Book Reviews

The Longest Struggle and Striking At The Roots

The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy From Pythagoras to PETA
By Norm Phelps
Published by Lantern Books
To order: (800) 856-8664, visit

Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism
By Mark Hawthorne
Published by O Books
To order: (800) 462 6420, visit

“Thanks to Karen Davis [and United Poultry Concerns], chickens and turkeys are now front-and-center on the animal rights agenda.” – The Longest Struggle, pp. 295, 301-302

“My attitude is not ‘If I didn’t think we’d win, I’d quit,’ to which I would say, ‘Then quit.’ Working for animal rights isn’t a football game or a beauty contest.  It’s working to modify our species’ attitudes and behavior at a deep level, to develop a different set of genes – fundamental elements of human nature that have largely been ignored, overridden by other elements thus far.” – UPC President Karen Davis quoted in Striking at the Roots, p. 197.  

People who are interested in the progress, philosophies and practical activism of the animal advocacy movement in America and around the world will be rewarded by reading both of these books. Two highly respected animal activist authors – Norm Phelps and Mark Hawthorne – illuminate the struggle and strategies of people toiling to bring compassion and justice to the animals who share our world.

The Longest Struggle

The Longest Struggle by Norm Phelps is dedicated to “the millions of animal advocates and caregivers around the world who labor in anonymity to relieve the suffering of the most defenseless of those who live at the mercy of our merciless societies.” Striking at the Roots by Mark Hawthorne – written in memory of “a certain cow in India, who showed me a kinder way of living” – brings together activists who explain, in their own compelling words, why their chosen models of activism have succeeded, and how others can sharpen their own activist skills. 

Invoking Ralph Ellison’s aphorism of racism – “I am an invisible man . . . I am invisible, understand, because people simply refuse to see me” – The Longest Struggle traces through history the evil of “invisibility” as it applies to animals: “we do not see the animals as they are: sensitive, intelligent, living beings who suffer and die at our hands with no hope of relief.” Yet the challenge of animal activism – books written, organizations formed, arguments made, protests held, rescues undertaken, jail time served – is precisely to bring hope of relief and, beyond just hope of relief, Relief.

The Longest Struggle presents the historical struggle for animal protection and liberation through stages that are vividly evoked, starting with a philosophical or theological position held by a cluster of ancient thinkers – Pythagoras, Buddha, Hosea, and others – and moving towards a social consensus that “enforces compliance by custom and law.” Western societies are now more or less in the consensus stage, though in most of the world, including ours, animals are as invisible – serving as mere reflectors of human appetites, desires and fears – as ever. Yet there is progress, despite the long, long road to go.

To help clarify the nature of the struggle, Phelps explains the difference between animal welfare and animal rights. Welfare advocates are concerned with our treatment of animals, whereas Rights advocates are concerned with our use of animals. Animal Welfare regards humans as superior to other animals and does not challenge our right to exploit animals, as long as we enslave, mutilate, and murder them “humanely.” By contrast, Animal Rights/Liberation “challenges our right to use animals at all, arguing that animal exploitation is unjust and oppressive in the same way and for the same reasons that human exploitation is unjust and oppressive.” Animal Rights/Liberation tends to reject the hierarchical model of human superiority and entitlement in favor of an egalitarian perspective. “Welfare,” if accepted, is regarded as a means towards achieving animal liberation, an interim compromise, never the ultimate goal or solution.

Phelps, an ethical vegan, supports advancing animals’ rights through a combination of incremental welfare reforms to reduce animal suffering in the here and now, such as banning cages in favor of cage-free confinement of hens used for egg production (“Cage free isn’t cruelty free. But it is a lot better.”), and abolitionist approaches, like banning outright the production of foie gras, in which ducks and geese are forcibly tube fed to fatten their livers to a diseased condition for gourmet appetizers.

Aspects of the conservative approach favored by Phelps, who condemns the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC) – named for targeting the stockholders and employees of the notorious vivisection laboratory, Huntington Life Sciences – are debatable considering, for instance, that the violence of what he calls “a tiny, if very noisy, minority of animal activists” targets inanimate property and includes shame tactics like protesting at the homes of animal abusers, not physically assaulting them, whereas the conservative approach often involves encouraging “humane” animal product consumerism, thereby creating whole new markets for animal products derived from, and concealing, pure violence.

If, as Phelps charges, SHAC and the ALF “are giving the animals’ enemies a weapon with which to destroy the entire animal rights movement [government surveillance, arrests, imprisonment, ‘terrorist’ accusations],” it may be argued as well that encouraging the public to support “humanely-raised” animal products, courting chefs who cook animals and restaurants that serve them battered, seasoned, whipped, baked, breaded and fried, subverts the effort to promote the dignity and visibility of animals, furthering the state of denial and prolonging the longest struggle.       

In a letter to the Dalai Lama, in 2007, Phelps, who met with the Dalai Lama in 1998 to discuss a vegetarian diet as a Buddhist practice, expressed his deep disappointment in the Tibetan monk’s relentless consumption of animal products at public events – braised calf’s cheek, veal roast, stuffed pheasant breast, chicken soup, and other gluttonies – indeed, his refusal of vegetarian meals when they were offered to him. Phelps concludes his sorrowful and exasperated letter, “I am not going to ask you to change your behavior. I’ve been there, done that. We have a saying in America that ‘Anybody can talk the talk. What matters is do you walk the walk.’ You can talk the talk with the best of them. But after twenty years, I can no longer pretend that everything is fine while I wait for you to walk the walk.”          

Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide  to Animal Activism

Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, by Mark Hawthorne, is about walking the walk – and getting others to walk with you. The book, Hawthorne explains in his Introduction, is “intended for the person who agrees with the premise that animals are mistreated in our society, believes that the public has a moral obligation to speak out against this cruelty and who wants to be directly involved in opposing animal exploitation in its many forms.” The book is “a guide to the most pragmatic opportunities available for speaking and acting on behalf of animals.” Readers with busy lives are encouraged, “you can make a difference even if you limit your involvement to an hour a month.”

Striking at the Roots shows how to become an effective leafleter, write publishable letters to the editor and opinion pieces, conduct successful protests and demonstrations, use vegan food to educate and win people over, engage in corporate campaigning, set up and run a sanctuary, shelter & rescue center, deal with the legal system, and engage in direct action – rescuing animals in order to experience directly and expose firsthand the atrocities they are forced to endure on commercial farms, in laboratories and other abominable places.
As for rescuing chickens from the filthy “broiler” sheds in which they are raised for meat, we’re told that “nothing except firsthand experience could convey the utter despair a compassionate person feels at the sight of lame, feces-encrusted birds limping about and dead chickens, their ammonia-scalded breasts denuded of feathers, lying where they collapsed from inhumane breeding practices.”

While most activists will not be directly involved in rescuing animals from factory farms and laboratories, Striking at the Roots shows the importance of keeping informed about these rescues and what they uncover, in order to provide credible and compelling content to one’s letter writing and other advocacy on behalf of animals. Essential to being an effective activist are poise, self-confidence, knowledge, and persistence.  
For example, I am quoted regarding rejected letters to editors and op-eds: “Over the years, I’ve published many guest columns about the plight – and delight – of chickens and turkeys. I’ve also written letters and op-eds that were turned down. Usually in such cases, I rework the piece and eventually submit it elsewhere with success. Also, it’s good to establish a relationship with an editorial page editor. Not to ramble on and take up their valuable time, but a brief friendly phone call about your submission can increase your chance of being published, and you may be pleased to learn on occasion that the editorial page editor cares about animals and values your concerns.”

Striking at the Roots stresses the importance of seizing opportunities to act and speak out locally – “don’t overlook even the smallest neighborhood media outlets,” activists urge. Local media want to know what is happening in their area. Often a protest demonstration is “a quite interesting and different story to what they normally may cover,” stresses an Australian activist.

Striking at the Roots is not just for novices and the insecure. A good activist never reaches the point where ideas about activism are “preaching to the choir.” Effective activism is about continuing education, not only of others, but of oneself. It’s an essential part of the attitude that is needed to liberate animals and establish their rights.    

Review by Karen Davis, PhD