From Friendly Fire by Nathan & Jennifer Winograd
For those on the outside looking in—for a legislator who wants to get support for a bill to save lives, but finds himself battling against the very organizations that should be his most passionate supporters; for a reporter who is featuring a local shelter’s high rates of neglect and killing and wants reaction from the large national organizations, but finds herself hearing those organizations deflect criticism; for the public at large which sees a heart-wrenching commercial and wants to help, only to read an article online critical of that organization—the divided nature of the animal protection movement can be frustrating. “Why can’t they put aside their differences and get along?” they ask. Indeed, it is tempting to dismiss these conflicts as nothing more than bickering or battles of ego. But they are nothing of the kind. There is a deep and truly contentious dichotomy within the movement today, a difference of philosophy, a clash of values that is considered and conscientious and reflects an irreconcilable divide in who we are and what we believe.
Right now, the animal protection movement is in the throes of an important evolution. What might seem like self-destructive behavior is actually evidence of progress. For the first time in more than a century, some in the animal protection movement have recognized that we have a serious crisis in our nation’s shelters—rampant neglect, cruelty and unnecessary killing—which others have chosen to ignore, downplay, excuse and obfuscate. More importantly, we have recognized that there is a solution. The animal protection movement is awaking from a long slumber, and the old-guard animal protection groups which grew very wealthy and powerful in spite of delivering very little progress for shelter animals, are deeply threatened and fighting back. As history shows, this is what happens in every social justice movement and the animal protection movement is no exception.
Social progress is rarely made in a steady, linear fashion. Often, it proceeds in fits and starts, depending on leadership. When a movement is founded by strong, sincere and determined leaders with a clear vision, measurable goals and the will to achieve them, people become inspired and motivated, the movement grows and change ensues. Over time, however, the organizations these leaders founded can become bureaucratic, with none of the zeal that once characterized them. Instead, they become complacent, content to bemoan the sad state of affairs, raise money doing so, but not seek the substantive change that might solve the problem upon which they fundraise.
Since 2001 when the nation’s first No Kill community proved that a better, kinder and gentler form of animal sheltering is possible—where shelters are temporary way stations to a better life, rather than death camps—that success has grown into a nascent revolution, one that offers a solution to shelter killing that the large national organizations, for all their decades of existence and all the millions in their bank accounts, never have. Rather, they have assured us that such a notion—a No Kill nation—was so impossible, even the act of considering it was of no value; or, in their own words, “not worthy of a passing daydream.” As No Kill advocates struggle to bring change to a stagnant movement plagued by calcified, harmful and disproven dogma that, quite literally, kills, we are fighting the same battle as other successful reformers in history who, likewise, had to start their work by first cleaning house.
It is the battle William Lloyd Garrison, the founder of the movement to abolish slavery and grant equal rights in the United States, had to fight when he called for immediate emancipation in spite of powerful so-called “anti-slavery” societies that in reality preached racism and condoned the status-quo. It is the same battle faced by the suffragist Alice Paul when she was condemned by the leaders of her movement for the “indecency” of protesting in front of the White House, action which, after years of capitulation to politicians by suffrage leaders, finally ended with the 19th Amendment. And it is the same struggle faced by Martin Luther King, Jr., whose “Letter From Birmingham Jail” to his fellow clergymen revealed his own struggles with the leadership of the civil rights movement, powerful people who were threatened by the urgency and immediacy of his calls for equality and his bold actions to achieve it, people who had become power brokers selling an agenda for the future, and not today. And so it is with the No Kill cause as well.
When the early founders of the animal protection movement died and their organizations took over the job of killing those they had been formed to protect, a fiery zeal was replaced with a smoldering ember that gave little light or warmth and the humane movement went to sleep. People like the tirelessly devoted ASPCA founder, Henry Bergh, were replaced with individuals who care so little for animals as to allow tremendous cruelty and killing to continue unabated, even when they could use the power their positions afford to stop it. After over 100 years of this antiquated and deadly paradigm, the grassroots of the animal protection movement is finally waking up.
Today, we are a movement in transition, struggling to reach our fullest potential by overcoming internal forces that for years have prevented progress and substantive action behind what until now has been mere empty rhetoric. The battle now raging within the animal protection movement is a battle not of degree, but of kind—evidence of hopelessly incompatible contradictions within the movement itself: one championing death, and the other, life. This tension is vital to help the movement reclaim the determination, spirit and goals of its early founders. And it will end only when the need to distinguish between “No Kill” and “the animal protection movement” no longer exists, because both sides will have finally become what they should have been all along: one and the same.
For further reading: Friendly Fire
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My Facebook page is facebook.com/nathanwinograd. The Facebook page of my organization is facebook.com/nokilladvocacycenter. Many people mistakenly believe that the Facebook pages at No Kill Nation and No Kill Revolution are my pages. They are not.