My Learning Curveby Angela Smith, HEAL National Coordinator/Co-Founder
I understand most people, even when they care deeply about an issue, do not have the time or desire to invest in honing their advocacy skills to the point of efficacy. And, that most people expect raising awareness about a problem is the entire purpose of any activist or advocacy group. I believe that is faulty and based on ignorance and a lack of study. But, not everyone has the same experience or opportunity I have had to go to college and become as informed or skilled as I am and therefore I do not lay fault entirely at the feet of those who mimic what they see on television as effective activism.
I've found that the rhetoric of achieving a "critical mass" to demand change is inaccurate and flawed. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, it was touted by activists in Seattle as achieving 10% of the population supporting a specific cause or issue to help pressure government officials to take action on that specific cause or issue. And, "raising awareness" is the tool used to garner support to build a movement to the point of reaching "critical mass", arguably, in order to create the public pressure needed to influence or effect change.
I have spent many years trying to build this elusive "critical mass" and rally people to effective action by creating petitions, letter writing campaigns, and reports which provide opportunity for action and greater understanding of the issue if approaching government officials independently or writing letters with the need of facts to support any recommendations for legislators. And, I've found that "critical mass" isn't necessary for creating real change and you really just need a few dedicated people who can understand politics, policy, existing law, and how to navigate the legislative process. Bills I've supported or assisted with getting introduced, have often passed and been made law. There is still work to be done, but, if it is a good idea based on sound information, often you can get the job done working with your legislators.
It is great if people who support your issue or cause will write letters to support legislation and participate. But, it isn't absolutely necessary and building a "critical mass" can in fact be a distraction from efficacy. The same is true for organizations that focus on fundraising over advocacy and legislation. The issue appears to be that most people don't really want to do the research and work to find out where the loopholes or issues exist in current laws resulting in injustice or harm and seem to just want to complain and blame legislators for not getting it right in the first place. But, finding out the actual problems and providing solutions that legislators can work with so the issues can be effectively addressed is the responsibility of the constituency in a participatory republic.
But, there are systemic issues of oppression that result in people being conditioned by Machiavellian authoritarians that result in many parts of the constituency suffering learned helplessness and feeling hopeless regarding change because of institutionalized abuses. And, that coupled with propaganda and "fake news" results in making building a "critical mass" very difficult. See, people misled by misinformation and disinformation while being overworked, underpaid, generally disrespected and disregarded, and then told they better participate (whether by voting or joining a cause), tend to not have the time or energy to do the research or be effective in addressing the areas of the law needing redress for them to experience any real justice or relief via reforms. And, people who avoid looking at the suffering caused by their own exploitative practices and greed, tend to focus on issues their friends are into like Animal Rights, rather than helping the less fortunate in their own society.
There are really only two ways to solve problems legally. One is to provide direct care or service to the victims of the abuses you want to see addressed. For example, animal sanctuaries for abused animals and soup kitchens for the hungry count as direct care and service. Unfortunately, running such establishments require funding and most of the fundraising charities don't focus on or even provide direct care or service. And, if fundraising with tax-exempt status, they are not able to effectively work on addressing issues through the legislative process, so, really nothing more than glorified tax havens and likely or arguably astroturf groups regardless of claims made or praise received.
If donating, pick a charity that provides direct care and service ethically (check requirements for services to make sure those being served are not being further exploited) or support an advocacy organization that may not be tax exempt but is effective in creating legislative reforms that effectively address the issues you care about as a supporter.
I encourage everyone to participate, check out our videos and legislative efforts that may aid you in creating real change on any issue you care about, including animal welfare/rights, at http://www.heal-online.org/getsmart.htm. Be sure to get involved locally and at the state level on your issue and don't be fooled by hopes of solving all your problems by focusing on federal legislators and legislation. And, if you are a victim of systemic oppression, HEAL cares and we understand you may not be in a place to offer any help as a volunteer or supporter. But, we are fighting for you and will keep fighting!