THANKING THE MONKEY: RETHINKING THE WAY WE TREAT ANIMALS. STRIKING AT THE ROOTS: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO ANIMAL ACTIVISM. FARM SANCTUARY: CHANGING HEARTS AND MINDS ABOUT ANIMALS AND FOOD. SKINNY BITCH...IN A BOX. With all the recent popular releases on the topic of animal advocacy, 2008 feels as though it's shaping up to be the year of the veg*n. (Even Oprah's getting into the act, y'all!)
Social psychologist Melanie Joy joins the conversation with her first book, STRATEGIC ACTION FOR ANIMALS: A HANDBOOK ON STRATEGIC MOVEMENT BUILDING, ORGANIZING, AND ACTIVISM FOR ANIMAL LIBERATION. Joy's goal is simple: to encourage fellow activists to maximize their effectiveness, by carefully weighing, analyzing, and strategizing their activism. Because the animal liberation movement will never have more money or (entrenched) power than the corporate and political forces we're fighting, the only way we can triumph is through strategy.
A "strategic movement," Joy explains, is one which thinks globally, but acts locally. Before engaging in a piece of activism, animal advocates must think about how the action will impact the animal liberation movement as a whole. Additionally, every isolated piece of activism must be considered in relation to those that precede and succeed it. Every lofty goal is comprised of a series of minute steps or tasks; instead of shooting for the stars and burning out before takeoff, animal activists must set reasonable goals and embark on a carefully mapped journey. Such meticulously crafted plans take time, dedication - and strategy, strategy, strategy!
Part of "strategic activism" involves diversity: in individual activists, in the goals and approaches of various animal liberation campaigns and organizations, in the messages employed and the demographics targeted.
Citing Bill Moyer's DOING DEMOCRACY, Joy describes the "different types of activists and organizations that work simultaneously and in different roles": the Citizen - "the upstanding member of society, the one to whom the mainstream can easily relate"; the Reformer - who "may or may not be more radical than the Citizen"..."he or she typically works in a professional opposition organization"; and the Rebel - who "is more confrontational, participating in rallies and perhaps civil disobedience". As examples of each, Joy offers up the SPCA, the PCRM and ALDF, and PETA, respectively.
Joy touches upon several controversial topics in her discussion, namely "mainstreaming" the movement, the use of violent vs. non-violent tactics, the abolition/reform divide, and coalition building, particularly in relation to intersecting or parallel oppressions. While I don't wholeheartedly agree with her perspective on the first three issues, I'm both happy and grateful for her emphasis on intersecting "isms". Too often, animal advocates must deal with speciesism in other social justice movements; yet, I've also encountered a disturbing amount of misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ageism and sizeism among animal activists. Activists of all stripes must accept that these forms of oppression are all related - and in order to defeat one, you must defeat them all.
Many of the suggestions within STRATEGIC ACTION FOR ANIMALS are geared towards grassroots animal advocacy organizations rather than individual activists. For example, you'll find chapters on organizing and managing a grassroots organization, developing and waging successful campaigns, and maintaining the health of your employees, volunteers and organization. Since it's a rather slim volume, I thought the book could have covered the topics of time management, conflict resolution and leadership a bit more, rather than referring the reader to additional resources. However, for organizations, it's a useful starting point for building a successful, long-lasting animal advocacy group. If you're in a position of leadership in an animal advocacy organization (or are thinking about starting your own group), I recommend reading STRATEGIC ACTION FOR ANIMALS in conjunction with pattrice jones's AFTERSHOCK, also from Lantern Books.
Individual activists will also enjoy STRATEGIC ACTION FOR ANIMALS. If you're looking to volunteer for (or work with) an animal advocacy group, you can use the lessons in STRATEGIC ACTION FOR ANIMALS to "shop around" for the right group for you - a sustainable, strategic group with a cooperative (vs. competitive) power structure that will value both your hard work as well as your personal wellness.
For fellow activists, I recommend STRATEGIC ACTION FOR ANIMALS along with AFTERSHOCK and perhaps Mark Hawthorne's STRIKING AT THE ROOTS. Whereas STRATEGIC ACTION FOR ANIMALS concentrates on movement-building, STRIKING AT THE ROOTS offers a number of specific types of activism that the individual can engage in, either alone or as part of a group.