Purpose Is Power – An Interview With Senior VP of PETA, Lisa Lange

Purpose Is Power – An Interview With Senior VP Of PETA, Lisa Lange

Lisa Lange is a powerful, influential change-maker woman whose actions and words have significantly contributed to animal rights. Lange is the Senior Vice President of PETA, the world’s most prominent animal rights organization, with a total of 6.5 million members.

Lisa Lange of PETA
Lisa Lange of PETA

Lisa Lange is a powerful, influential, change-making woman whose actions and words have significantly contributed to animal rights. Lange is the Senior Vice President of Communications at PETA, the world’s most prominent animal rights organization with 6.5 million members. Since a teenager, Lisa has pursued her passion for radical change. Whilst maintaining an executive position working closely with A-list celebrities, influential directors, and many leading brand names, Lisa still leads a frontline position, and puts her life in threat regardless. She has been badly beaten, spat at, seriously injured, experienced multiple death threats, and yet she remains steadfast and unbroken.

During my interview with Lisa, I couldn’t help but want to ask a flurry of questions about courage, but in her very modest approach, Lisa also shares the lesson of how pursuing our purpose makes us an unstoppable force. She Can Magazine is grateful to Lisa for sharing her deeply felt truths on motivations for change, women-run organizations, women’s relationship to power, and advice to women who want to participate in bringing about change.

Wearing a "SeaWorld Sucks" T-shirt, PETA staffer Lisa Lange is roughly and forcibly removed by SeaWorld security during a James Cromwell-led demo at an orca show, meant to draw attention to the many premature deaths that have occurred at the marine animal park over the years. Other activists link arms in the background.
Lisa Lange arrested in duck costume in Peta protest
Lisa shares her hilarious story of being handcuffed and arrested as mother goose. Demo outside D’Artagnon Foie Gras seller in New York 1995.

A Career Of Virtue, Valor, and Influence

Lisa holds considerable influence in the media and works closely with celebrity PETA supporters, including Joaquin Phoenix, Bill Maher, Eva Mendes, Casey Affleck, and Alec Baldwin. She also networks with Hollywood directors, producers, and writers, convincing them to incorporate animal-friendly messages into TV programs and movies. Lisa is a regular guest on The O’Reilly Factor and has debated animal rights opponents on TodayLarry King LiveNancy Grace, and countless other television and radio programs. She has appeared many times on entertainment shows such as Access Hollywood, The Daily Show, and CNN’s Showbiz Tonight, as well as on E! to discuss PETA’s work in Hollywood. Lange worked with Dateline NBC producers to exposé a puppy mill that was based on a PETA undercover investigation. Under Lange’s leadership, General Motors, L’Oréal, and Gillette all stopped testing on animals. Her name has regularly made headlines in major publications, including The Washington Post, the Chicago TribuneThe New York Times, and USA Today.

For Lisa and the women at PETA, it’s not about creating change from the chair but showing up and demonstrating where cruelty occurs. Lisa has turned herself and her safety over to a cause. For Lisa, the story is not about her or her courage; it is always about the animals. Her kind of courage is primordial courage. It springs from a deep well of instinctual love for the animals, from a bond created in a time before reason. If we all could have just a taste of that kind of courage, it seemed to me life would be easier to live during the challenges we face today. Lisa’s answer about courage possibly holds the secret to how one overcomes fear and, maybe, even diminishes pain.

A Woman Making Change

A Woman Making Change
A Woman Making Change

Lisa’s career started as a teenager, a time when advocating animal rights was not the norm. Her career at PETA has spanned an arc of revolutionary change in the ways people perceive animals deserve to be treated, and PETA has been a significant player, if not the major player in shaping those perceptions. Many of the aspirations of those early advocates for animal rights were regarded as pretty far out. The idea that women would ever turn their backs on furs made from animals or that meat-based diets would ever be questioned seemed to many futuristic or even alien.

Fast forward, and we see a dramatic shift in expectations about how animals should be treated. Thanks to PETA and other organizations and people advocating for animals, cars are no longer tested by crashing into animals, a growing number of women prefer cruelty-free cosmetics, and the list goes on. The new norm can be seen unfolding in France where with the help of PETA, animals have been reclassified in law as “living beings capable of sensitivity.” Mink farms will be closed by 2025, and the show will have to go on at circuses without keeping wild animals in captivity. Meanwhile, embracing veganism is trending upwards. Sales of plant-based foods have seen considerable boosts in recent years. Vegan fast-food chains are coming into their own.

The world is a much kinder place because of the heightened activities of animal rights activists, especially over the last four decades.

UMass surgically mutilate sensitive marmosets
UMass surgically mutilate sensitive marmosets

PETA has learned that experimenters at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass) surgically mutilate sensitive marmosets (small New World monkeys) in cruel and deadly experiments, to understand menopause in human women—even though marmosets don’t experience menopause and there are plenty of women who do.

After caging, cutting into, and experimenting on marmosets, Lacreuse kills them and dissects their bodies. These experiments amount to nothing more than the torment of sensitive monkeys and a scourge for American taxpayers—they’ve cost us nearly $4 million so far and earned UMass a laundry list of citations for violations of federal animal welfare laws.

Concerned individuals can join PETA in calling on UMass to end its experiments on marmosets by taking action here.

Women: Tell UMass: NOT IN MY NAME!

Dealing With Fear When Safety Is Under Threat

Lisa:“To me, it was never about courage – it was about recognizing the horrors that animals endure and not being able to stand by and let it happen. I might have been born punching my way out, so some of this is just my nature. In my almost 30 years at PETA (and even some before when I was working for Sea Shepherd) there have been a lot of nerve-wracking moments – either debating animal abusers or going on national news to talk about a controversial issue or doing non-violent acts of civil disobedience, which I’ve done several times. I find that when I’m about to do C.D. I am not nervous about being arrested or banged up by security – I’m nervous I won’t get done what I set out to do, ie, stop shooters from blowing live pigeons away or blocking the Sea World float at the Rose Parade. I want us to be successful every time we attempt something, so the worry is more about that than the consequences of the action. I guess it is never far from my mind that the cruelty we’re protesting is so much worse than what anyone could or would do to me.”

“The one exception to that was when, in 2016, I protested with some other folks at SeaWorld in Shamu Stadium. We were detained by park security and taken back behind the stadium – when the head of security got there after all were arrested, he was furious and roughed me up more than anyone ever had, and in the middle of it I really thought I was in danger of being gravely hurt. Otherwise, when it comes to threats – there have been some, but you can’t get distracted with that.”

Lisa Lange PETA protest outside KFC
KFC demo in Virginia Beach

“I am not nervous about being arrested or banged up by security – I’m nervous I won’t get done what I set out to do, ie, stop shooters from blowing live pigeons away or blocking the Sea World float at the Rose Parade”

Considering the high-pressure nature of Lisa’s work, we were curious whether she had daily practices or routines that helped in her personal and professional life? 

Lisa: “I am an avid long-distance runner, and I think that really helps with focus, the immense workload and keeping the consequences of stress at bay, and of course, it helps me sleep. When I am out on the trails, I see wildlife, I think my thoughts, I brainstorm a bit and then I feel strong and fresh for the day. The very first thing I do in the morning is breathing exercises – I am a bit of a Wim Hof follower and picked up more information in the book by James Nestor called Breath (which I highly recommend.) I am also a very healthy eater – vegan, of course, but focus on low fat, low sugar, whole yummy foods and that all helps too.”

We asked Lisa, “What has worked best for you, conventional or unconventional female strategies?” Her answer shows that she has never let herself be boxed in by strict gender identification. Most interesting is that working at PETA has let her suspend her identification as a woman (as in a woman who is “less than”) in the workplace. Lisa freeing and feeling “20 steps ahead of men” presents an enviable work situation for women.

“It’s funny, when I had my 20 year anniversary at PETA, one of my dear young colleagues sent the nicest email to me, congratulating me and saying something to the effect of how I was a female role model, and I remember thinking, ‘oh my gosh that’s right – I AM a woman.” I think growing up, my parents just let me be the ball-playing, animal-adoring, ‘boyish’ person I was, rejecting dolls and instead of playing with the boys, so I never really identified as anything other than a human animal. I have just always confronted sexism by laughing at the fools who think and say the stupid things they do. I’ve always felt that women tend to be about 20 steps ahead of men in all things, so we’re always standing there thinking, ‘that’s ok, I’ll wait until you get it’ but some of my best friends and family are men, so I won’t come down too hard on them. I am grateful that we are where we are (at least in this country) in terms of leveling the playing field for women, which I hope means that fewer women today will have to put up with the nonsense we put up with. We have a long way to go still, but the progress is encouraging.”

An Interview with Lisa Lange
Lisa interview with KABC-TV during demo 2007.

Referring to Ingrid Newkirk, Lisa Explains “She’s run the organization the entire time with an eye for how to grow and make PETA stronger beyond her years on this planet and though I do think she is a very special human, I think that those are traits you’re more likely to see in a woman.”

Curious to understand what it was like to work for an influential woman-run organization. Perhaps, the most interesting insight she revealed is that PETA does not let ego get in the way. A dominant ego does not form an obstacle to consulting people who may be smarter or block who gets to be in charge. Everyone is on board equally, men and women, in terms of achieving the mission.

Lisa:It’s a great question. I see a huge difference in ego. Start with the woman who runs and founded PETA: Ingrid Newkirk. She is so laser-focused on achieving animal liberation, and there’s no room for ego. She wants us to win, and she doesn’t care who leads the way – she’s trained up so many male and female leaders. She seeks out people who know more than her; she’s run the organization the entire time with an eye for how to grow and make PETA stronger beyond her years on this planet and though I do think she is a very special human, I think that those are traits you’re more likely to see in a woman.”

Lisa has been so immersed in her work at a woman-run organization which gives us hope the norms are changing for all women.

Lisa:I am so spoiled. I’ve worked for a predominantly female and female-led organization almost my entire adult life, so I tend to see (and hope to see more of) more women in leadership roles in other organizations and government, etc. To me, it’s the norm.”

We asked Lisa what guidance would you like to give to other women who want to influence significant political or legislative changes?” Her advice could not be more straightforward…build your strength on being right.

“Just be brave, don’t take no for an answer, keep your eye on the prize and don’t give in. Don’t ask for less than what is deserved”

Lisa: “Just be brave, don’t take no for an answer, keep your eye on the prize and don’t give in. Don’t ask for less than what is deserved – appreciate the small steps but don’t settle for them. Realize just how powerful you are; be confident and as my boss told me before my first televised debate, “take a deep breath and remember you’re right. There’s nothing anyone can say that’ll change that.”

Purpose Is Power

Does Lisa feel powerful and, if so, what does she consider her special power to be? Her answer to this question is profound in several ways. She indicates she believes we all have power. That answer is very interesting because it is not a typical way of thinking about power. Traditionally, power has been what the top males have in a hierarchical system with the dominance of the powerful members over those less powerful, even weak or subservient below.

She expresses an egalitarian view of all people potentially holding power, and her understanding of power is the power to do good. It is refreshing how she has the confidence to view herself as a powerful person and realizes that the confidence she was also born with is key to success.

Lisa’s answer to our question about power may well explain the success of PETA. As a result of PETA’s organization, media presence and activism, people all over the world have felt they possessed enough power to play a part in bringing about change. Animals are being treated today more closely to the ideal of how living beings are entitled to be treated because of a groundswell of action and compassion for them. This is a grassroots movement of the purest type on a set of issues governments would not touch just a few decades ago.

We all have varying perceptions about power. We asked Lisa if she feels powerful…

Lisa: I do consider myself to be powerful – I think we all are. The difference is whether or not you recognize it (and use your power for good!) I think confidence is a special power and I was kind of born with it, but I was also born or quickly raised to believe in equality for all animals – people and other-than-human animals. My parents were big civil rights people; my uncle and later my brother were both gay This was a time when that wasn’t easy, and my family embraced all of it. I was very, very lucky. My brother still laughs about how when I was a little girl I would say ‘that’s not fair’ all the time and fight like crazy to even the score – though at that time it was probably more about who got more candy, but today it’s about things slightly more important, like being vegan to end immense suffering of animals killed for their flesh or never going to amusement parks like Sea World!

Lisa Lange - Purpose Is Power
Demo outside Ringling Bros. performance in Washington April 1995

Inspired by Lisa’s long career and staying-power, we wondered what changes she had seen in herself over the years and what advice she offers to women for pursuing personal growth and change?

“Oh where to start! I think the key is being open to change. See your role in the friction in your personal and professional life, and work on it – really, there’s nothing we can’t tweak if we set our minds to it. I could be stubborn and really dig my heels in to win an argument; I had a wee bit of my dad’s temper, and those were all things I had to work on. For other women: just be strong and kind. Be empathetic; do what you can to cause the least amount of harm to others and stamp out sexism by being your strongest self. If someone says something you don’t like, point it out at the moment. They may have meant nothing by it, but they might also be trying to intimidate you – either way, it’s a teachable moment, so don’t shy away. We have a motto at PETA – Never Be Silent – and that goes for all things. I’d also advise to always be optimistic – don’t ever think that you can’t convince someone – because you can.”

We asked Lisa how she would like to be remembered.

“I guess I’d like to be remembered as a strong human who lived by her beliefs and who hopefully helped make a bit of change; a good friend and family member and good mom to her cats and dogs.”

Be good to one another and remember the animals: don’t eat them; wear them, or be the cause of their abuse in any way

“I love being a woman. I loved being a girl and I love being a 55 year-old and all that means (good and challenging!) I think women and good men alike should know that really there are no limits in what you can accomplish. If we all did a little, we’d get a lot done. And, you can always do more. Leave the planet better than how you found it and be kind, be kind, be kind. Just being born human means you’re born with privilege, so remember that in all you do and be good to one another and remember the animals: don’t eat them; wear them, or be the cause of their abuse in any way. It is so easy to do – it takes no extra time, energy or resources to eliminate animal suffering and women should continue to lead the way in that effort.”

Lisa is so fortunate to have had a career in which there were no limits in being a woman and accomplishing all she hoped to do. We at She Can are grateful she has shared her remarkable story of helping to improve the lives of animals and how that has helped her, in turn, live life to the fullest, at its most powerful apex and most compassionate depths.

Lisa has come up against some rough, even brutal, opposition to her activism, but her courage and purpose have always succeeded in the end. When asked about her advice to women, she tells them to be brave. Women cannot walk away from this interview without realizing the multiple destinations on the path of courage and purpose. Courage is not about having no fear, it’s about having the fear and doing it anyway. It leads to a sense of feeling powerful, confidence in self-presentation, the pursuit of equal treatment for all living beings, and conquering fears in the face of threats because one is more concerned about the wellness and safety of other beings. As women, we seem to have an abundance of warrior spirit when it comes to the protection of those most vulnerable. I have no doubt that each of you reading the wisdom Lisa shares with us, you will know when to comes to protecting the vulnerable ones, nothing will stop you. Maybe there is a purpose for change that you can see around you. Is it time for you to use this innate force to drive the change which our world needs?

Find out the facts here – and join the movement!

— End.