people happened to get arrested. I was at that protest and, yes, activists did lay down and block the driveway because they were retaliating in a non-violent manner to police clubbing of activists at the beginning of the protest. If they are convicted of these charges, then we might see things moving into a different era. That would be a very bad sign, not only for the state of civil liberties in the U.S. but for the fact that history has proven that when all non-violent methods of protest and resistance are cut off, there are always people who turn to violent means. It is a little difficult to answer that question right now. It depends on what happens with these conspiracy changes. The two activists are scheduled to appear in court sometime in November.
Q: What is your general feeling about authority?
A: Good question. In this country today we have a lot of people in authority who are abusing their power. This is especially true with police who overreact and gas animal rights activists at demos. I believe we should always question that authority, especially when it gets out of hand.
For more information on CAFT in this area, contact: CAFT-NYC, PO Box 130152, New York, NY 10013 or 201-930-9026. To join CAFT, get in touch with J.P. Goodwin, or get new information on the fur trade, contact CAFT: PO Box 822411, Dallas, TX 75382. E-mail: MINKLIB@aol.com. Tel: 214-503-1419.