They say they’re heartened by her new animal-welfare position paper, which she rolled out in early May with zero fanfare and after getting advice from other activists she met backstage at a Mary J. Blige show.
Sanders’s antagonists say they think this is evidence that animal rights are finally getting attention from national politicians—and that their controversial tactics can bear fruit.
The group, which targeted Sanders’s Oakland rally on Monday night, is called Direct Action Everywhere, and claims chapters in more than 150 cities and 30 countries. It encourages its members to refuse to eat with people who are eating meat and to support “a system of global citizenship” for animals. Group leaders believe meat, milk, cheese, and eggs should all be illegal. And even though Bernie Sanders is a progressive’s progressive when it comes to immigration, campaign-finance reform, college costs, and a host of other issues, they think he’s a big ol’ squish on animal rights.
They aren’t alone in that view. In fact, animal-rights activist Russell Simmons rescinded his endorsement of Sanders in March because he said the candidate isn’t as tough on agribusiness as he is on big banks and fossil-fuel companies. In early May, he hosted a fundraiser with Mary J. Blige for Clinton’s campaign.
There, animal activists from another Social Compassion in Legislation met her backstage—and the group urged her to add a page to her site calling for more legal protections for animals.
“We told her she needed to have a page up on her presidential website about animal rights,” Simone Reyes, a board member, said. “She took our card and her policy adviser called us within a week. We helped her policy adviser craft a page for the site and will continue to expand on these issues as the campaign grows.”
A Clinton aide confirmed that her team spoke with Reyes’s group about the platform page, as well as other animal welfare groups.
Meanwhile, Direct Action Everywhere has been harassing Sanders due to his failure to roll out an animal-rights platform.
The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Fourteen of the group’s activists attended his Oakland rally on May 30, and five jumped a barrier fence to try to get on stage with the candidate, said Matt Johnson, one of the activists involved.
Johnson told The Daily Beast that a Secret Service agent hit him with a baton, making his hand bleed. The activists were detained for about an hour and then released without facing charges.
He added it’s the fifth Sanders event that the group has targeted—they’ve disrupted two of his events in Wisconsin, and two in New York. Johnson also disrupted a campaign speech Bill Clinton gave for Hillary Clinton in October in Des Moines—and several months later, she made a play for the animal-rights vote.
Johnson said he thinks his group’s activism informed Clinton’s decision to roll out an animal-welfare platform. And even though it doesn’t go remotely far enough for the group, they’re chalking it up as a win.
“I certainly think our actions play a role,” he said, of Clinton’s addition to the platform. “It’s certainly not acceptable, but it indicates to us that we are gaining momentum as a political force.”
Members of Johnson’s group oppose any consumption of animals or their byproducts (think wool, honey, and leather) on moral grounds. They see themselves as righteous crusaders on the cutting edge of an animal rights revolution. Clinton is not a fellow traveler. Though the former secretary of State’s husband eats a mostly vegan diet (he made the change after a heart attack), she’s never hinted at any latent vegetarianism.
But the animal-rights platform she rolled out earlier in May seemed cast to appeal to progressive animal-welfare activists—though it’s much more of a draw for more moderate groups, like Reyes’s, than for radical organizations like Direct Action Everywhere.
In the platform, Clinton calls for an end to the use of antibiotics in factory-farmed animals, for tougher laws against wildlife-trafficking, and for tighter regulations on puppy mills. And she promises to bar the practice of slaughtering horses for human consumption, and to encourage farmers “to raise animals humanely.”
Over the course of her political career, Clinton has made elephant advocacy a top cause, and the Clinton Foundation set aside $80 million for anti-poaching efforts in September 2013. She also prioritized elephant protection at the State Department, arguing that profits from poaching funded terrorist groups.
As far as Direct Action Everywhere is concerned, her platform and record are shadows of what they ought to be.
“To me, it enforces the mythology that there’s a kind way to kill animals,” said Wayne Hsiung, one of its co-founders.
But he added that he and fellow members find it heartening any time a candidate talks about animals or makes overtures of courting the animal-rights community.
For now, the group’s immediate priorities are more locally-focused; they’re encouraging activists to move to Berkeley so there will be enough political support there for a citywide ban on meat and other animal food products. Several dozen have already made the move, Johnson said, and many more plan to join their ranks in the next two years.
“We will ban meat in Berkeley, and when we win in Berkeley, we will win around the world, and we will never stop fighting until every animal is free,” he said.
Ultimately, Johnson and his fellow activists say they hope to dramatically expand animal rights. The group’s site calls for legislation to “[c]reate a system of global citizenship to give animals representation in trans-national, trans-ecological governance.” Hsiung said this wouldn’t give animals the right to vote, but would give them similar legal protections as human children.
Johnson said these kind of legal protections should include bees.
“Insects are sentient,” he said.
Clinton doesn’t go quite that far—but she goes further than any other presidential candidate.
“The way our society treats animals is a reflection of our humanity,” her platform page reads.
“Hillary has a strong record of standing up for animal rights,” it also says.
Her use of the phrase “animal rights” delighted Reyes.
“The fact it says ‘animal rights’ on her site is huge,” Reyes said. “Fate had us there at the right time for the animals. We were beyond thrilled.”