At a birthday brunch this year, my boyfriend’s mom presented me with a rabbit-fur scarf from the store in which she works. The table oohed and ahhed as we passed it around, admiring the swirled fur rose on the front, with my mom trying it on and swearing she would steal it from me. And while I thought it was beautiful, I was slightly taken aback. On one hand I eat meat, own some leather shoes, and there are a few OG fur coats in my family that I’d love to wear. On the other, I would never in a million years buy new fur; I am actually really against the practice. On one hand you have my selfish desire, on the other there’s the logic of not taking another thing’s life for my comfort. My feelings won out. I still wear the scarf.
For most of us, any decision is a constant battle between what we know is right and what we want. But for some of us, like Jess Schlueter, founding member of Fur Free LA, those two line up. “ I think I was born with it,” she says about her sympathies for animals. “When I learned to ride a bike, I kept falling over because I was going so slowly to avoid hitting ants.” Schlueter became a vegetarian when she was just eight years old, because that’s what she felt like doing. But somewhere between then and going vegan three years ago, she got the notion that her feelings aren’t just feelings, it's simply what’s right.
She wrote about her transition on this very site -- how she first thought vegans were extremists before she connected the dots between the veal and dairy industries, how she saw videos of conditions in dairy farms, how she became “informed about the tragedies going on behind slaughterhouse doors.” And supporting that didn’t make sense to her. She heard the facts, dropped dairy, and started petitioning for stores to stop selling fur.
There is no logical argument for buying new fur in America. There just isn’t. Any argument that can be made is based in emotion, such as “it’s a free country” or “it looks so glamorous,” or, to quote a friend of mine, “have you seen Minks in real life? Ugh, so gross.” And that’s fine, but you do not live in the tundra in Siberia. A slain fox isn’t your only source of warmth. You do not need to wear fur. This is something that most people can agree on, yet fur continues to be used for fashion.
“The fact that these animals are living and dying in excruciating pain just to make a girl feel pretty is so heartbreaking, and frankly pisses me off” says Schlueter. So far, Fur Free LA has gotten stores like Urban Outfitters and Nasty Gal to rid their racks of fur, and now they’ve set their sights on Intermix, purveyors of such luxury goods as this Signature Raccoon Vest and the-ugliest-pair-of-pants-you’ve-ever-seen for only $625.
Given their past successes (they got Nasty Gal to quit selling fur in about six months with a Twitter campaign), Intermix seemed like just another company that needed to have their eyes opened. Surely when they realized how many people were against fur, and how cruel the industry is, they would have to stop carrying fur. Nearly five months have passed and there’s been no word from Intermix.
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There is this idea harbored by most activists that everyone who sees the facts will see the light. This is the basic thought process behind anyone handing you “Jews for Jesus” pamphlets in the subway, regardless of how nonfactual their “facts” are. They read the literature, they had their epiphany, so surely the same will happen to you.
This is the same language Schlueter uses when she talks about her vegan ideals. When asked about canvassing the streets for support, she posits, “it's kind of a no-brainer once they know the facts and see the photos; it's all about getting that access.” She talks about “informing people and opening their eyes.” She holds out hope that through an e-mail she sent to Intermix employees, as “at least 3 people opened the undercover videos and photo sets.” But still, no one at Intermix replied.
This gap between knowing and caring is something Schlueter is becoming more familiar with, even within her own activist circle. At their largest Intermix protest in LA, some 40 people showed up to picket outside one of their stores. At other protests, it can be as few as five. Schlueter is positive that even five people can make a difference, saying “It takes a brave person to still walk right by us through the doors.”But does it? Put yourself in the shoes of a shopper -- someone who doesn’t wear fur, but likes what Intermix carries. You care enough to not buy fur, but you also care about buying a new jacket. When faced with those signs, it would be pretty easy to convince yourself that if you’re not buying fur it’s okay.
Don’t be mistaken: Fur Free LA has tons of support. Their Change.org petition has over 42,000 signatures as of publication, and they’ve gotten celebrities like Janice Dickinson and model Katarina Van Derham to pose with signs stating “I will not shop at Intermix until they go fur-free.” [Ed. Note: In the interest of full disclosure, editor Mike Anton lazily joined this movement as well.] But, “it's a lot easier to ask for 30 seconds of someone's day than for a few hours,” says Schlueter.
Slacktivism is easy. And sometimes, slacktivism works. It kept SOPA and PIPA off the table. Kickstarter funds almost as many projects as the NEA. It got everyone to know what KONY 2012 was. But where is KONY 2012 a week after the social media storm? Did anyone actually donate, or did they just post links on their walls to make it seem like they cared about world issues? Of course you should want to destabilize a Ugandan warlord, but did anyone actually care of enough to do something about it?
I told Schlueter that I eat meat, and I’m one of those who would be okay with walking by her signs and into a store if I was just shopping for jeans. But I also said I was ready to hear her pitch -- whatever she had to say to get me off my couch and picketing in SoHo. She started with, “I would want to teach you about the fur industry. I would show you the filthy cages that foxes, rabbits, raccoon dogs, and other fur bearing animals live in for their entire lives,” as if it is just ignorance that has been keeping me from getting involved. And sometimes it is. But I’ve seen the videos of slaughterhouse conditions. I’ve seen that photo of "soylent pink." I understand that, in a first-world country, I don’t need to eat meat or wear fur to live a comfortable, healthy life. Those are the facts. I just choose to ignore them.
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Schlueter does make a convincing argument. Part of me wanted to rise up with her when she declared “I couldn't wait for someone else to take action when I was sitting and watching these videos and seeing these photos,” if just to get a contact high off that activist energy. It was hard to look at my neck wrap (or hell, my cat) once she said that most of these animals are killed by anal or vaginal electrocution. But it wasn’t that hard. Here she was, pointing out the facts, sending me videos of foxes trapped in cages and rabbits being skinned alive. Things that would make the five-year-old Bambi-watching girl inside any of us scream for it to stop. But the videos did stop, and my life continued unchanged.
It’s not like there’s no emotion in her argument either. Whereas often times the “logical” answer is portrayed as cruel and cold (thanks, Spock), here the logical answer literally saves lives. The lives of cute bunnies that should be tugging at your heartstrings! “I don't think most people are okay with cruelty to animals,” says Schlueter. “Most of these Intermix employees have dogs that they love and post pictures of [online]. If they truly understood what goes into their fox or coyote fur jacket, I'm sure they would be appalled, so I think most people by nature are more inclined to make a compassionate choice that doesn't require anything to be killed.”
But what would it take to make someone like me go from inclination to action? Someone who has more sympathy for the cause than most, but still hasn’t made it to the other side? Would I have to see the slaughterhouses? Doubtful. If anything that would turn me off mass-marketed meat even more, and continue on the path I’m already on to buy more locally. Would I have to see the fur farms? No, because those are what’s keeping me from buying fur in the first place. Is it just that I need to have been born with this notion that saving an animal’s life isn’t just right, but worth the fight?
I keep getting distracted from writing this article by news clips about the “contraception battle” that’s taken this country by storm. How an Arizona law could allow employers to fire women if they’re taking birth control. How the Georgia legislature wants women to carry any pregnancy, even a dead fetus, for 20 weeks and compares the process to “birthing piglets.” How under the Bush Administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn't provide birth control were in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I have not been distracted by videos of dying animals, or slaughterhouse conditions, or bloody pelts. I have not been frantically sending news clips of animal abuse to my friends in the media, begging them to write about it. I’m not all that upset.
Part of me feels bad about this. Schlueter is pouring her heart into this campaign, and it’s approaching a crossroads. She says they’re going to focus more on the online campaign for now, and find more celebrities to endorse the movement, which will surely catch someone’s attention long enough to post a link on their Facebook walls. But while taking action is contagious, passion isn’t; it’s nigh impossible to turn someone from apathetic to angry unless that spark is already there.
Fur Free LA may be the next viral petition showing up on your Twitter feed, or you may never hear about it again. Schlueter’s words may inspire you to picket your local Intermix, or remind you that you really want to pick up a new fox fur coat. You may have an epiphany, or you may not.
For what it’s worth, I signed the petition.