How long does it take the animal rights movement to defeat America’s top luxury retailer?
Turns out it only takes two months.
Today, Tuesday, June 29, Neiman Marcus Group announced that they are going fur-free, just six days before the upcoming Neiman Carcass National Week of Action.
In nine weeks, Neiman Marcus saw 61 actions across 18 cities – nearly one a day. The amazing activists at Texas Animal Freedom Fighters alone did 15 actions in Neiman’s home state. In Southern California, there were 18. Boston did seven, and the list goes on. This victory is the hard work of every activist that came together for the campaign.
So what factors were at the heart of this historic victory? The same ones that have now been proven again and again: movement unity and strategic focus.
Coordinated national action
The grassroots animal rights movement is multitudes stronger when we work together. Our opponents are national and international. They thrive when we are divided. By choosing a common target, we achieve real results for animals.
This victory is thanks to the dedication of independent local groups in Texas, Florida, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, New Jersey, Boston, the Bay Area, North Carolina, Las Vegas, and Southern California.
We did this together. We did it for the animals. And with movement unity, we will do it again.
It’s official: gone are the days of marching up and down high-end shopping districts randomly yelling at stores known to sell fur. If you hold a demo lasting an hour and spend fifteen minutes at each store, or protest a different retailer every weekend for a month, you have had one quarter the impact on each company. What could have been hard-hitting pressure becomes a symbolic exercise.
With results-based campaigning – smart strategy, relentless focus, and winnable goals – our movement becomes stronger and our victories larger.
This is not always intuitive. We choose targets based on research, not popular appeal. We focus on what works, not what feels cathartic. We promise incremental success, not utopian social transformation.
And the result is that we win. As one might expect, winning is popular. It is cathartic. And it is transformational. In 2021, grassroots anti-fur activism has become a national powerhouse.
Timing and escalation
In the case of Neiman Marcus, while we of course hoped for swift victory, we had to be prepared for a lengthy campaign timeline. Neiman had seen remarkably consistent and hard-hitting national action from 1997-2002 and did not budge on fur. It had cut off contact with the national nonprofits. When the campaign began, it sold over 500 fur items from eight different species – many times more than its competitors when they went fur-free. And Neiman’s March 2021 debt refinancing scheme greatly reduced the financial risk of its new owners, decreasing activists’ leverage against them.
At the start of the campaign, only 42% of Neiman stores were within 60 miles of a highly active anti-fur group, and 30% were not even near an active organizer. Thus, the initial focus had to be building up storefront activity – to wear Neiman down, fortify and spread the campaign, and thus maximize the impact of future escalations on Neiman’s organizational and financial pressure points.
From the beginning, there were calls from passionate activists for immediate home demonstrations. But experience dictates otherwise when preparing for a campaign that may be long-term. Let us review two reasons.
First: if our target is likely to hold out against activist pressure, it’s a needless gamble to escalate quickly. Beginning with everything we’ve got leaves us with nowhere else to go strategically or tactically. Escalations are precious. They should be carefully timed to surprise and demoralize a target when they feel weary, or overly confident. They should precipitate turning points when appropriate circumstances develop. And they should re-energize activist enthusiasm over a long campaign. In the age of social media, “likes” for store actions may lull after a few weeks, and those attached to these platforms may call for escalation after this short period. We disagree. What counts in a pressure campaign is whether our timing impacts our target, not a Silicon Valley algorithm.
Second: escalation must be measured against risk. During this campaign, there were two cities in which police or store security called out activists by their full names, to indicate that they knew their identities. In one instance, activists were so intimidated by this gesture that they sat out the rest of the campaign. The lesson here is that we must educate one another about security culture and repression. Home demos are effective when needed, and CAFT shares the excitement around them. But they are also more likely to result in arrests, lawsuits, and other repression, particularly if a quick victory is not certain. CAFT organizers have extensive prior experience with police, federal agents, private investigators, and process servers tailing us in our cars and showing up at our homes, our schools, our jobs, and those of our family members and partners. These consequences are tolerable, but they are never fun. With Neiman, they weren’t needed at all.
A personal note
We at CAFT are rarely sappy, but feel compelled to speak personally here. We look back to the days when we began our campaign against Los Angeles designer Monique Lhuillier, and cannot believe that a mere seven months later we are watching Neiman Marcus topple.
Our joy is deep, and our gratitude is deeper. We are grateful to all of the grassroots activists out there who achieved this victory together, from those who brought fire at large disruptions to those who leafleted or chalked by themselves. We are grateful to the passionate, hard-working organizers with whom we proudly walk as colleagues. We are also grateful to Lydia Nichols, who began the first Neiman Marcus campaign in 1997, with the first incarnation of CAFT. Lydia, your support and belief in us has meant the world.
And of course, we are happiest for the animals on fur farms, animals whom we have seen with our own watering eyes, whose cries we still hear in our dreams, who are now this much closer to liberation.
We did it, everyone. Let’s all take a moment to celebrate. But not too long – there is still a reckoning to be had for a few designers in the States, and many more across the Atlantic.
For every one of those designers still using fur: let this be a warning. We are coming for you – and we will win.