Saturday, April 27, 2013

Activism and Efficacy: Part One

By Angela Smith

This will be a two or more parter.  But, part two may not be ready for a bit and may be forgotten about depending on current and future priorities.  I've been interviewing activists with whom I currently work, have worked with in the past, and with whom I would love to work or work with again.  The interview questions are about activism and efficacy.

Being that I really got my feet wet as an activist working with animal rights and animal welfare organizations, I decided to begin with my activist roots and interviewed Stephanie Bell (Humane Society of US and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).  Stephanie is one of the most compassionate and dedicated activists I've ever known and I am forever grateful to know her and for her participation in this article.

The following portion of this blog is in question and answer format:

Question: How did you become an activist?

Answer (Bell):  I had "loved" animals my entire childhood, but was raised eating them and didn't question this dichotomy until I began volunteering for a local wildlife rehab center in my early 20's. It began to dawn on me during my rigorous and often stressful volunteer shifts that it made no ethical sense to spend hours trying to help baby birds and squirrels survive only to go home and eat the "other" birds and mammals our culture has deemed "food." I quickly went veg, vegan soon after, and began to educate myself about the horrors inflicted upon animals in our world in myriad ways I'd never thought of (wool, leather, meat, dairy, vivisection, etc.) and dedicated myself to right these wrongs. I left a for-profit writing job to become a full-time activist and have been "working for animals" professionally and in my spare time ever since.

Question: How long have you been an activist?

Answer (Bell): Approximately 20 years.

Question: What is the most successful campaign you have helped organize and how many people were involved in the day-to-day maintenance and organization of the campaign?

Answer (Bell): This is an impossible question to answer, as there have been so many that have touched my heart. So I'll share some highlights: Certainly, the anti-trapping ballot initiative (which YOU worked on!) that passed in Washington State in 2000 was a highlight of my career. As you know, it involved hundreds of activists across the state who worked around the clock to ensure that animals in Washington would be spared the risks/suffering posed by body gripping traps. And we prevailed! But the small victories matter just as much to me. After being alerted to the plight of songbirds ensnared and dying badly in glue traps at a local grocery store chain, I took action with the help of PETA and a fellow activist not only got criminal charges filed against the pest control operator involved but we also got the chain to ban the use of glue traps nationwide. When I initially confronted the store manager about the inherent cruelty of glue traps, he told the pest control operator (this is a direct quote!), "Don't listen to her, she's a nobody." He had sure changed his tune by the end of the day, thanks to the heat the case got with the help of the local media. ;-) Nobody's a nobody if they're using their voice for good. We can't underestimate our own power to effect change!

Question: Have you had success in achieving any of your goals with fewer than four committed, dedicated, round-the-clock activist supporters?

Answer (Bell): Absolutely, yes. Activism can benefit from team work, but ONE person, ONE voice, can make a difference. Stopping to help an injured animal on the side of the road is activism at its finest. Being a force of aid wherever we are needed is what activism is all about!

Question: Is there anything you would like to add?

Answer (Bell): I think community is vital to successful activism, but I also think people can do a lot of good just by speaking out, taking action, committing themselves to being the change they want to see in the world wherever change is needed. Just by going vegan, animals can be saved. So I'd recommend reminding people how much power they wield as a single individual, for ill or good. I'm not religious, but Mother Teresa is always a role model to me. Her church community gave structure and funding to her vision of hope and healing for the hurting people in the gutters of India, but it was her personal dedication and willingness to stand in the gutters to help the suffering, day after day, that ultimately changed lives.

Thank you, Stephanie!    And, there will definitely be more parts to this article, don't worry.  I've interviewed two other activists and will follow up with a few more to bring you some interesting insights and hopefully inspiration for your own efforts in advocacy and activism.  Stay tuned...