From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:

Get Political for Animals and win the laws they need
by Julie E. Lewin
National Institute for Animal Advocacy
(6 Long Hill Farm, Guilford, CT 06437), 2007.
276 pages, paperback. $29.00.

“Becoming a power player in the lawmaking
arena requires learning to think and function as
a lawmaker does–politically and
strategically–with the arithmetic of elections
foremost,” Julie Lewin emphasizes in Get
Political for Animals. “Ignorance of political
dynamics leads to repeated, avoidable failures
–and to thinking small.
“When voting on legislation,” Lewin
elaborates, “a lawmaker cares only about his
constituents who vote. He doesn’t care about his
constituents who don’t vote or what the broader
public thinks. Hearing from advocates who live
outside his district wastes his time, which he
doesn’t appreciate. It also shows him we’re
politically naïve.

“In the absence of voting blocs,
lawmaking is driven by money. When casting a
vote means choosing between a wealthy business
interest and a politically organized grassroots
group, a lawmaker goes with the grassroots group
every time. Why? She knows that otherwise the
voting bloc will punish her on Election Day–by
endorsing her opponent and directing members in
her district to vote for her opponent. She knows
that the wealthy interest cannot protect her from
Variants of these paragraphs recur every
few pages through Get Political for Animals,
along with real-life cases in which a small
amount of political organization accomplished a
great deal, while huge investments of money and
effort in other approaches achieved either
nothing or negative outcomes.
Lewin points out repeatedly that hunters
have influence hugely disproportionate to their
numbers–barely 4% of the U.S. population, a
fifteenth as many as people who keep dogs or
cats, outnumbered even by vegetarians–because
they are politically organized. Foes of hunting
have barely begun to mobilize.
Many of Lewin’s most instructive examples
come from her own experience of decades as an
animal advocate. As a former newspaper reporter
and magazine writer, Lewin at first put much
effort into media campaigns. She learned that,
“Media attention almost never achieves strong
laws or public policies…If media coverage is
not buttressed by political power, the resulting
laws, if any, are cosmetic and weak, and are
not enforced.
“Media coverage of proposed legislation
is often harmful,” Lewin adds, “because it
gives your opposition ink and air time to attack
it–and alerts opponents who then contact their
Much of the opposition to pro-animal
goals was rallied in response to the success of
pro-animal media campaigns which were not backed
by political mobilization.
Chapter 9 of Get Political for Animals
extensively covers how and when to seek
publicity. Unfortunately, Lewin offers one
pointer in the wrong direction. “Get over the
notion,” Lewin writes, “that today’s reporters
do real research. You have to hand-feed them
everything except opponents’ views, which they
manage to find on their own.”
Today’s reporters actually spend much
more time on research than when Lewin was a
reporter. Journalism education today far more
heavily emphasizes research technique. But
changes in how research is done feed into Lewin’s
other points about how both successful politics
and obtaining publicity depend on having local
angles and being prepared.
Today’s reporters no longer work much out
of press clubs. Most attend far fewer press
conferences than 30 years ago. Fewer newspapers,
with smaller staffs, mean reporters spend less
time on research that requires leaving the
office. Sifting through documents obtained via
the Freedom of Information Act, a new reporting
technique in the 1970s, died with the advent of
the Internet.
But today’s reporters typically use
web-searching to check the backgrounds of sources
and subjects, and to find varied perspectives on
issues. The typical news article of 30 years
ago used two sources. The typical article today
uses four–and an embarrassing action or stupid
remark today is far more likely to follow a
source or subject for years.
In addition, the Internet has hugely
increased the use of “value added” reporting, in
which a reporter grafts a local angle to
syndicated material. “Value added” reporting
resembles the team reporting of 30 years ago,
but the team members may be scattered worldwide.
This increases the breadth of reportage while
decreasing the prominence of primary sources,
except in their own communities.
Conversely, a national story is much
more likely to be given a local angle if local
activists are already making the angle known.
The importance of local organization has
accordingly never been higher.
But effective local organization must
take a form that has political leverage.
“Demonstrations and protests almost never
achieve meaningful laws or public policies,”
Lewin notes, having staged many protests herself
before learning that this was ineffective,
“because they in no way hold individual lawmakers
accountable to their own voting constituents.”
Lewin is also critical of petitioning as
it is usually practiced. “Unless petitions are
designed politically and strategically, they do
not create one-to-one accountability of any
individual lawmaker to his or her own
constituents,” Lewin points out. “In contrast,
a highly effective petition is addressed to a
specific lawmaker; asks that lawmaker to take a
specific position (support or oppose a specific
bill or proposed ordinance); is signed only by
the lawmaker’s own constitutents; includes the
home (voting) address of each signer; and
includes the phone and e-mail addresses of
signers who are willing to provide them. These
petitions are joyously effective, because the
lawmaker sees that you have the contact
information to let each signer know exactly what
actions he takes.”
Lewin provides extensive tactical advice
on GOTV, short for Getting Out The Vote, the
most basic component of effective voting bloc
Chapter six offers a detailed
introduction to all of the various levels of
lawmaking and regulation, which may save many
activists years of fruitlessly seeking change at
the wrong levels. For example, the
administrators who execute public policy rarely
have authority to amend it, but the policymakers
may be quite content to let the administrators
take the brunt of public protest.
Time and again, Lewin reminds that
protests are usually futile. “In my many years
of work at the [Connecticut] state capitol,”
Lewin testifies, “I never saw a lawmaker decide
to vote for or against an animal-related bill
because of a protest. Law-makers often view
protests as infantile, engaged in by people who
don’t understand the dynamics of power and
marginalize themselves. Protests retard our
political advance for animals,” Lewin believes.
“They miseducate new enthusiasts about the
dynamics of change. They subliminally reaffirm
the protesters’ self-image as outsider rather
than mainstreamer. They cause malaise among some
segments of the public, strengthening the
psychological barrier between the public and the
facts we want the public to understand.”
But beyond all else, “Protests use time
poorly,” Lewin believes. “If 100% or 50% or 20%
of the time and effort put into organizing and
attending protests had been spent instead
recruiting members to voting blocs for animals,
how far along we would be!”

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