Where My Army At?
Is grassroots animal activism still relevant in the United States? Does a grassroots movement even exist anymore? For a cause like animal advocacy, which has yet to reach mainstream proportions, an “army” of committed volunteers is essential for positive momentum. For the animal protection movement to be successful in the long-term, we will need to rebuild our grassroots organizations and networks and develop closer relationships between local and national groups. Here are five ideas to do just that.
Prior to establishing Faunalytics in 2000, I was the co-coordinator of the Northwest Animal Rights Network (NARN), an outreach-focused grassroots group based in Seattle. NARN was then and remains today one of the most active grassroots animal organizations in the country. But what was once a thriving movement driven by hundreds of local organizations throughout the U.S. has now dwindled to handful of active groups working mostly in isolation. With a few wonderful exceptions, grassroots animal activism in the U.S. is mostly dead.
But there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Fortunately, there are still some excellent grassroots groups in the U.S. (and throughout the rest of the world). Just as important, there are millions of individuals involved in animal activism on one level or another. For many of those people, grassroots groups were the catalyst for their involvement in animal advocacy. If we are to continue to draw people into animal protection work, we must help strengthen grassroots groups and provide a variety of activities for diverse people with different comfort levels.
According to Faunalytics’ Animal Tracker survey, 5% of U.S. adults say they have volunteered for an animal group in the past year. This may not seem like a big percentage, but it translates to more than 11 million people, not even including those under age 18. If each of those people could be motivated to volunteer just one hour per week for animals, that would be almost 600 million volunteer-hours per year. And if we can help those people work as effectively as possible, perhaps we’ll start to see some real changes for animals.
So, as someone who has worn both hats – once coordinating a grassroots animal group and now managing a national organization – I’d like to share a few ideas. These are suggestions meant to strengthen the grassroots and its relationship with national groups, and to leverage the power of that collaboration to bring in and nurture as many new animal advocates as possible. Here are five ideas that could help in those areas:
- Share the Wealth. Grassroots groups are chronically underfunded. Some larger national organizations could give a portion of donations received back to groups in the community from which those donations came. This would not just support the local groups, but it would also be an added incentive for more people to donate.
- Learn about Ourselves. Research to estimate the size of the animal advocacy movement (and its growth over time) has been rare and is now badly outdated. As our most valuable resource, we should do more to understand the people who make up the ranks of animal activists and the depth of their commitment.
- Learn from Each Other. We already do this at conferences and through personal relationships, but more can be done to learn from each others’ successes and failures. Faunalytics provides a platform for national groups to share research with other advocates; similar shared resources could be established for things like advocacy materials and other areas.
- Provide a Friendly Face. In many ways, grassroots activists are the public’s introduction to animal advocacy. To make friends and influence people, they must be as approachable as possible and also respect that it takes time for new people to make personal changes and become activists.
- Disavow vs. Disrespect. I know that people who share a passion for helping animals may not always agree on tactics. I also understand that in some cases it makes sense for organizations to disavow the actions of other advocates. But even when we disagree, we shouldn’t go so far as to disrespect the passion and intent of each others’ activism.
I hope these suggestions resonate with my friends and colleagues among both grassroots and national organizations. If we work together effectively, we can get more people involved in animal advocacy on a deeper level, which will help all of us do more for animals.