We Need a Progressive Alternative to the Humane Society Legislative Fund

The Humane Society Legislative Fund was launched in 2004 as a political voice for three animal-protection groups: The Doris Day Animal League, The Fund for Animals, and, of course, The Humane Society of the United States. I’m a big fan of HSLF. I subscribe to their email blasts; I’ve used their legislator scorecards as the basis for a number of articles; and if they sold merchandise, I’d certainly rock it.

But I’ve recognized the group’s shortcomings for some time. The criteria on which it evaluates lawmakers is simply not rigorous enough. Too many politicians receive 100-percent ratings for doing too little. For instance, banning fur sales and manufacturing is an issue that, in the current moment, represents what Michael Harrington might term ‘the left wing of the possible.’ HSLF does not ask legislators their stance on this issue, so far as I can tell.

Beyond this, the Humane Society Legislative Fund is non-partisan, despite the fact Democrats, as a group, have far-and-away better records than Republicans. One must wonder — in the case of an individual Republican with a better record than an individual Democrat — whether it’s worth electing the former, and, in so doing, give control of a legislative body to the likes of Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy. That certainly can’t be good for animals!

We need an organization like the Democratic Socialists of America and Justice Democrats, which will push America’s center-left party in a more progressive direction — specifically on nonhuman issues. We could call it Democrats for Animal Protection, or, if we wanted to be a little more forthright in our intentions, Democrats for Animal Liberation. If such a group exists, I’m certainly not aware of it, despite being relatively plugged into the movement in question.

Among other things, the organization could survey Democratic candidates and incumbents on a range of questions, designed to move the Overton Window leftward. For instance, would they support funding for research into cultured meat? Would they support a ban on wild animal circuses? Again, we need to strike a delicate balance between practicality and idealism.

As Connor Kilpatrick and Adaner Usmani wrote in a different context: “A radical must plant one foot firmly in the world as it is and the other in the world as she knows it could one day be.” Move too far in one direction or the other and you’re less effective. Striking such a balance would be a constant struggle, requiring frequent reassessment.

Of course, the group could endorse genuinely pro-animal candidates like Wayne Hsiung and Jabari Brisport, who are running for mayor of Berkeley, California, and New York State senate, respectively. Such endorsements would need to be earned by politicians who spend real political capital on behalf of animals or pledge to do the same. They wouldn’t simply be handed out to anyone with sympathetic feelings toward cats, dogs, or the occasional horse.

I hope such a group will be launched soon. Fundamentally, I’m a writer and ill-equipped to lead anything. But I trust someone reading this has the requisite skill and knowledge to help fill this organizational gap. The Humane Society Legislative Fund serves an important function, but we need a partisan, progressive alternative. There’s room in the movement for both groups, and arguably the differing approaches could complement each other.

Jon Hochschartner is the author of a number of books about animal-rights history, including The Animals’ Freedom Fighter, Ingrid Newkirk, and Puppy Killer, Leave Town. He blogs at SlaughterFreeAmerica.Substack.com.