Voters for Animal rights bids for New York statewide breakout, Denver weighs repealing pit bull ban, & Direct Action Everywhere founder Wayne Hsiung runs for Berkeley mayor
BERKELEY, DENVER, NEW YORK CITY––While the races for the U.S. Presidency, control of the Senate and House of Representatives grip the nation on Election Day 2020, animal advocates also have a lot to watch on state and local ballots in New York state and the cities of Berkeley, California, and Denver, Colorado.
Buoyed by October 2019 success in persuading the New York City Council to ban the sale of foie gras from force-fed ducks and geese and create a Mayor’s Office of Animal Welfare within the city government, Voters for Animal Rights founder and president Allie Feldman Taylor has “endorsed more than 50 animal rights candidates for state senate and assembly in every region of New York State,” she told members by email on October 31, 2020.
“We need to have allies in every corner”
Voters for Animal Rights hopes to help elect candidates ”representing farming communities, urban jungles, industrial communities, seaside communities and more,” Feldman Taylor wrote, “because if we want to start winning laws at the statewide level, we need to have allies in every corner of the Empire State.”
The November 3, 2020 national election will be the first test of whether a New York City-based animal rights organization can claim enough support anywhere outside the big city to influence the outcome of elections elsewhere.
Though Voters for Animal Rights may not have more than a few hundred members in any precinct outside New York City, state senate and assembly races are often decided by small enough margins that even a few hundred votes could be significant.
Even within New York City, swinging a few hundred votes sometimes makes a difference, as longtime animal advocate Garo Alexanian demonstrated in 1994, unseating seven-term Republican member of the House of Representatives Bill Green with a single well-timed mailing. Green (1929-2002) had represented the New York City “garment district,” and had tended to politically favor the fur trade.
Denver pit bull ban on the block
Denver voters, as ANIMALS 24-7 spotlighted on October 29, 2020, will decide whether to repeal the 30-year-old city pit bull ban by approving a proposed ordinance that reads, “It shall be unlawful for any person to own or keep any pit bull within the city without first obtaining a breed-restricted permit satisfying the conditions set forth in this section. ‘Breed-restricted permit’ under this section shall mean a permit granted by animal protection to owners or keepers of a pit bull in accordance with certain conditions.”
Denver’s Municipal Ballot Information Booklet, posted online by the City of Denver, recites the usual arguments against breed-specific legislation, mentioning that “Pit bull bans and any laws specific to breed are opposed by, among other groups , the Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Medicine Association, the ASPCA, and the American Bar Association.”
No local organizations or individuals are mentioned.
Ban adopted after pit bull killed child
The argument against the measure explains that “Denver’s pit bull ban was enacted in 1989 after 20 people had been attacked by pit bulls in the previous five years. One was a 3-year old who was fatally attacked in 1986.
“The ban, considered a safety issue, was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court in 1991.
“The Denver City Council narrowly voted to repeal the ban earlier this year. Mayor [Michael B.] Hancock successfully vetoed the attempt. Previous city councils considered and rejected a repeal.”
We have readers in Denver!
Then comes a paragraph summarizing the February 12, 2020 ANIMALS 24-7 article Denver repeals pit bull ban on night that pit bulls kill two people:
“Ironically, according to news media in Illinois, Florida, and California, the day Denver City Council tried to repeal the ban, a 25-year-old Plainfield, Illinois, man died from a pit bull attack that also injured three other people. A five-year-old boy died in California after the family’s pit bull attacked him. In Florida, a 64-year-old woman and her small dog were mauled in her own home when pit bulls forced their way through a partially open sliding door.
“The pit bull ban has worked in Denver. No pit bull fatalities have been reported since the ban’s enactment.”
ANIMALS 24-7 did not know we reached people involved in compiling Denver’s Municipal Ballot Information Booklet, but appreciates the attentive readership.
Two Berkeley candidates associated with Direct Action Everywhere
The four-way Berkeley mayoral race features two candidates once associated with the Berkeley-based vegan advocacy organization Direct Action Everywhere: founder Wayne Hsiung, 39, and Aidan Hill, 27, vice-chair of the Berkeley Homeless Commission, identified by Berkeleyside news website cofounder and executive editor Frances Dinkelspiel as “a disaffected former member of Direct Action Everywhere.”
Hsiung and Hill, along with Naomi Pete, described by Dinkelspiel as a “perennial candidate,” hope to upset incumbent Jesse Arreguín.
Hill made no mention of animal issues in a September 28, 2020 Berkeleyside profile.
Hsiung, an attorney by profession with a background in political organization, has heretofore been noted in politics only for creating disruptions at Democratic candidates’ campaign events.
Demonstrations against Sanders, Clinton, Warren
Direct Action Everywhere activists in May 2016 protested at an appearance by Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in Oakland, California, because of Sanders’ support of the dairy industry.
Direct Action Everywhere members in August 2016 protested at Hillary Clinton campaign appearances in Las Vegas and Iowa, citing her long association with Don Tyson, head of the Tyson chicken and pig production empire.
In May 2019 and on March 2, 2020, Direct Action Everywhere reportedly disrupted appearance by Elizabeth Warren, the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, then a presidential contender, “for her backing of the Dairy PRIDE Act, which would prohibit companies from using the word ‘milk’ on products using plant-based alternatives such as soy or almond,” explained Kim Norvell of the Des Moines Register.
Made hero of Jill Biden & disrupted Kamala Harris
On March 3, 2020, Direct Action Everywhere made a national heroine of Jill Biden, 68, wife of former U.S. vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Spontaneously stealing the moment, Jill Biden blocked not just one but two Direct Action Everywhere demonstrators from displaying “Let Dairy Die!” signs on stage in front of the television cameras that were at that moment focused on her husband.
Most recently, Direct Action Everywhere protester Aiden Cook, 24, on June 1, 2019 jumped onstage at a San Francisco appearance by Kamala Harris, now the Democratic vice presidential nominee, took the microphone from Harris, and briefly spoke before security personnel hauled him away.
Hsiung issued a public apology to Harris a day later.
“Moved to Berkeley to use city as lever”
Wrote Berkeleyside editor Dinkelspiel, in an extensive October 7, 2020 profile of Hsiung, “In 2016, Wayne Hsiung moved to Berkeley with the explicit intent of using the city as a lever for the liberation of animals.
“From a home shared with others in Berkeley’s tony Claremont district, Hsiung and organizers in Direct Action Everywhere, the group he co-founded in 2013, worked to build a social movement that would expose the cruel living conditions for animals in industrial farms around the nation.
“Direct Action Everywhere’s ultimate goal: To pass a constitutional amendment that ends the ‘institutionalized exploitation of non-human animals.’ The amendment would grant animals “legal personhood.”
In view that the U.S. appears to be farther than ever from passing an equal rights amendment on behalf of woman, and has not passed any constitutional amendments since 1992, the odds of success would appear to be slim.
Hsiung “hasn’t been a regular at City Council meetings, but he has mobilized an army of 200 volunteers to knock on 26,000 doors and place green and white lawn signs seemingly everywhere — on telephone poles, stop signs, windows and lawns,” Dinkelspiel continued.
The growth of Direct Action Everywhere shows that Hsiung does know a bit about organization-building. Direct Action Everywhere itself has increased annual revenue from $47,000 in 2017 to nearly $500,000 in both 2018 and 2019.
A parallel support group, Friends of Direct Action Everywhere, run by Hsiung’s sister Amy, has raised more than $4.2 million since 2014, including one 2019 contribution of $567,725.
Hsiung “said he stepped down from leadership in 2019,” Dinkelspiel reported, leaving Priya Sawhney as chief executive officer, “but continues to be a member. There are now 54 active chapters in 20 countries, according to [media spokesperson] Matt Johnson. In the [San Francisco] Bay Area, there are 195 Direct Action Everywhere members, with another 100 people joining in for specific events.”
Has won city council resolutions––& faces 25 criminal charges
Direct Action Everywhere has also had some political success in Berkeley. Recited Dinkelspiel, “The Berkeley City Council passed the nation’s first resolution supporting the fight to end the dog meat trade in China and banned the sale of most new fur products within city limits. But the most controversial legislation, adopted on December 10, 2019, asked the Sonoma County district attorney to exercise leniency in prosecuting 21 defendants—one of whom was Hsiung—who took chickens from egg farms in Petaluma” as part of a protest.
Hsiung himself “currently is facing 17 felonies and eight misdemeanor charges in connection with actions at pig and turkey farms farm in Utah, a goat rescue in North Carolina, and two poultry farms in Petaluma,” Dinkelspiel noted. “Hsiung has said he faces as long as 85 years in prison if convicted, but told Berkeleyside he doesn’t think that will interfere with his ability to serve as mayor.”
Conflict with other vegan activists
Hsiung would hardly be a unanimous choice even of committed vegans and animal rights advocates.
The 52-year-old SF Veg Society in 2016 “banned Direct Action Everywhere from tabling, speaking, or recruiting new members at World Veg Fest. Since then, other veg festivals have done the same,” Dinkelspiel recalled.
In 2017 “43 Direct Action Everywhere members departed, blasting the organization and Hsiung’s leadership,” Dinkelspiel continued.
“In 2018,” Dinkelspiel added, “Carol Adams, a leading figure in the animal rights movement and the author of the seminal book The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990) wrote a post for her web site in which she declared she would not speak at any event where Hsiung or Direct Action Everywhere members appeared.”
Concluded Dinkelspiel, “Former [Berkeley] mayor Gus Newport has endorsed Hsiung, However, his web site does not list a single current city council member, political group, political party or tenants group that has endorsed him.”