Making social change requires a political animal
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2002:
Making social change requires a political animal by Julie Lewin
The MAP Model for Organizing
by Bill Moyer
with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley and Steven Soifer
New Society Publishers (P.O. Box 189, Gabriola Island, B.C.,
Canada, V0R 1X0), 2001. 229 pages. $16.95.
Organizing for Social Change:
Midwest Academy Manual for Activists
by Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendell & Steve Max
Seven Locks Press (3100 W. Warner Ave. #8, Santa Ana, CA 92704),
2001. 429 pages, $23.95.
Two exceptionally useful books, one new and one an updated
classic, should push us all before a mirror to ask ourselves if we
are accomplishing as much for animals as we could, have learned from
our successes and failures, are making effective use of our advocacy
time, and are supporting national organizations that provide the
right kind of leadership.
Neither Doing Democracy by Bill Moyer nor Organizing for
Social Change by Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendall and Steve Max of the
Midwest Academy for Social Change makes reference to animal rights,
yet both warrant urgent attention.
Bill Moyer has spent more than 40 years as a full-time
theorist, organizer, consultant and educator about social
movements. Since 1973 the Midwest Academy has trained more than
20,000 activists, in a broad range of causes. Earlier editions of
the Midwest Academy Manual have been required reading for many degree
programs around the country.
There is a lesson here: for decades other causes have
concentrated heavy resources on organizing politically and developing
political skills. Animal advocates have not yet made a comparable
Moyer and the Midwest Academy have much to teach us that with
few exceptions we have not learned from within our own movement.
Most important is a way of thinking. Effective activism is only
coincidentally self-expression, if at all. Effective activism
requires the ability and willingness to accurately perceive the
nuances of public perception and behavior. It requires strategic
thinking. It requires evaluating goals and strategies utterly
objectively, to discern where the balance of economic power lies,
the political dynamics surrounding the goal, the resources available
to activists to achieve the goal, and the most advantageous public
image that activists can use. Also essential is recognizing how
these dynamics evolve over time, necessitating strategic shifts.
Political thinking does not come naturally to most people,
but is not difficult to learn. Once you get it, it is like e-mail:
you realize you barely functioned without it.
Responding to “the absence of a practical model that
describes and explains the normal path of successful social
movements,” Moyer offers a highly detailed Movement Action Plan
(MAP) which describes the trajectory of any cause and most effective
use of any public opinion-shaping method. MAP identifies four roles
of activism: citizen, rebel, change agent, and reformer. He
explains how each role can be filled effectively–and how they are
often filled ineffectively.
Moyer also diagrams “Eight Stages of the Process of Social
Movement Success,” which progress from “normal times” with a
festering grievance, requiring advocates of change to “prove the
failure of official institutions”; advance to “ripening conditions”
and “take off”; either falter or regroup with “perception of
failure”; and eventually achieve “majority public opinion,” leading
to “success” and “continuing the struggle.”
All readers will have their favorite observations or
epiphanies. Among mine is Moyer’s analysis under “Stage 5,
Perception of Failure.” Moyer cautions activists against naively
expecting the world to rapidly make a 180-degree turn on their issue,
becoming wrongly disillusioned, and giving up prematurely, without
having built the enduring foundation that is the only hope for real
Incorrect appraisal of the situation produces naive
disillusionment. Further, it leads to the “emergence of the
negative rebel,” who makes a “bad revolutionary.” The profile of the
bad revolutionary is described in marvelous, instructive and almost
Organizing for Social Change concentrates more on how to
develop a strategy and see it through. The “Midwest Academy Strategy
Chart,” attributed to Heather Booth, consists of Goals;
Organizational Considerations; Constituents, Allies, and
Opponents; Targets; and Tactics. It is a fabulous accompaniment
to Moyer’s MAP. The manual is divided into “direct action
organizing,” “organizing skills,” “support for organization” and
“selected resources,” which cover 26 major topic areas.
Let the book fall open anywhere and I’ll bet you’ll learn
Without the skills enhanced or provided by these books,
untold activist hours are squandered, and many are spent
One example of counterproductive behavior is heavy reliance
on protests, which is a sign of a movement which has not matured
past infancy. Protests do not build a grassroots machine capable of
wielding political power, and they miseducate new activists about
the dynamics of change.
The time needed to plan and attend a protest usually could be
better spent in a variety of ways. Examples include recruiting
door-to-door, attending a city council meeting, writing letters to
the editors of local newspapers, and-above all-building an enduring,
expanding grassroots organization capable of punishing and rewarding
public officials at the polls.
Even peaceful protests encourage the target public to view
advocates as marginal people with whom they share few values.
Further, protests subliminally encourage advocates to view
themselves as outsiders. If there is one lesson I have learned as an
animal activist and lobbyist for 16 years, it is that we need to try
to position ourselves inside, not outside general society and social
I am not suggesting weakening our goals. However, a rule of
thumb applicable to revolutionaries in any cause is that the more
controversial or radical your goals, the more conservative your
image needs to be.
Let’s get political
Another example of counterproductivity: Across the country
legions of animal rescuers (including me) devote vast time and money
to rescuing cats and dogs. Yet how many have made it their business
to forge relationships with the members of their town council? How
many have identified their supporters by voting district? How many
report to their supporters at least annually what their local
government is doing to help or hinder, and tell their supporters how
each elected official voted on animal-related issues, including
budget items? Is the local government building and adequately
funding shelters and sterilization programs? Is it passing and
enforcing appropriate legislation? Is it even aware of the homeless
Most important, are voters who care about animals aware of
the councillors’ state of awareness?
Animal rescue groups call me often to seek advice about
resolving dreadful situations regarding dog pounds, feral cat
colonies, and other emergencies. Politically speaking, they nearly
always are starting from scratch. Although the callers have often
been in and out of the local pound for years, they are virtually
always unaware of the many official documents available to them
through Freedom of Information Acts to maintain accountability or
help build their case. Nor are they familiar enough with town
government to know that in nearly all jurisdictions, members of the
public can address town officials by requesting to be put on the
agendas of public meetings.
Learning to think politically includes programming yourself
to conceptualize the workings of government (including your dog
pound), and to assume the existence of documents awaiting your
discovery. Function politically, and you will prevent many bad
situations from occurring in the first place. You will also be able
to reverse others more quickly.
Creating a political culture
A third example of counterproductive behavior is animal
advocates’ extreme resistance to being political-I use this term
broadly-although many institutionalized cruel behaviors to animals
can be stopped only by being political.
As a case in point, in Connecticut fewer than two percent of
the adult population are licensed hunters, and only a tiny fraction
of one percent are licensed trappers, yet our state wildlife agency
consists of hunters and trappers who energetically promote both
pursuits. Public education campaigns and protests have not and will
not stop this. The solution is to create a grassroots political
machine of animal advocates capable of rewarding or punishing
legislators at the polls. This is what the hunters have done and why
they drive wildlife policy.
Legislators fear that the politically organized hunting
lobby-as small as it is-is large enough to vote them out of office by
providing the winning margin to their opponent.
Remember my favorite political axiom: A well-organized
minority can drive public policy on an issue, because every
politician knows that such a minority can swing elections.
These examples bring me to the weakness of both these books.
Their starting point is the use of the dynamics of
participatory democracy to gain change.
To gain change in the public policy arena, advocates of a
cause must wield the power of the vote to reward or punish
politicians on Election Day.
Doing Democracy is strangely apolitical. Moyer provides no
information about the structure or dynamics of politics. Yet I
enormously admire and applaud Moyer’s skill in diagramming power in
society. Animal advocates cannot approach their potential to help
animals without understanding how power is allocated among social
institutions. Developing a culture of professional, political
activism is impossible without such perspective.
Organizing for Social Change does incorporate political
organization and the dynamics of elections, but wrongly generalizes
by attributing success on issues to winning majority opinion. Animal
advocates have long since won majority opinion on some issues, but
have not succeeded in translating majority support into reductions of
institutionalized animal abuse because opponents are much better
Sign up now
Formed to address the lack of a focused political culture in
animal activism is the new National Institute for Animal Advocacy.
The Institute will offer intensive three, four and five-day
courses in political activism with the intentions of:
1) Raising the level of national discourse among advocates;
2) creating a political culture within animal advocacy; and 3)
turning out professional, effective advocates, who are equipped to
function politically with the expertise that other grassroots issue
groups have had for decades.
The curriculum will include: Theories of Social Change, The
Structure of Government and the Structure of Politics; Creating Your
Grassroots Political Machine for Animals: Municipal, County and
State; Political Dynamics, the Legislative Process and the
Political Mind; Creating a Lobbying Presence; the Mechanics and
Dynamics of Political Campaigns (necessary to understand the
political mind); Recruitment Strategies; Exploiting Media and
Creating an Image; Fundraising Strategies; and Legal Issues
pertinent to these activities.
The faculty will consist of seasoned political activists from
other issue groups, legislators, and other political figures.
The program will be rigorous enough to qualify for academic
credit if arrangements are made in advance.
The first Institute session will be held October 18-21 in
Southeastern Connecticut at a beautiful ocean-front retreat and
conference center. We will provide train station and airport
pick-ups and drop-offs.
Alternatively, we can bring a future session of the Institute to you.
For details, please contact me as soon as possible at
<firstname.lastname@example.org> or 203-453-6590.
Meanwhile, read Doing Democracy and Organizing for Social
Change and let me know what you think of them.
[Julie Lewin is president and lobbyist for Animal Advocacy
Connecticut, and executive director of the National Institute for