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Broadening Your Base for Animal Rights

Let's face it, working for animals can at times be frustrating, or even downright depressing. Getting more people involved in your animal campaign with will not only strengthen your collective voice, it will provide emotional support when times gets tough. Broadening your base through a community coalition will infuse fresh energy into your campaign. In addition, coalitions can diversify your campaign, which in turn may attract even more people to your cause.

Building a Coalition:

A coalition is a broad group of individuals or organizations cooperating to develop effective strategies for accomplishing a common goal. Coalitions will help you work more effectively because each group or individual comes to the table with unique talents and skills that they can lend to the campaign. In addition, they allow you to divvy up tasks — such as media outreach, grassroots organizing, and public education — so that you or your group are not bearing the entire burden. Coalitions also assist you with reaching people who may not be closely tied to the animal rights movement but who might otherwise be sympathetic to your cause. And since some media and lawmakers often portray animal rights activists in an unflattering light, coalitions allow you to present your message with different messengers and different perspectives.

So instead of having the same twenty core animals activists at a protest at your town's annual rodeo, try to recruit religious leaders, county supervisors, ranchers, labor representatives, and a class of elementary school children to speak out against rodeo cruelties. A diverse chorus of voices will reach those who may tune out animal rights advocates, and will blunt your opposition's efforts to marginalize you. A headline in the paper that reads, "Reverends and Ranchers Against Rodeos" will certainly turn heads and help garner more support.

No doubt, finding and working with allies can be a challenge. But the rewards are worth it. Don't ignore organizations and individuals merely because you may disagree on other issues. A coalition is formed for one purpose: to achieve a specific goal (e.g., banning the circus from your community). Most other agreements or disagreements can and should take a back seat. While a rancher may never agree with you about vegetarianism, he or she may think rodeos are, indeed, cruel.

Reaching Out: The first step of coalition-building is to research your community and identify local groups that may be interested in joining your efforts. At first glance, faith groups, garden clubs, small businesses, Rotarians, and conservation groups may appear to have little in common. In fact, these groups and many others may sympathize with your campaign to end animal cruelty. And don't overlook local counterparts to national organizations, such as the Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches. Local college campuses are also fertile territory for clubs that may be interested in your cause.

One of your top priorities should be recruiting groups or individuals with the greatest political influence. If they won't join or don't want to publicly support your campaign, seek their help in the form of behind-the-scenes backing or simply consult with them for strategic advice. They may have political connections that you don't and may offer to quietly press your case.

Prepare your pitch before contacting any group. Research the size of the group, its purpose, activities, offices, and structure. When asking for help, package your request so that your needs mesh with the group's program. For instance, if you are approaching a group that works with children, you may ask them to work with you to ensure schools offer vegetarian meals for those students who do not eat meat. Many churches have programs that teach about revering creation; they may be open to helping you end the use of leghold traps because such cruel practices are at odds with their religious teachings. And there are a growing number of faith-based groups, such as the Christian Vegetarian Association, Humane Religion, and Caring for Creation, that are natural allies to traditional animal rights organizations because they believe that compassion toward animals is a fundamental tenet of their faith.

Be Specific: Since every group will have different resources, providing a specific list of activities allows them to choose the ones that they feel they can accomplish. Such a list could include: hosting phone banks, triggering their phone trees, distributing an action alert, adding their organizations to a sign-on letter, getting names on petitions, meeting with editorial boards or lawmakers, or sponsoring an event. Groups with limited time or interest may still be willing to educate their members about your issue through their newsletters, speakers bureau, or meetings.

Building a coalition can be a crucial step in any successful campaign. Its takes tact, hard work, and a little creativity. But you may be pleasantly surprised by how much support and momentum your campaign will gain by adding voices to yours.

CASE STUDY #3

Emailing for Bears

When Program Coordinator Brian Vincent learned about a plan by the federal government to kill bears who claw trees on corporate timberland in Oregon, he put our grassroots electronic network to use.

Wildlife Services, a division within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claimed that black bears in the state were killing trees when they scratched them to get to the sap. For the past twenty years, the agency has quietly killed "offending" bears by catching them in leg snares, then shooting them. Wildlife Service agents first place bait to attract bears to snare sites. When a bear steps on a buried pan, a trigger sends a wire coil around the bear's foot that tightens as the bear struggles. The agency's policy is to check the snares every other day. That means that a bear could spend up to 48 hours in the snare, longer if Wildlife Services doesn't check it on time. Bears caught in snares are shot. If the bear has cubs who are nearby, Wildlife Services' policy is to kill them, as well.

Along with other animal rights and conservation organizations, we sent urgent action alerts to our grassroots Internet network, urging our members to flood Wildlife Services' Portland, Oregon office with letters of opposition to the bear kill. As a result, the agency received nearly 700 comments, nearly all of which expressed outrage over the bear snare program. And the public furor over the agency's plan in turn sparked media interest, generating stories in newspapers and on radio and television throughout the state.

While Wildlife Services ultimately decided to go forward with the bear killing program that year, the agency is evaluating non-lethal alternatives. Most importantly, by mobilizing activists through email, Born Free USA and a coalition of other groups were able to send a powerful message to Wildlife Services that the public was hopping mad over the bear kill and would not sit idly by while they snare and shoot these beautiful animals.

For more information about our Action Alert Team, contact us at 800-348-7387 or info@bornfreeusa.org.

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