Charlotte Laws: Rebel with a Cause
By Denise Fleck
In her tell-all memoir, Rebel in High Heels, long-time animal activist, Charlotte Laws, shares lessons learned in building character, being creative and developing both courage and confidence. “I learned about character when I was forced to rely upon my own conscience because the values of my community seemed skewed,” she explains. “I learned about ‘creativity’ when I finagled a three year relationship with my longtime celebrity crush [the hip swiveling Tom Jones]…I learned about ‘courage’ when I crashed ferociously guarded VIP events…to converse with the President, and when I went toe-to-toe with bullies and racists.” Short in stature but ferocious in mindset, Laws persevered, which gave her the confidence to fight and defeat internet criminals.
Character, creativity, courage and confidence are also traits that have made Laws well-known in the U.S. animal community. She is a television commentator, public speaker, and former Southern California politician. Plus, she was a weekly pundit on the NBC show “The Filter” for four years. Her articles have appeared in Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, the Washington Post and the Daily News. She holds a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from USC and has completed post-doctoral coursework at Oxford University, England. The founder and president of two organizations: Directors of Animal Welfare (DAW) and the League for Earth and Animal Protection (LEAP), Laws received the Los Angeles Animal Humanitarian Award in 2006.
During her time as a city commissioner and as a member of the Greater Valley Glen Council in Southern California, she fought to make sure the definition of “stakeholder” included non-humans. “I felt it was important to protect their interests,” she states, as she was the first politician to run on the platform that she would represent all beings in her district, not just the humans whom she maintains are the elite. Although no longer in public office, she continues to promote the idea of moving from a democracy to an omniocracy— a government with representation for all living beings. Laws penned a most fascinating chapter in a 2015 anthology entitled, Animals and the Environment: Advocacy, activism and the quest for common ground about this very subject.
“When the root word ‘demos,’ meaning ‘people’ or ‘populace,’ is used to describe a country’s political system, it places those who are not human in an inferior status, and in a compromised position,” Laws writes. “Demo-cracy is no more fair and equal than would be a white-ocracy or a rich-ocracy. Omni-ocracy (‘omni’ means ‘all’) is one possible political system that offers an alternative vision.”
Laws states her case that both animal and earth advocates must encourage political leaders to widen their lens by embracing nonhumans as constituents. In her view, environmentalists focus on the whole—ecosystem, natural processes or sustainable management of resources—while animal activists focus on each individual sentient being because it is the individual who writhes in pain, not the species, ecosystem, forest, or stream. Caring for the needs of both the individual and the whole is important.
While her latest book, Rebel in High Heels, chronicles Laws’ dangerous battle against revenge porn and the first 22 years of her life in a dysfunctional adopted family, she gives readers a sneak peek at how caring for those who cannot speak for themselves became a major focus of her adult life. “I began [the war on revenge porn] to help my daughter when her private photo was hacked and posted on a pernicious website run by a 25-year-old who called himself a ‘professional life-ruiner.’ I soon learned that there were hundreds of other victims who needed my help…and when I expanded my efforts, I became known as the Erin Brockovich of revenge porn.”
Laws could also be known as the Erin Brockovich for animal rights; she has been a lecturer at animal rights conferences and at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. At Quantico, she spoke to police chiefs from around the world about why nonhuman animals should be granted protection and legal rights. In addition, Laws will never forget her experience rescuing starving pigeons from a boarded up house, a middle-of-the-night mission that arguably qualified as an act of domestic terrorism under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). “An activist can be convicted of domestic terrorism when she breaks the law to rescue animals or to boycott their abuse,” Laws says. “The AETA chills speech. It is vague, overly broad and can redefine civil disobedience, recasting it as terrorism.”
In Rebel in High Heels, Laws describes the first time she saw humans killing animals while vacationing at the family cabin. She writes, “I rose a little later than usual and wandered down the winding dirt path to the dock where I found my father, mother, brother and our schoolmates fishing. ‘Why are you murdering fish?’ I asked in a genuinely curious way. ‘Why don’t you join us?’ Mom cast her line into the water. ‘Nah,’ I wandered back up the hill alone. I felt empathy for the fish, and the word ‘murder’ seemed appropriate. Although I ate meat, had never heard of vegetarianism and had seen actors in movies fishing and hunting, this was the first time I had been confronted with the actual killing of another creature. I had an immediate distaste for the idea.”
This caused Laws to grow up empathizing with underdogs regardless of whether they were animal or human. On a mountaintop with her dog, she had a spiritual experience in which she realized her mission in life should be centered on annihilating prejudice. This was followed by another epiphany at age 21. While waiting for a friend to arrive for a lunch engagement, she picked up a book to occupy her time: Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. After half an hour of reading, her life was forever changed. At lunch that day, she realized the platters of sausage and bacon were dead animals—former beings who’d had needs and desires. They were victims of speciesism (the false and prejudiced belief that humans are superior to other living creatures). Laws never ate meat again and dedicated her life to animal advocacy.
Laws hopes that the first two decades of her journey as told in Rebel in High Heels will inspire readers to persevere, help others and live in the bold zone, “The bold zone is the area beyond one’s ‘comfort zone’ where fierceness resides,” she explains. “It requires ‘showing up,’ taking calculated chances, going at life with gusto and becoming an accomplished, caring and relentless force of nature.” This is something anyone who has fought for an animal can relate to, whether one socializes feral cats, protests meat eating, or endlessly seeks the perfect forever home for a rescue. Perseverance is the key to success, and a life is well-lived when assisting a sentient creature in one’s care. Laws views othercentrism (helping others) as the key to happiness. Those who work tirelessly to save lives and better the world for all of its inhabitants would no doubt agree with her.
Rebel in High Heels is available in bookstores and on Amazon, and it should come as no surprise that the author currently shares her life with three rescued dogs and eight rescued chickens. She says, “Nonhumans are truly the voiceless, the marginalized and the forgotten. I encourage people to hear their desperate cries, be sympathetic to their needs and protect their interests.”
Award-winning author, Denise Fleck, is the founder of Sunny-dog Ink, a company that helps people and their pets through Pet First Aid & CPR training. She is a former Paramount Studio publicist and developed the curriculum for high school animal care as a joint project between the Burbank Unified School District (BUSD) and the Burbank Animal Shelter. She has authored nine books, including Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover and has twice been a finalist for the Pet Industry’s “Woman of the Year” award. You can contact her through her website at www.Sunnydogink.com