Thursday, February 2, 2012

Single-Issue Campaigns: What They Are and How They Work

The following piece is from Movement Watch by Lee Hall, in the Winter 2011-12 issue of ActionLine, the Friends of Animals magazine.

Unfortunately, some activists have declared what they call 'single-issue' campaigns a stain on animal rights activism, and these efforts are never to be supported or followed. We believe this is a mistaken way to look at this, and so long as the effort is grounded in vegan and animal rights ideologies, and results in the end of a form of oppression, we support these efforts and refuse to allow their ideas to stagnate or paralyze activism. Read on, and we welcome discussion below.
Single-Issue Campaigns: What They Are and How They Work
Increasingly, activists use the buzzword single-issue to describe interventions for specific animals or communities of animals in particular locales. I’ve given this some thought recently. And it’s dawned on me that single-issue is a misleading term. Each individual, and each community of animals, is connected with others. No raccoon, no deer, no coyote, no fox is a lone raccoon, deer, coyote or fox. Each is an individual whose life matters, yet deer or foxes or coyotes interact with each other (which is how they are defined as a species); and they are, in turn, members of a larger community of life on Earth.

In any case, should anyone’s plight be dismissed for being particular, and thus somehow undeserving of current attention?

It’s appropriate to defend serious anti-fur campaigns; to stop a local, state or federal deer kill; or to support other specific interventions. Let us celebrate and support campaigners and caregivers who present a local case in connection broad changes in culture.

Friends of Animals’ work, as readers know, includes the recognition of good reasons to stop fur sales. Now, if a group is going to argue to the U.S. agriculture department that a Michigan farm ought to kill its chinchillas with one method instead of another, then we would explain (and we have explained!) the trouble with that kind of non-committal campaign.

In contrast, say a state, province or country banishes fur farms. We could count that as a welcome advancement. If we can end the use of pelts, wherever such ending might be possible, animals who could have lived free (minks, lynx, rabbits, seals, beavers, Arctic foxes…), can live free. Any time we successfully defend a free-living animal’s (or community’s) interest in living free of human domination, any time our actions free entire communities to actually experience what would be theirs if animal rights were a reality, this is a good thing and it is a step ahead.

Indeed, even though bulls cannot enjoy animal rights in the sense of living free, what animal advocate wouldn’t welcome an outright end to bullfighting in México? An adios to a sector that breeds bulls to torment and kill them for sport would be worthy of at least an audible sigh of collective relief. Although the best ban is the one we enact by controlling ourselves when we stop exploiting other animals, various bans are, in the meantime, ethically important where they can be obtained.

Some ask whether targeting fur and not leather in a given campaign is inconsistent. Leather is largely a commodity related to and encompassed by a bigger sector: animal agribusiness. Thus, we can’t ban it, so much as work on the vital issue of urging the people of our society to stop buying animal products. In the new edition of Friends of Animals’ Vegan Starter Guide, we talk about why avoidance of leather is important in animal advocacy. Check it out and share!

Striving for a consistent message, we challenge exploitation everywhere we can. Sometimes this means working on a project to stop the extermination of raccoons, sometimes to challenge language labs, sometimes to challenge the use of animal skins for fashion, and sometimes to encourage people to buy organic cotton socks instead of wool. There are many facets. If a fur ban is possible, let’s seize the day. Some will say it would not bring about a vegan culture. But it would bring our society nearer to a full shift in consciousness; so it is one of those things we need to achieve a vegan culture.
What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Dave Shishkoff
Canadian Correspondent
Friends of Animals
Web Site:
FoA Vegan Starter Guide PDF:


  1. Thanks for sharing my column, Dave! I look forward to reading and considering any comments that might be posted.

  2. Fabulous words Lee, and echo a series of my posts over the last few years. Significantly: many mainstream abolitionists go public with ridicule of these types of gains we help foster. One such example is a ban on fur coats at a restaurant/club in NYC. In spreading that news, i had a series of abolitionists attack *me* for sharing. Imagine that. I welcome EACH and EVERY incremental step towards a vegan world, full of compassion.

  3. Totally agree..all of life is connected, and we should care for bigger issues as well as smaller local issues equally!

  4. All campaigns have to be considered within the larger context of current laws, common beliefs, etc.

    Animals are property. It is remarkably difficult, maybe impossible, to enact laws that protect animals in their own right within that context. Until the education element of animal rights takes hold, legislative campaigns will require a large amount of resources and remain vulnerable to being repealed. These resources could be used on campaigns that serve educational goals more fruitfully.

    Millions and millions has been spent on the anti-fur campaign. Little has been achieved. Imagine if that money was spent on vegan/AR education campaigns?

    Single issue campaigns have inherent flaws when it comes to education. When someone is wearing leather shoes and a fur coat and people only object to the coat, it is reasonable for people to conclude that there is a difference between the two. And people have done that - people do think that there is a difference between fur, leather, dairy, etc. Our campaigns should not reinforce these beliefs (just like vegetarian versus vegan campaigns).

    Single issue campaigns can work to get around the educational limits by pushing a strong vegan message in tandem with the single issue campaign, but it does not do away with the legal and social context.

    In my experience, groups often sway from the vegan message in tandem with their single issue campaigns in order to make it more palatable to the general public, which has obvious problems.

    I agree that all life is connected, but that is unrelated to the concerns people have with single issue campaigns. I also agree that we should welcome incremental steps towards a vegan world, but we should think carefully about the most direct and consistent route.

    I should say that these comments are directed to single issue campaigns in general and not FoA's campaigns. I don't believe that FoA supports all single issue campaigns - for instance they support vegan campaigns rather than vegetarian campaigns - what criteria do they use to distinguish between which single issue campaigns to support and which to not support? Why no anti-meat campaign but an anti-fur campaign, for instance?

    Thanks for the post.


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