Nirva Patel and Family Pass Lexington Fur Sales Ban
After having won a successful campaign in Weston to ban the retail sale of fur, Nirva Patel turned her focus to Lexington. Working closely with her father-in-law, who lives in Lexington, and her kids, Nirva was able to help Lexington bring their own fur ban bylaw across the finish line, this one with even more protections than the Weston ban. In the interview below, Nirva shares her experiences with us, including the differences between the two towns.
What made you interested in this issue? What led you to decide to pursue a bylaw?
Fur is an incredibly cruel process and consumers completely confuse and intermingle luxury with cruelty when purchasing fur. Fur represents one of those artificial constructions based on the exploitation of animals that somehow rose to the level of granting people social status when worn. If we take fur for what it is – wearing another mammal’s skin and protection against the cold which probably took thousands of years of evolution to create – and then transforming it to a jacket or pom-pom hat, is kind of ridiculous. Bylaws awaken minds and ignite a quest for deeper knowledge on established norms. Most people go on with their busy lives, struggles and chaos without having the liberty to think about the ethics of consumerism. I know that many folks in Weston were very innocent about fur and had absolutely no idea how fur is sourced, manufactured or marketed. A town hall is a captive audience and people wanted to know more.
You’ve worked on bylaws in both Weston and Lexington. Weston has an open town meeting and Lexington has a representative town meeting – how did the process and approach vary for each?
It is fascinating how town governments can function differently. Weston’s town meeting occurred on one beautiful sunny day on the high school football grounds. People rolled in and out all day and citizen petitioners were called up one by one to a podium with a microphone. I gave a speech and then the moderator allowed one rebuttal followed by a call for a vote. They do not count the votes but eyeball whether a majority vote was met. Lexington was very different and the town hall takes place over many days. The meeting begins with an entire band of bagpipe players and traditional ceremony. The representative town meeting provides an opportunity for anyone interested in challenging the bylaw to speak up prior to the actual vote. At the vote itself, we had no questions. The challenging aspect was the signatures required to get on the town meeting agenda. Weston required 50 hand written signatures – despite it being the pandemic time when no one wanted to touch your pen! Lexington’s requirement was 10 signatures.
Which was easier/harder and why?
Lexington had more meetings and required more preparation but got easier as we proceeded along. The hardest meeting is the first one with the Select Board. If you coast through that, you are unlikely to be met with surprising questions at the Town Meeting. Weston was somewhat stressful because I was not sure who would ask what. I had to be prepared in my speech to anticipate any question. When a Weston citizen rebutted by petition, I was not allowed to respond so my bylaw rested on the merits of the initial speech. I was worried that she had the last word, but confident that my speech was extensive enough to cover her concern.
Did you have any mentors and/or people in town government to help you understand the process?
The town clerk in both towns was excellent and helped answer procedural questions. Lexington had many folks assisting with the language and guiding us along the way. They cautioned us about the online sales component and expressed concern about the bylaw being rejected due to that online sales component. We insisted on keeping it in, and it passed. Lexington is the first town in Massachusetts that makes it illegal for a resident of Lexington to purchase fur online and have it delivered home. While it is difficult to monitor online sales, the precedent is pretty fantastic.
What tactics do you think were most effective to reach/influence the voters (Weston) and town meeting members (Lexington)? In Weston, I was careful not to come across judgy but rather from a place of compassion. By conveying that people are generally good and do not want to see animals suffer or have anything to do with it, they agreed that fur vendors intentionally hide the cruelty and confuse them into believing that fur is the warmest fabric. Both Weston and Lexington are animal loving societies – everywhere you go, you see people walking dogs and enjoying nature. By reminding and applauding citizens of their compassion towards animals and nature, it was obvious to them that purchasing fur was not consistent. In Weston, I contacted the one business that sells small fur items. I had a long conversation with the store owner and talked to her about the cruelty in fur products. She was so amazed by the bylaw and mentioned that her daughter is vegetarian. She decided to phase out those products and even offer a quote to us to use for the presentation. It was incredibly powerful to reach out to small businesses who may be impacted by a fur sale. To this day, we are in touch and I tell everyone about her fabulous store – Trove on Boston Post Road.
Is there anything you would have done differently in either town?
Since the bans were successful, I think we did everything with an open mind and a lot of hard work. We thanked everyone involved and Kara even sent my kids (who created the PowerPoint presentation) a very sweet thank you card that they cherish!
What advice would you give other people who want to pass a fur ban in their city or town?
- Understand how your town government works and figure out when the town meeting is scheduled.
- Find out the citizens petition procedure – how many signatures do you need and get started on those. Stay in close connection with the Town Manager and don’t be afraid to ask any questions, big or small.
- Create a presentation and review the towns that have passed fur bans. Many town website archives will have the recordings and you can learn how other citizen petitioners have fielded difficult questions.
- Work with the MSPCA and HSUS who have incredible experience on fur bans in Massachusetts. They work together so well and will be your strongest allies.
- Remind yourself daily why you are doing this great work!
What were the main arguments from the opposition and how did you counter them?
The main argument in Weston was that we do not have significant enough fur sales to require a ban. I was asked this by people at the Town Dump (the only place open during Covid) when I had to collect signatures. I responded by explaining that town laws are sometimes reactionary and sometimes preemptive. If we do not ban the sale of fur, and a fur business does come to Weston, our conviction to ban fur becomes more nuanced and difficult when jobs are dependent upon a cruel trade. If we discourage fur sales to begin with, we do not hence create a business economy dependent on an unsavory business. In Lexington, the conversation focused on the environmental harms of fur. We did not get any push back but rather, incredible support for the environment and the sacred nature of animals that belong to nature.
Did anything surprise you at any point during the process in either town?
Not a surprise, but an appreciation for the hearts and minds of fellow citizens. I saw people in Weston raising their hands clapping and cheering and it actually made me tear up as I gave my talk. In Lexington, a town board member talked about how much he loves his dog and how it was his dog’s birthday on the date of the vote. His love and compassion extended to the suffering of so many innocent wild animals and it was heartening to see. It was incredible to work with Kara on both bylaws and to share such a special victory for animals. Getting my kids and father-in-law involved in Lexington and the way they ran with it, holding up the torch for animals was also just beautiful to see.