25 August 2021

The Challenge Facing Animal Rights

Norm Phelps, 75, spiritual mentor to the animal rights movement
Animals 24-7

Norm is quoted:

“There is no society known to history that did not enslave animals and kill them for food, fabric, labor, transportation, entertainment, religious sacrifice, and/or scientific knowledge.”

“Animal rights is the only social movement in history whose beneficiaries cannot participate in it and whose participants cannot benefit from it.”

For that reason, “The animal rights movement has no access to the indomitably motivated and endlessly renewable resource that has been available to every other social justice movement: the victims themselves. In fact, its membership is drawn entirely from the ranks of the oppressors. Think of the challenge that the abolition movement would have faced if it had had to depend entirely on reformed slave owners for its activists. That is the challenge facing animal rights.”

Dear Friends,

Collage of Norm Phelps with a chicken
Beth Clifton’s art published in Animals 24-7.

Please read this illuminating tribute to Norm Phelps, an icon of the modern Animal Rights Movement. Merritt Clifton, founder-publisher of Animals 24-7, highlights Norm’s enormous contributions to our Movement through his writings, conference presentations, and countless informal discussions (including disputes) about strategies most likely to win support from the majority of people who, Norm said,“believe that their health, happiness, and prosperity depend on the abuse and murder of animals. And they will fight to defend these against what they see as dangerous, hostile attacks by radical fanatics.”

Animals 24-7 recounts Norm’s frustrating engagement with the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, with whom he personally met to discuss compassionate vegetarianism and Mongolian trophy hunting and who, while professing his “deep compassion” for animals, gobbled them up at public events. The Dalai Lama’s hypocrisy led Norm to publish an open letter to him, as quoted in the Animals 24-7 tribute.

Norm told the Dalai Lama, who ate veal roast, stuffed pheasant breast, and chicken soup at a dinner at the Elysee Palace for Nobel Peace Prize laureates, “you refused the vegetarian meal that you had been served with the comment, ‘I’m a Tibetan monk, not a vegetarian.’” Thus, “you lent your public support to some of the most egregious cruelty that our society is capable of. The lack of consistency between your public statements in support of vegetarianism and animal protection on the one hand and your personal behavior on the other is troubling.”


In his book, The Longest Struggle, Norm wrote generously: “Thanks to Karen Davis, chickens and turkeys are now front-and-center on the animal rights agenda.”

Norm Phelps talking to group

I first met Norm and his wife Patti in the 1980s in a van at around 4am taking us to a hunt sabotage in Maryland outside Washington, DC. We remained good friends despite some of our differences on advocacy strategy. We also disagreed on whether plants are sensate in some sense that eludes us. Norm thought no, but I thought/think yes. Norm was a speaker at our very first conference, June 26-27, 1999, here in Machipongo, VA, but unfortunately he had to cancel the invitation to speak at our conference in Columbus, Ohio, due to his illness.

I attended the memorial gathering for Norm that was organized by Compassion Over Killing in their office, in 2014, to honor and remember Norm’s many contributions to the Animal Rights Movement. He was a very kind-hearted person, and his books are a permanent contribution to our movement. He and Patti always supported United Poultry Concerns, for which I will always be grateful.

Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns