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From 22 June 2003 Issue

The Active Activist Effective Lobbying
Part One of a Three Part Series
By Michelle Rivera - MickelleRivera1@aol.com 

This past Father’s Day weekend found me in our nations’ capitol with some of the most dynamic and motivated people in our movement. I was there for a legislative fly-in, hosted by the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The purpose of the event is to get activists from around the country to meet with their representatives and senators, or their aides, to ask them to co-sponsor a variety of bills moving through the committees. We had been asked to make our own appointments and not be surprised if the appointment was with an aide instead of our legislator. The aides were just as important, even more so in some cases, because they are more accessible and willing to talk details.

The weekend began with a sumptuous vegan dinner at a Thai restaurant in downtown DC. Twenty-three activists had been invited to attend this important event, now in its third year. After a night of fabulous cruelty-free food and introductions, it was back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before meeting in the lobby for a quick ride to the famous 2100 “L” Street, the headquarters of the government affairs department of the HSUS.

The morning’s agenda included a workshop by Stephanie Vance, founder and president of Advance Advocacy, a group that helps move movements forward. Stephanie is a former legislative aide and knows all the ins and outs of how to be an effective lobbyist. “Don’t look at the aide plaintively and whine “but I thought I was meeting with my senator….’” She admonished us. “Aides really hate that.” The workshop included a mock legislative session where we were all given roles to play so that we could better understand the inner workings of Congress and the Senate. (My role was that of a reporter for Animal Writes!---guess I am taking it a little farther than the workshop.)

The afternoon session included a lecture by Wayne Pacelle, Senior Vice President in Charge of Government Affairs for the HSUS and founder/president of Humane USA, a political action committee that seeks to elect compassionate and enlightened people to office. Wayne briefed us on several bills and told us it was very important that we ask our representative to co-sponsor these bills. They are:

The Horse Slaughter Act: H.R. 857. Nobody eats horses in the United States, yet horses are being slaughtered to cater to the palates of European and Asian consumers. This bill must be passed to save thousands of horses from death and misery. Some of the horses are previous pets, workhorses and racehorses. This bill would also ban the transport of these magnificent animals for human consumption and other purposes.

The Bear Baiting Act: (HR 1472). This is also known as the “Don’t feed the bears act.” Bear baiting is a particularly heinous and unsportsmanlike form of hunting. Hunters sometimes use mules and donkeys to carry large loads of donuts, rotting fruit and other bear epicurean delights to a site where the beast of burden is then shot dead and left along with his load. The bears come to feed off of this pile and are shot and killed by hunters who are too lazy or lack the creativity to hunt them legitimately, where the bears at least have a chance. “Support your right to arm bears,” said the late, great Dan Blocker (better known as Hoss Cartwright)!

The Exotic Cat Transport Act-HR 1006 and S 269. This bill addresses public safety issues posed by private ownership of dangerous exotic animals and to combat the inhumane treatment of these animals. Not only is it inhumane to keep big cats and other exotics, but doing so poses a threat to people, especially children who the animals sometimes think is prey.

Downed Cattle: Senator Akaka of Hawaii has introduced legislation to amend the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2003 to provide for the humane treatment, handling and euthanasia of livestock unable to stand or walk. The thinking here is that if the animal is so sick or injured (think infection) that he or she cannot walk, do we really want to mix this animal in with the healthy ones being sent to slaughter? But animal activists care not about those issues (we don’t eat meat anyway) but for the fact that these animals are treated with abject cruelty and suffer deeply. This amendment would make a small improvement in the way these animals are treated.

The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act; S. 736 and H.R. 1532 would establish felony level jail time for violators of the animal fighting provisions in the Animal Welfare Act. This legislation would strengthen existing laws and provide for harsher penalties. For a complete list of all the compelling reasons to pass this act, request a Fact Sheet on this bill and the others from the Humane Society of the United States by e-mailing BRosen@hsus.org.

Other issues included a funding letter that has been signed by well over a hundred senators and representatives that demands more funding be set aside for the enforcement of anti-cruelty and other statutes; a bill to protect a herd of bison that, although this is the last remaining herd of pure bison (not mixed with buffalo) are at risk for slaughter by farmers; and a plea to the Canadian government to keep in place the ban on seal hunts.

Our day “on the hill” was exciting and productive as I went from appointment to appointment, meeting with the other activists between meetings in a room specially set aside for that purpose. Each aide with whom I met was friendly, concerned and accessible. The HSUS sent professional lobbyists with whomever needed one (I did, thanks Arnold!) to keep the facts straight and to answer any concerns the aide may have. And yes, professional lobbyists can do this job on their own, but the fact that I, a constituent, and others like me, had traveled “from the district” to “the hill” to make these points goes a long way towards making an impact and an impression.

After our meetings, we were debriefed in Room 334 of the Rayburn House Building and shared our experiences. Wayne Pacelle was on hand to hear all of our experiences and offer any advice or insight and to encourage all of us to keep in touch with our new best friends, the aides, and make sure they keep our issues in the fore.

“Write thank you letters to all of them” instructed Beth Rosen, fly-in coordinator for the HSUS. “Keep in touch with each and every one of them.” She also asked us to go back to our districts and recruit more and more Humane Activist Network captains and coordinators.

So, what is the point of this story to you, the Active Activist? In summary, I would encourage you to become a lobbyist too. If your vacation plans include a trip to Washington DC, call a few weeks ahead of time and ask to meet with the animal-advocacy staff member. “Ten years ago there was nobody on staff assigned to animal issues, now, each and every legislator has one on staff! That’s progress!”, says Wayne Pacelle. Get to know that person and make him or her your new best friend! To find your legislators, look on your voters registration card for your senate and house districts (you BETTER have a voter’s registration card) or call your local Voter’s Registration office and ask them to find your state and federal senators and representatives.

If you can’t make it to DC, visit your state capitol and do the same. If your state capitol is too far to travel, find your senator’s or representative's local office in your district, they all have one.

The above bills still need co-sponsors. The appointments should take no more than 15-20 minutes and the HSUS and Fund for Animals will be happy to give you fact sheets and other information that you will need to argue your position successfully and leave with the aide.

Join the Humane Activist Network as a district captain, state coordinator or activist and let’s get these bills moving. There is much work to be done!

Coming next month: Meet the people behind the movement at the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States.

Next part: How a bill becomes law, with your help!

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