The Most Effective Activism for Animal Liberation
By Joyce Friedman
“When is the next protest?” “Is there
going to be a protest?”
“Ask Joyce; she’ll know.”
Over the past five years, these questions would flow regularly into
my email inbox or voicemail, or from activists passing by my table
vegetarian restaurants. I was the protest queen of sorts. As northeast
campaign coordinator for a national animal rights organization, I organized
and attended dozens in New York City. Along with many extremely dedicated
volunteers, I put great amounts of time and effort, and the organization
put forth large amounts of money, into these endeavors—the famous
Ringling Brothers protests, for example.
When a circus enters our city, animal advocates feel deep sadness for
the enslaved animals, and intense anger at the exploiters. The first
and strongest urge most of us have is to go out in front of the circus
arena, shout at anyone who will listen about the cruelty and injustice,
make sure the circus owners hear us, show video footage of what really
goes on, and try to ensure that audience members never return again.
Laudable actions, right? We are speaking out for these poor animals
and not remaining silent. Yes, laudable intentions, but… are
these actions effective?
Every dedicated animal activist should be continually exploring what
the most effective strategies are to achieve our goals. A crucial preliminary
step is to define what our goals are. This process sounds easy enough,
but in fact can be a difficult one, clouded by the intense emotions
we feel about the horrific animal suffering we know occurs every moment
of every day. After years as a protest organizer, I recently started
reflecting on how effective the circus protests, for example, really
are in reaching my goal—for circuses to stop using animals. Period.
I used to measure the success of protests by such things as the number
of thumbs up we got from passing motorists, the number of people who
said they will not return next year, and, most satisfyingly, the number
of people who actually ripped up their tickets right on the spot after
they saw our video and spoke to us. This was exciting! However, I realize
now that even if, for example, 30 people honked their approval, four
families promised never to return, two families ripped up their tickets,
and hundreds more saw a few seconds of video footage who may tell others,
this sadly does not have an iota of an effect on the continuation of
Ringling Brothers’ exploitation. There are still enough audience
members to fill arenas and Ringling Brothers continues their shows
Madison Square Garden and nationally. To educate enough people to reduce
the tens of thousands across the country who willingly attend the circus
will take decades, if we can do it at all. Unless consumer-oriented
campaigns are able to successfully target and influence hundreds of
thousands of consumers, if not millions, to change their buying habits,
targeted industries will not change because they still have enough
to profit from.
A perfect example of this dilemma is the campaign against Macy’s
in which extremely dedicated activists regularly and creatively protested
outside the famous New York department store to convince customers to
boycott Macy’s until they stop selling fur. Stacks of petition
signatures were gathered from passersby and meetings were attempted
with Macy’s president. A few years later, Macy’s continues
to sell fur, still citing large enough customer demand. Despite the
periodic media coverage and the number of passersby influenced, there
just wasn’t a large enough consumer base reached to have an effective
This type of analysis led me to realize that we have to do something
different or we will be protesting for the next 40 years outside such
exploiters as Ringling Brothers and Macy’s, and elephants, tigers,
minks, foxes and other sentient beings will continue to be bred, captured,
enslaved, tortured and killed. Upon much reflection and assessment,
and from discussions with others who were also questioning and reflecting,
I realized that while education is a crucial part of the road to animal
liberation, it is simply not enough. The momentary release we get from
chanting in solidarity on a street corner and educating an unfortunately
tiny portion of the “mainstream” is simply not the most
effective way of reaching our goal, if our goal is to really stop animal
abuse. If a few thumbs-up is what we want and nothing more, then let’s
continue to protest.
And so I came to find political action. I got involved with a New York-based
political action committee (PAC) called the League of Humane Voters
(LOHV). Animal rights PACs work to get laws passed to make animal exploitation
illegal. Isn’t that what we want? Political action is direct,
assertive and meaningful—we go after the abusers and say “you
cannot hurt animals anymore; it is illegal!” We force industries
via laws to stop unjust acts. Will it take awhile? Yes. Is it worth
it? Darn right it is!
The purpose of LOHV is to mobilize public concern for animals through
the democratic political process. We campaign for the election of candidates
for public office who will work to enact animal rights legislation.
We assist them in a variety of ways, such as sending mailings to their
constituents, volunteering for their election campaign, and running
ads and issuing supportive press releases. We ask the candidates to
make a public statement acknowledging our support of their candidacy
and their support for humane legislation and specific issues.
If the candidates are elected, we then lobby them on the bills they
agreed to support while they were running for office. It is really
simple: they recognize that they need us—we helped them get elected
and may do so again—so they want to help with what we ask for.
That’s how politics works—let’s have it work for
It is noteworthy that the National Rifle Association has fewer supporters
than do animal protection organizations yet are much better organized
and politically influential. There is no longer an excuse for animal
rightists to not be the same. Recognizing that animal exploitation is
not just a moral issue, LOHV intends to make animal rights a mainstream
political issue by building support among citizens, activists, political
parties, candidates and elected representatives. We consistently work
to grow our database of animal-sympathetic voters through outreach and
education. We are not just passing legislation; we are growing a grassroots
political movement for animals which can increasingly influence lawmakers.
Long-term planning for long-lasting results.
Some of the bills being worked on by LOHV will ban canned hunts (recreational
shooting of confined animals), ban force-feeding of ducks for foie gras,
give local governments the power to ban wildlife trapping, extend the
felony cruelty law to include wildlife, and ban some forms of the use
of animals in entertainment (with a goal of eventually banning all forms).
I like the LOHV approach in that it takes on winnable issues. For example,
it is strategic to first work against the production of foie gras before
an attempt to ban the raising of chickens for their flesh. Yes, we’d
like to outlaw the killing of all animals for food. But we all know
this cannot happen immediately. However, most individuals will agree
the production of foie gras, not a staple in most people’s diets,
is cruel once they learn about it; then they will become a humane voter
on this issue. It is strategic to bridge the gap between animal rights
and more mainstream sentiments by starting with more winnable, less
“extreme” issues; grow the number of supporters and then
move on to larger issues. Just as in consumer boycott campaigns, we
have to reach out to large numbers of people but the difference here
is we are trying to reach those who agree with us (i.e. are animal
to some extent), not try to convert those who do not agree (such as
fur store customers). The former is a more realistic task.
An excellent book on creating strategic, winnable, grassroots campaigns,
growing your organization as well as a grassroots movement, is a book
that LOHV has come to consider its “bible”—Organizing
for Social Change; Midwest Academy Manual for Activists by Kimberly
Bobo, et al. We learned from this book how crucial it is to create
campaign strategy by choosing appropriate short- and long-term goals,
analyzing who your targets are (that is, those who can give you what
you want, such as a politician whose support you want on a bill), figure
out who your allies and opponents are, and being aware of organizational
Many activists have fears and often animosity about politics. Many
of us believe politicians are dishonest, corrupt, and uncaring. Others
don’t trust or even understand politics. I felt all of the above
and more. I am now comfortable in the world of politics, although I
am still learning something new each day. I have found politicians who
truly do want to stop animal abuse, but even if most don’t in
their hearts, that is not important. What is important to them is votes.
So we approach them when they need us; we offer them help, and in return
they, once elected, help us.
Since I joined LOHV in late 2003 I have had extremely positive and rewarding
meetings with several local politicians whom we have endorsed and who
want to introduce and support animal rights legislation and even help
us to lobby their fellow politicians.
So who should get involved in political action for animals?
• You who no longer attend protests because you doubt their value
but feel guilty that you aren’t being an advocate.
• You who attend protests but want to do more.
• You who feel burned out from traditional techniques.
• You who are aware of animal suffering but haven’t been
spreading the message.
• All animal activists!
For more information on animals in circuses, visit www.circuses.com.
To learn more about political activism, volunteering, or financially
supporting LOHV, see www.humanevoters.org
or contact Joyce at email@example.com or (718) 807-6748.