Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
9 December 1999 Issue

By Michelle A. Rivera, [email protected]

So you've decided you're gonna change the world by organizing an animal rights demo at your local rodeo! You say you've just finished reading your PETA Animal Times and feel really pumped up to get out there and engage in a little show of force! That's great! But take it from me and a few veteran animal rights demonstrators, there is a right way and a wrong way to conduct yourself at an animal-rights demonstration. Done right, you can be a powerful voice for the animals. Done wrong, you can make us all look like the animal-rights nuts that people say we are. Here is a step-by-step procedure for getting the word out.

If you are the one organizing the demonstration, be sure you have all your ducks in a row. After you've enlisted the commitments of a few good friends and fellow activists, (the bigger your numbers, the better, but realistically you only need a few); call your local police department and tell them about your plans. Be sure you call them well in advance of the event just in case your town or county requires permits. Permits are not always necessary, and after a while you will know which locations require them and which ones don't. If a permit is needed, follow the instructions on securing one. Usually, you can have a basic form faxed or mailed to you, or you can pick one up, fill it out, and send it back. It is very basic. It usually asks the date and time of the event, the location, the "cause" and the name of the organizer. It may look something like this:

* Name of Group: Animal Rights People United
* Contact: Mr. Miso Sincere
* Date of event: 28 November 99
* Location: The sidewalk in front of Saks Fifth Avenue on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida
* Purpose of event: To participate in a national effort on Fur Free Friday to bring awareness to the cruelty inherent in the fur trade.
* Times of Event: *12:00 noon to 2:00 pm

Demos customarily last about two hours. If it is a rodeo, circus or other timed event, plan to get there one hour prior to the showtime in order to allow the people coming to the event to see you. Phone number of contact: Be sure to leave all numbers where you can be reached.

In the event your town or county doesn't require a permit, you should still call the police and tell them about the demo. This is a courtesy. You are exercising a right that cannot be taken away, but to let the police know in advance will alleviate any unnecessary problems. Most police departments will be very cordial to you and will work with you. I have never had anything but good luck with police departments when I let them know ahead of time. They will usually ask you to agree to certain guidelines. Please do so as much as possible. These guidelines may include:

* Do not impede traffic or pedestrians trying to get into an event or store

* Do not hold signs that are posted on wooden sticks (sticks make cops very nervous, many towns allow placards that are hand-held, but no sticks)

* Do not engage in profanity or "chaining oneself to a fence or other structure"

Some, but not all, municipalities will not allow "leafleting". That is, going from car to car at a stoplight and handing out fliers. If you can do so legally, go for it. If not, don't try it. This is a dangerous undertaking anyway.

During the demonstration, follow the lead of the police officers. Believe it or not, they are there to protect you. If they ask you to stay off the road, or stay away from the cars, please do so. You may risk arrest if you don't.

A word about arrests. PETA and some of the other big organizations make a point of having at least one arrest during each demonstration. This insures a lot of media attention. The other rationale behind this is so that the "story" stays in the media long after the demo. Each time the arrestee attends a hearing or goes to court, it makes the papers, necessitating another telling of the event. This is noble and brave on their part, but the smaller groups would do wise to stay out of this activity. Criminal records can follow you for the rest of your life, and ARO neither condones or encourages arrests for animal rights demonstrators. My personal feeling is that if you get arrested, we then have to focus our collective energy on letter-writing campaigns, etc. for justice for YOU and that leaves the animals without that energy for a while. Best not to get into that scene.

Sometimes, wearing costumes or engaging in skits (one activist dressed as a bunny, another in a lab coat with a cardboard syringe) will get a lot of attention.

During the demonstrations, try not to make eye contact with drivers or pedestrians. Hold up your signs, be relatively quiet, and speak amongst yourselves. It is okay chant something very common, like "What do we want?, Animal Rights, When do we Want them? Now!", but again, profanity and insults are taboo. Also, it would be great if the demonstrators can refrain from having anything with them or on them that would leave them open to ridicule. Eating hamburgers or even having a drink cup with the McDonalds or similar logo will open you up to criticism. Wearing leather shoes and belts will also have that effect. Of course, many of your activists don't wear leather anymore, but some will still have leather shoes, belts or handbags. This will invite a whole new conversation, which is solely intended to impeach you as an activist and take the focus off the actual case. The best way to handle these confrontations is to simply say "We are going to stick to the issue here, we are not talking about leather today" and leave it at that.

A word about media. Be sure to send out press releases about a week in advance, and then again the day before, and again within five hours of your demonstration. In the press release, tell the media that your demo will start one half hour AFTER it actually does, to allow all your people to be in place. Appoint one spokesperson for the media to interview, and have prepared "media packets" for them. The packets should contain your contact information, any recent news articles, quotes from important sources and any factsheets, (such as the PeTA factsheets), that tell about your particular cause. A lot of writers will use the information in the press packets for their "stories".

Have fun, good luck, make friends and do it for the animals.

Go on to Just the Facts, Please
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