As someone who's been jailed wearing a carrot suit and while protesting in the nude, Dan Mathews tells what it's like to crusade for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Committed: A Rabble Rouser's Memoir.
Your book makes clear that being an activist who keeps winding up in jail (if not the psych ward) requires a sense of humor.
If you've dedicated your life to a cause, then it's easy to burn out if you don't have a very lighthearted outlook. I think that's why I've been going for more than 20 years now. Sure, we face unbelievable odds: you've got a lot of huge industries that we're trying to change or even bring down. And you have to be kind of crazy to endeavor something like that, I think. But we're doing it.
What do you say to those who criticize the sensationalism of some of your tactics?
Oh, they're absolutely right. But I'd rather go too far than not far enough. Having done this my whole life, I know that when you ask nicely, people generally ignore you. Furriers pay designers to use fur on the runway, but we don't have enough money to pay them not to use fur, so we have to figure out what our currency is. Often, our currency is intimidation and public embarrassment. It would be great if we could have intellectual debates about these issues, but that's not the world we live in.
Though your book is less a treatise on animal rights issues than a memoir, do you expect the book to have a positive effect on the issue?
I think so. Most people don't want to be told what to think or how to act. So the first thing I want people to walk away with is that the book is funny. Even the jarring chapters have their irreverent elements. But then, when people find out what actually transpires in the book, they will come away with the sense that we no longer live in a time in which people can be so insensitive to animals.
Having faced adversity throughout your life—as a gay man, for example—did you have deeper motivations for writing your memoir?
I've always moonlighted as a writer, doing odd jobs writing for magazines. So I consider myself as much a humorist as I do an activist. But also, keeping one's sense of priorities as an individual and not giving in to society or family pressures is very important to me. As much as it's about animal rights, it's about being who you are and not being what everyone else wants you to be.