How We Banned Fur in Berkeley
Late last month, the City Council of Berkeley, California banned the sale of new fur apparel items within city limits. The ban is the second of its kind in the United States, following a 2013 ban in West Hollywood, California.
The group responsible for the ban is Berkeley Coalition for Animals (BCA), an all-volunteer legislative advocacy group of which I am secretary.
Many animal rights advocates have asked how a small all-volunteer group with zero funding achieved success with the Fur Free Berkeley campaign. This case study can help provide a template for those wishing to sponsor animal rights or other altruistic legislation in their jurisdictions.
tl;dr: Key components were
- cultivating relationships with sympathetic council members we thought would be sympathetic to animal rights legislation, and
- utilizing a proven template for the bill.
- Fur-bearing animals suffer horrendously. You can learn about these atrocities, and appreciate animals’ perspectives on the conditions they are forced to live in, by visiting the webpages of Fur Free Berkeley and PETA, among others.
- Very few stores in Berkeley sell fur apparel of any sort. This meant that we faced little opposition — a very different situation than that in West Hollywood, which had numerous high-price venders of new fur apparel.
- West Hollywood, California passed a ban on the sale of new fur apparel in 2011 (effective 2013). Since WeHo’s law had both been written with careful scrutiny and successfully challenged in court, we needed not agonize over language nor recruit a legal team to finalize or defend the bill.
- The Fur Free WeHo campaign was a many-months-long effort and very contentious, due to the plethora of fur vendors there, according to West Hollywood Campaigner Ed Buck. The ban became a campaign item for John D’Amico’s successful 2011 bid for City Council. (More details on the vote here.) The West Hollywood law was successfully defended in federal court in 2014.
- Similar campaigns are ongoing in other places, including Los Angeles and Israel. Several European countries including the UK, Austria, the Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Macedonia have banned fur production.
- The Berkeley bill tracked the West Hollywood law almost verbatim. However, during the first hearing, City Council members made two changes, one that strengthened the ban and one that marginally limited its application. First, whereas in West Hollywood nonprofits are exempted from the ban, in Berkeley they are not. Second, Berkeley council members insisted on an exempting sheep and cow furs. We encourage would-be followers to use the West Hollywood definitions.
- The sheep fleece and cowhide exemptions in Berkeley were squeezed into the definitions provided in its bill, complicating the original definition, which came from the US Federal Trade Commission’s Fur Products Labeling Act. This was a last-minute surprise pushed in by Councilmember Sophie Hahn. At nearly midnight during the bill’s first reading, enough of the councilmembers were persuaded and/or untroubled by her exceptions to vote for her amended version of the bill. Failed attempts by both BCA and sponsoring Councilmember Worthington to negotiate these exceptions away gave way to the bill’s being eventually moved to the consent calendar just before the Council’s summer recess. We decided to move on to larger battles. The lesson: don’t take representatives’ votes for granted, even if their support seems like a sure bet.
- (Hahn introduced the exceptions for basically two reasons. First, she held that cows and sheep were already being farmed for reasons other than their hides, making sale of their skins acceptable. Our dissenting view is that two forms of exploitation don’t make a right; moreover, the sale of skin-and-hair as a byproduct still does plausibly increase overall demand. Second, Hahn maintained that sheep fleece is one of a few “pure” materials to which certain people, including babies, would not be allergic, and that it should stay legal for that reason. We dispute both this claim’s factuality and its relevance.)
- Public Support for the bill was substantial. Our Change.org petition garnered over 5,000 signatures from around the world, and at least 60 people from around the Bay Area wrote to the city council in favor of the fur ban, thanks to alerts from PETA’s mailing list. One councilmember mentioned being overwhelmed by the number of emails she got.
- Berkeley’s ban passed its first reading on March 28, 2017, and became law after the second reading on July 25.
- Building relationships with key councilmembers and then-candidates was the most important factor in both introducing and passing the law. Through the personal relationships we cultivated with Councilmembers Worthington, Harrison, Bartlett, etc., we not only brought the issue to their attention but demonstrated that thoughtful, connected residents of their city and districts were concerned about making progress for animals.
- Berkeley is an above-average place to attempt pathbreaking legislation for several reasons. First, because there a political history and climate of trend-setting movements and laws (from the Free Speech and Anti-Vietnam War movements to the first curbside recycling program to 2014’s soda tax). Second, it among the very most left-leaning cities in California and the USA. Third, the 2016 election saw a major gain for progressives on Berkeley’s City Council, with progressives gaining 6 of 9 seats including the mayorship. It helped that our impression was they would vote as a bloc (which turned out to be only partially true for this bill).
What should you do if you want to pass similar animal protection legislation in another jurisdiction in California, a different U.S. state, or elsewhere?
- Develop relationships with local representatives. Representatives tend to be responsive to their community members’ concerns. Dialogue is key. As your concerned constituent, they want to hear your agenda. They also have an agenda of their own; take interest in it. Sign up for their mailing lists; take note of when they have office hours and show up at community events; call their offices and ask for appointments for you to present animal protection legislation.
- Seek out a solid team. You don’t need to be a superhero to work on these things. Anyone passionate about justice for animals who can reasonably read and communicate can develop the needed allies and skills. That said, it can be helpful for you or those you know to have or develop certain further skills. Legal and/or legislative know-how is helpful for knowing what an adequate bill should look like, as well as for understanding the process of how a city council meeting works. Internet skills can also be helpful for mobilizing people and communicating about animals’ perspectives. Think email lists, social media, and websites (e.g. content management systems such as Squarespace or WordPress). Finally, the habit of showing gratitude to others sustains a campaign through thick and thin.
- Get solid advice. The Berkeley Coalition for Animals (email@example.com) stands by ready to help with ideas and support for similar initiatives. You can also contact Fur Free WeHo for their advice, which would be especially relevant if you’re working in a large metro area or one with plenty of fur retailers.
- Build coalitions. The more contentious your issue — the more real opposition you face — the more important it is to have key allies in your local community. Think of local groups, especially ones influential in local politics, as well as notable individuals in your community (professors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, minsters, etc., etc.). Beyond your local community, international animal advocacy organizations will be ready and willing to help; see Fur Free Berkeley’s list of supporters for ideas.
- Consider economic impact assessment. If there are dedicated fur boutiques in your community, lawmakers will be interested in the tax ramifications of their being unable to sell fur apparel. Attaining an economic impact assessment could be necessary in that case. Economic consulting firms near you may be able to help. They may do pro bono work for nonprofits at a reduced or free rate; in any event, it is worth taking into account early as for whether and how much you need to fundraise. If you do need funding, asking advice from organizations far and wide should be a priority; often these kinds of efforts are more achievable than they first seem.
- Stay focused on farmed animals’ perspectives. Ultimately we’re pushing for a world in which no animal is used or abused for any purpose — clothing, entertainment, food, or anything. Focusing on the millions and billions of animals who need their voices amplified can keep you motivated to persevere.