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Five Activists Who Have Left a Lasting Legacy

We each get only one life, and what better measure of that life than the positive change we create for others whilst we are here?

Do you ever think about how you will be remembered? Or whether you will have changed the world?

When I think about what I want to do with my life, I like to look to incredible activists who are sadly no longer with us, but changed the world for the animals whilst they were!

So let’s take a look at a few of these people, who they were, and how their work shaped the animal protection movement.

Steve Wise

Let’s begin by honouring a remarkable man who sadly left very recently: I was saddened to hear the news that Steve Wise passed away on 15th February 2024.

‘Like name, like nature’ the saying goes, and he was nothing if not wise. Steve’s wisdom and vision shaped legal history, and his legacy lives on in his groundbreaking legal work within the US animal rights movement.

Wise’s tireless advocacy and exceptional leadership as president of the Nonhuman Rights Project laid the groundwork for non-human animal rights in law.

Famously, the project represented ‘Happy’, an elephant confined in a New York zoo, in a case that garnered a great deal of publicity. Under Wise’s leadership, the project also helped develop and pass the first animal rights law in the country in 2023 – an ordinance that protects elephants’ right to liberty.

Similarly, his efforts – on behalf of chimpanzees, Hercules, and Leo – challenging the legality of their captivity, were firsts in legal history. They led to unprecedented comments by judges that may shape the way for the future recognition of animal rights.

At Animal Equality, while our primary focus is on farmed animals, we advocate for the recognition of all animals as intelligent and sensitive beings. Much like Wise, we work to pave the way for animals to receive increased legal protections, striving to better protect animals for generations to come.

Benjamin Zephaniah

Just over two months before Wise died in the US, the UK lost a visionary of its own: esteemed animal advocate and poet, Benjamin Zephaniah.

Many will feel that his passing has left a void in the creative world of compassion and activism.

Although Zephaniah didn’t litigate in courtrooms, his impactful words resonated profoundly in the court of public opinion.

Beyond his roles as an honorary patron of a number of high profile vegan organisations, Zephaniah’s most enduring legacy lies in his evocative writing. Through poetry like ‘Vegan Delight’ he touched the lives of many young vegans, promoting plant-based alternatives, celebrating their diversity, and debunking common misconceptions related to the plant-based diet.

His poems such as ‘Talking Turkeys’ (about being “nice” to your turkeys at Christmas) also forced many to reconsider their relationship with animals, reminding us of their ability to ‘feel pain’ and ‘have fun’. For children all over the country, his work may well have been their first exposure to the fact that animals don’t want to be eaten, and that a plant-based diet provides a compassionate alternative.

Like Animal Equality’s team, Zephaniah worked to spark meaningful conversations and prompt individuals to reflect on their relationship with animals. As we navigate the challenges of advocating for animal rights, we can all draw valuable lessons from Zephaniah’s compassion, creativity, and steadfast commitment to the cause.

Linda McCartney 

Animal advocacy can take many forms – just look at Linda McCartney’s successes! She showed us that activism can flourish in the kitchen and in the world of business!

McCartney was a pioneer in recognising that change for animals starts with changing what people eat. Despite facing ridicule and scepticism when she embarked on her mission, she fearlessly pursued her vision.

Recognising the barriers that prevent people from adopting plant-based diets, McCartney revolutionised the market with her reasonably priced, easy-to-prepare products, available in almost any supermarket freezer. Three decades later, her brand remains one of the most successful celebrity food brands ever.

Personally, I always keep a stash of her products in my freezer for quick, delicious meals!.

But beyond her culinary creations, McCartney taught us a valuable lesson: stay true to your convictions, even in the face of criticism. Just because others may mock or doubt you, it doesn’t mean you should waver in your commitment to what you know is right.

Henry Spira

By Kim Bartlett – Animal People, Inc., CC BY-NC 4.0 DEED

Here at Animal Equality, we know that for change to happen, powerful ideas need to reach people and people need to campaign on the issues with the highest potential for impact. 

With that in mind, let’s delve into the remarkable life of Henry Spira, whose impactful work left a lasting mark on the animal protection movement. His story was immortalised in philosophist Peter Singer’s book ‘Ethics Into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement.’ 

Spira believed in the power of consumers to make a difference for animals. His campaigns brought about real change: he pushed for alternatives to cruel tests on animals for cosmetics, like Revlon products, and he exposed the truth about chickens suffering within the Purdue Farms supply chain.

His groundbreaking strategies underpinned the approach taken by many organisations, like Animal Equality, prompting decisions to take on heavy-hitting company engagement campaigns that drive critical corporate change for animals.

Regan Russell

By Louisejorgy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Finally, I want to take a moment to remember an activist who laid down her life on the front-line, and who will always be a powerful reminder of the determination and commitment of so many grassroots activists.

Regan Russell did something extraordinary with her life.

She was a prominent vegan activist who drew international attention after attending a pig vigil outside a slaughterhouse in Toronto, Canada in June 2020.

She was part of a courageous group of activists who blocked the path of a truck full of pigs, which were being driven to slaughter. The truck stopped at traffic lights, and the activists provided water to the pigs in a final act of compassion.

However when the light went green, the driver drove off, striking Russell. She was dragged by the truck, which ultimately killed her. The driver pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death.

Russell’s story caused a wave of anger around the world. When she is remembered, so are the thousands of pigs who also die in these slaughterhouses. Her death inspired activists all over the world to hold vigils and stand up for animals, and for others to sign petitions and support the work of NGOs globally to end the cruel killing of farmed animals.


We all have the potential to use our lives to make a difference for others. How do you want to be remembered?

Sometimes when you read about the lives of extraordinary people it’s difficult to imagine our own ordinary lives having a significant impact on the world after we’ve gone.

Sure… maybe you won’t make legal history or create a household name brand that shapes consumer habits, and we are certainly not asking you to lay down your life for animals…

But there is something easy that you can do right now to fight against injustice, long before your own time has passed.

In a few easy steps, you can leave a legacy gift in your will to animals. It’s much simpler to do than you might think!

Alegacy allows you to make sure that the movements and organisations that you care about have the resources to keep your fight going long after you are gone.

Will you fight for animals?

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