Social movements, like all living and prospering entities, must evolve and grow, else they wither and die. In the next decade, our movement will face massive challenges with direct consequences for the lives and deaths of billions of innocent sentient beings. Let’s explore the options.
One Vision – Multiple Paths
Although we may all share the animal rights vision of a world where humans no longer exploit animals for food, fashion, science, or amusement, we follow different paths for getting there. Here are the four most common ones:
- Hands-on animal advocates rescue a limited number of animals and maintain sanctuaries
- Advocates of reduced suffering focus on getting animals out of their cages and out of doors
- Food reformers seek to save the greatest number of animal lives at the earliest date by replacing traditional animal-based foods and ingredients with their plant-based versions
- Animal rights advocates focus on promoting veganism and animal rights ideology
Although all four approaches have important merits, I am most qualified to comment on the last one and will restrict my recommendations accordingly.
When I launched the first national animal rights conference in the Summer of 1981, I thought of it only as the first step in bringing our movement together. Indeed, others have since arranged national and regional conferences. We had a beautiful national magazine in The Animals’ Agenda (1980-2002), but that was almost two decades ago. We need more.
In the 2020s, we should consider the following measures designed to improve intra-movement communication and cooperation:
- A professionally edited and produced monthly online or print publication patterned after The Animals’ Agenda
- Regional advocacy training seminars, or national advocacy training webinars
- Inter-organizational working groups on special-interest topics like video production, video promotion, mass mailings, use of social media, and financial transactions
There is general agreement that videos are the most effective tool for advocacy and social media – the most effective platform. Unfortunately, our experience with screening videos on social media has not been very positive in gaining vegans. If the video is too graphic, people shun it. Of those who watch, few sign up and even fewer stick with it. Still, a video showing a piglet playing with a puppy invariably goes viral. Is there a connection?
In the 2020s, we should consider taking advantage of Facebook’s amazing ability to create custom audiences of people who watched a particular video. We could start with a cute video and a huge custom audience, then keep refining our audience by showing them a series of 3-5 ever more engaging videos, until we end up with a much smaller custom audience that is ready to view and react positively to a video requesting a vegan pledge.
A 2015 survey sponsored by Faunalytics found that 5 out of 6 vegetarians and vegans revert to consumption of animal products, usually for reasons of convenience, social pressure, or health. Clearly, our movement has failed to provide new and would-be vegans with adequate support.
In the 2020s, we should consider the following measures to support new and would-be vegans:
- Weekly emails with entertaining videos, stories, recipes
- Facebook groups, moderated by seasoned activists, able to provide encouragement and answer questions (see https://challenge22.com)
- A searchable directory of vegan videos (FARM is developing one)
Promoting Plant-Based Foods
Most of us agree that the most effective way to protect animal rights is to get people to stop eating them. And, certainly, the most effective way to do that is to provide consumers with delicious, convenient, affordable plant based meats and milk products. Yet, most of us are not likely to develop the next plant-based chicken nugget, to invest the millions of dollars required to launch such a product, or to negotiate with food service companies that distribute it.
In the 2020s, each of us should consider helping to stimulate the demand for plant-based foods and ingredients. Here are a few ways:
- Distribute plant-based food samples at events we attend
- Request more plant-based offerings in our favorite restaurant or cafeteria
- Encourage our schools and other institutions to engage in Meatless Monday
- Participate in letter writing campaigns requesting restaurant chains to offer more plant-based entrees and food processors to use animal free ingredients in their products
Outreach to Children
One of our movement’s biggest failings has been in reaching out to children. People’s affinity for animals is nurtured by their fondest childhood memories. Toy animals were the very first objects they’ve handled. Their favorite fairy tales revolved around animal lives. Their family dog gave them unconditional love, when their playmates would not. Yet, we ask them to embrace veganism and animal rights only after they’ve undergone a decade of meat and dairy industry brainwashing, with unwitting complicity by parents, teachers, and other trusted sources.
In the 2020s, we should consider a couple of avenues for reaching our children:
- Use social media to remind children that the food on their plate once shared the same feelings of affection, joy, sadness, and grief as their favorite characters in The Jungle Book, Lion King, Babe, Charlotte’s Web, March of the Penguins, Chicken Run, and Finding Nemo.
- Arrange classroom presentations through supportive teachers and school officials. Congratulations to The Educated Choices Program for doing just that.
Most of us believe that all animal lives are equally precious. It follows that our efforts should be much more effective in countries, where animal consumption is still low, so that we seek to discourage people from acquiring new bad habits, rather than asking them to drop lifelong ones.
I actualized that concept about 20 years ago by establishing the Sabina Fund to support grassroots organizations in Israel, India, and Africa. Our Meatout and World Day for Farmed Animals have been observed throughout the globe since the early 80s. Today, a number of U.S.-supported organizations are promoting plant-based eating in Israel, India, China, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, making it one of our movement’s notable success stories.
In the 2020s, we should continue and expand our engagement for animals abroad.
(In the preparation of this article, I requested comments from 33 of our movement’s leading thinkers. I am most grateful for their responses.)