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From 30 May 2004 Issue

Goal: The Most Effective Activism for Animal Liberation
By Joyce Friedman - klinjoy@aol.com

"When is the next protest?" "Is there going to be a protest?"

"Ask Joyce; she'll know."

Over the past five years, these questions would flow regularly into my email inbox or voicemail, or from activists passing by my table at vegetarian restaurants. I was the protest queen of sorts. As northeast campaign coordinator for a national animal rights organization, I organized and attended dozens in New York City. Along with many extremely dedicated volunteers, I put great amounts of time and effort, and the organization put forth large amounts of money, into these endeavors -- the famous Ringling Brothers protests, for example.

When a circus enters our city, animal advocates feel deep sadness for the enslaved animals, and intense anger at the exploiters. The first and strongest urge most of us have is to go out in front of the circus arena, shout at anyone who will listen about the cruelty and injustice, make sure the circus owners hear us, show video footage of what really goes on, and try to ensure that audience members never return again. Laudable actions, right? We are speaking out for these poor animals and not remaining silent. Yes, laudable intentions, but are these actions effective?

Every dedicated animal activist should be continually exploring what the most effective strategies are to achieve our goals. A crucial preliminary step is to define what our goals are. This process sounds easy enough, but in fact can be a difficult one, clouded by the intense emotions we feel about the horrific animal suffering we know occurs every moment of every day. After years as a protest organizer, I recently started reflecting on how effective the circus protests, for example, really are in reaching my goal-for circuses to stop using animals. Period.

I used to measure the success of protests by such things as the number of thumbs up we got from passing motorists, the number of people who said they will not return next year, and, most satisfyingly, the number of people who actually ripped up their tickets right on the spot after they saw our video and spoke to us. This was exciting! However, I realize now that even if, for example, 30 people honked their approval, four families promised never to return, two families ripped up their tickets, and hundreds more saw a few seconds of video footage who may tell others, this sadly does not have an iota of an effect on the continuation of Ringling Brothers' exploitation. There are still enough audience members to fill arenas and Ringling Brothers continues their shows in Madison Square Garden and nationally. To educate enough people to reduce the tens of thousands across the country who willingly attend the circus will take decades, if we can do it at all. Unless consumer-oriented campaigns are able to successfully target and influence hundreds of thousands of consumers, if not millions, to change their buying habits, targeted industries will not change because they still have enough consumers to profit from.

A perfect example of this dilemma is the campaign against Macy's in which extremely dedicated activists regularly and creatively protested outside the famous New York department store to convince customers to boycott Macy's until they stop selling fur. Stacks of petition signatures were gathered from passersby and meetings were attempted with Macy's president. A few years later, Macy's continues to sell fur, still citing large enough customer demand. Despite the periodic media coverage and the number of passersby influenced, there just wasn't a large enough consumer base reached to have an effective boycott.

This type of analysis led me to realize that we have to do something different or we will be protesting for the next 40 years outside such exploiters as Ringling Brothers and Macy's, and elephants, tigers, minks, foxes and other sentient beings will continue to be bred, captured, enslaved, tortured and killed. Upon much reflection and assessment, and from discussions with others who were also questioning and reflecting, I realized that while education is a crucial part of the road to animal liberation, it is simply not enough. The momentary release we get from chanting in solidarity on a street corner and educating an unfortunately tiny portion of the "mainstream" is simply not the most effective way of reaching our goal, if our goal is to really stop animal abuse. If a few thumbs-up is what we want and nothing more, then let's continue to protest.

Getting Political

And so I came to find political action. I got involved with a New York-based political action committee (PAC) called the League of Humane Voters (LOHV). Animal rights PACs work to get laws passed to make animal exploitation illegal. Isn't that what we want? Political action is direct, assertive and meaningful -- we go after the abusers and say ";you cannot hurt animals anymore; it is illegal!" We force industries via laws to stop unjust acts. Will it take awhile? Yes. Is it worth it? Darn right it is!

The purpose of LOHV is to mobilize public concern for animals through the democratic political process. We campaign for the election of candidates for public office who will work to enact animal rights legislation. We assist them in a variety of ways, such as sending mailings to their constituents, volunteering for their election campaign, and running ads and issuing supportive press releases. We ask the candidates to make a public statement acknowledging our support of their candidacy and their support for humane legislation and specific issues.

If the candidates are elected, we then lobby them on the bills they agreed to support while they were running for office. It is really quite simple: they recognize that they need us -- we helped them get elected and may do so again -- so they want to help with what we ask for. That's how politics works -- let's have it work for the animals.

It is noteworthy that the National Rifle Association has fewer supporters than do animal protection organizations yet are much better organized and politically influential. There is no longer an excuse for animal rightists to not be the same. Recognizing that animal exploitation is not just a moral issue, LOHV intends to make animal rights a mainstream political issue by building support among citizens, activists, political parties, candidates and elected representatives. We consistently work to grow our database of animal-sympathetic voters through outreach and education. We are not just passing legislation; we are growing a grassroots political movement for animals which can increasingly influence lawmakers. Long-term planning for long-lasting results.

Some of the bills being worked on by LOHV will ban canned hunts (recreational shooting of confined animals), ban force-feeding of ducks for foie gras, give local governments the power to ban wildlife trapping, extend the felony cruelty law to include wildlife, and ban some forms of the use of animals in entertainment (with a goal of eventually banning all forms).

I like the LOHV approach in that it takes on winnable issues. For example, it is strategic to first work against the production of foie gras before an attempt to ban the raising of chickens for their flesh. Yes, we'd like to outlaw the killing of all animals for food. But we all know this cannot happen immediately. However, most individuals will agree the production of foie gras, not a staple in most people's diets, is cruel once they learn about it; then they will become a humane voter on this issue. It is strategic to bridge the gap between animal rights and more mainstream sentiments by starting with more winnable, less "extreme" issues; grow the number of supporters and then move on to larger issues. Just as in consumer boycott campaigns, we have to reach out to large numbers of people but the difference here is we are trying to reach those who agree with us (i.e. are animal friendly to some extent), not try to convert those who do not agree (such as fur store customers). The former is a more realistic task.

An excellent book on creating strategic, winnable, grassroots campaigns, growing your organization as well as a grassroots movement, is a book that LOHV has come to consider its "bible" -- Organizing for Social Change; Midwest Academy Manual for Activists by Kimberly Bobo, et al. We learned from this book how crucial it is to create a campaign strategy by choosing appropriate short- and long-term goals, analyzing who your targets are (that is, those who can give you what you want, such as a politician whose support you want on a bill), figure out who your allies and opponents are, and being aware of organizational considerations.

Many activists have fears and often animosity about politics. Many of us believe politicians are dishonest, corrupt, and uncaring. Others don't trust or even understand politics. I felt all of the above and more. I am now comfortable in the world of politics, although I am still learning something new each day. I have found politicians who truly do want to stop animal abuse, but even if most don't in their hearts, that is not important. What is important to them is votes. So we approach them when they need us; we offer them help, and in return they, once elected, help us.

Since I joined LOHV in late 2003 I have had extremely positive and rewarding meetings with several local politicians whom we have endorsed and who want to introduce and support animal rights legislation and even help us to lobby their fellow politicians.

So who should get involved in political action for animals?
* You who no longer attend protests because you doubt their value but feel guilty that you aren't being an advocate.
* You who attend protests but want to do more.
* You who feel burned out from traditional techniques.
* You who are aware of animal suffering but haven't been spreading the message.
* All animal activists!

For more information on animals in circuses, visit www.circuses.com.  To learn more about political activism, volunteering, or financially supporting LOHV, see www.humanevoters.org or contact Joyce at klinjoy@aol.com or (718) 807-6748. 

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