On Saturday, December 7th, several dozen animal rights activists with Caring Activists Against Fur (CAAF) and The Animals Battalion staged an anti-fur protest at Bergdorf Goodman, a luxury department store in Manhattan. In spite of pending legislation that would ban the sale of fur in NYC and the decision by Macy’s & Bloomingdales to close their fur departments, Bergdorf’s refuses to take fur off of its racks. The protest attracted the attention of thousands of pedestrians on 57th Street and Fifth Ave, the epicenter of Manhattan’s holiday shopping district.
In March, 2019, the Speaker of the New York City Council, Corey Johnson, introduced legislation to ban the sale of new fur products. In spite of widespread support among New Yorkers for a fur ban, the bill stalled after a prominent black preacher in Harlem, Reverend Johnnie Green, decried it as racist.
In op-eds published in New York City newspapers, African American animal rights activists criticized Reverend Green, who was hired by the fur lobby, for using racism to oppose a fur ban. In a Daily News opinion piece Jabari Brisport, a public school teacher running for New York State Senate, wrote “I found it insulting that the fur trade would use my community as a smokescreen. . . I’ve marched with Black Lives Matter in Charlottesville and gotten hit with tear gas by white supremacists. I’ve been arrested while protesting a luxury housing development in Crown Heights. I know what a threat to the black community looks like. This fur ban ain’t it.”
Energized by the recent passage of a fur ban in the state of California, Voters for Animal Rights, a NYC-based advocacy group, has vowed to continue lobbying NYC lawmakers in support of the Council Speaker Johnson’s legislation. At the same time, animal rights groups, including CAAF, Animals Battalion, Total Liberation New York and PETA, continue to target prominent retailers selling fur, including Canada Goose, Nordstrom, Woolrich, Fendi, the Fur Source and Paragon Sports.
As part of a multi-year campaign to compel the sporting goods store Paragon Sports to stop selling Canada Goose and other coats decorated with coyote fur, NYC animal rights activists staged a night-time protest at the Brooklyn home of Zach Blank, the company’s Chief Operating Officer. Previous protests at his home took place during the day.
“We have sent him letters. We have sent him emails. We have protested his store for 2.5 going 3 years now, and he’s left us with no choice but to come to his doorstep to urge him to remove the fur from all of his racks.” said Leo Nardo, a protest organizer. “Zach Blank is directly responsible for the deaths of countless individuals who want to be with their families and to be loved just like the dogs and cats in our homes. It is 2019, there is no need to wear the stolen body parts of innocent animals.”
Canada Goose decorates the hoods of its winter coats with the fur of coyotes who are captured in steel leg hold traps and shot in the head.
In March, 2019, the Speaker of the NYC Council, Corey Johnson, introduced legislation to ban the sale of fur. “I believe it is cruel to kill an animal just for the purpose of people buying and wearing a fur coat. There is really no need for this,” said Johnson. ”In a progressive and modern city like New York, banning the sale of fur clothing and accessories is long overdue.”
In the weeks prior to a contentious public hearing for the bill at City Hall, the fur lobby hired a prominent black preacher in Harlem, Reverend Johnnie Green, to decry a fur ban as racist. “Fur has given black people standing, fortitude and strength in the face of bigotry.” In an op-ed in the Daily News, Jabari Brisport, a board member of Voters for Animal Rights, responded to this fur industry tactic: “As one of many African American animal activists who testified at the hearing in favor of the ban, I found it insulting that the fur trade would use my community as a smokescreen . . . I’ve marched with Black Lives Matter in Charlottesville and gotten hit with tear gas by white supremacists . . . I know what a threat to the black community looks like. This fur ban ain’t it.”
If the bill passes, New York City will join the state of California in outlawing the sale of fur.
After a press conference announcing a resolution calling on the New York City government to stop buying meat and other products from companies deforesting the Amazon, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told TheirTurn that NYC schools should serve children plant-based meals to improve their health and to protect the planet.
“I think it’s so important that we engage in a real conversation about climate change and not not try to sugarcoat the issue. To talk about fossil fuel burning, to talk about tailpipes in cars and vehicles – yes, that’s fine. But the real culprit is the overconsumption of meat, the overconsumption of beef. We were successful in NYC where we got processed meats out of our schools and a 50% beef reduction, but we need to go further. We need to get all meat out of our schools. All cheese. All dairy products . . . out of the schools.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is using his platform to reduce meat and dairy consumption in schools while promoting plant-based alternatives.
While Borough President Adams has, for the past several years, used his position to promote a plant-based diet for better health, the Amazon fires have provided him with a platform to promote the benefits to the planet of eliminating meat, dairy and other animal products from schools. “Everyone is being saved when we start feeding our children the right food.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams holds a press conference at City Hall calling for the City to stop buying meat from companies that are burning down the Amazon in order to graze cattle and grow crops to feed them.
Borough President Adams is expected to run for Mayor of New York City in 2020.
On Friday, November 8th, Actress Elizabeth Lail participated in a ceremonial lighting of the Empire State Building to commemorate Sea Shepherd’s Blue For the Oceans Campaign.
Lail, who is best known for her role in the Netflix series You and is starring in the new film Unintended, spoke to TheirTurn about why she is using her celebrity platform to speak on behalf of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: “I think they’re incredible. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming to think about the environmental crisis and what we can do, so it gives me a lot of hope that there are organizations on the water doing the protecting, making it happen.”
Elizabeth Lail pulls the lever to symbolically activate blue lights on the Empire State Building ignited in honor of Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd volunteers, staff, and board members with Elizabeth Lail at the Empire State Building
Since 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been defending, conserving and protecting the seas and marine life through campaigns and direct action on its fleet of ships. In October, the Hamptons International Film Festival screened Watson, a documentary film by director Lesley Chilcott which chronicles the extraordinary life of Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson.
In spite of being heralded as one of the most progressive cities in the United States, New York has lagged behind several other major cities in advancing the rights of animals. In fact, from 2006 to 2013, at a time when animal rights was beginning to be embraced by the mainstream public, the most powerful lawmaker in New York City, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, blocked every meaningful legislative effort to improve even the basic welfare of animals. In recent years, however, a new crop of lawmakers in New York City has championed both animal welfare and animal rights legislation.
The City Council passed its first signature animal rights bill, a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, in 2017. To the delight of animal rights activists and many City Council members, that historic moment was upstaged on October 30th, 2019, when the Council passed a package of 11 bills and resolutions to help companion animals, wild animals and animals killed for food. During the vote, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the most animal-friendly Speaker in the Council’s history, gleefully stated, “The Council will be voting on a lot of bills – a lot of bills and resolutions that will strengthen our existing animal welfare laws in New York City.”
PETA president Ingrid Newkirk is force fed during a foie gras protest at Fortnum & Mason, a gourmet food store in London
The most controversial of the bills was a ban on sale of foie gras in restaurants and stores. According to the New York Times, an estimated 1,000 restaurants sell foie gras in New York City, which is arguably the gastronomic capital of the country. In spite of the risk of criticism from the prominent chefs and the media, City Council Member Carlina Rivera introduced and championed the legislation.
In addition to being force fed until their livers swell to ten times their normal size, ducks and geese killed for foie gras are raised in factories where these aquatic animals have no access to water.
In 2006, Council Member Alan Gerson attempted to introduce a foie gras ban, but Speaker Christine Quinn, who notoriously controlled the city’s legislative agenda, blocked it before other Council Members could even weigh in. A 2007 New York Times story about foie gras protests at Fairway made reference to this incident. In stark contrast to Speaker Quinn, the current Speaker, Corey Johnson, supported Council Member Rivera’s bill to ban foie gras sales.
Matt Dominguez and Allie Feldman Taylor from Voters for Animal Rights flank Carlina Rivera, the NYC Council Member who introduced the bill to ban the sale of foie gras.
While the animal rights community credits the current City Council for passing laws to protect animals, the historic foie gras bill would not have been introduced, much less passed, by the City Council, were it not for a two year campaign waged by Voters for Animal Rights (VFAR), a group that advocates for animal rights legislation in NYC. With the support of hundreds of grass roots animal rights activists, VFAR organizers Allie Feldman Taylor and Matt Dominguez partnered with animal rights groups, veterinarians, and restaurants to create a coalition of supporters who lobbied City Council members and educated the public about the cruelty associated with the production of foie gras.
David Chang, the founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, criticizes the City Council for passing the bill to ban the sale of foie gras.
After working with Council Member Rivera to get the bill introduced, VFAR supporters, led by Taylor and Dominguez, lobbied the members of the City Council’s Health Committee, which is where the bill was assigned for review. On the day of the Committee vote, the Chair, Council Member Mark Levine, made an impassioned speech suggesting that lawmakers have an ethical mandate to protect animals: “As society evolves, we have a right to expect business practices evolve as well. I am incredibly proud that this City Council has begun to put empathy for the suffering of animals front and center on our agenda, and, more importantly, that we are translating that empathy into tangible policy, smart policy for the animals in this city and beyond. And that does mean changing the food we consume and changing the food production system.”
After the votes for the foie gras ban were counted, the animal rights activists in the City Council chambers rejoiced, not only because hundreds of thousands of birds will be spared from force feeding, but also because the City Council sent a strong message to the public that lawmakers are now recognizing the plight of animals and the need for laws to protect them. “We’ve seen a tremendous shift in the compassionate consciousness of our City Council Members,” said Taylor. “It’s a new day for animal rights in New York City.”