Party for the Animals makes a political statement with distinct outfit

22 September 2020

A return to business as usual after the Covid-19 pandemic is unacceptable. That is the message conveyed by the Dutch Party for the Animals. Not only orally, during debates and contributions in parliament, but also literally: with the clothes that representatives of the party wear when the television cameras are aimed at them. Like last week during the most important political moment of the year in the Netherlands: the ceremony in which the government makes its plans for the coming year public and the King gives a speech that is broadcast on national television.

Party leader Esther Ouwehand in the business centre of Amsterdam. On the back of her suit is the text "Turning point, but not back". The costume is made by Mediha Kaplan from Kaplan bespoke tailors for women from The Hague, The Netherlands. Photo taken by Thomas Slijper.

Party leader Esther Ouwehand made a clear statement this week with a pinstripe tailored suit of sustainable bamboo fabric, warning against a return to the “old abnormal” from before the Covid-19 pandemic. “The current crisis is a turning point, but certainly no reason to return to business as usual. Nevertheless, governments worldwide focus mainly on symptom control and on supporting fossil companies in the aviation and industry. That policy is aimed at a rapid return to economic growth. Growth is not the solution, but the problem. The only economy that is sustainable in the future is one that remains within the carrying capacity of the earth”, says Esther Ouwehand.

Party for the Animals senators Niko Koffeman and Christine Teunissen also criticised the current policy with the help of their clothing: Koffeman protested against hunting with his face mask with an image of a wild boar, and Teunissen stated it was time for reflection with an outfit made of mirrors.

Expressive politics
Clothing as a political tool? It is one of the ways in which the Party for the Animals distinguishes itself and brings activism into the political arena. Former party leader and co-founder Marianne Thieme started this when she appeared in the plenary room of the Dutch House of Representatives wearing a faux fox fur collar to protest against the real fox fur one of the ministers was wearing. In the years since, a series of political dresses and other outfits followed in which she and other representatives raised awareness about climate, animal welfare, plant-based food, women's equality, whaling, and the devastating consequences of trade deals such as TTIP, Mercosur, and CETA.

It fits in the "expressive politics" pursued by the Party for the Animals. “Waking up other political parties, boosting them, mobilising people, and having influence, that is what we want”, says Marianne Thieme. To this end, the party uses existing political instruments in a slightly different way than most other parties do and seeks the limits of what is allowed within parliament. Introducing an exceptionally large number of amendments and political questions, showing photos during a parliamentary debate, playing animal sounds during the annual barbecue sponsored by the livestock industry in front of the Dutch parliament building, and campaigning in the street and in the European Parliament, It’s always led to discussion and generated (international) attention.

Marianne Thieme and Esther Ouwehand (left) during the ceremonial opening of the parliamentary year in 2012.

Turning point, but not back to the old abnormal
The message from Esther Ouwehand's clothing was clear this year as well: “Returning to the 'old normal' is the most stupid thing we can do. We are completely dependent on natural resources, but as humanity use them much more than the earth can reproduce without damage. As a result, we are dealing with a global climate crisis, a biodiversity crisis, and now also a health crisis. These are all related to the way in which humans deal with nature and animals. And it is precisely the most vulnerable people in this world that will receive the most and hardest blows from our irresponsible behaviour. We have to stop looking away”.

Ouwehand therefore calls on all of us “to do everything in our power to protect the most important thing we have: our own health, our own living environment”. By curbing the use of agricultural poisons, counteracting air pollution and nature depletion, focusing on reducing the size of the aviation sector and intensive agriculture, and ending the powerful lobby of the unhealthy food industry. "We have to make choices that are necessary to keep the Earth liveable, for a healthy future for the economy, in which the health of people and nature comes first."

“The solutions are there,” says Esther Ouwehand. “The Dutch government and the European Commission should only do what they say they strive for in their nature and environmental objectives, and stop subsidising economic activities that are diametrically opposed to this”.