PETA V.P. Bruce Friedrich is an energetic and relentless campaigner with a persistently positive outlook on life. He’s also coauthor of the brand new, hot-off-the-press The Animal Activist’s Handbook: Maximizing Our Positive Impact in Today’s World. In the book, Bruce and coauthor Matt Ball suggest a variety of ways to live a meaningful life through effective and efficient advocacy. In their activism journeys, both men made a few mistakes along the way, and they share their experiences with you so that you don’t wind up making the same mistakes yourself!
Bruce was able take a minute away from his vital work for animals to answer a few questions for The PETA Files. I’m hoping that you find his responses as motivational as I did (be sure to check out the most memorable campaigning answer—it’s my favorite).
Here Bruce is in his own words:
Your dedication to animal rights is inspiring. Where do you look for inspiration? To activists in the field, holding down full-time jobs and still finding time to leaflet, hold demonstrations, keep “Vegetarian Starter Kit” stands stocked, write letters to the editor, post links to videos online, and so much more.
What’s one of your most memorable campaigning stories?My wife, Alka Chandna, and I used our Christmas vacation in 2003 to do a string of anti-KFC protests. On Christmas Day 2003, we dropped off big bags of coal at the homes of KFC’s CEO, president, and senior VP for public affairs because they’d been naughty to animals. An over-zealous police officer arrested us for trespassing, even though we were just walking up to the door—like Girl Scouts. The guy was screaming at me about trespassing, and I kept saying, “There’s no sign saying we can’t be here, we’re just knocking on his door to ask him to be nice, rather than naughty, this year.” The entire thing was caught on the squad car’s video system, and the officer was wearing a microphone, so I have a video of the arrest, and it’s just too funny. This was trespass number one, so it’s the equivalent of a minor speeding ticket. The guy was behaving like Rambo over the equivalent of going 56 in a 55 zone.
If you had the power to change one person’s stance on animal rights whose would it be and why? I’d change Bill Gates into a hardcore animal rights activist, so that he would dedicate most of his billions to promoting animal rights. Everyone agrees that causing animals to suffer needlessly is immoral. Of course, eating or wearing animals is absolutely needless. All we really need to do is get people to live according to their values—to be consistent. But we need to educate people so that they think about this reality, and if we had billions of dollars to dedicate to the cause, we could create a vegan U.S. in a very short period of time.
What’s one campaigning moment that made you want to say FML? I have a selective memory that focuses on the positive and forgets the negative, so Ingrid calls me Bruce Poppins. Anyway, I can’t think of anything other than glorious campaigning moments. Even when things go wrong (like when our Japanese intern who spoke almost no English ended up in the back of a squad car at a demonstration—she was subsequently released without charge), I tend to find that funny rather than dispiriting. I ran into a tree on my bike commute into work today and got a massive gash under my eye and on my shoulder, and all I could think was, “I sure am glad I still have my eye.”
Is your family supportive of your animal rights activism? What would you say to someone who feels his or her family isn’t supportive? My family is very supportive. I would say not to worry about your family. So many people spend inordinate amounts of time trying to change their family, even when it’s clear that they are not going to change. Two things: 1) every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It’s only natural that if you’re pushing your family, they may push back, for a variety of reasons—they feel judged by you, they don’t understand how you could make such a big change without them, whatever. Once you stop focusing on them, you may find that your family finds it easier to pay attention and come along, because once you stop pushing, they stop pushing back. 2) If you convert one person to vegetarianism, you save 100 animals per year, whether that is a family member or some stranger on the street. Take the energy you would have spent on your family and go convert 10 other people who aren’t pushing back instead.
How hard is it to find vegan food on the road? What cities do you like or loathe because of their food options? I mostly eat from grocery stores, and I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mixed nuts, bananas, and bags of pre-washed greens. I can find that stuff anywhere. The only place where I know the restaurants at all is D.C., where I’ve lived for most of the past 20 years, and I don’t know too many here.
If you weren’t working for animal rights, what would you be doing? Teaching disadvantaged kids in the inner city or running a homeless shelter (which I did for six years before I joined PETA) or working for Doctors Without Borders or some other global relief organization.
What is the most valuable piece of advice that you could give to someone who wants to start getting active? One person can make a massive difference, and that’s deeply empowering—if you convince one person to adopt a vegetarian diet, you’ve just spared 100 animals per year from misery that is beyond our worst imaginings. A few hours spent leafleting, one letter to the editor, one good conversation, one vegetarian hotline bumper sticker on your car—there are so many things you can do, little and big, that will mean life or death for thousands of animals. Do it!
Written by Shawna Flavell