This weekend, in Little Rock, Arkansas, the forces for and against animal testing will clash. Little Rock is home to Stephens, Inc., an investment firm that is the #1 investor in Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), and was the chief financier of a $33 million bail-out package that saved the failing lab from foreclosure in January of this year. Without Stephens, HLS would probably be bankrupt by now. HLS is Europe's largest animal testing corporation and operates testing centers in East Millstone, New Jersey and England. 180,000 animals die every year at HLS laboratories including dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, rabbits, fish, mice and farm animals. That's 500 every day.
In the other corner of the ring is SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty), which describes itself as "always playing on the offensive". SHAC has planned three days of action in Little Rock, from October 27-29, that will include panels of distinguished speakers, activist workshops, a vegan barbecue, and a "Parade of Homes of Stephens Management". Monday will bring what SHAC hopes will be "one of the biggest and most significant demonstrations in the history of the US animal rights movement". SHAC wants to force Stephens to pull its money out of HLS, which could sink the lab.
The battle in Little Rock has already been underway, however. Stephens has rented out blocks of rooms in local hotels so out-of-towners will have nowhere to stay, has pressured the city council to tighten local laws pertaining to demonstrations, has banned all its employees from attending SHAC events, and has placed full page ads in the local newspaper promoting vivisection as a legitimate tool of research. SHAC is also running ads in newspapers and on the radio, and has had supporters jam phone lines and email accounts of Stephens regional offices across the country.
Meanwhile, the campaign against HLS has enjoyed three recent successes. First, the company announced that it will be moving its finances from the UK to the United States, a choice that HLS Managing Director Brian Cass stated earlier this year would signify that SHAC had "effectively won." Then, HLS was dropped from the Over The Counter Bulletin Board, a stock exchange reserved for dying companies. Lastly, Oracle Partners, the third largest investor in HLS, announced that it would be divesting itself of its 23 million shares, which is approximately 8% of the company.
Some activists are expecting rough treatment in Little Rock; Stephens has been running radio ads -- through a front organization called Partnership for Hope and Discovery -- comparing the people who lost their lives on September 11th attempting to rescue people from the WTC to vivisectors that spend 40 hours a week experimenting on animals. The not so subtle implicatin that animal rights activists are terrorists is an old saw, but it has more bite in our current, war-time climate. Little Rock law enforcement could very well be brutal in their response to activity on the street. According to Portland activists, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers' Guild are already been on the ground there to avert misbehavior by the authorities.
Stephens, Inc. is a front for Bank of America. Local activists have protested and passed out literature in front of B of A several times this year already to highlight their complicity in HLS. Stories and Photos
A solidarity action for the Little Rock event will take place in Portland on Monday, October 29. Watch the Newswire for details.
An intriguing aspect of this struggle against HLS is that it is a winnable fight. HLS has already been at the brink of financial failure due to the efforts of activists; the blow of losing support from Stephens would likely sink them completely. SHAC has declared, "We must make Stephens Inc. regret they ever heard the name HLS." It looks like they've got a good shot at succeeding.
There is no Indymedia Center in Little Rock, so Portland Indymedia plans to devote attention to this event. A Portland Indymedia reporter will be on the scene to report back regularly about everything that she sees.
This article borrows heavily from SHAC's October 29 website, where you can find more information and links.