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Political Action Guide for Animal Issues


Something Wayne Pacelle (CEO of the Humane Society of the United States) said in a talk I saw him give many years ago stuck with me. And he’s said it many times since. About the political arm of his organization, he said he envisions “a National Rifle Association of the animal rights movement.” Here’s the gist (excerpted from an interview in Satya Magazine):

“The way things work in Washington and in state capitols across the country is that logic and humane sensibilities can only go so far. You need them in order to be effective, but you also need to amass political power and that comes from working the political system in a way that achieves results. There’s no substitute for being able to deliver votes and having an informed constituency.

I find the NRA’s views on hunting and other issues to be really at odds with my own, but I admire the fact that they train thousands of activists across the country to achieve so much working through the system. I do think that is a model for us, because we have the potential to activate many more people than the NRA does. There are a lot of people in this country who care about guns, but I think many more people are passionate about protecting animals. If we organize them, we can achieve enormous gains and victories for animals.”

As an activist myself and a politically engaged citizen, I couldn’t agree more. There is no question that conservatives are much better organizers / organized when it comes to the issues they care about—especially at the grassroots level. Don’t underestimate the ambition of your local representatives who can not only pass effective animal-friendly legislation in your town or county but who may one day be state senator, governor, federal representative, or president. That’s how it works. 

We need to act. Now. We need to organize. Now. We need to be a resounding voice for animals. Now. I recoil from the phrase “now more than ever,” because our voices and votes for animals are needed all the time—not just when we’re in crisis. But I do think Americans are eager, anxious, and desperate to have their voices heard—now more than ever, so let’s do it.

Here’s how you—we—can get started, stay engaged, make a huge difference, and help our voice for animals be as strong as the NRA’s voice is for guns. 

GENERAL

  1. The Humane Legislative Fund is dedicated to “educating elected officials and the public on animal welfare issues and electing humane candidates to public office.” Get on their mailing list, contact your representatives about the issues they highlight, make a financial contribution to give animals a voice is congress. 
  2. Use their Humane Scorecard to help you decide who to vote for in elections based on their history of animal-friendly or animal-unfriendly legislation. 
  3. Fellow dedicated and engaged activists and I are in the process of forming a political action committee called East Bay Animal PAC that will be dedicated to electing animal-friendly legislators, passing animal-friendly legislation, opposing anti-animal legislation, and educating legislators and the public on local animal issues. Join our mailing list for more, and consider creating something similar in your own city/county!
  4.  Know who your representatives are—on the federal, state, and local level. I’ve provided a guide below to help you find yours. Take a few minutes to add their phone numbers to your phone!
  5. Don’t be afraid to contact your representatives. They represent YOU! They work for YOU
  6. Read Don’t Think of an Elephant to learn how to frame your issue effectively. 
  7. Follow the cues of the Indivisible folks. Former congressional staffers wrote this guide that is meant to empower compassionate people to effectively engage politically. (One of the things they remind us of is that representatives rely on making their constituents happy so they can keep their job; i.e. get reelected. If you don’t think your voice matters, YOU’RE WRONG!)
  8. Stay hopeful. Despair is paralyzing. Cynicism is ugly. One of my favorite take-aways from the book Hope in the Dark is that the darkness doesn’t mean the future is inevitably evil. The darkness means that the future is inscrutable because it’s not yet written. It’s up to us to WRITE THE FUTURE!  

So, go write it!

LOCAL

  1. Type “find my local city council member” into a search engine. 
  2. Add their phone numbers to your phone and their address to your address book. 
  3. Call them. Write to them. Get to Know Them. Let Them Get to Know YOU. Find out their positions on animal-related legislation and policies. Educate them about issues they’re most likely unaware of. Thank them for passing animal-friendly legislation. 
  4. Show up at city council meetings. 
  5. Visit them at city hall. 
  6. Donate to their campaign when it’s clear they are animal-friendly. Talk to them about animal-unfriendly positions they may have. They might just need information you have! If they stick with animal-harmful positions, tell them that’s why you’re not supporting them. 
  7. Vote for them when it’s clear they are animal-friendly. Tell them why you voted for them. 

STATE

  1. Know who your state legislators are — both in the Senate and the Assembly. Find yours here
  2. Add their phone numbers to your phone and their address to your address book. 
  3. Call them. Write to them. Find out their positions on animal-related legislation and policies. Educate them about issues they’re most likely unaware of. Thank them for passing animal-friendly legislation. 
  4. Make a date to meet with them in their district office or state capitol.  
  5. Show up at the capitol when animal-related legislation is on the agenda. Let your voice for animals be heard. 
  6. Donate to their campaign when it’s clear they are animal-friendly. Talk to them about animal-unfriendly positions they may have. They might just need information you have! If they stick with animal-harmful positions, tell them that’s why you’re not supporting them. 
  7. Vote for them when it’s clear they are animal-friendly. Tell them why you voted for them. 

FEDERAL

  1. Know who your federal members of Congress are — both in the House of Representatives as well as in the Senate. Find yours here
  2. Add their phone numbers to your phone — for both their DC office and district office.
  3. Add their email address and mailing address to your address book. 
  4. The two best ways to contact your reps are to call and write a  postcard—not an email. Buy .34-cent stamps for your postcards.
  5. Tell them what you care about. Encourage them to support animal-friendly legislation and oppose legislation that will harm animals. ASK THEM WHAT THEIR POSITION IS on a particular bill or policy. 
  • greg

    I think you do great work Colleen, and I am grateful to you for that. But as a wordsmith, perhaps you could use a better word than “admire” for the organizing activities of an organization as heinous as the NRA. While it might appear that they “work through the system,” they have in fact corrupted the system with the huge funds at their disposal and by not only advocating for their position, but by lobbying to suppress research on gun violence and on gun safety. In fact, I’m sure you can point to other organizations that are effective political organizers.

    • Thanks for your comment, Greg. That’s not my word. That was part of the quotation by Wayne! 🙂

      • greg

        I’m sorry Colleen. I was not as careful as I should have been. My mistake.
        I guess the NRA makes my blood boil (these are times of boillng blood.)
        I agree whole-heartedly that grassroots organizations are most effective. And who knows grassroots better than vegans?

        • No worries, Greg. I actually changed the quote to make it a little more obvious that it was Wayne’s. And of course I understand your reaction, but we do need to look at all resources and movements for inspiration–even those whose policies and purpose we disagree with. IMHO. 🙂

  • Dee Sunstrom

    Thank you Colleen for getting this post
    out
    to people like me. I will be looking for and thinking about how I can best serve the cause of animal rights. Wishing you a good day (or night ) Blessings Dee

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  • Hilary Goldsmith

    This is an amazing resource. THANK YOU, COLLEEN – you are an inspiration! I know that if animals could speak, every one of them would give you a hug and thank you for being their voice each and every day.

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  • shani

    Thank you so much Colleen – this is powerful information and I have forwarded it to my FB group (posted for tomorrow) “10 Minute Plant-Based / Vegan Activism” https://www.facebook.com/10MinutePlantBasedVeganActivism/ I also recommended they check out your podcasts. I think you are the best on the internet at teaching people how to effectively talk to others about animal issues!

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