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PETA vice president to speak on animal rights

September 7, 2009

Dan Mathews encourages people to parade around busy cities entirely naked. He also has been in jail more than seven times.

For Mathews, it’s all in a day’s work. And it’s all for the animals.

Mathews, senior vice president of international animal rights group PETA, will speak at 8 p.m. Thursday in room B104 as part of PETA’s Liberation Project. The project includes displaying provocative photos that compare animal abuse to the human abuse that comes with slavery and other suffering.

“Some people have a hard time relating to the suffering of other species,” Mathews said. “When we draw these parallels people think, ‘what’s the difference really?’ We’re forcing them to work and killing them for our own amusement.”

As someone who was raised Jewish, Mathews said it is more effective to compare the killings of animals to injustices such as the Holocaust to get people’s attention about animal abuse. PETA’s Liberation Project was first launched in Poland, where Mathews assumed it would receive negative backlash and complaints but instead were welcomed by media groups who thought the project was innovative.

“Even if it doesn’t happen right away, people see the displays and are put off by it yet, drawn into it,” Mathews said. “It may not change their minds at the time, but they’ll think about it differently and their minds become a little more open to it.”

Stephanie DiPonio, an interdisciplinary studies in social science sophomore and member of Students Promoting Animal Rights, or SPAR, said not everyone might be open to viewing the controversial photos.

“I think it’s kind of controversial, but at the same time they have good intentions and people should still at least check it out to see what’s going on,” said DiPonio, who plans on attending Mathews’ lecture Thursday.

Along with talking about the Liberation Project, Mathews will sign copies of his book, “Committed: A Rabble-Rouser’s Memoir,” which documents the many times Mathews was arrested in animal rights protests. The book includes a connoisseur’s guide to prison food, hospitality and other accommodations, as well as what landed Mathews in the jails in the first place.

Mathews has been working toward animal liberation for more than 20 years. He launched the I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur campaign, which many celebrities, such as Christy Turlington and Eva Mendes, have jumped on board with, posing nude in magazine ads to get the point across. Fifteen years ago, Mathews, along with a group of other college friends, announced they were an American stripper group planning on doing an act in the streets in order to storm a fur convention in Tokyo.

“We had no idea if anyone would take notice, but it was in every single Japanese paper and there were headlines around the world,” Mathews said.

Mathews has traveled to other college campuses such as Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, American University and the University of Florida. At American University, they were predominantly interested in ways PETA has used film for investigations, Mathews said. At Princeton, he visited a philosophy and social studies class and ended up getting arrested along with a number of students for doing a protest before class started. At the University of Florida, he visited a law class about animal rights.

Although Mathews has been featured on “Larry King Live” to promote his book and the Liberation Project, he said he prefers to be the “invisible glue” behind projects while having a strong voice at the same time. He has convinced designers such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein to stop using fur in their lines just by being persistent, persuasive and not giving up.

“Often you have to jump up and down to get their attention, but then a lot of them open up and change their tune,” he said.

“Calvin Klein avoided seeing the grizzly footage, but when he finally did, he became quite friendly and now he helps with campaigns.”

After visiting MSU, Mathews plans to go to Canada to promote the Liberation Project, hoping to gain attention from the Canadian government, whom Mathews criticized in May after the governor general consumed raw seal heart.

“The Canadian government has put their head in the sand about seal hunting issues in general,” he said. “It’s a real shame because all it is is a few hundred greedy fisherman who make a big cash bonus for this marine mammal massacre. There are lots of Canadians who are upset too, but the government doesn’t seem to respond.”

Mathews and PETA used to do seal hunt protests each spring during seal hunting season in Canada but have since realized that the project needs to be year-round to make progress.

As far as veganism, Mathews said he recommends it over vegetarianism because of how much better it makes the body feel. “I never thought I would give up on cheese or milk, but you lose a taste for it,” he said.

Crystal Woods, a physics freshman who also plans on attending Mathews’ lecture Thursday, said Mathews’ projects, while sometimes offensive, are what it takes to get people’s attention about animal abuse.

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“Those who are offended won’t really understand the point PETA is trying to get across,” she said.


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