How to Start Being Active for Animal Rights
Snappy Page Essence
Being active for animal rights you are campaigning to change society by persuading and motivating people to act for the better, as you see it. You need to know what you want to achieve, how to do it, a will to act and drive to keep you going.
"Campaigning can be as easy as writing to your local newspaper's letters page, or as elaborate as being at the centre of a busy group." Animal Aid (1)
Campaigning is about changing society for the better by persuading and motivating people to act in some way. Much of the change in society by campaigning comes from a few largely unknown but dedicated people working hard out of sight. A small number of committed activists can stimulate big changes: a few people chucking tea cases into Boston harbour are widely credited for leading the way to the independence of the United States from Britain.
So how do you start being active for animal rights? It is said that people enjoy most what they are good at doing. So pick activities you enjoy, such as indoor or outdoor work, noisy public demonstrations or the quite publishing of articles, getting together with your mates or working solitarily. Whether you are acting as a group or alone this chapter offers you background and some of the essential techniques for campaigning.
You do not have to do anything illegal to work for animal rights. Of course, there are always exceptions. One exception is an open rescue (Chapter 4: Animal Rescuer), but even this is built on legitimate foundations. A steady legal course of action, on the other hand, often yields better results in the long-term. You might want to explode onto the animal rights scene - only to fizzle out quickly. Only fanatical terrorists (Chapter 5) do not tire of throwing bombs and setting fire to buildings. The main thing you need for campaigning is a will to act and drive to keep you going. Winston Churchill said "Persevere to conquer!"
You Have a Right to Campaign
In democratic countries we have the right to be involved in decisions that affect society and our lives. Whether you are a student, worker, mother or pensioner we can all campaign to make our voices heard. Each of us has the right to face the population and campaign to bring about changes we think are necessary. Equally, we have the right to influence decision-makers, especially people in powerful positions. We have the right to try legally to make them all do what we think is best, whether we want change locally or globally, whether our action is high profile or low key.
How to Succeed
Half of successful campaigning is knowing what you want to achieve; the other half is knowing how to campaign. Animal rights campaign tactics are no different from tactics employed by campaigners in other endeavours in this and past centuries. To make their demands heard, activists in other spheres employed techniques like picketing, lobbying and demonstrating, and today have some novel tools in their arsenal, like the Internet and its diverse tools. Do not stop at the end of this chapter when finding out how best to campaign for your cause. Seasoned campaigners say there are tried and tested techniques for campaigning based on the experience of many good activists. Read what they have to say in books and on the Web.
Seasoned campaigners also say there is no infallible guarantee of results! You have just got to jump in somewhere, even if the way ahead is not always clear, and fight your corner. So get stuck in, enjoy and good luck.
Where to Begin?
Sometimes the most difficult part of taking action is choosing what to champion from the many possible issues. As a starting point, unless something has already fallen into your lap, you can categorise animal rights controversies in a number of ways (which inevitably overlap) and specialise in one that interests you. For example:
- Attire: eg fur, perfume, jewellery, clothing.
- Entertainment: eg circuses, rodeos, zoos, animal baiting.
- Experiment: eg biomedical research, toxicity testing, education.
- Food: eg caged chickens, veal, foie gras, bush meat, vegetarianism.
- Hunting & Sport: eg chasing, trapping, canned hunting, baiting.
- Unintentional: eg motorist kills, habitat destruction, climate change.
- Trade: eg zoos, pets, quack medicine, body parts, trinkets.
- Zoos/Conservation: eg road-side zoos, national zoos, wildlife 'culls'.
Or try picking out a sub-division of practical animal rights from the following examples.
Table 1. Some Practical Areas of Animal Rights
|General Animal Rights
||Vegetarianism & Veganism
Sentience vs non-sentient animals.
Speciesism vs anthropocentrism.
Animals as property, legal status as objects.
Exploitation of animals for food, experimentation, trade.
Animal rights vs animal welfare vs nature conservation.
Practical campaigning for animal rights.
Why be a vegan or veggie?
Vegetarian history and demographics.
Practicalities of organising a veggie/vegan food stall.
Nutrition and vegan/veggie recipes.
Health and disease, eg salmonella, bird flu, foot & mouth disease.
Social impact of the meat industry, eg Third World starvation.
The industrial scale of mass slaughter.
Inhumane housing conditions.
Gourmet dishes, eg shark fin soup, foie gras, veal.
Mutilations of farm animals.
Pollution of the environment.
Health hazards to humans.
Deformities induced by confinement or breeding.
Factory vs traditional vs organic farming.
||Fur & Skins
Biomedical research & diseases.
History of animal experimentation.
Morality & legal history of 'unnecessary' pain.
National & international animal protection laws.
Science & ethics.
The three R's & alternatives to experimentation.
Kinds of entertainment, eg film industry, rodeos, circuses, bull fighting.
History & culture of animal entertainment.
Animals used for entertainment, eg horses, dogs, chicken, wild animals.
Selective breeding of entertainment animals, eg race horses, greyhounds, beagles, foxhounds, ferrets.
Fate of retired entertainment animals.
The fur-bearing animals, eg rabbits, racoons, mink, cats.
Traps & trapping wild fur-bearers.
Numbers of pelts traded internationally.
The fashion industry.
The leather industry: cattle, snakes and crocodiles.
Fur industry: positive or negative nature conservation?
Alternative synthetic materials.
The Sixth Extinction.
Climate change and animal survival.
International trade, eg for body parts, quack medicine, exotic pets.
Hunting wild or canned animals for sport.
The role of zoos.
Animal rights vs nature conservation.
Animal moral status.
The moral community.
Equal consideration of interests vs intrinsic & instrumental value.
Consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics.
Moral agents & moral patients.
Moral autonomy & marginal cases.
Numbers of animals the pet trade breeds.
Exotic pets: reptiles, birds, mammals taken from the wild.
Animals perishing in transit.
Animals confined in cages & unsuitable quarters.
Abused, neglected & unwanted pets.
'Controlling' pet numbers: neutering & euthanasia?
Cosmetic surgery or mutation, vanity & tradition?
Billions of animals killed annually as pet food.
These are just some fields of interest in animal rights and you can come up with others, among them animal abuse and its relationship with human abuse, caged hens and open rescue, cruelty-free shopping, and xenotransplantation.
If you are still stumped for an objective to campaign for then contact organisations that take your interest and may want to set up a group in your district.
Ten Essential Campaigning Tips
Here are pointers for success that are common to most campaigns and every campaigner should know from the start.
1. What Is Your Campaign?
What are you ultimately trying to achieve? If you are not completely clear about what you are aiming for you are not likely to achieve it. Your ultimate aim must be clear and precise. A good exercise is to write down your ultimate goal in less than a dozen or so words. You need to record your goal anyway and keep it safe so that over time it does not insidiously change, for it could change into something that seems the same yet in effect is really different. The route to your original goal may not be the same as the route to your changed goal so that you just go round in circles.
2. Break Down Goals Into Manageable Chunks
Break down your ultimate goal into small chunks you know you can attain. To shut down an animal abusing pet shop or aquarium (ultimate goal), your sub-goals could be: (1) Itemise how the shop may respond to your attack and how you will counter each response. (2) Complete a file of facts that supports your case on the shop. (3) Convince people in the shop's neighbourhood about your cause and document their support. (4) Lobby and win over your local political representative to support your case (see Chapter 3: Lobbying
). And so on... Completing each sub-goal will give you a sense of achievement, keep the momentum going, be good for moral, boost your credibility and bring you closer to your ultimate goal.
3. Is It Outrageous?
Outrage is what the news media thrive on and what the public love to read. Issues that may make you fume but for which nothing can be done, or for which everything possible is being done, are not outrages in this sense. An outrage has to be something that nothing or little is being done about yet a great deal can be done about it. Make the focal point of your campaign an outrage and you are more likely to succeed. People who hear about an outrage may turn into fellow campaigners or support you in some other way.
4. Do Sufficient Research
You must convince people generally and policy makers in particular that your campaign issue is important. So get as many relevant and accurate facts that you can about your issue from different perspectives: background, some quantitative figures, the major players, relevant legislation and government policy. Write it in a simple form that people can understand easily. Issues often generate conflict between people because people get their facts wrong or are biased. The more you know, the more expert you will become and people will have more confidence in you. For a regional issue you could get information by carrying out a local survey. For a wider issue a web search might bring up lots of information. Go for reputable, authoritative, primary sources, that is first hand evidence, not what someone says someone else has said.
5. Know Who You Must Influence
Once you know exactly what you are going to campaign on, work out who you need to influence and whose support you need to win. Influencing and winning over 'the public' is too vague. Does your issue involve the people in your locality or region, an institution, a local or national authority, a senator or member of parliament - perhaps a combination? How are you going to reach them? (See Lobbying
, Chapter 3.)
6. Your Resources
Do not worry about money - good actions do not necessarily have big budgets, if any budget at all. However, start campaigning with something within your reach. Do members of your group have complementary abilities and experience? Is anyone good at organising events, speaking in public, handling the news media or have expertise in web design? (See Chapter 3: Starting a Group.) If you do not have what you need and cannot get it,
think up another campaign.
7. Alternative Viewpoints
No matter how you see your issue, how do the people you must influence see it? Examine the forces, people and organisations at work for and against the change you want to bring about. See things from their points of view. You want to save a wood for its animal inhabitants and need to persuade your local authority not to bulldoze it. You might think the wood is important for frogs, owls and weasels, but the local authority see it as a resource for a recreation park and timber. So emphasise the issue in their terms - dog walking and renewable wood felling - and they will be more likely to listen to you.
8. Broaden Your Public
Your campaign is more likely to succeed the greater the number of people who support you. So find a part of your issue that most people can identify with. You are campaigning against the building of a new abattoir. Most people tolerate killing animals for food but few willingly endure bad smells. You should therefore concentrate your campaign on the issue of odours rather than on vegetarianism. Better to campaign on five per cent of the problem and get 95 per cent support from the people.
9. Join a Coalition
Individual groups joining together to work toward the same goal make a coalition. By joining a coalition your group may be able to do more than by working alone. You can snap a single stick but you cannot break a bundle of sticks. Look for other groups and ask what they are doing. Introduce your group to them and give them an idea of the benefits your group can offer them.
10. Can't Get No...
You might think that you need hope and passion to change things or that you should have fun and an agreeable time while campaigning. These are important, but what you really need is a measure of satisfaction. Aim for a dose of satisfaction, that is a measure of having achieved something, at least weekly, or daily if possible. You can best get it by setting yourself small goals and achieving them, eg completing a newsletter, bagging a new member, assembling all the bric-a-brac for a fundraising drive. These are solid stepping stones on the way to success that should raise your spirit and keep you going.
Selling yourself and your campaign to the news media is a good and free way of telling people you exist and getting their support. The more frequently you appear in the media the more people will know about you and remember your campaign.
Keep in touch with reality about what you can do. Take off into a world of fantasy and you will be lost.
Only make accurate claims you can reasonably prove. Be knowledgeable and check your sources. People will then learn they can trust what you say and be more ready to listen to you.
Do not assume your opponents are depraved. They are likely to be as admirable as you, so respect them. Put yourself in their position and ask what will move them to do what you would have them do.
Attack obstacles obliquely if you cannot get past them. For instance, if you cannot attack your opponents directly, go for their support.
The practical campaign is primary. Minimise bureaucracy; don't get stuck in it.
Build on your reputation and history of successes to take on more or bigger campaigns.
Bear in mind that you may be mistaken. Someone said, "Don't die for your beliefs - they may be wrong." So keep an open mind and be prepared to alter your campaign course of action if necessary.
Finally, does your campaign pass the SMART test and have you done a SWOT? See Chapter 3 under Action Planning.
Well into your campaigning you could be having fun, but you will also experience workaday frustration when your efforts appear to be falling flat. At times we all get fed up, frustrated and think we are failing. But think again and be heartened for you may simply be going through the normal development of any movement for social change.
Bill Moyer (1933 - 2002) was an American activist for social change during most of 40 years. He outlined several stages that a movement for social change goes through in its development (2). Moyer would say that we in the animal rights movement are at a particular stage in our development. We have successfully passed the initial stages: the animal rights issue is on the social and political agenda and is hotly disputed; citizen groups are growing in number and strength and are educating the public; and some of the public are being alienated by violent activist rebels. However, Moyer would also say that we have not yet won support from the public majority (his stage six) and still have a long way to go before the public will push for change (his stage eight). However, these stages in the development of movements for social change are not clear-cut, as George Lakey, another old-hand American civil rights campaigner reminds us (3). Lakey says that different groups in the same movement for social change may in their development go back and forth a number of times and at different rates.
Knowing the prescriptions that make for successful social change will help us keep going and make us more likely to succeed. Keep Moyer and Lakey in mind and you will despair less in your off moments and when rampaging in frustration.
(1) Animal Aid's Guide to Campaigning
. July 2007. (Accessed online March 2008.)
(2) Moyer, Bill. Abstract from 'The Practical Strategist: Movement Action Plan (MAP). Strategic Theories for Evaluating, Planning and Conducting Social Movements.'
Social Movement Empowerment Project, San Francisco. 1990. (Accessed online 4 July 2007.)
(3) Lakey, George. Strategizing for a Living Revolution
. (Accessed online 3 July 2007.) Also in Solnit, David (ed.) Globalize Liberation: how to uproot the system and build a better world
. City Lights. 2003.
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