A BBC website put it best:
The press often confuses animal activists with animal extremists.
Animal activists live their lives in an animal-friendly way and use only conventional means to promote the animal cause. These include:
Not eating animal products
Avoiding products tested on animals
Avoiding products made with leather or fur
Living in an animal friendly way
Avoiding products that harm the environment
Learning about animal issues
Teaching others about animal issues
Avoiding zoos and circuses
Investing only in companies with animal-friendly policies
Lobbying for pro-animal legislation
Campaigning about animal issues
Telling other people about animal issues
Writing books and articles about animal issues
The animal rights activist doesn't just talk about the issue, he/she does something about it.
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