Last night’s entertainment was an excellent documentary on Henry Spira’s life. Spira (1927-1998) was a key player in the animal rights movement and led a series of great campaigns to improve the treatment of animals in scientific laboratories, the cosmetic industry, and agribusiness. Based in New York, Spira’s leadership was important to the great increase in public interest in animal welfare in the last quarter of the 20th century.

The documentary is well worth watching in full, but here I want to draw attention to a key aspect of Spira’s work: a relentless emphasis on results. As Spira puts it in the documentary (49:00):

“The key ingredient of a successful activist is that an activist goes beyond words into results … there is a bottom line: you set up to achieve something and you achieve it and you put closure on it.

That’s a great summary. Activism is not about talk and contemplation; it’s about action. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that we can make the world a better place simply by organizing workshops and writing. This kind of communication plays a role, but without action the talk is not going to effect real change.

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