STRATEGIES FOR ACTIVISTS FROM THE CAMPAIGN FILES OF HENRY SPIRA

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1997:

“This handbook is a project of Animal Rights International, POB 214, Planetarium Station, New York, NY 10024, and is not for sale.”

If you’re serious about
activism, meaning serious about
getting results, not just venting
spleen, drop Henry Spira a note
requesting Strategies for Activists.
Asking for some of the same information
is more-or-less how I got to
know Spira, 16 years ago, as a frustrated
Quebec newspaper muckrake.
I’d exposed fraudulent
manipulation of animal tests to
defend corporate and governmental
entities against liability in connection
with reckless toxic chemical
use, but even though I’d caught
bureaucrats reversing the course of
major rivers, on paper, to deny evident
pollution, I hadn’t been able to
convert exposure to reform.


Montreal activist Anne
Streeter suggested that I call Henry
Spira, and gave me his telephone
number. He sent an inch-thick packet
of help, including a big chunk of
the material now incorporated into
Strategies for Activists, detailing
how Henry plays the end game to
achieve his goals after accomplishing
initial exposure. A former newspaper
muckrake himself, who covered
the voting rights struggle in
Mississippi during the early 1960s,
Spira understood both the limitations
and opportunities of journalism. A
good reporter is not an activist; but
a good reporter, as well as exposing
problems, can also find and write
about possible “everyone wins”
solutions. Through timely example,
Spira showed how. I began writing
articles about insurance and liability,
pointed out that courts favor voluntary
corrective action undertaken
upon discovery of risk, and fairly
soon was writing about appropriate
corrective initiatives.
In outward form,
Strategies for Activists is a scrapbook
owing ancestry to the “nonbooks”
published by avant garde
figures such as sexual revolution
apostle Jim Haynes and experimental
writer Richard Kostelanetz in the
late 1970s: a compendium of the
compiler’s own essays among a jumble
of interviews and clippings about
his work. Except in being published,
and in having a predetermined
organizing principle, such a
volume much resembles anyone
else’s scrapbook––or stone soup, to
which many people contribute whatever
they have in hopes the whole
will be more than the sum of its
parts. Since Spira is about the same
age as Haynes and Kostelanetz, who
were once far better known, the
comparison is in itself instructive.
Haynes, a humanely inclined longtime
vegetarian, though never
actively involved in animal causes,
was an early publisher and promoter
of Germaine Greer, Dick Gregory,
and Mick Jagger, among others,
who unleashed dynamic theories
with little idea where they were
going or what they might achieve.
Co-option, opposite to Haynes’
intent, may have come through lack
of strategic planning and taking
responsibility. Kostelanetz, on the
other hand, had a seemingly workable
strategy for transforming literature,
which after more than 30 years
of concerted endeavor has nonetheless
apparently gone in circles, perhaps
because his ideas spring more
from aesthetic sensibility than moral
purpose, and he has not persuaded
book-buyers to buy his aesthetics.
Spira presumes moral purpose,
and proceeds from there with
a nine-point Blueprint for Change:
• Try to understand the public’s
current thinking and where it could
be encouraged to go. Above all,
keep in touch with reality.
• Select a target on the basis of
vulnerabilities to public opinion, the
intensity of suffering, and the
opportunities for change.
• Set goals that are achievable.
Bring about meaningful change one
step at a time. Raising awareness is
not enough.
• Establish credible sources of
information and documentation.
Never assume anything; check
everything out at the source.
• Don’t divide the world into
saints and sinners. This can lead to
time-wasting and unproductive speculation
about adversaries’ motives,
when the real issue is moving forward.
• Seek dialogue and attempt to
work together to solve problems.
Position issues as problems with
solutions. This is best done by presenting
realistic alternatives.
• Never deceive the media or the
public. Maintain credibility. Don’t
exaggerate or hype the issue.
• Develop a campaign strategy
which is realistic, practical, and
doable.
• Be ready for confrontation if
your target remains unresponsive. If
accepted channels don’t work, prepare
an escalating public awareness
campaign to place your adversary on
the defensive.
“This blueprint,” Spira
continues, “fits within the context of
the stepwise, incremental movement.
Rather than daydreaming
about perfect solutions, activists
need to push for the most rapid
progress that can realistically be
achieved. It’s a process with constant
movement. Keep building on
previous achievements. Aim for initiatives
that grow, proliferate, and
become self-sustaining. It is an
enterprise which develops a life of
its own. Each action, each event is
a step forward. With each step forward,
you can look further ahead.”
Strategies for Activists i s
the record of Spira’s accomplishments
in the civil rights, labor, and
animal rights movements––a record,
for animals, unequaled and unapproached
despite such obscurity that
most activists may still not know his
name, working on an annual budget
of less than the salaries of many
middle-rank executives at other animal
advocacy organizations.
“Activism has become
powerful and institutionalized in
recent decades,” Spira observes,
“but this in no way diminishes the
role of the committed individual.
When I first became an activist, I
had nothing at my disposal other
than a portable typewriter and some
postage stamps. Today, I still operate
out of my apartment and rely on
the same tools and resources available
to most people, although the
typewriter has been replaced with a
word processor, and we sometimes
use faxes and FedEx to add urgency
to the correspondence. Otherwise, I
still write, follow up, and negotiate
in person and over the telephone, to
try to rally people around causes that
hold promise of making the world a
less violent place.”

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