Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “Politics is human beings; it’s addition rather than subtraction.”
In general, we become stronger as we add others to our community or coalition, and weaker when we subtract or exclude participants. However, how do we work with others, especially when their fundamental values may differ from ours? Should we work with them at all? Many in our community are voicing their opinions on these topics after seeing, or hearing about a poster by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ annual conference, in Seattle, Wash.
This poster highlighted PETA’s work confronting abuse and neglectful conditions for animals in collaboration with individual AZA members – not AZA itself. However, as I stated during our record-breaking Annual Conference’s general session on Wednesday, I embrace and practice the “politics of addition.” We will work with organizations when our values and objectives align and oppose them when they do not. Some relationships will be more enduring, complete and lasting than others, but none are permanent.
In 1848, England’s Lord Henry John Temple Palmerston said, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
Later, Sir Winston Churchill abbreviated Lord Palmerston’s adage like this, “We have no lasting friends, no lasting enemies, only lasting interests.”
We will build relationships and partnerships based upon our lasting interests.
Regarding the specific poster of concern, posters are selected by the conference program committee, which is made up of a diverse assemblage of AZA members from AZA’s committees. The 2018 Program Committee delivered what is, unquestionably, one of the best and most engaging lineups of sessions, speakers, and posters ever assembled for an AZA conference. The individual who presented the PETA poster is, in fact, an AZA individual member, and PETA’s representatives have also attended past conferences and have always acted professionally and respectfully.
Yes, there are some topics about which our organizations disagree. On some, our disagreement is quite strong, and our interests are in diametric opposition. So, that’s why AZA has no “partnership” with PETA. However, that shouldn’t prevent us from working with them when we have aligned interests. We both seek to end illegal wildlife trafficking; to eliminate animal abuse and unethical animal attractions; and to teach people to respect and conserve nature.
As U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director (and an avid waterfowl hunter), I had the responsibility to set the annual seasons, limits and conditions that allowed the harvest (i.e., killing) of several million ducks, geese, and doves each year. I oversaw and authorized the import of thousands of hunting trophies annually. PETA strongly opposes all hunting. However, if I could find common cause to work with them to help prevent the poaching of elephants, or trafficking of pangolin, I wouldn’t let their opposition to hunting get in the way. We would, respectfully, agree to disagree about hunting, and get to work saving elephants and pangolin.
It is in our best interest to do the same, using opportunity and ally to advocate for ourselves and our work. When we develop a more positive relationship with diverse audiences – even if they disagree with us on some things – we increase their awareness and understanding of what we do and reduce the potential for them to treat us as adversaries.
Maya Angelou said it best, “We do the best we can with what we know, and when we know better, we do better.”
I believe that having people from animal protection groups attend our conference, as long as they are professional and respectful, positions us to know better and hopefully, do better.