Why You Should Vote in November

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2004:

Why You Should Vote in November
by Julie E. Lewin
President, National Institute for Animal Advocacy
President and Lobbyist, Animal Advocacy Connecticut

How painful the presidential campaign is! Again our noses
are publicly rubbed in our political irrelevance. John Kerry, now
the Democratic nominee, found time in his frantic primary campaign
schedule to “hunt,” for all of five minutes, posturing to win votes
from hunters.
Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief Supreme Court Justice
Antony Scalia soon afterward participated in a bird-killing spree.
News media questioned not their thrill-killing, but rather the
impropriety of such ex parte contact between a judge and a litigant
in a pending case.
As in other election years, some animal advocates angrily
contemplate sitting out the presidential election as a mute form of
protest. That would be self-indulgent. Of course we should vote.

The presidential candidates vary greatly in whom they would nominate
to the U.S. Supreme Court, a life appointment, and to the Federal
bench. The judges they select will determine whether animal rights
and environmental groups achieve standing to sue on behalf of
animals, as well as the outcomes of actual cases. The candidates
would likely appoint very different commissioners of agencies that
impact the environment, wildlife, and the care of animals in
factory farms, laboratories, and circuses. The values and
attitudes expressed by the President will also set the tone and
themes of future Presidential and Congressional campaigns.
We should, however, ask ourselves why we are politically
irrelevant, despite representing a cause that receives donations
from one household in four, nationwide, and we should work to
change this.
Hunters were not born with political power. They created it
by organizing into national and state voting blocks, which lawmakers
know can determine the outcome of many elections.
Conversely, it is the shame of the animal rights and animal
welfare movements that for more than 130 years we have clamored for
laws and policies on behalf of animals, yet have avoided the
political arena.
Why don’t more animal charities form auxilliary political
Why do we not take a stand, role up our sleeves, and set
about the hard but necessary work of forming state, county and
municipal voting blocks for animals?
A voting block of just a few thousand voters can swing a
Congressional election. Many statehouse elections are won or lost by
100 or even a dozen votes, as are municipal elections. Lawmakers’
fear of such elections gives organized minorities their power.
In Connecticut, my state, approximately 2.5 million people
are eligible to register to vote. Barely two million have
registered, meaning that 20% of the potential electorate has yet to
be mobilized.
Only slightly more than one million people voted in 2002 for
Governor, for our members of Congress, and for state legislative
representatives. Sixty percent of the public failed to express any
political choice.
Surveys indicate that women and young voters, the very
populations most likely to hold pro-animal views, were among the
people least likely to vote, even though their votes could have
ousted several incumbents with negative records on animal issues and
enough accumulated seniority to hold disproportionate influence on
key legislative committees.
Forty percent of Connecticut voters failed to cast a ballot
in the exceptionally closely contested 2000 Presidential race, and
did not express their views about who should control Congress and the
Statehouse, either.
Only 722,000 people voted in our 2003 municipal elections.
Seventy-one percent of Connecticut voters allowed as few as 15% to
determine critical issues involving animal control and wildlife
habitat, among other topics, without even expressing a choice.
At the municipal level, anyone who could mobilize even 5% of
the voters would direct a force that no politician could ignore.
Contact your state elections agency and your local city hall
or county seat to get the voter turnout statistics for your own
location. The potential for animal advocates to quickly alter the
political arithmetic should quickly become evident.
As the late U.S. Senator Paul Well-stone put it, “Dare to
imagine what politics can be!”
And in the last words of early U.S. labor activist Joe Hill,
“Don’t mourn–organize!”

[Julie Lewin founded the National Institute for Animal Advocacy in
2002 to teach political skills to animal advocates. The next two
NIFAA training seminars are to be held in Connecticut on May 23 and
July 24. Contact Lewin c/o <jlewin@igc.org>; 203-453-6590. Get
further information about NIFAA at
Lewin, at <www.aact-online.org>.

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