Kris Kelly talks to the BBC political pundit and author, Charlotte Laws, about her life and memoir.
Dr. Charlotte Laws is an Emmy-nominated TV star, a former California politician and a vegan, known for her dedication to the animal rights cause. Her memoir, Undercover Debutante: The Search for My Birth Parents and a Bald Husband (Stroud House, 2019), is a best-seller and won a Publisher’s Weekly award.
Could you talk about the time you were hired to lecture at the FBI Academy? Many in the animal rights community were against it. They thought you’d “name names”, and they called you a “traitor” for agreeing to talk to the enemy – the government.
CL: True. Some people called me a “traitor”, but they meant it in a nice way (laughter). And, of course, the “naming names” part was ridiculous. I didn’t have any “names”!
It all started when I got a phone call from an FBI special agent at the Academy. He wanted to hire me to fly to Quantico, Virginia to lecture police chiefs from around the world about animal rights philosophy.
I agreed to take the job. My lecture included undercover footage from inside a vivisection lab. It was disturbing to watch, but it made an impact on the audience. One FBI agent yelled from the back of the room, “The FBI will prosecute this sort of cruelty if videos like this are brought to our attention.” I had to explain that torturing and abusing animals is generally legal in these labs. The illegal part is getting the footage.
It’s horrible what goes on behind closed doors. When did your compassion for animals begin?
CL: I’ve pretty much always had a soft spot for those who are oppressed, silenced, marginalized, and forgotten. Back in childhood, it may have had something to do with feeling like an outcast myself. I didn’t fit into the wealthy, debutante society of Atlanta where I was raised. Plus, I had a bleak home life. My adoptive mother committed suicide, my adopted brother was killed in a car wreck at 16, and my adoptive dad was verbally abusive. I felt trapped. I wanted to escape. I don’t mean to equate my situation with theirs, but factory farm animals are also trapped. They are treated as mere commodities and desperately want to escape.
That’s true. Did you become an animal advocate in childhood?
CL: I suppose the awareness began, on some level, when I was a little girl. I was at our family’s vacation cabin in Lake Lanier, Georgia. I remember wandering onto the dock where I found my adoptive parents, adopted brother, and a couple of school mates fishing. I asked them, “Why are you murdering fish?” No one answered my question. My mother asked if I wanted to join them. I said no and left.
It’s interesting that I used the word “murder”, because I’d never thought about the issue. I’d never been introduced to animal rights. My father went hunting on weekends and owned cattle as a sideline investment. I knew nothing about veganism or vegetarianism. In fact, I ate meat because that’s all I knew as a child. I grew up in a community that viewed animals as property.
Most people viewed animals as property back in the 1960s. The US legal system and political system still categorise them that way.
CL: True. And I don’t support a democratic government. Democracy is a totalitarian regime in which the powerful (humans) use, abuse, murder, and manipulate non-humans for the former’s own perceived gain. Democracy is of, by, and for the people. Non-humans are ignored. Their interests are ignored. Their needs are ignored.
I support a government with representation for all living beings, and I call it omniocracy. Omniocracy is a government of, by, and for all living beings. I think our political system needs to make this shift. All interests count. All interests are worthy of consideration.
Let me get back to your life. When did you stop eating meat? Was it after the lake house incident?
CL: No. I continued to eat meat. I never really thought about the issue until my early 20s when I was waiting for a friend to join me for breakfast at the Circus Circus in Las Vegas. I’d bought Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation, without much thought, and I started reading it that morning. I read about speciesism. I was mortified! I was so upset with myself! I’d always fought against prejudice, yet I’d been oppressing animals by eating them! I’d been a speciesist! To make a long story short, I had no meat at breakfast and never ate meat again.
Thanks for your animal advocacy, Dr. Laws, and good luck with your book.