Getting Started In Legislative Advocacy
There are many ways to advocate for non-human animals. We can raise awareness about animal issues in the media, advocate directly with consumers, or even aim to change the law to benefit animal protection.
Legislative advocacy describes any advocacy that attempts to influence legislation — whether that means creating and enacting new policies, or fixing the ones already in place. While the term “legislative advocacy” is often tossed around as an effective way to help animals, it’s important to understand that it encompasses a wide range of actions and advocacy methods. This means that there are many things we can do to help animals through legislative change, even if we’re just one person.
In this blog, we break down some of the insights from Coller Animal Law Forum’s Guide To Legislative Advocacy, an introductory report geared toward educating animal advocates in the U.S. and European Union. However, as you read through, bear in mind that some of the insights may be relevant for legislative advocacy efforts outside of these regions.
Types Of Legislative Advocacy
Legislative advocacy isn’t right for every advocate, or every animal issue. You may find that corporate outreach or consumer campaigning is the best way to achieve your advocacy goals. However, if you do decide to go down the legislative route, there are two key ways to do it: ballot initiatives or referendums, and lobbying.
Introducing A Ballot Initiative Or Referendum
Ballot initiatives are a form of direct democracy where voters bypass their local or state legislature to create, amend, or repeal laws, or to amend constitutions. This is accomplished by putting a proposed statute or amendment directly onto an election ballot. Meanwhile, referendums are rarer than ballot initiatives and occur when citizens vote to uphold or repeal something previously passed by a legislature, usually following a voter petition.
Below you’ll find a visual illustration of the process (broadly speaking) involved in ballot initiatives in the United States. Note that currently, ballot initiatives and referendums are only an option in 26 states.
Ballot initiatives, such as California’s Prop 12, have sometimes proven to be an effective way to protect animals. And while they’ve gained a lot of attention in the U.S., they are also an option in other countries such as France, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, and Ireland. Similarly, the E.U.’s European Citizens’ Initiative allows E.U. citizens to call upon legislators to enact legislation if at least one million signatures are collected across seven member states.
However, successful ballot initiatives take a tremendous amount of work. Supporters are needed to research the issue, draft the proposed ballot, work with officials to circulate it to the public, educate and engage voters, gather signatures, and fundraise to keep the campaign going. Because of this, it’s important to conduct research beforehand to ensure there will be enough voter interest. Likewise, organizations need to make sure they have enough staff power and resources to see the initiative through.
Lobbying For City And State Legislation
Lobbying, or working directly with lawmakers and other government officials to influence a given issue, can be one of the most effective ways to introduce animal-friendly legislation (or amend existing legislation). However, like ballot initiatives, lobbying also requires a good deal of time, effort, and expertise.
When we think about meeting with lawmakers, it’s easy to envision major industries and interest groups spending millions of dollars to push for favorable legislation. This certainly happens — for example, the top ten major U.S. meat and dairy companies have spent a combined $109 million on lobby efforts since 2000 — but smaller non-profits and even individuals can meet with legislators to get their voices heard.
Below is a roundup of tips and tricks to keep in mind as you attempt to set up meetings with local or state legislators (although many of the insights also apply to federal lobbying).
It’s important to bear in mind that successful legislative campaigns require more than a single meeting. Your organization needs to be able to research and draft legislative proposals, meet and build relationships with multiple government officials, gain public support for the issue, and fund the campaign. For this reason, it’s often those with power (including advocacy groups and industries alike) who succeed in their lobbying efforts.
If meeting directly with legislators isn’t something you’re able to do, there are other ways you can lobby for animals on the local or state level. Consider calling or emailing your representatives about a cause you’re passionate about, or you can attend (and even testify at) a relevant public forum, bill hearing, or other government meeting.
Choosing The Right Legislative Advocacy Method
When choosing a path forward for your cause, as with any type of advocacy, it’s important to consider the commitment levels, strengths, and expertise areas of you and your team. And while both ballot initiatives and lobbying efforts can result in effective legislative change for animals, there are pros and cons to consider for each approach.
The legislative process can be an impactful way to advocate for animals. If you’ve never been involved in legislative campaigns before, consider getting your feet wet first. You can reach out to more seasoned advocacy groups for insights on how to draft legislation, contact legislators, or research a potential ballot initiative. You can also volunteer on existing campaigns to get more hands-on experience. Finally, check out Coller Animal Law Forum’s complete guide for more detailed instructions on ballot initiatives and referendums, lobbying, and more.
Remember — behind every successful animal rights law is a passionate animal advocate. Next time, that could be you.