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Is This the Age of Aquarius?

Posted by at 5:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)


34852416thbYesterday, I took some time to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Every year, we celebrate the holiday, and we acknowledge the great changes that have been put in motion because of the spirit and determination of one man and the people who supported him. Thinking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s work really drives the point home: As individuals, we can be a powerful force for change in this world. We are responsible for making the world better, both for ourselves and for others.

But as I sat there and really contemplated how far we have come since the time of Martin Luther King Jr., it brought back some other memories.

Do you remember this, dear Primers? “When the moon is in the Seventh House/And Jupiter aligns with Mars/Then peace will guide the planets/And love will steer the stars.”  Have we “Let the sunshine in?” Or is it still “Easy to be hard/Easy to be cold?”

The above lyrics—from the musical Hair, of course, which opened on Broadway in 1968—are profound, sophomoric, and naïve all at once! There was a palpable optimism in the air at the time—a generational energy for changing the status quo, breaking free from cultural inertia, and living with compassion for all beings. We aren’t exactly there yet—cruelty does have a nasty habit of perpetuating itself. But we have taken huge strides forward in human rights—and animal rights too.

“Animal rights” wasn’t a widely functional concept until Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation hit the stands in 1975. PETA was founded in 1980, just 30 years ago—not so long ago when it comes to changing the warp and weave of an entire society. Back then, General Motors maimed and killed live animals in car crash tests, and no one seemed to mind. Virtually all cosmetics were tested on animals. Veganism was essentially unheard of, and vegan products were difficult to find. Ten percent of people in the U.S. were hunters, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t even bother to keep statistics for humane wildlife watching as a pastime. The population of dogs and cats living in people’s homes was about 67 million, but about 16 million animals (or 25 percent of the total) were euthanized every year in animal shelters because of a lack of good homes. Spaying and neutering animals was unheard of in most communities. So was faux fur. Indeed, when I played Davy Crockett as a kid, I wore a cap made of raccoon fur. I also wore a blue rabbit’s foot for good luck, hung my jacket next to my mom’s mink coat in the closet, and dissected frogs in biology class. Live animals were ubiquitous on television, in movies, and in advertisements.

That rabbit’s foot brought me no more luck than it did its original owner, and I squashed that tradition—my children had no rabbit feet, never hunted, and had no fur coats. In fact, as a society, we’ve seen huge progress in all the areas I have mentioned—much of that success is a result of PETA’s efforts. Many of the top advertisers now refuse to use great apes or any live animals in their advertisements, and the list of retailers that don’t carry fur is growing as we speak. PETA shut down the practice of using animals in car crash tests; now, manufacturers use manikins to tell their engineers how to make cars safe. More than 900 companies make cosmetics and other products without testing on animals, and alternatives to using animals for teaching and research are widely available. Vegan options abound—even Wal-Mart carries soy milk and veggie burgers.

There are now six times as many wildlife watchers in the U.S. as there are hunters (whose numbers have dwindled to just 4 percent of the population). Wildlife watching has grown into a $50 billion per year industry in the U.S., far bigger than hunting. Thanks to the relentless efforts of PETA and others to promote spaying and neutering, attack breeding, and shut down puppy mills, the number of homeless animals has dropped. Today, there are about 135 million dogs and cats living in people’s homes, with about 4 million animals (or 3 percent of the total) who must be euthanized every year in animal shelters because of a lack of good homes. Much is left to be done, but the big trends all point in the direction of compassion for animals.

While I’m not sitting in a hippie animal commune as I write this, the animal protection community is alive, growing, and vibrant. We are connected with each other as never before, thanks to the Internet and instant access to information. The Love Generation is rediscovering its ideological roots and returning to its fundamental core beliefs of respect and kindness for all beings. At the PETA Foundation, I see many new members who are of that age and are just now speaking up for animals with support like never before. But it’s not just us old folks—the younger generation is flocking to the cause, giving us hope for the future.  The Age of Aquarius redux, perhaps?

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13 Comments

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    Barry Kipperman,DVM says...

    January 19th, 2010, 12:49 am

    Well done. Nice historical perspective on how far we’ve come on behalf of animals.
    Let the sunshine in!

    Laura Frisk says...

    January 21st, 2010, 5:09 pm

    Groovy post Steve. I am glad to be in my “PETA Prime” and celebrating the evolution towards compassion for animals that has happened during the last 30 years, thanks to PETA. And I love seeing the next generation of young people who are saying “NO” to animal abuse and adopting a vegan lifestyle. Peace just doesn’t go out of style.

    Claudine Erlandson says...

    January 22nd, 2010, 12:54 am

    Such a wonderful story and comparisons; I can really relate to the old “Age of Aquarius” and “Hair” songs! Brings back memories. Peace, flower children, dancing and fun music. I am always very thankful today to see young people in our movement so eager to help Animals. I rejoice because I feel that I can die in peace and that the Animals are in good hands. Thank you Steve for making that connection, revisiting the Age of Aquarius, hopeful and thankful for today’s young generation.

    barry says...

    January 22nd, 2010, 8:24 am

    although we may have made a little progress, its nothing to shout about
    i watched the old version [60,s] dr doolittle the other day
    and he could have president of peta ,
    but that was 40 yrs ago and still animals are on most peoples
    plates crammed in cages ect, apart from a small minority
    around 7% in uk people dont care where their food comes from
    sometimes i really do dispair of the human race!!

    Diane says...

    January 22nd, 2010, 10:12 pm

    I know we have so much work to do but there is no denying things have changed and continue to change. Millions of people no longer view animals as being less important than humans; but as living beings who share the earth with us and deserve the right to live and to be protected. I can’t tell you how many people I have connected with on Facebook who share my love of animals and want to make their lives better. People that I have never met and who live no where near to me yet we are connected by our love for animals and belief in animal rights. We have far to go but I fervently believe “the times they are a changin’ ” and we need to stick together and continue to fight for the animals!

    Bryden says...

    January 22nd, 2010, 10:24 pm

    Love the refrences to one of my favorite musicals. And yes my generation is flocking to the cause and we won’t rest until Animal Cruelty is eliminated completly, and Earth is clean and green!!!! So common barry have some hope!!! PEACE

    Shaina says...

    January 22nd, 2010, 10:31 pm

    What a time to reflect, on the first day of Aquarius (my sign, thank you)! Great post. Yes, we do still have a long way to go, but thanks to progressive and free-thinking people, we are making headway.

    Phyllis says...

    January 22nd, 2010, 11:14 pm

    You know I wonder what Dr King would have to say about animal rights if he were still living? Many people who support human rights are stubbornly opposed to equating the struggle for human rights to the struggle for animal rights. Each year at the memorial service for Dr King at Ebenezer Baptist Church his sister is drenched in fur – each and every year. Fur. It’s disgusting and so offensive and yet so very much a part of services honoring Dr. King.
    Yes, I remember Hair and the Age of Aquarius – nice dream but it never dawned, did it? Still, Dexter King is vegetarian and that’s something to sing about.

    Dan Bekkering says...

    January 22nd, 2010, 11:29 pm

    Great blog, well written!

    Zoe says...

    January 23rd, 2010, 7:46 pm

    I agree with the above comment, while we have come along way, I have just spent an evening with someone who advocated the wearing fur to a wedding just to annoy the vegetarian bride and another who thought that a miniature hedgehog would make a good pet! Both were otherwise well educated people, better educated now I hope but there is clearly still a long way to go…

    Angie Beaulieu says...

    January 23rd, 2010, 8:09 pm

    Thank you for this reflection of positive changes that have occurred over time. Most often, it feels like we are drowning in a society that simply will not make compassionate choices in ALL aspects of their lives. Your post is a reminder that doing the right thing does create change. My hope is that some day our momentum can catch up to and surpass the current majority and compassion for animals will finally be a valued concept in this society/world.

    Suzin Rossin Eberz says...

    January 23rd, 2010, 9:33 pm

    I too, from time to time, think of where we’ve come from and what we promised the world as a generation. The statistics you quoted give me hope that we have indeed have made a difference.

    But our work is not over, we must continue to be the voice of the voice-less and enlighten our children and their children. My Grand daughter is Vegan, a great source of pride for me. We’ve made a difference, not all that we promised, not what I believed we could do…but some difference. We have to, in the words of Gandhi, continue to “Be The Change We Wish To See In The World”.

    Patty Bowers says...

    January 24th, 2010, 9:40 pm

    GREAT post Steve. Thank you for the perspective. And I truly believe we have come a LONG way and will continue to make compassionate strides for animals. The younger generation is more aware than we were and thankfully many are turning vegetarian and fighting the good fight. I believe we can see the end to animals in circuses in our lifetime if enough people take action.
    In John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, I always envsion the animals too.
    We need to keep thinking positively and doing all we can, changes ARE happening for the better, and I would venture to say PETA is responsible for the greatest part of it. PETA rocks.
    Love and Light,
    Patty

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