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March 2006
Making Compassion the NYC Fashion
The Satya Interview with Santos Lopez


Photo courtesy of Santos Lopez

Every year, 40 million animals are killed worldwide for their fur. Seventy-five percent spend their lives in tiny wire cages on factory-style fur farms. Cannibalism and self-mutilation are common, as the animals are driven insane by their confinement. The other 25 percent of fur animals are captured in traps, which break bones, rip flesh and crush internal organs often causing a very slow painful death.

Believing that most people are inherently good, Santos Lopez has made it his mission to bring out their compassion by making them aware of the suffering animals endure when raised and killed for luxury goods. By founding NYC Animal Rights, an active grassroots organization working to inform the public about animal exploitation and abuse, he has established an effective way to carry out community outreach, promote humane legislation, and hold visible demonstrations. Kymberlie Adams Matthews asked Santos Lopez about his crusade for a cruelty-free NYC.

How did you get involved in activism?

My activism began when I came across Kevin Jonas at Union Square Park three years ago; he was tabling against Huntingdon Life Sciences [one of the world’s largest animal testing labs]. We spoke for a while and I took some literature. What I learned that day changed my life. At first I didn’t want to believe what he said. I still hoped that if animals, including dogs and cats, were really being treated in such a horrific way, that a civilized society would take the necessary steps to stop it. But that was not the case. There are huge industries that profit from the death and suffering of animals and the less people know about it the greater their profits will be. I began attending anti-HLS demos (though very nervous at first) and got to meet a lot of beautiful intelligent people who opened my eyes to other forms of animal cruelty, like the meat and fur trades. I soon became vegan and animal advocacy/activism was the next logical step.

Tell us about NYC Animal Rights. Why did you found it?
There really weren’t a lot of animal rights activities going on in NYC a couple of years ago. I had begun to attend anti-fur demos that were sponsored by PETA and Caring Activists Against Fur. These were mostly around the holidays. They were very exciting events for me because of our numbers and they gave me the courage to say things to people I encountered in the streets wearing fur that I wouldn’t have said as a newbie. Unfortunately, there was too much time in between the demos and I felt frustrated encountering increasing numbers of fur wearers in NYC and walking past so many displays of animal skins in windows. So I started my own one-man stickering campaign to fill the time gaps. I would create very graphic full-sheet size labels and place them on every store front I encountered that displayed fur. This was a lot easier than I had expected. I evolved the technique to using a gadget that allowed me to reach higher and place the sticker beyond the reach of employees. Sometimes they would stay on for days. Later, I created a website to monitor the effect my stickers had by counting the visitors to my site, and from there my group evolved.

You seem to be targeting the fur fashion industry. Why did you decide to focus on fur?
NYC is the fashion capital of the world and according to the Fur Information Council of America, it is also the city with the highest fur sales in the U.S. Designers have it too easy hosting parties to promote animal pelts with very little opposition and I believe that has contributed to the rise in fur sales in America. I chose to focus on fur because of my location and the immediate need to turn this trend around. The fashion industry is where it originates so it’s important that designers, trend-setters and party-goers see the truth about fur.

Can you tell us about some of your best demos/most effective tactics?
My favorite demo was a protest against an InStyle Magazine fashion show at the Time Warner building. We had such a great group of compassionate people and those attending the runway show had to wait in line outside, so they got to see our signs. Everyone was very supportive, from the guests to the NYPD officers. We had scheduled the demo for one hour but ended up staying about three and half because of the momentum and positive response.

Notifying the police prior to a demo and working with them during the event has proven to be a good tactic because they don’t like surprises and it helps them maintain order. Most precincts know me and my group by now and let us get pretty close to the red carpets because they know what to expect.

Fur is a very frustrating issue and activists can get pretty angry. What’s your opinion about using more in-your-face, threatening tactics to get a message across?
Anger never looks good at a demo nor is it an effective way to approach someone wearing fur if you want them to listen to your message. Yet, it is also almost impossible to remain calm all the time in the midst of so much injustice. What is important to understand is that we must always try to control our anger, and some of us are better at it than others. Mastering temperament is a skill that a lot of activists can benefit from. As a group organizer it is an area I have personally struggled with. But threats and intimidating tactics serve to make the fur wearer the victim and gives the police a legitimate reason to move a group away from the audience they are trying to reach. A simple statement in a respectful manner can make a fur wearer uncomfortable, but possibly open them up to some dialogue without getting too in their face. For example, by simply stating, “You should be ashamed to wear that coat,” they may ask why and then you get a chance to explain.

What is the state of the anti-fur movement now?
The anti-fur movement is not going to succeed unless a lot more people get involved. It’s not just about demos—everyone that wants to turn this trend around needs to incorporate their passion into their everyday lives. Those in NYC have a great opportunity to do this.

Why do you think the animal rights movement has made little headway in getting fur out of style?
After the success the movement had in the 90s, animal rights organizations did not continue to implement solid anti-fur campaigns. The fur industry targeted the next generation of consumers, marketing fur as a sexy fabric and they bought into it. Not enough was done to counter that strategy.

What are your goals for the future?
As a group, to continue the fight against animal abuse and exploitation. Fur will always be an important part of that because the industry will never give up on their marketing to emerging consumers. I hope to have a thousand people walking down Fifth Avenue one day, and that will be an event the media won’t ignore. Veganism is also very important to me, and I plan on doing some work on that issue during the summer. As an individual, my goal is to continue to learn and grow in the field of animal advocacy so that I can be the best person I can to help those that so desperately need our voices.

How can people get involved?

My suggestion to those who want to get involved is to learn as much as they can about the animal skin trade and not be afraid to voice their opinion when they see someone wearing fur, a single line is often enough to get a point across. We would also love people to attend anti-fur demonstrations (which can be a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people). Also, when voting, know who the animal friendly politicians are [see “Scorecard” in this issue]. Finally, work both together as groups and as individuals because there is strength in our numbers.

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