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Henry Spira (born Henri Spira, June 19, 1927–September 12, 1998) is widely regarded as one of the most effective animal rights activists of the 20th century.[1][2]

Spira is credited with the idea in the animal protection movement of "reintegrative shaming," which involves encouraging opponents to change by working with them in an effort to shame them, rather than by rejecting and vilifying them.[3] Working with Animal Rights International, a group he founded in 1974,[4] Spira is particularly remembered for his successful campaign against animal testing at the American Museum of Natural History in 1976, where cats were being mutilated for sex research, and for his full-page advertisement in The New York Times in 1980, famously featuring a rabbit with sticking plaster over the eyes, which asked, "How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty's sake?"[1][5] Within a year, Revlon had donated $750,000 to a fund to investigate alternatives to animal testing, which was followed by substantial donations from Avon, Bristol Meyers, Estée Lauder, Max Factor, Chanel, and Mary Kay Cosmetics, donations that led to the creation of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing.

Spira's life was chronicled in 1998 by Peter Singer in Ethics Into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement.

Contents

Early life

Spira was born in Antwerp, Belgium to Maurice Spira and Margit Spitzer Spira. Maurice's father had worked in the diamond trade in Hungary; his mother's father, also from Hungary, had risen to become chief rabbi of Hamburg. The family was comfortable financially; Henri had a nanny and was educated at a French-speaking lycée. When he was 10, his father went to Panama, and the rest of the family moved to Germany to live with Margit's family. Spira joined a Jewish youth group and began to learn Hebrew.[6]

His father sent for them in 1938; he had opened a store selling cheap clothes and jewellery, mostly to sailors, and Germany was an increasingly unsafe place for Jews. Henry was sent to a Roman Catholic school run by nuns, where lessons were conducted in Spanish, but he strongly disliked the super-religious focus of the school, and was relieved when his father ran out of money and could no longer afford the fees. He spent the next year working in his father's store.[6]

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New York and Hashomer Hatzair

When he was thirteen, in December 1940, the family set sail for New York via Havana on the SS Copiapo. His father took a job in the diamond industry, and rented an apartment on West 104th Street. Henry was sent to public school. He continued to study Hebrew — paying for lessons himself with vacation jobs — had his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, and began to wear a kippah.

In 1943, while at Stuyvesant High School, he became involved with Hashomer Hatzair, a left-wing, non-religious, Zionist group that helped to prepare young Jews to live on kibbutzim in Palestine. There were summer camps, where they were taught how to farm, lots of hiking, and lessons about the equality of men and women. Peter Singer writes that the anti-materialism and independence of mind that Spira learned from his time with Hashomer Hatzair — where he adopted his Hebrew name, Noah — stayed with him for the rest of his life. He decided to leave home when he was sixteen, taking lodgings and an afternoon job in a machine shop, and attending school in the mornings.[6][7]

Merchant navy and army life

He left New York in 1945 to become a merchant seaman, but he was blacklisted as a security risk in March 1952, during the McCarthy era, because of his involvement in left-wing politics; his presence on an American merchant vessel was "inimical to the security of the U.S. government," he was told. He later told Peter Singer, "I just figured it was part of the game: Fight the system and they get even with you."[6]

He was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in Berlin in 1953-54. Peter Singer writes that Spira was also involved in the civil rights movement, and reported on Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba for The Militant, a left-wing newspaper.[1]

After two years in the Army, he worked at the General Motors factory in Linden, New Jersey on the assembly line. In 1958, he graduated as a mature student from Brooklyn College in New York, and in 1966 began teaching English literature in a New York high school, teaching students from the ghettos.[1]

Activism

Spira told The New York Times that he first became interested in animal rights in the early 70s while looking after a girlfriend's cat: "I began to wonder about the appropriateness of cuddling one animal while sticking a knife and fork into another."[5]

One of the major influences on Spira was Peter Singer's 1975 work, Animal Liberation.

In 1974, he founded Animal Rights International (ARI) and in 1976, he led the ARI's campaign against vivisection on cats by the American Museum of Natural History, which was researching the impact of certain type of mutilation, including castration, on the sex lives of cats. The museum halted the research in 1977, and Spira's campaign was hailed as the first ever to succeed in stopping animal experiments.[7]

Another well-known campaign targeted cosmetics giant Revlon's use of the Draize test, which involves dripping substances into animals' eyes, usually rabbits, to determine whether they are toxic. On April 15, 1980, Spira and the ARI took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, with the header, How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty's sake? As a result, Revlon began research into "cruelty free" alternatives.

Spira took a photograph of a primate who had been imprisoned for months in a Bethesda Naval Hospital chair to the Black Star Wire Service, which sent the picture around the world. It was shown to Indira Gandhi, India's PM, who cancelled monkey exports to the U.S., because the photograph suggested the U.S. Navy was violating a treaty with India that forbade military research on animals.

Other campaigns targeted the face branding of cattle, the poultry industry, and fast food giant KFC (with an advert that combined a KFC bucket and a toilet). Nevertheless, Spira was an advocate of gradual change, negotiating with McDonald's, for example, for better conditions in the slaughterhouses of its suppliers. He proved especially adept at leveraging the power of the larger animal welfare organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States, to advance his campaigns.

Spira died of esophageal cancer in 1998.

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d Spira, Henry and Singer, Peter. "Ten Points for Activists" in Singer, Peter (ed.). In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave. Blackwell, 2006, introductory note by Peter Singer, pp. 214-215.
  2. ^ Francione, Gary. Rain without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, Temple University Press, 1995, chapter 3.
  3. ^ Munro, Lyle. The Animal Activism of Henry Spira (1927-1998), Society and Animals, Vol 10, Number 2, 2002, pp. 173-191(19).
  4. ^ "Thirty three years of measurable change", Animal Rights International, retrieved March 22, 2008.
  5. ^ a b Feder, Barnaby. Pressuring Perdue, The New York Times, November 26, 1989.
  6. ^ a b c d Singer, Peter. Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc, 2000, pp. 1-17.
  7. ^ a b "Henry Spira", The New York Times, September 15, 1998.

Further reading


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