Pelted!

When an animal rights activist came up against Neiman Marcus, she had more than some dead fur to contend with

"Now they will do anything they can to get publicity," says Sandy Parker, publisher of the Sandy Parker Report, a furrier trade journal. "They are people who need to get noticed."

Animal Liberation of Texas (ALT), which is headed by Lydia Nichols, and Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT), which is led by Nichols' boyfriend J.P. Goodwin, share the same headquarters--the small, secluded one-bedroom apartment in northeast Dallas where the couple lives. Nichols pays the rent, Goodwin pays the utility bills. CAFT is in the corner of the living room; ALT is 25 feet away in the corner of the bedroom. Here, on two computers, the two zealots churn out their press releases and propaganda-toned logs of life in the animal rights movement. Nichols has a full-time job as an executive secretary for a commercial real-estate company, but spends 30 hours a week running the business of her non-profit organization--writing newsletters, brochures, and press releases, keeping track of donations, and rallying her troops who, she claims, number more than 250 members. She says only 10 percent of her efforts are dedicated to actual protesting.

ALT's mission is front-line action. CAFT, on the other hand, focuses on developing the animal rights cause itself, helping small groups throughout the country organize and network. Goodwin does animal rights work full time, living off the largesse of contributions to his cause made by a handful of CAFT's 450 volunteers.

Next to Goodwin's particle-board desk are 12 neatly stacked milk crates of files and a small wastebasket with a shredder attached to it. The fax machine doubles as a copier. On the desk are copies of Fur World magazine and some books, one titled The Road to Victory: The complete guide to winning political campaigns. Another is a cookbook: Diet for a New America. Nichols and Goodwin maintain a strict "vegan" lifestyle: Not only do they not eat meat, dairy, or egg products, but there are no animal products whatsoever in their home--no leather goods, furniture, or clothes--fake leather shoes are as close as they come.

The couple have a caller ID box on both phone lines. "We started getting lots of hang-ups from Neiman Marcus," Goodwin claims. On the coffee table are pictures of his chest and face, scraped and bloodied during a protest--all in a day's work. They have a pet--a three-legged chinchilla named Libby. Chinchilla rodents are bred for their softer-than-silk pelts and are being showcased on the runways of Paris and New York.

Goodwin got involved in animal rights during high school in Memphis. At the time, his issue was music censorship. In 1989 he went to Oxford, Mississippi, to see a punk band called Dead Silence. The group had an animal rights agenda and passed out literature that convinced him that humans are herbivores, not the carnivores we are socialized to be. Two years later, using the $1,000 that his grandmother promised each of her grandchildren who never touched cigarettes, he went to Wisconsin for a mink farming convention. Posing as an aspiring mink farmer, he got all sorts of information that he then distributed to various animal rights organizations. He founded CAFT in 1994 to teach organizational skills to fledgling activist groups.

Lydia Nichols was always an animal lover, living on the rural outskirts of Houston with snakes, rats, hamsters, rabbits, cats, even an owl as pets. But it was as a college student that she became involved in animal rights--after watching the notorious Faces of Death video, where she saw for the first time how beef was farmed and heard the wails of cattle being led to slaughter. The next day she was eating a cheeseburger when those bovine moans began to haunt her. It reminded her of the time she was eight and witnessed a neighbor shooting a stray dog. "He kept shooting him and shooting him and he wouldn't die," she says. She then joined a campus animal rights group, where she was horrified to learn the methods used to kill animals. "These animals live in horrible conditions. They have their necks broken. They are in pain--for the sole purpose of fashion. There is no justification for it."

Nichols met Goodwin at an animal rights conference in Washington D.C. almost three years ago. Shortly afterward, Goodwin moved CAFT out of his parents' house in Memphis and relocated to Dallas so he could be with Nichols. It was 1996 when they first got arrested together, during a campaign against Macy's, for handcuffing themselves to the store doors while chanting anti-fur slogans--"Boycott Macy's! Fur is dead!" They saw it as successful civil disobedience, since soon afterward Macy's shut down all 15 of its fur salons west of the Mississippi River. Macy's dismisses any correlation between the protests and what they call a regional business decision, but Nichols and Goodwin claim it as their greatest victory to date.

The Macy's protests were organized by TEAR--Texas Establishment for Animal Rights--a group from which Nichols broke off to form ALT. She wanted fewer meetings and congressional letter-writing campaigns and more protests in the streets. Regardless of the acronym, the four animal rights organizations headquartered in Dallas (ALT, TEAR, CAFT, and ACT--the Animal Coalition of Texas) all work together. Goodwin says there are about 150 animal rights activists in Dallas, about 25 of whom are serious about the cause.

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