Monday, 9 September 2013

Animal Rights Supporters and Activists - Is There a Hierarchy?

Music by Lisa Gerrard ~ Now We Are Free. For the preservation of wolves and all wild animals.



Animal Rights Supporters and Activists - Is There a Hierarchy?



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Some time ago on a social networking site I encountered a woman who called herself an animal rights activist. She spoke in derogatory terms about "people who claim to be activists but are only supporters," and went on to say what a waste of time supporters were. I became aware that such people have a divisive affect on the animal rights movement.

Firstly, it should be recognised that activists depend on supporters and could not be activists without them. Supporters are usually the ones who provide funding and sponsorship. Many supporters are the ones who not only spread the word about animal cruelty, but also provide homes, food, medical treatment and transport for rescued animals.

Second, if animal rights activists only allow other activists as friends, they talk to the already converted, and do not reach out to new people. The movement is organic - it has to be grown. It needs new people supporting it in any way they can. This also applies to the vegan and vegetarian movements. It helps animals if we support, rather than attack each other.

Third, many people are heavily committed in terms of family and work, and lack either the time or energy for activism. However, they will readily donate to animal rights and welfare organisations, set trends against furs, promote animal-free products, and raise awareness about animal suffering and cruelty.

Fourth, the worst consequence of animal rights activists ghettoising themselves is the in-fighting - the little factions that say: "We are real activists, you are not!" "We don't want you, you are not as good as us!" "You can't play in our yard! na na na na na!" While they fight and argue amongst themselves in petty little battles, the animals are not being helped, and the credibility of the movement as a whole is badly damaged.



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What do I know about it? I have a long history of animal rights and human rights activism, including animal rescue work, and the adoption of Chilean political prisoners rescued from the death sentence under the Pinochet regime. Through my work I learned just how important supporters are. In fact, you cannot do without them.

For example, in my work with Chilean refugees, I cultivated the cooperation of a number of organisations including the Transport and General Workers Union, the Trades Council, political parties such as the Labour Party, Communist Party and others, and Amnesty International. All of these organisations depended on supporters to attend meetings, rallies and protests, produce leaflets and posters, organise events and raise awareness. Likewise the Chilean Human Rights Committee, the Chilean Women’s group and others that all worked to adopt people who otherwise would have been executed. Then once the Chileans (many had children) were here they needed supporters to provide housing, social and medical welfare and language skills. Activists and supporters working together as a movement did all of this work. We didn't think about ourselves - our aims were to help others.



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I found that supporters were equally important in animal rights work. Much of animal rights work cannot be talked about or it would not be possible to do it. One example I can now tell you about: I was involved in the rescue of a young German shepherd who was being very cruelly treated. Firstly, a home had to be found for him, and transport. A plan had to be made for his escape. He had to become familiarised with his rescuers. It was a joint effort involving a lot of people. Finally, the dog was snatched, (he jumped into the car eagerly!) taken a considerable distance away to his new home with loving people, given a new name and a new life, where he was never found. This wonderful success story could only happen with the committed cooperation of activists and supporters.



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One of my paid jobs that I did to pay the rent was to telephone supporters of organisations such as British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (B U A V) and ask them to give a regular gift by banker’s order - money that enabled activists to continue the work against Huntingdon's animal research laboratories and rescue beagles. I also raised a lot of money for the human rights movement and emergency relief this way, donated by valuable supporters.



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So those activists who consider themselves to be on the top of a hierarchy, too superior to rub shoulders with the "common supporter", are not real activists. They are inactivists who would rather sit around bitching and preening themselves than doing anything to further the cause. They should realise how valuable their supporters are. They must reach out and help people to become aware of animal cruelty and support the movement in any way they can. Supporters should be welcomed and congratulated for the valuable contribution they make. They should be made to feel that they matter, that everyone matters in ways that count, even if it just means giving up eating meat and becoming vegetarian. The next step will be to stop buying leather goods and boycotting cosmetics that have been tested on animals. Above all, we need to show humility in the knowledge that animals continue to suffer, because of us, human beings. We are all Earthlings, and we humans are the caretakers of the others.



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Once someone becomes a supporter they will be a supporter for life. They will continue to raise awareness among everyone they meet, provide valuable funds and support for the movement, and many will become activists too. Supporters matter, supporters count, and the animals cannot do without them.