In an effort to bring together the brightest minds in the global anti-speciesism movement, honor their achievements, and create a more unified force for social change, a group headed by Dr. Walter Neussel last year established the Peter Singer Prize for Strategies to Reduce the Suffering of Animals. It chose the award’s namesake as the first recipient. And this year, as the second recipient, it elected PETA President and cofounder Ingrid Newkirk.
Singer set a high bar. The New Yorker called him the planet’s “most influential living philosopher.” In the 1970s, when the concept of animal rights was practically unheard of, he broke ground with Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals. He continues, as Scientific American put it, “pushing people out of their moral comfort zone,” with numerous books, his bioethics professorship at Princeton, and his laureate professorship at The University of Melbourne in his native Australia.
In a message that Singer prepared for this year’s award ceremony, he praised Ingrid in terms that even PETA’s adversaries would begrudgingly respect:
I was greatly honored by Dr. Walter Neussel’s decision to establish the Peter Singer Prize for Strategies to Reduce the Suffering of Animals and to be its first recipient. Now I am very pleased that the second recipient will be Ingrid Newkirk. She is absolutely the right person to receive this award because her focus has always—for the past 40 years—constantly and resolutely been on reducing the suffering of animals. And in that cause, she has been a truly great strategist.
I first met Ingrid when I spent some months in Washington, D.C., in 1979. If I remember rightly, it was at a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals did not yet exist, but she and Alex Pacheco told me that they had plans to start an organization that would be based on ideas similar to those I presented in my book Animal Liberation. Well, plans are nice, but many people have plans to do great things. Little did I imagine that this plan would be the start of the largest animal rights organization in the world, that PETA would make millions of people aware that “animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way,” and that it would transform the politics of animal protection in the United States and in other countries as well.
Ingrid and Alex pioneered undercover investigations, in the famous Silver Spring monkeys case that brought national attention to PETA. That strategy has been used thousands of times since, to great effect.
Ingrid has also developed highly effective strategies for gaining media attention for the abuse of animals. Sometimes her media stunts have been controversial, but Ingrid’s focus has always been on the urgency of stopping the vast amount of suffering we inflict on animals, and she has seen this end as justifying means that would have been objectionable if the cause were not so important. And generally, her judgment on that has been sound—the strategies she has used have been extraordinarily effective in reducing the suffering of animals.
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