Getting Active for Animals

Posted by Mark Hawthorne on January 22, 2008

The power to act for animals – to work for change on behalf of the voiceless – is within all of us. It does not require a vast amount of knowledge, although understanding the abuses animals suffer will make you more effective. Activism does not demand a lot of time, either: you can make a difference even if you limit your involvement to an hour a month. You needn’t be an extrovert or polished speaker – although such traits may come in handy and indeed may develop as you become more accustomed to addressing friends and the public about animal issues.  

Animal activism only requires a desire to help and that you follow that desire with action.

You may wonder if animal activism itself is even worth it. Does it have an impact at all? Since 1950, worldwide meat consumption has increased more than fivefold. A rise in the Earth’s population can account for some of that expansion, but such a spike occurring concurrently with an increase in animal-rights activism and vegan outreach is troubling at the very least. Worldwide, an estimated fifty-five billion animals are now raised and killed for their flesh each year. How are we to account for this? Part of the answer lies in how animals have come to be mass produced, commodified and marketed in the last half century. Today’s industrialized farming practices mean that most of the pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, turkeys, goats and other animals raised and slaughtered for food are regarded as little more than units in a massive corporate enterprise designed to make meat, eggs and dairy as cheap and accessible to consumers as possible. Make no mistake: This is a multi-billion-dollar industry, giving the companies that exploit animals the deep pockets and political influence necessary to keep the killing machine moving forward at an ever-growing pace.

The same is true for businesses that use animals for their skin and fur, as well as for product testing, medical research and entertainment. Even the pet industry, which contributes to the constant cycle of breeding and selling, is responsible for making animals suffer.

Yet, animal activists do make a difference, and those who blatantly disregard animals are nervous. A recent editorial in Feedstuffs, the weekly agribusiness newspaper, reads: "Why are [animal activists] winning? It’s simple. They have their game together, while animal agriculture and its allies have a fragmented, hopelessly under-funded, ineffective, reactive approach. The activists are engaged and taking their campaign to chefs, foodservice managers, dairy and meat case managers and policymakers from city councils to the US Congress." (Feedstuffs, page 9, April 2, 2007.)

Animal activism is a struggle for change, and the reality is the human species is hard-wired to fear change. But we have two powerful weapons in this battle: the public’s innate sensitivity and a tremendous amount of animal abuse as evidence. Most people believe animal abuse is wrong; in fact, a 2003 Gallup poll found that ninety-six percent of people living in the US oppose cruelty to animals – I doubt you could find that level of unanimity on many other issues.

People are revolted by animal exploitation – once they learn about it. So, if we can educate people enough so that they can see that their daily choices are supporting practices that they actually oppose, then we can change them, one by one. And as more people change, eventually society will change.

Being an advocate for animals is not always a popular activity, but that should not dissuade you from doing what is right. Every social movement that had any impact – whether it’s the abolition of slavery, the suffrage movement, civil rights, the child-protection movement or reforms for farm workers – was initially backed by a person or a group thought to represent the minority opinion, and those opposed to them tried to provoke the fear that overturning the status quo would lead to chaos: the end of slavery would result in economic ruin, granting women the right to vote or banning child labor would weaken national strength, passing laws against child abuse would dissolve families and so on. Animal-rights activists are now hearing the same sort of nonsense from those who profit by abusing animals. According to them, the only way to feed the world, cure diseases or advance scientific knowledge is by using animals. To them, animals are not sentient individuals with their own interests, but commodities to be exploited for human profit, amusement, convenience or taste.  

The time is ripe for change. More defenseless beings than ever before are suffering and in need of a voice. All we need are the passionate humans to turn these opportunities into dramatic improvements for billions of animals.

Remember: Reform simply does not occur when people stand idly by. 

Mark’s newly released book, "Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism," shows how anyone can put their compassion into action.


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