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Interview with PETA’s Bruce Friedrich

Writer, activist, and PETA VP Bruce Friedrich talks to VN about jail, Obama, and his new book.

Bruce Friedrich’s efforts have supported prisoners, the hungry and homeless, peace advocates, and, of course, animals of all kinds. Though not yet 40, Bruce Friedrich has already lived an accomplished life. His Catholic Worker values were awakened when he was barely a teen, and there appears to be no progressive cause that he hasn’t been involved with. Friedrich believes that how one lives says far more than what one says, and his actions prove he walks his talk.

VegNews: You live in Washington, DC. How has the Capitol changed since Obama’s inauguration?
Bruce Friedrich: There is a new energy—it’s really quite something. I bicycle commute about 15 miles per day, and I pass a lot of other cyclists and joggers every day. Where people used to pass with at best a nod, now people seem to genuinely acknowledge one another—everywhere I go, people just seem friendlier, like we’ve come out of a cave after a war has ended and we’re emerging into the bright light of peace. There is, despite the tough economic times, a real sense of optimism that is palpable everywhere my wife and I go.

VN: You have just written, along with Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach, The Animal Activists’ Handbook. How did you and Matt team up to write this book, and what are your hopes for it?
BF: Matt and I have been discussing animal-rights strategy for more than a decade, and his ideas have had a profound impact on mine. For years, we at PETA have been holding these small regional conferences, and the most popular element of the conferences—by far—are the “effective advocacy” and “effective conversations” presentations. It occurred to me that it would be worth having a reference book that builds on PETA’s grassroots campaigns experience, Matt’s and my experience and discussions, and all we’ve learned from the tens of thousands of grassroots activists who volunteer for PETA and Vegan Outreach. I asked Matt to collaborate with me on the book, and he agreed, and PETA President Ingrid Newkirk very graciously agreed to write the introduction. Our hope is that the book will gain wide readership among animal advocates, that other advocates can learn from our mistakes and be more effective at advocating on behalf of animals, and that we’ll hear from people about how to improve the book—new tips that we missed—for the next printing.

VN: As PETA’s Vice President for Policy & Government Affairs, what’s your average day like?
BF: Every day varies wildly. I just returned from Vancouver, where we had a successful press conference to announce our plans to use the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada to focus attention on the horror of the annual Canadian seal massacre. Much as human-rights activists used the Beijing Olympics to focus attention on China’s human-rights failings, we will work with activists globally to finally put an end to the mass killing of more than 200,000 animals every year. Anyone interested in participating in that campaign should give me a ring. PETA is opening a DC office soon, and we hope to really shape the culture of this city.

VN: Way back in August 2001, you and your bare bum appeared on the cover of VegNews. Please explain.
BF: Right! George Bush was due to arrive at Buckingham Palace for lunch with the Queen, and there were huge anti-Bush protests. I happened to be in London at the time, and we needed something that would get noticed among the thousands of anti-Bush protesters, so I got naked and charged the motorcade with “goveg.com” on my chest and back. It worked! We received massive traffic to the site. Mission accomplished.

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