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October 1996
Editorial: Some Definitions of Political Action

By Martin Rowe



As if confirmed by the mainstream press's reporting of the presidential race, we tend to have too narrow a definition of political action, social change, and democracy. Indeed, as Paul Clarke's indictment of President Clinton's environmental record in this issue shows, it seems that neither Democrat nor Republican candidate for president has an overwhelmingly sound pro-environment, pro-animal record. While Satya does not endorse any candidate for any particular office, it does attempt to show in this issue that "democracy" takes many forms outside of the horserace which ends this November.

What are the forms of democracy?

One is the kind of personal change that John Robbins talks about in his interview. It's not very exciting, and perhaps not immediately noticeable. But, taking personal responsibility for your actions and making a commitment to change continually sends shock waves into the body politic, making the monster jerk into action. If more and more electricity runs through that body, then we could really make a difference.

Another is the kind of compassionate direct action so movingly described by the activists at the Hegins pigeon shoot. Their stories of satyagraha remind me of the 1960s civil rights heroes of Freedom Summer, who experienced death threats, intimidation, hosepipes, arson, and worse as they campaigned for justice and dignity for those who had been discriminated against, abused, and murdered just because they were supposedly "different" and "inferior."

Another form is the kind of local political action exemplified by Craig Seeman: working his turf, living in his constituency, and trying to make a difference through a grassroots political system. And this month's How to Be An Activist column offers a few tips on perhaps that most elementary form of democratic activity -×the free exchange of information between two people when one hands another a leaflet.

The environmental and animal advocacy movements need all these facets of democratic action. We need to vote for those who are the least bad and make them better. We need the people who, this summer during World Animal Awareness Week, walked through the "People's House" (Congress) talking to representatives and senators about animal issues. These people may not have been wearing alligator-skin loafers, but they make elected officials there feel comfortable with what many still see as a radical agenda and I know they're going to make a difference.

We also need people who take direct action: who rescue animals while a gun is trained at their head, who disrupt complacency by not shutting up, who get into places where they are not wanted and throw a light on suffering, cruelty, and environmental destruction. Just as we need people who write letters and make calls, we need people who push the envelope and call the oppressors' bluff. We need people like the Los Angeles Three, who disrupted a fur-selling Federated Department Store and were sentenced to time in prison when they refused to pay bail. They went on a hunger strike, drew attention to the horrors of fur-farming, and even changed some jail regulations to restore a bit of dignity to our penal system. And we also need people to wake up to their own power, to get off their butts and make a commitment to change, to stop whining about how bad things are and unleash their ability to determine their own lives by choosing compassion over violation, sustainability over desertification, and pluralism over separatism.

So, go vote. Go vote. Vote knowing that if you don't you've got no right to complain. Vote because right now people in other countries are being imprisoned, tortured, forced into exile, and killed because they want to do what you're not sure you feel like doing today because it's too much effort. Vote because apathy is the enemy of freedom. And vote knowing that you're engaged in just one part of the greater experience of being in a society that -×for all its faults - at least allows you to express an opinion. And, on all other days of the year, work in your own way to make social change real, for you, your community, your country, and maybe even the world.



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