All of the work we do at ACE is for naught if we don’t consider serious philosophical questions related to the effectiveness of animal advocacy organizations. To that end, we’ve created an “Important Questions” document that raises many of the questions that pervade the advocacy community. The purpose of this document is not to answer these questions, but to provide a single resource that compiles a variety of viewpoints for consideration.
Today, we’re making this work-in-progress document publicly available, and asking members of the community to add resources to pertinent sections. ACE staff has added some resources, but do not consider the current list to be exhaustive in any sense. Once we have collected a sufficient number of references, we will use this document to develop and refine ACE’s positions on some of these important questions. Thank you in advance for all of your help!
Some example questions include:
- Do welfare campaigns actually result in better conditions for animals, or do they allow consumers to be complacent in their consumption of animal products?
- Does highlighting extreme cases of abuse in animal ag, and prosecuting those who commit them, result in improved welfare policies and overall gains for animals, or do they create a scapegoat for the industry?
- Is it more effective to ask for small changes or big changes? Which approach tends to be more effective in animal advocacy – “foot in the door” or “door in the face?”
- Is it more valuable to focus on creating social change / new vegans, or to focus on creating more activists?
Thank you in advance for your contributions – we appreciate any overall thoughts in the comments below.
Billy Howard says
I make the space available for those to make changes and contributions. Whether it’s a local initiative to end puppy or foie gras sales or take direct action toward an animal testing lab, I agree with any and all philosophies and tactics when it comes to animal liberation just like I did in the black, feminist and gay liberation movements of the ’70s. I do not criticize anyone as ineffective. I glory in all those trying to do something to move us toward a world where animals are no longer suffering. I am much less tolerant of criticisms of each other, especially publicly. “That doesn’t work, you’re never going to….” simply allows our own to do the work of the meat industry: divide and conquer.
Jon Bockman says
Good points – we definitely want to be careful how we offer advice to other animal advocates, and remember that in the end we all want very similar things. As you point out, by telling people “you should do X, you shouldn’t do Y,” we sometimes portray animal advocates in a negative light. However, I do think it’s important that we use research to optimize our efforts.
Many people work hard to help animals, and their efforts should be commended. But if there is a way to help many more animals for the same investment of time and money, then we should be exploring those options, and sharing what we learn with others.
Darina Bockman says
My niche is more coordinating these types of initiatives than keeping abreast of studies – so I don’t have articles to add but a few thoughts on the general process. In my experience, these initiatives often start out great but end up in limbo – some tips on making it productive:
A. The questions in the document are great but too new/complex, and even if all existing research is compiled, it will hardly be conclusive in favor of a specific position. So I would first define – what is ACE trying to do with the Important Questions? 1) State a public position on these issues? 2) Push for “answers” to these questions as critical success factors of EA – i.e. create a program/dedicate resources around this? 3) Adopt low-hanging internal guidelines for immediate decision making?
1 or 2 could take months of heavy research and debate and will require a different strategy. But if the goal is mostly 3, instead of tackling all, ACE should solve for 1-3 most fundamental questions which create most internal debates/disagreements today – and implement practical operating guidance (not an ideology or a political position, as that could lead to endless outside debates – and add to, rather than streamline, workload).
If ACE finds that none of the questions have easy answers – i.e. the board can’t reach consensus/compromise – then it could be best to acknowledge the complexity of these issues and continue making decisions based on best judgment / case by case.
B. I would add one Important Question: I think any organization that evaluates (or funds etc.) activism must fundamentally decide if they care more about appealing ideology or apparent results. For example, if the recent US meat consumption decline did in fact come from meat-reducers rather than new vegans, should ACE recommend those tactics? Or if the public more strongly responds to news stories of individual exposes (= one animal) than the “10 billion” issue, should ACE recommend that as an outreach tactic? These are simplistic examples but in my experience, deciding where to stand on the pragmatism – ideological integrity spectrum is a key decision for ACE.
C. Questions that are particularly key to farm animal advocacy should be tackled first – as that’s where the numbers are.
D. As I said earlier, this type of effort easily lingers – because it’s too big and not pressing. To keep it moving – of course, in the context of other priorities and limited resources – appoint a facilitator/leader and a small team of people interested in this project (leader will send the action plan, divide workload, organize checkpoints and hold the team accountable for their assignments). I understand ACE has a very small staff and other core work – perhaps this should be handled as a special side project by a mix of board members and other volunteers.
Jon Bockman says
Great questions and thoughts.
A: We are mostly looking at option 3. We just want to gather resources so we can make informed decisions with our evaluations. If we learn enough information, we make take a strong position on an issue, but that will vary depending on the amount of information we know about a topic. I definitely agree that we should narrow our focus and not try to answer everything, but for the purposes of this document we just wanted to assemble as many relevant resources as possible.
B. Good point! I think that issue is raised indirectly through some of our current questions – for example, the question about single issue campaigns vs. general anti-speciesism. Working for a specific reform might compromise ideology but produce a large reduction in suffering, but of course could also result in mixed messaging. We try to think about that issue in all our decisions, but it’s hard to draw a firm line that works for everything.
C. Agree, though while we are focusing on animal farming, we are also concerned about high levels of wild animal suffering and what can be done about that.
D. It’s definitely easy for big picture projects like this to linger, and I agree there’s a lot of value in naming a facilitator. We will aim to more thoroughly explore these issues once we’ve finished with our next round of recommendations which are set to come out in December. If you have an interest in being involved with this project, please reach out and we can discuss working together on it.
Thanks again for your comments!