BOOKS: Strategic Action for Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2010:

Strategic Action for Animals:
A handbook for strategic movement building,
organizing and activism for animal liberation
by Melanie Joy
Lantern Books (128 2nd Place, Garden Suite,
Brooklyn, NY 11231), 2008. 176 pages,
paperback. $20.00.

“The animal liberation movement┼áneeds to
raise public awareness so that citizens become
mobilized to demand change,” believes Melanie
Public awareness of the major issues in
animal advocacy has already long since been
accomplished. References to animal advocacy
themes and concerns are now ubiquitous in prime
time television, popular films, music, comedy
monologues, and the metaphors of common
speech-and have been for decades. How to
mobilize all this awareness into an effective
demand for change is the continuing problem.

Where the demand can be focused into a specific
political goal, a tactical manual such as Get
Political for Animals and win the laws they need,
by Julie E. Lewin, may help. Where the goal is
more abstract, more associated with shaping
consumer or petkeeper behavior, for example,
less directed approaches may still be
appropriate-but it is essential to accurately
assess where public awareness and opinion are
today, to avoid merely repeating the activist
approaches of the past, without further
advancing the issues.
Joy in Strategic Action for Animals
provides an excellent analysis of organizational
behavior, plus a how-to guide about starting an
activist group, but how Joy defines animal
liberation is fuzzy. Are we talking about
freeing dogs, rats and primates from research
labs? Ending medical experiments? Emptying
factory farms to let pigs, chickens, and other
animals roam freely until time for slaughter? Or
promoting the vegan lifestyle?
These are critical questions, because
the activist strategy appropriate to achieving a
goal depends in large part on what the goal is.
The mere term “animal liberation” means very
different and often highly emotionally charged
things to different people, and whether to use
it may be an important strategic decision.
The philosopher Peter Singer, whose 1974
book Animal Liberation is often credited with
inspiring the modern animal rights movement, is
a committed advocate of peace and human rights,
and opponent of violence in the name of social
causes. By contrast, the “Animal Liberation
Front,” a name used by all sorts of people with
all sorts of motives and often no association
with each other, is often linked to arsons,
bomb threats, and acts of attempted intimidation
of people in animal use industries.
Whether used as Peter Singer uses it, or
as the “ALF” does, “animal liberation” for most
people does not conjure up images of cuddly
kittens at animal shelters. It is not
mainstream, nor will Strategic Action for
Animals likely attract mainstream readers,
despite its merits of promoting nonviolence,
democratic means and unifying goals. How well
Joy’s readers succeed in persuading the
mainstream depends on how well they understand
the people who must be reached and influenced.
Joy poses cogent arguments about why
people should care about animals and become
involved in the world around them, and
identifies potentially allied causes-but animal
advocates seeking cause linkage should be aware
that this approach has often backfired. Most
notoriously, animal groups that courted alliance
with environmentalists in the late 1980s and
early 1990s found that the big environmental
organizations would quite readily rent animal
charities’ donor lists, mail appeals full of
metaphorical references to “adopting” endangered
species, siphon many millions of dollars from
animal advocates, and continue to lend political
support to sport hunting, trapping, even the
Atlantic Canadian seal hunt.
Joy says that groups with noble
intentions crumbled because they lacked
leadership, a vision statement and
organizational skills. Joy offers pages of
valuable suggestions, drawn from her education
and experience in other fields, that might even
have prevented the global banking crisis if they
had been followed. But even if all a group wants
to do is help animals, Joy’s suggestions are
worth reading.
Take for example, her advice to keep in
mind that what a speaker says will affect the
audience. Emotion-laden speeches about animals
suffering usually do not capture audiences who
are capable of ending the agony. Joy encourages
activists to make messages short but clear.
Never moralize, she says and don’t exaggerate.
Stick to the facts.
In a section on protesting and public
demonstrations, Joy recommends against
destroying property, such as burning products
tested on animals. While this may create public
awareness, it might also alienate the same
people the group is trying to win over-and is a
tactic with little history of success. Certainly
the well-publicized record-burnings of the 1950s
did not slow the rise of rock-and-roll.
Location will be a factor. Depending on
the topic, a flamboyant protest might work in
San Francisco, but not in Oklahoma City.
Sponsors of products tested on animals
are often targets of protest. On page 73, Joy
suggests, “Try not to directly threaten the
interests of the media or its sponsors.”
Threats, direct or indirect, can be
misconstrued and be used against groups trying to
help animals. Communication is usually preferable
to conflict. Undoubtedly some companies perform
hideous experiments on animals, sometimes for
cosmetic purposes only. Yet most people,
including most corporate executives, do not
respond positively to threats, intimidation, or
coercion. Threats will most likely backfire,
even uttered in the name of noble causes.
–Debra J. White

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