Ezra Kleinbaum, 9th Grader, Passes Fur Ban in Brookline
In December of 2021, Brookline became the third municipality in Massachusetts to ban the retail sale of fur, all thanks to 9th grader, Ezra Kleinbaum. Read on to learn about Ezra’s experience. You’re never too young to make a difference. As Ezra puts it: “Just because you’re young doesn’t mean your voice isn’t powerful.”
1. What made you interested in this issue? What led you to decide to pursue a bylaw?
Fur stood out to me as an issue that I really wanted to help tackle because it’s extremely cruel to animals, extremely bad for the environment, and extremely unnecessary. There’s absolutely no reason why people need to be killing animals for their fur. There are so many other materials out there that are just as warm, just as soft, just as fluffy, but they don’t involve killing animals, and they’re not nearly as bad for the environment as real fur. I’d been attending and organizing anti-fur protests for a while, and it was so amazing to see store after store commit to go fur free—Saks, Neiman Marcus, Moncler, Canada Goose. Then I heard that the towns Weston and Wellesley, MA had banned the sale of fur, and I thought, if they can do it, Brookline can do it too, and since I live in Brookline, who better to get that done than me?
2. How did you go about figuring out the nuts and bolts of how to navigate the citizen petition process in your town?
When I started working on the Brookline fur sale ban I was in 8th grade. So the first thing I did when I decided I wanted to pass this bylaw was reach out to my social studies teacher. She explained to me the way Brookline’s Town Meeting works, and how to get in touch with my Town Meeting Members. I also had a friend, Shira Fischer, who’s a Town Meeting Member, so I reached out to her, and she sat down with me and explained what a bylaw is, and the process of passing one. She ended up being a co-petitioner on the article. She was and is truly amazing, and I learned so much from her.
3. What were the biggest challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?
My two biggest challenges in passing this bylaw were balancing the work of the fur ban and school, and the opposition I faced at Town Meeting. It was exhausting to spend the whole day at school and go to cross country practice, to come home tired, have homework, and then have to go to a hearing with the Select Board, or the Advisory Committee. Even just having to respond to all the extra emails I got was a challenge at times, but it was definitely manageable, and I’m very glad I did it. The other big challenge I faced was opposition at Town Meeting. There was one person who, upon learning about the proposed bylaw, did everything he could to oppose it. He sent out emails to every Town Meeting Member advocating against it, and he spoke against the proposed ban at Town Meeting. I was pretty worried that people would really listen to and believe him. But in the end, more than two thirds of Town Meeting Members voted in favor of banning the sale of fur in Brookline.
4. What were the main arguments from the opposition and how did you counter them?
One of the main opposing arguments was that people believed that real fur was better for the environment than faux-fur. In response to that, I simply referenced this study conducted by CE Delft, an independent environmental research and consultancy agency, which consults for the European Parliament, among other groups. Their study found that real fur is the worst textile for the environment out of the many commonly used textiles that they tested, including multiple kinds of faux-fur. I also mentioned that the fact that stores can’t sell real fur doesn’t mean they have to sell faux-fur. There are so many sustainable, humane materials out there that people can choose from.
Another big opposing argument was that banning the sale of fur would be the start of a slippery slope. First it would be fur, then leather, then wool, etc. I countered this by reminding people that the fur industry is particularly cruel, and completely unnecessary. There are so many eco-friendly faux-furs available that we can’t justify the suffering that animals endure and the environmental impact posed by producing fur. People know this, and as a result, there is little customer demand for fur-based products, while demand remains stronger for other animal products, such as leather and wool. I said that at the time, I did not intend to pursue a restriction on the sale of other animal-derived materials such as leather and wool, nor did I expect such a restriction could be passed because of the high consumer demand for them.
The last main opposing arguments to the bylaw was: There’s no fur sold in this town. Why are we banning the sale of fur? My response to this was that, while there is no fur sold in Brookline right now, there very well may be fur sold in Brookline in the future, unless we do something to prevent that. The bylaw will act as a preventative measure, preventing the problem from ever occurring, rather than dealing with it once it does. I also reminded them that since there was no fur sold in Brookline at the time, this would be the best time to ban the sale of fur, because no businesses will be affected when the article goes into effect.
5. Given that Brookline has a representative Town Meeting form of government, what tactics do you think were most effective to reach/influence the Town Meeting Members?
I think the best way to reach and influence Town Meeting Members is simply to talk to with them and build a social network. When I became friendly with various Town Meeting Members, they would start introducing me to other Town Meeting Members who, if I was friendly with them, would often introduce me to their friends, etc. Especially, if you can make one good connection in each precinct, they can help you set up meetings with all the TMMs from their precinct.
6. Is there any follow-up work to be done after passing an ordinance?
The only thing that still needs to happen is for the Massachusetts attorney general to sign off on the bylaw.
7. Is there anything you would have done differently?
There’s nothing I would have done differently. I certainly made some mistakes along the way, but they helped me learn and grow, and I won’t make them again if I pursue another bylaw.
8. Did anything surprise you at any point during the process?
It really surprised me how much opposition there was to a ban on the sale of fur. Especially since there was no fur sold in Brookline, even at the time. Although, most of the opposition stemmed from just one person.
The other thing that surprised me, was how accepting people were to me as an 8th/9th grader (I started towards the end of 8th grade, and finished towards the beginning of 9th grade) participating in politics. People were excited to have me there. They were excited that a young person was getting involved. They’re very used to lots of adults, so they were thrilled to see a young person participating in the political process.
9. What advice would you give other people who want to pass an animal protection law in their city or town?
My advice to people who want to pass an animal protection law in their city or town would be to just go for it. Figure out what you need to do, how to do it, and then just get it done. It can be very intimidating to think about passing laws, but it’s a lot less scary, and a lot more simple, once you’re actually doing it. Most people will be very excited to see a new person getting involved with politics, especially with an issue you care about, and they’ll go out of their way to help you out. I would also say, try to find one person (a Town Meeting Member, or a City Councilor, etc.) who’s solidly on your side who you can go to for help or advice, or to ask questions. Also, I’d suggest trying to anticipate what any resistance to your policy might look like so you can be prepared to respond to it.
10. Do you feel being young impacted your effort in any way? What advice would you have for other young people interested in passing a local animal protection law in their community?
I definitely feel that being young impacted my effort. People were very excited to see me getting involved with politics on an issue I care about. So much so, that they were willing and excited to help me out where they could. They wanted me to feel welcome so that I’d stay involved. To other young people looking to pass local animal protection laws, I’d say go for it. Just because you’re young doesn’t mean your voice isn’t powerful. It doesn’t mean you don’t have any influence or power. Your voice is strong, powerful, it needs to be heard, and people are willing to listen.