Getting Started In Getting Active
PICK YOUR PASSION
Figure out what earth and animal issue(s) you are most passionate about. Passion often comes from a sudden realization that changes your life forever. Once the realization hits you, it is what will stoke the embers of your earth and animal activism, even at the lowest points when you sometimes feel like giving up. Once you are aware of something in the world that you believe needs changed, that awareness will motivate you constantly and cause you to see the need everywhere, bringing a sense of responsibility with it.
As you read and learn more about animal and environmental issues, start choosing the ones that mean the most to you. The issues are so widespread you cannot possibly address all of them. You can focus on projects that will help the greatest number of animals, such as those involving animals used in laboratories or saving the animals of the rainforests, or that will help change the fundamental attitudes of large numbers of people. Or you can focus on specific issues or animal cruelty cases.
You do not need to "know it all" to start getting active, but before you can educate others effectively you need to know some basic facts. Visit your local library and bookstores for books and videos on the issues that interest you, and research your issues online. Become familiar with the people and facilities in your area. You'll want to be able to make ethical recommendations to people who may come to you with questions in the future. As you compile facts, resources, and other materials, keep your information organized. File important or useful information according to the issues they concern. Keep the names and addresses of good veterinarians, shelters, low-cost spay/neuter programs and wildlife rescue services for easy reference.
Research existing efforts. Your chosen cause likely already has action taking place at the local, regional, national or international level. Find out what activism is already taking place, and where you fit in. See if you can liaise with existing efforts and consider how you will join in or bolster existing efforts independently. Ask yourself these questions: Do you want to volunteer with or join the board of an existing group? Do you want to find a paid job with an earth or animal activist organization? If you're working at the local level, does a national organization have resources you can use? Where you find no existing efforts, avoid seeing this as a mammoth task of insurmountable proportions. Instead, break it down into small pieces. Aim to get other like-minded people on board. This is easier now than ever before with modern communication tools such as the internet.
Also educate yourself about activism. One of the most inspiring and helpful means for getting more deeply involved in activism is to read broadly in the field of activism. In particular, seek out books written by prominent activists who share wisdom derived from personal experience. Then, read widely within the cause itself, to both understand the issues clearly and to learn about the tactics, ideas, experiences, wins and losses and other useful information from those who have already been active in this cause.
The point of environmental and animal activism is to educate, raise awareness and make people passionate about an issue. Though you can do some of this on your own, especially through the internet, the news media is an invaluable tool when used well. Get in touch with folks who know how to craft press releases, write an editorial and contact the press.
Know the legislative, administrative and judicial processes of your country and/or region. Research your city, county and state environmental and animal laws. Knowing how to effect change to laws and how to make the most of the legislative system is important for every activist.
DETERMINE WHAT YOU CAN DO
Figure out what you can do for your chosen cause. Whether your cause is animal rights, the environment, wildlife issues, the local community garden, or the global economic system, it's important to have specific ideas about how you can contribute. Figure out which skills and resources you can devote to the cause, and how much time you want to dedicate.
While it is great to think big, it's also important to think small and gradual. Incremental change can be as important, and often more enduring, than massive change that happens quickly and disrupts people in a major way. Think through all the possibilities for slowly unleashing change through your school, workplace, community, town, region, country or the world. Decide whether you're a radical activist or a reformer activist. The radical activist is someone who needs to continue pushing for fundamental change and will use such means as protests, boycotts, alternative summits, etc., and generally tends to be wary of those people who sit in the institutions they want changed. A reformist is happy to work with those in the institutions they'd like to see changed, using tools of democracy to work within the existing structure to force social or political progress.
CHOOSE YOUR COURSE OF ACTION
Choose your method of activism. While activism can take hundreds of forms, approach this as being about utilizing your own talents and resources as best you can. You are in the best position to decide how you can achieve your goals as an earth and animal activist, along with the time frame, and whether or not you go it alone.
Do you want to work solo? Being an individual activist is easier now than ever, as you can use forums, videos, photos, websites, blogs, social networking and even advertising to get your message across. On the downside, being the only person working on the issue can be lonely, and it's a lot of work. Sometimes it may cause you to question whether you're on the right track or whether it's worth pursuing.
Do you want to work with others? You could join an existing group or start your own and request collaborators. One of the advantages of being part of a group is the extended power, resources, networks and passion involved. You may also want to collaborate loosely without putting together a permanent structure, for example by inviting collaborators to post on a group blog or a biannual zine.
Would you like to contribute to your cause through writing, teaching, speaking, planning events or art? Or perhaps you're great with website building, blogging or podcasts? Assess your talents realistically, along with the time and resources you have available.
Be willing to put in the work without immediate rewards. In many cases earth and animal activists work for years on a project without seeing the major change they want to bring about. Laws, social norms and other factors can make it very difficult to enact immediate change. It is wise to understand the possibility that during your lifetime you could be paving the way for eventual change, but you may not see it actually occur. Understanding this can help alleviate a sense of frustration, doom and resentment about your cause.
BEGIN TO SPEAK OUT
Speak up about your opinions. Environmental and animal activism starts with the everyday conversations you have with friends, your family and new people you meet. When you're passionate about something, it's hard to stop talking about it, so express yourself freely and engage people in serious conversations about your cause. Aim to educate people and help them get involved.
Be bold. Don't hesitate to walk up to the girl reading an animal magazine in the coffee shop–she might be looking for the group you're starting. But don't force your opinions on people who are averse to hearing them. After you've made your point, people might need time to digest what they've learned. Don't expect everyone to hop on board with your cause right away. Plant a seed and hope it grows.
GROW YOUR CAUSE
Once you've learned the ropes of being an earth and animal activist, you might want to start your own group and become an organizer. Doing outreach on your own is a great way to help the earth and animals, but forming a local group can increase your effectiveness and your clout. The media, the government, and the public will often give more serious consideration to the views of a group.
You will need to gather committed people together and create a solid plan of action. Decide from the beginning what your goal is: Do you want to stage a variety of actions to achieve a particular achievable goal, and then disband when it's achieved? Do you want to form a permanent group that works on different projects surrounding a particular topic? Or do you only want to work together for a single action, for example to coordinate a protest or fundraising effort?
Call your first meeting and discuss tactics. At this meeting, you should decide who will be responsible for which tasks, what your group’s goals are, and how often you want to meet. Be open to new ideas, and encourage people to express themselves.
Put your goals in writing and sketch out a basic plan that highlights what you need, what you want to achieve and some of the big steps that will be necessary to achieve your goals. Consider creating a website or social media page to keep track of your group's goals and members. If you want the group to stay together for a long time, you'll need a good name. Register your name with your local, state and federal governments to establish a unique identity.
Hold regular meetings to enable you to track your goals and coordinate everyone's efforts towards the common project. Set meeting dates well in advance and publicize them widely. Make sure you have a location reserved in advance, whether it's a physical place or a virtual meeting technology like conference calls or a chat room. Possible meeting locations include classrooms, the public library, someone's house, the park, municipal/community building, teen center, community center, coffee shop/cafe, church hall, etc.
If many people are involved in your group or have signed on as temporary volunteers, it may be helpful to form subcommittees. These can be useful for large groups that are doing multiple projects or staging multiple actions with the same goal. Here are some examples of subcommittees that you might need:
- Public Relations: This subcommittee does all of the canvassing, handles advertising, books tables, creates banners and posters, and serves as a press contact to drum up media attention.
- Outreach: This subcommittee liaises with other organizations, local businesses and anyone that might be able to support your cause through advertising, funding, in-kind donations of space or food, etc.
- Logistics: This subcommittee takes care of all practical matters such as scheduling, booking performers, finding needed equipment and services, getting necessary permits, arranging for parking, taking care of food, etc.
- Financial: This subcommittee keeps track of the budget and makes sure everything runs smoothly where money is concerned. Tasks include creating a budget, paying performers and service providers, setting any event prices, arranging for donations and identifying pre-event fundraising needs.
Learn how to message effectively. One thing that distresses time-poor, financially-tight, and already overworked people is being told that what they are doing is wrong. This kind of messaging is bound to make people bite the messenger and turn away from the message. As such, while maintaining your passion, also maintain a sense of courtesy, respect and a basic understanding of motivational psychology. In a nutshell, nobody likes being told that how they're living is wrong and surely you don't either. Instead, focus on enlightening people about societal and individual practices that have outlived their usefulness and provide alternatives that are realistic and obtainable. Have an affirmative vision, one that shows what you are for, not just what you're against. Remember that fear is at the heart of much resistance. Fear of job loss and lifestyle downgrading are two particular fears that drive much resistance to activist messaging. If you're not offering alternatives that are viable, doable and respecting of the people who may be impacted, don't be surprised if they resent your call for change.
Create a whole vision rather than a piecemeal one. How do you envisage a future in which the changes you are advocating for have happened? Paint that vision for everyone and let them imagine themselves in it. Make plans for the future. A good activist thinks into the future, imagining life after the goals have been met. What happens next? Will the change you bring about need constant maintenance? Or will it be self-sustainable? Thinking about this in advance may well change your tactics if you're concerned that just creating change isn't enough.
Learn how to raise money. Though you can do activism on your own dime, there are few kinds of activism that don't require money. Artists need supplies, bloggers need hosting plans, lone protesters need signs. Some forms of activism might even attract grant money, if you know how to write a proposal. Consider using merchandise for additional fundraising. You can sell t-shirts, host a bake sale, or sell related books on the issue you're addressing.
Strong organization from the top down (or the bottom up) will ensure that everything runs smoothly. Don't forget to document your steps, adjust your plans as time goes by and communicate frequently.
When working with others, consider the needs of the group. Be willing to compromise on the details, if not on your core values.
SPREAD YOUR MESSAGE
Leafleting is one of the best ways to educate people about earth and animal issues. It’s not only easy but also effective! Put the right information in the right hands and minds are changed. Create a flyer containing essential information about your cause, the name of your organization, the time and date you meet and anything else you want people to know. Hang the flyers around school, the neighborhood, community bulletin boards, inside coffee shops or cafes. In addition to flyers, you can pass out buttons, postcards, bumper stickers or other materials to help spread the word about what you're doing. These items are available from established organizations, or you can create your own. As you pass out your materials, be willing to answer people's questions and get into discussions about your cause.
Tabling—or setting up a table with resources about earth and animal issues—is an effective way to engage the public and provide information about environmental and animal issues. See if you can rent a table or setup a table for free in a school, university or somewhere local like outside of the supermarket or in the park. Have a sign-up list, information about your organization and colorful posters to attract people. Having free stuff to hand out, like stickers or bumper stickers, attracts people to your table. Be ready to educate people who stop and want to learn more about environmental and animal issues. By educating yourself on the issues before you go, you’ll be ensuring that answering questions will be a snap. Use the literature on your table to supplement your answers. The issues facing the earth and animals are deep and complex, so don’t worry if you don’t know the answer to a tough question. Simply get the person’s contact information and offer to have someone get back to him or her.
Sponsor a speaker in your community. Get in touch with someone of note who is working for the same cause. An author, a professor, the head of a nonprofit or an activist musician are all good choices. Make plans to host the speaker at a local community event space, then publicize the event using flyers, advertising and social media. A local school or university, a bookstore, a concert venue or a community center are all good places to host a speaker. Be sure to have literature to hand out at the event, and provide a sign-up sheet to get people's email addresses so you can let them know about the next event you organize.
Holding a demonstration is a fun, effective and easy way to alert people to earth and animal issues. It’s one of the easiest ways to reach a lot of people, and if your event is covered by the media, you have the potential to reach thousands more. Decide what form of demonstration to hold. Choose where it will take place. Get people interested and signed up. Get permission from the relevant people, whether that is local councils or a particular body like a university. Get the necessary permits if required. Talk to the media to get the word out to get people to come to the demonstration. Appoint a group of volunteers that will help manage the event. Make posters, flyers, visual aids or pamphlets to help spread your message and communicate your concerns to others. On the demonstration day, make sure everyone remains calm and demonstrates peacefully and respectfully. Hold your signs so they can be read easily (and you aren’t hiding your faces) and ask people to refrain from talking on the phone or texting. Have the majority of the people holding signs and waving at cars but have a select group handing out leaflets to people who are passing by. Remember to smile and be polite. You’ll change more people’s minds by being respectful and having engaged conversations, as opposed to yelling at them or intimidating them. If the police do arrive, calmly tell them that you already have your permit (or that you were told you didn’t need one). After the demo, remember to collect all your materials so that there isn’t any litter and get everyone’s contact information for future events.
Work with the media to spread your message. Make a database of key media outlets in your area. Start locally, then expand the list to regional and even national media. Include newspapers, television programs, websites and radio stations. Introduce yourself to local reporters and give them a copy of all your publications and a free ticket to any events you organize. Pitch story ideas as they come up pertaining to a relevant and timely issue with a human interest angle in mind. Make time for reporters and be accessible. Don't be afraid to give out your cell phone number. If a reporter cannot reach you with one phone call, he most likely will move on to an alternative source for his story. Be accurate, trustworthy and prepared. When a reporter asks a question, she wants an immediate answer. If there's no way you can answer immediately, ask the reporter when her deadline is. Be sure to get back to her as soon as possible. Send press kits or releases to a specific contact at a news organization. Press kits and releases are not as effective as making a call to a reporter, but they are a good way to send background information on your agency. Include your business card so reporters can keep your contact information on file. Thank reporters when you are satisfied with the stories they write. Reporters rarely receive praise.
NOT EVERYONE WILL AGREE WITH YOUR CAUSE
Expect to encounter dissent. Change worries most people and can cause them to react in ways that are not always considerate or constructive. It's not uncommon for an activist promoting a cause to deal with varying levels of negativity. The important thing is to brace yourself and stay strong in the face of people who disagree with you.
If you experience dissent from people within the cause, it is good to self-question and examine their reasons more closely. See if they actually have a point and seek to re-examine your approach in the light of their dissent. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to change your approach, but it does mean that keeping an open mind will ultimately make your cause stronger.
Dissent from outside the cause is to be expected. You're challenging the status quo. You will go through many experiences, including having people question your knowledge/authority/facts/respect and even your sanity on occasion. Keep calm and keep a level head. Some of the dissent will be obvious stalling, spin and covering-up tactics. Other times it will be more subtle, malicious and harmful. Know when to respond and when to keep quiet, and know when to bring your lawyer in. If you feel threatened in any way, get local authorities involved.
Don't work yourself to exhaustion. Earth and animal activists commonly experience burnout, especially when loads of passionate work don't translate into tangible change. When you're tired, worn out, and at your wit's end, that's when activism can turn negative. Take good care of yourself to prevent this from happening, since you won't be as powerful if you're feeling exhausted and bitter. Get plenty of rest. Take breaks from your activism and refresh your thoughts about where it's headed. If you find yourself feeling bitter about other people's lack of passion, take this as a warning sign to pull back and reassess your direction and purpose. Expect down times. Sometimes it will feel as if things are stagnating. Anything to do with progress meets such plateaus; knowing to expect them and learning how to ride them out is important. Break through the stagnant times by making new associations and recombining your existing approaches with new ones.
Be creative! Animal and environmental activism doesn't have to involve large events. Bloggers can be activists through their writing, teachers can be activists by encouraging students to challenge their beliefs, artists can leave guerrilla activist art around town, computer-savvy folks can arrange an e-zine, etc.