“Nonhuman animals are political subjects too,” writes Richard D Ryder, veteran animal rights campaigner, in his Foreword to Ethical and Political Approaches to Nonhuman Animal Issues edited by Andrew Woodhall and Gabriel Garmendia da Trindade (Palgrave Macmillan; 2017).

We know from The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan (University of California Press; 1983) that nonhuman animals are “subjects of a life” and are therefore entitled to moral rights, including most notably the right to respect. But how to turn moral rights into legal rights? As editors Woodhall and da Trindade write in their Introduction to this anthology

In short, many within the movement have begun to consider whether the traditional ethical approach to nonhuman issues is adequate. As a result, some have begun to turn to political theory in order to provide traction for the movement and better aid for nonhumans. (pp. 2-3)

As an animal rights activist and theorist with more than 40 years of personal commitment as a vegan and professional involvement with the international animal rights movement, I reflect upon the idea of a “political turn for animals” in my contribution, “Are We Smart Enough to Know When to Take the Political Turn for Animals?”, to the Ethical and Political Approaches to Nonhuman Animal Issues anthology edited by Woodhall and da Trindade.

In my book, Growl (Lantern Books; 2014), and elsewhere I have long made the case that the single greatest challenge the animal rights movement faces in achieving animal rights is in embedding the ethical values of animal rights into public policy and the law. Campaigning for personal change will persuade some people, indeed, a minority of people, to change their hearts, minds and lifestyles. But only public policy will achieve institutional change in society. Personal change changes one person at a time. Institutional change changes society. What we have to discover is how to achieve institutional change so that the values of animal rights are embedded into society along with human rights. Theory is only as good as it is in practice. The political turn for animals has to be more than just theory; it must be also about the practice of animal advocacy. I conclude in my chapter that

animal rights is still principally framed as a personal lifestyle choice issue–a moral crusade. Animal rights is not a mainstream political issue alongside others such as the economy, defence, and civil rights. (p. 298)

I go onto propose six action steps which briefly are: engage with local community; join political parties; join animal-related state lobbying organisations; quiz candidates for office; attend political conventions; and stand for public office.

To learn more, you’re invited to click here to download a PDF of the pre-publication version of this chapter.