Anyone who hasn’t lived under a slab of tofu for the past four years of Our Hen House’s existence knows that we love and live animal activism, especially the effective sort! Author and longtime animal activist Caryn Ginsberg shares this very passion, which is exactly why we’re thrilled to revitalize this past piece of hers from the OHH archives for #ThrowbackThursday.
This article originally appeared on Our Hen House on February 12, 2012. If you’d like to see a certain OHH article resurrected, email us at info [at] ourhenhouse [dot] org.
Today we welcome Caryn Ginsberg, author of a book that every animal activist must read, Animal Impact: Secrets Proven to Achieve Results and Move the World. Caryn is a longtime proponent of animal rights, and we are thrilled that she is shedding some light for us on how to make our advocacy efforts more effective. Also, stay tuned to Our Hen House for an upcoming review of Caryn’s book. [EDITOR’S NOTE: You can find that book review, no longer upcoming, here!]
Three Proven Steps to More Effective Advocacy
By Caryn Ginsberg
Have you resolved to be an even more effective activist in 2012? [EDITOR’S NOTE: Or 2014? Or beyond?] OHH’s recent [EDITOR’S NOTE: Well, not so recent anymore…] blog entry, “10 Questions Animal Advocates Should Ask Themselves,” shared points to help you make this year the best ever — for you and the animals. We should revisit the first question often: “Am I effectively doing what I can in my life to change the world for animals?”
Activity does not equal results.
Like many of you, I got my start at outreach tables, leafleting events, and demonstrations. Some of these activities were more effective than others.
When I tabled to promote veganism at health fairs, for example, many people were eager to learn how they could eat more plant-based foods. When I spent time on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, fewer of my interactions with passing tourists and residents were worthwhile. More often than not, it seemed, I ended up speaking with at least one animal-farmer who was there on vacation – not the most likely candidate for change.
It’s not enough for us to be passionate about helping animals. We want to be “passionately productive.” Sometimes, our passion gets in the way of our productivity. Paul Shapiro, founder of Compassion Over Killing and now with The Humane Society of the United States (be sure to catch his interview on OHH’s podcast [EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul has since appeared on the OHH podcast for a second time!]), talks about how some of his initial raucous protests and sit-ins weren’t useful: “The intent was to help animals, but I don’t think we were introspective about whether we were tangibly helping animals.” And Bruce Friedrich, previously with PETA and now with Farm Sanctuary (also interviewed recently for the podcast), frequently talks about the importance of focusing on effectiveness and time management to maximize our accomplishments.
What does it take to be passionately productive?
To be passionately productive, we want to understand why people do and don’t change their behavior. Let’s return to the subject of resolutions. For 2012 – or ever – did you resolve to eat healthier (yes, some of us favor the most unhealthy vegan foods), walk instead of drive, purchase fewer new things, recycle more, practice kindness (to people as well as animals), or institute another new habit? Have you ever fallen short?
If you’re like most people, you’re not acting on everything that could make the world better. That’s because the benefits of the change don’t seem as great as the barriers do. For example, by walking, you can both help the environment and get exercise (benefits). However, you feel pressed for time, it’s cold, and the bus stop is far away (barriers). Until you see more benefits than barriers, you’re not going to act, and you’re not going to change.
The people we’re trying to influence operate in the same way. They weigh benefits and barriers, and often keep doing what they have always done. To be passionately productive, we need to help people tip the scales, so that when it comes to animal-friendly action, they see more benefits than barriers.
Three ways to tip the scales for animals…
- Voice matters. We may think that people doing things that harm animals are “bad.” But are you “bad” because you don’t take every single action that would help people and the environment? Of course not. There are advocates who feel as strongly about these issues as we do about helping animals. Would you be more likely to act if one of them berated you for your failure to walk, buy less, recycle, etc.? The tone and style we use can inspire people or drive them away. Alan Darer, co-president of Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) [EDITOR’S NOTE: Of which our very own intern Alessandra Seiter is now co-president!], notes, “People are trying to find any way they can to not listen to what we have to say, because it means they would have to change their lifestyle. They’re looking for a chance to say, ‘I’m going to disregard what that person said, because … they were rude to me.'”
- Create benefits and cut barriers. When animal welfare consultant Belen Brisco works with local governments on anti-tethering ordinances, she doesn’t just tell them that chaining is cruel. She points out that chained animals may bark, resulting in complaint calls that cost the municipality money. She shares research showing that these dogs are more likely to bite. She also provides samples of ordinances adopted elsewhere. Belen then works with Animal Services and other local government officials to tailor the wording as needed. All of these benefits make it easier for officials to vote for change.
- I am not my target audience — listen. We can’t know what motivates change unless we ask. We often launch into our pro-animal monologue: “Here’s why you should avoid animal circuses, only purchase cruelty-free cosmetics, go vegan, etc.” Maybe you’ve seen people glaze over or tune out. How about asking, “what are your thoughts on buying only products not tested on animals?” One person may need an introduction to the issue, while another may want your recommendation on a cruelty-free mascara. When you know where people are coming from, it’s easier to help them see more benefits than barriers. Plus, you’re using a positive voice of respect and interest. Many savvy animal protection groups are using market research to get input from large numbers of people. This process provides insights on how we can be more effective in advocating for animals when speaking to many people at once, such as through websites, brochures, ads, talks, and so forth. To find out what they’re learning, check out Humane Spot.
Learn more ways to enhance your effectiveness.
Leading animal protection advocates are using approaches like these to score impressive victories. The three tips I’ve shared are part of a seven-point framework on effective advocacy that I explain in my new book, Animal Impact: Secrets Proven to Achieve Results and Move the World. Stories and quotes, such as the ones you’ve read here, illustrate each point.
Over 80 advocates working individually, in grassroots groups, in shelters, and in larger organizations, contributed methods that they use to be passionately productive to the book. Learn more at Animal-Impact.com, and find out how to order your copy (paperback or electronic). Discover how to answer an enthusiastic “yes” to the question, “Am I effectively doing what I can in my life to change the world for animals?”
Caryn Ginsberg has spent more than a decade helping animal protection advocates utilize proven strategy and marketing approaches to get better results. She has worked with leading organizations and spoken at the Animal Rights National Conference, Taking Action for Animals, and other events. She has served on boards of directors and advisory boards, including for the Institute for Humane Education and the Humane Research Council. Caryn’s teaching experience includes social marketing, marketing, and strategic management courses for Johns Hopkins University and Humane Society University.