Excerpted from: Goal: The Most
Effective Activism for Animal Liberation
By Joyce Friedman
“When is the next protest?” “Is there going to be
“Ask Joyce; she’ll know.”
After years as a protest organizer, I recently started
reflecting on how effective protests really are in reaching my
goal to stop using and abusing animals.
At circus protests, for example, 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.
Another example 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
This type of analysis led me to realize that we have
to do something different or we will be protesting for the next
forty years outside such exploiters as Ringling Brothers and Macy’s,
while elephants, tigers, minks, foxes and other sentient beings
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.
LOHV's Lobby day on March
16, 2004 at the New York State Legislature. LOHV members lobbied
over 30 legislators and their aides as they ate breakfast. (photo
by Anne Muller)
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
(NRA) 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
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
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), figuring 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,
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
- You who no longer attend protests because you doubt
their value but feel guilty that you aren’t being an
- 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.
In other words, all animal activists and animal sympathizers!
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 [email protected] .
This article originally appeared in the April 2004
issue of Satya, a magazine focusing on animal advocacy, environmentalism,
social justice and vegetarianism. To learn more, visit www.satyamag.com or
call 718-832-9557. Partial reprinted with permission. Please
see Satya for full text copy.