10th December 2023

All animals have the right to live free from exploitation, harm, and captivity. It’s been Freedom for Animals’ mission to defend these rights since 1957 and we do so through activism. Undercover investigations, research, campaigns, grassroots activism, political lobbying, and education – it’s all activism because it involves taking action. And it can be done on the streets or from your armchair – whatever works for you.

“Animal rights is about respecting the individual animal and leaving them alone to live their life freely, and animal welfare is more about minimising cruelty,” Freedom for Animals volunteer and activist Norina Maniscalco explains when I ask her what the difference is. It’s a distinction that’s easy to miss, but if you believe that animals have the same rights as humans, then as Norina says: “basically, any use is abuse.”

It’s International Animal Rights Day and we’re sitting down to discuss what it means. The event was started by animal rights group Uncaged in 1998 to promote debate about the ethical and political status of animals and campaign for recognition of their rights. It’s also deliberately timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day, highlighting the connection between the two.    

Animal rights activism is at the core of what Freedom for Animals does to communicate our message to the public. Activists on the streets outside circuses and other businesses that harm animals, highlight what they’re doing and hold them to account. Without them, the public could easily not realise the harm that's happening behind the scenes.

“Freedom for Animals is unique in that many of their campaigns feature animal issues that are often ignored, such as mobile zoos, tethering and animals used in TV and film” Norina adds. “Most people would be onboard with their mission, as they wouldn’t agree with animals being used for entertainment.”

Outreach and petitioning by our team is demanding change and getting it, with victories such as Wrexham council refusing permission for a new reindeer farm recently. Our annual Zoo Awareness Weekend of action also highlights the suffering of animals being held captive in zoos, aquariums, and mobile zoos.

South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria has been a target for a while. The zoo has a long history of failing animals including significant overcrowding, lack of enrichment in all enclosures, insufficient heating, untreated illness, and injuries. It’s even earned the nickname ‘Britain’s worst zoo’. Campaigners are demanding that the zoo’s licence is revoked, animals relocated, and the facility closed for good. Among them is animal activist Anna Malia who established and leads North East Animal Rights (N.E.A.R.). 

Anna believes education is the best way to advocate for change and regularly visits schools to talk to children and teachers. “Children are inherently kind to animals, so we go into classrooms to remind them that all animals are the same as their cats and dogs.”

For anyone new to activism and wondering how or where to start, she has this advice: “Work out how much time you’ve got, what your skills are and why you’re doing it. You could be a wordsmith, good at social media, IT, or petitioning. Everybody can do something. See if there are any groups in your area and if not do it on your own, just do it!”     

If you’re reading this of course, you don’t have to do it on your own. Get in touch with Freedom for Animals and we can help you get started. Whether putting you in touch with local groups or supplying you with materials to demonstrate about a cause that makes you want to take action contact us via the website and we can help.

By speaking out against animal cruelty and advocating for change, animal activists can help to improve the lives of animals and promote a more compassionate society, whatever their tactics.  Protests, education campaigns, lobbying the government, even communicating through the arts (check out London’s Patch Plays), are all powerful ways to advocate for animal rights and welfare.

"Voting at the ballot box and consumer choices just don't always create the change the world needs,” adds Animal Rising’s External Media Relations Coordinator Nathan McGovern. “Whether it's progression in marriage equality, breaking down racial segregation or achieving freedom for animals, nonviolent direct action, outreaching and other tactics often create a better world.

 “Ultimately activism reaches far more eyeballs, touches far more hearts, and creates positive change quicker, more often than not."

Of course, it depends on the person as to what style of activism is most effective. Whether it’s disrupting the Grand National like Animal Rising, speaking in schools, going undercover to expose abuse, or taking to social media. One of the brilliant things about activism is that every activist is an individual with their own approach, and every member of the public (our target audience) is also an individual with certain types of approach that will appeal to them. The more diverse activists are, the more people we can meaningfully reach.


“When it comes to activism, the sky really is the limit”, Freedom for Animals’ Norina muses. “Reporting on positive progress such as animal-free circuses and investigative work is not an angle I’d considered before Freedom for Animals, but it’s a brilliant, non-confrontational way to support them as a volunteer. I really feel as though I’ve been able to make a difference to animals used for entertainment.”

There are so many ways to be an activist and always something you can do – sign a petition, send an email, share a social post, or go for it and join a group to meet like-minded animal defenders. Just talking about animal rights is a form of activism, so why not use this blog as a springboard for your own conversations to get started, on International Animal Rights Day or any other? 

“With any other injustice humans are out there fighting for rights. Animals don’t have that voice, so if we don’t act for them, no one else is going to,” Norina continues.

When I’m talking to people on the street after they’ve watched footage of an animal in distress, I say to them: ‘if you were that animal would you want me to speak for you? Put yourself in their position.’ 

“The power of a conversation is really important and can never be underestimated. You never know just who might be changed forever.”

Want some help finding the style of activism that suits you? Check out our free Activism Pack here 

Follow North East Animal Rights on Social Media to stay in the loop about their events, including Close South Lakes Zoo demos and stalls.

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