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CASH Courier > 1994 Summer Issue

Selected Articles from our newsletter

The C.A.S.H. Courier

Summer 1994 Issue

Computer Technology and Animal Rights

By James M. Corrigan

My purpose in writing this article is to convince each of you that we must use computer technology in our fight for the rights of those most powerless members of our society – non-human animals – because the technology offers us tremendous strategic benefits and it enables us to reach out to people in ways never before envisioned.

While computers are excellent writing tools, and are useful for many types of publishing such as newsletters and action alerts, I want to focus on the ability of this technology to connect dozens of people, hundreds, thousands and millions of individuals into communicating networks, able to share information instantaneously. We must, as a movement, come to recognize and utilize this power.

We are all familiar with telephones and how indispensable they are to our effectiveness as a movement. I do not have to enumerate the ways in which the telephone and its adjunct the fax have become essential to us in our daily activities. It is computer technology, hidden in the telephone company’s buildings, which ties individuals together into a telephone network.

Another network and one of equal importance to the telephone network for effective communications is the Internet, the global network of computers in industry, in government, in schools, and in homes that is used to gain access to – and provide access to - unimaginable volumes of information. Information that can be used to inform government officials of alternatives to the use of animals. Information that can be used to build understanding between ourselves and those in our society who see animals as only resources to be consumed and those who see our own humanity reflected in our treatment of our fellow beings on this planet.

Lack of information is one of the key tools used by animal exploiters to minimize the public’s outrage over the treatment of animals. One of the first acts of vivisectionists was to cut the vocal cords of their unfortunate victims so that the public could not hear their agony. Today, institutions hide the research protocols that detail what is being done to the animals in their experimental gulags from the public’s view. They lock the public out of the Animal Care and Use Committee meetings so that information about their activities will not leak out to the public.

Misinformation is a second tool used by animal exploiters and it is used to play on people’s fears to garner support for the most outrageous abuses. The primary means for disseminating this misinformation is via the traditional Media.

The traditional Media serve the needs of the power elite in our country, who are very often the same individuals and institutions that we are trying to change, by restricting our access to the public. Freedom of the press is applicable only to those individuals who own a press. A computer is a press, however, and a network is the paper upon which we can print.

The Internet is rather unique in human history. It is a medium which is totally free. Free of usage cost, free of censorship, free of corporate sponsorship, free in fact, of any overall direction or management. It is an anarchistic body of connected computers that enable any one of us to communicate directly with anyone else in the world. We are no further than a mouse click away from anyone else. (Actually you do need a computer and some means of access to the Internet. Both of those cost money and an investment of time. The rewards are potentially great, however.)

I would like to tell you about two applications of computer technology that my grass-roots group, the Volunteers for Animal Welfare, based on Long Island, have used in our fight for the rights of animals. The first uses the Internet to disseminate information globally to facilitate communication and education; the second uses the public telephone network to enable us to wield tremendous political force in support of our efforts.

AR-Alerts (AR=Animal Rights)

One of the primary uses of the Internet is the delivery of electronic mail (e-mail as it is popularly called). It allows you to deliver unlimited quantities of information nearly instantaneously to anywhere on the planet. A year and a half ago, I started a mailing list on the Internet called AR-Alerts. Its purpose was to facilitate electronic communication between Animal Rights groups, grass-roots activists, and other interested individuals through the dissemination of important information about Animal Rights issues.

The list was originally funded by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS). Initially, the items I posted were primarily news items and press releases followed by court decisions and proposed state regulations when I could get access to them. The real gem of the AR-Alerts system, however, was the weekly posting of all Federal Register notices related to animal and environmental issues. For those of you who may not be aware of what the Federal Register is, it is the official newspaper of the Federal Government. All public notices must be printed there. All proposed regulations and all final regulations must also appear there. Any activity involving endangered species or marine mammals must be publicized explained there. And all National Environmental Protection Act notices must appear there.

The list, through word of mouth, grew quickly to hundreds of subscribers. Many of the subscriptions were for groups or institutions, so we have to assume that many more people were actually reached. I recently asked the subscribers to give me feedback about how useful the information was to them from the AR-Alerts, because loss of funding was forcing us to terminate the list. I was surprised by the huge response that I got, and I would like to share excerpts from just a few of these with you.

The most rewarding note that I received was from Phil Bowman, the Director of Lab Animal Resources at the University of Montana. He wrote: “Although we are at different ends of the spectrum on the issue of animal rights, at least pertaining to the use of animals in research, I feel obliged to respond to your request…I can tell you that this list does provide several things. I have been made aware of numerous alternatives to the use of animals in research as a direct result of postings to this group. I think it also has provided me with much food for thought about the whole issue of animals and science. While I understand that probably the main ‘goal’ of this list is to alert AR folks as to what others are doing, I’m sure that I’m not the only ‘non-AR’ person who subscribes and has benefited from it, and as a result, so have animals.”

One note that spoke of the benefit of the AR Alerts list to the grass-roots came from Rob Osattin in Atlanta, who wrote: “The loss of AR-Alerts is going to hinder the work of several groups here in Atlanta, such as the local Friends of Animals and Last Chance for Animals chapters, the League for Animal and Environmental Protection…and the International Primate Protection League…I say this because, whether they realize it or not, much of the information they’ve used or many of the tips they’ve acted upon have come from AR Alerts.”

Much to my surprise, I also received notes from individuals involved in the traditional media – reporters we seem to have such a hard time of reaching in other ways. One example came from Paige St. John, the Environmental Writer for The Detroit News who said: “The AR list has been very helpful…I have used the list to monitor federal register notices from [the Department of] Interior, endangered species action [s], gotten tips about big-game hunters and made contact with many good sources through the list.”

I was unaware of how successful the list was as an educational tool in schools. An example of this came in one note that I received from Jennifer Crandall at the University of Minnesota, who wrote: “I am a teaching assistant for a class on Animal Research and Human Health here at the University of Minnesota. Many of the things we have read on AR Alerts…are being used by our students as sources for writing their term papers. We have found the information we received to be very interesting and of great use to the students.”

The AR Alerts will soon be reactivated thanks to Gary Francione and Anna Charlton of the Rutgers Animal Rights Law Center. Gary and Anna are enthusiastically supporting the continuation and enhancement of the list. Under the auspices of the Center, we have great plans for AR Alerts. The Center and its visionary leaders have opened access to an enormous amount of information for the Animal Rights and Environmental communities. AR-Alerts will continue to distribute Federal Register notices and, in addition, we will provide up-to-date information on federal and state legislation and laws pertinent to our cause, international laws and treaties, news items, and federal and state regulations relating to animal care and use, as well as articles of related interest.

I invite you to participate in the AR-Alerts network. Use it as a source of valuable information to assist you in your work. Use it also as a means to get your message out to the world. Let the community know of your work, of what is happening in your area, and of your needs for collaborative effort with others to accomplish your programmatic goals. If you are interested you can contact me at the address below and I will help you in any way that I can to get setup and connected to the AR-Alerts list via the Internet.

Activist Notification System

One of the most fundamental difficulties facing grass-roots activists is the need to mobilize large numbers of people quickly to generate the kind of political force necessary to effect change, whether that mobilization is required to stop a circus, block the issuance of a permit for a mule dive exhibit, or to put political pressure on a governor, the organizer needs to be able to contact members and activists quickly in order to generate the kind of political force that can change things for the better for animals.

One of the tools used by the Volunteers for Animal Welfare is a computerized system that was developed by my firm. The system is a combination of software and hardware that allows recorded messages to be delivered to a list of telephone numbers. The hardware consists of a device called a Voice Response Unit, which is housed in a personal computer. The software allows the recording of messages, calls lists of telephone numbers, delivers messages, and records whether the called number was answered by a human, an answering machine, or even a fax. If a number is busy, or of there is no answer, the system will continue to call as frequently as desired until either the message is delivered or the system is stopped. If a human answers the call, the system records whether the person listens to the whole message or hangs up before it is completed. The called party can also leave a touch-tone or verbal response in reply to a question contained in the message and can leave a detailed message that can be retrieved at a later time, much like an answering machine.

In New York State during the 1993 legislative session, many groups including the Volunteers for Animal Welfare, were actively fighting a piece of legislation that would have required Emergency Medical Service students to practice endotracheal intubation on cats. These cats would be provided by shelters and other ‘custodians’ for use in practice sessions. When the bill was passed by both the Assembly and Senate with little opposition, it was sent up to Governor Cuomo for signature. Activists throughout the state had only ten days to mobilize grass-roots opposition to the bill in the hope of convincing Governor Cuomo to veto it.

We were able to obtain the telephone numbers for over 8,000 animal activists in New York State, from various national and local organizations that graciously provided them to us. Using the Activist Notification System, we were able to contact over 3,000 of the individuals on our combined list to ask them to call Governor Cuomo’s office to ask him to veto the bill. While the hardware that we have can make four calls simultaneously, at the time we only had two phone lines that we could use and so we were limited in the number of calls we could make each day.

The effort, which included a great deal of networking by many groups and individuals, in addition to the use of the Activist Notification System, was a success! The Governor’s office was flooded with telephone calls and letters in opposition to the bill! Many of the people that we called also asked their friends, family and neighbors to express their opposition to the Governor in regard to this bill.

The Governor vetoed the legislation and in an article the next day, the New York Times reported that the Governor had received the largest number of calls and letters on this bill than on any other that year.

We have continued using the Activist Notification System for important efforts. This past winter, a situation arose in the tiny village of North Haven on Long Island’s East End where the NYS DEC was planning on allowing 150 deer to be shot because some of the residents felt they were a nuisance. The DEC had no actual population data to use – in fact they pointed out to critics that such data was useless, although their reason for that still escapes me – and they knew that shooting the deer would not have a long-term impact on the overpopulation in the area. The majority of the residents, meanwhile, were incensed at the high-handed actions of the DEC. The DEC went so far as to prepare and issue a draft plan of action and labeled it as coming from a citizens’ advisory board, which had no input into it at all!

The key issue in North Haven was the DEC’s intention to issue the nuisance deer permits to allow landowners to destroy deer that were on their property even though the village has a no discharge of firearms ordinance. The DEC was even going to allow landowners to use bait piles to attract deer to their property so they could be shot! In response to resident anger over the DEC’s intention to ignore the village ordinance, the DEC stated in writing that as a state agency they could not be bound to a village’s laws!

Once again we used the Activist Notification System to mobilize grass-roots opposition to the DEC’s plans. We realized that speaking to the DEC was useless, so we asked people to contact Governor Cuomo’s office once again. This time, we made over 17,000 telephone calls in two stages. The first time we asked everyone to call the Governor’s Executive Chambers and to ask that he intercede on their behalf with the DEC. We asked that callers contact the Governor’s office on the same day, a Monday, so that the greatest effect would be felt. By the afternoon of that day, the Governor’s staff was answering the phone “Executive Chambers, are you calling about the North Haven deer?” It had a great effect on them.

We followed that action up by directing calls the following Monday to the Governor’s Chief of Staff. His office received thousands of calls from as far away (from North Haven) as Buffalo and Watertown. The double onslaught had its effect and in response, the Governor directed his staff to get “involved” and determine what was happening. After weeks of intense scrutiny from the Governor’s staff and senior DEC management (under pressure from the Governor), the DEC issued the following statement: “The Governor’s office has asked this Department to respond…regarding the issuance of permits to kill deer in North Haven. We have determined that DEC will not issue permits unless the village changes its laws in relation to the discharge of firearms. The Citizens Task Force will also have to recommend that DEC issue permits.

As of this time, there is little chance of either of these things happening! Instead, the village is going to institute a program of immunocontraception for the deer.

Conclusion

These two examples of computer technology being used to further our cause have hopefully shown you how useful the computer can be in our struggle for the recognition of rights for animals. The effectiveness of a grass-roots organization can be tremendously amplified when such technology is used in the right way. Freeing ourselves from reliance upon the traditional Media as our only way of reaching out to people is one very important benefit. A second is the ability to react to events quickly and cohesively in order to generate the greatest amount of political clout possible. Such tools enhance our ability to make change in our society and enhance our image in the eyes of the public. Both are worthy goals.

James Corrigan, c/o Volunteers for Animal Welfare, PO Box 509, Northport, NY 11768

[Editor’s Note: I have had personal experience as a receiver and generator of action alerts using James’s system. It is excellent!]

 

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