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Although California’s Proposition 2 doesn’t go into effect until 2015, the law that will give the state’s egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and calves raised for veal room to turn around has already helped animals in many ways. Not only did the ballot initiative pass by a landslide in November 2008, but in the months leading up to the vote, Prop 2 advocates educated countless people about the horrors of factory farming.
Also born from the campaign was Santa Clara County Activists for Animals (SCCAA), a grassroots organization dedicated to reducing and eliminating the suffering of animals and to raising community awareness of animal issues. The group works to prevent cruelty to all animals, especially those used for food, clothing, and entertainment. I mention SCCAA not only as an example of how one campaign can grow roots and blossom into other outreach efforts, but how one of those efforts recently achieved victory for animals.
Among the campaigns SCCAA has worked tirelessly on is the effort to end sales of foie gras in their area. Foie gras (French for “fatty liver”) is created by force-feeding ducks until their livers become diseased and enlarged. The ducks’ livers may grow to 10 times their normal size, causing them tremendous suffering. The ducks are also deprived of access to swimming water, which they need to stay clean and healthy. More than a dozen countries have outlawed foie gras production, and in 2004, animal advocates sponsored a California bill that will ban the production and sale of the extravagance in 2012. But SCCAA members weren’t content to wait around: they were determined to eliminate this egregious cruelty from their county.
“Since we’re a county organization, not a city organization, we figured out where a majority of our members were based, and we located all the restaurants in our area that sold foie gras,” says Lauren Ornelas of SCCAA. The group concentrated their efforts on Le Papillon restaurant in San Jose and sent them a very polite letter stating the owner and management may not know about all the cruelty that is involved in foie gras; in an effort to educate them, SCCAA included a video depicting abuses at the two foie gras facilities in the US: Sonoma Foie Gras in California and Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York. “We gave them several months to respond.”
When no response came, the group began the next phase of its campaign. “Every campaign requires an escalation in tactics,” says Lauren, “so we had to figure out ways that we could escalate the strategy as a small organization. We started out with signs without any images and a flier we made ourselves with cute pictures of ducks that we handed out at the restaurant. We had four people out at the restaurant every Saturday night; we picked Saturday nights because that’s their busiest night of the week.” The group wasn’t getting much response from management, so eventually SCCAA started using graphic images. “We were lucky to get banners from Animal Protection and Rescue League, which we used in front of the restaurant.”
Lauren, whose longtime activism includes founding the Food Empowerment Project and establishing the US office of UK-based Viva!, says she knew the campaign was working when the restaurant started to become aggressive. “They would try to block us from reaching their customers and stood in our way, so I knew we were starting to bother them.”
At one point last summer, the restaurant’s owner told Lauren he would never remove foie gras from the menu. “They were digging in their heels,” says Lauren, “but we were resolved to be out there until the law banning foie gras goes into effect in 2012.”
At last, realizing the activists were not going away and were within their rights to demonstrate, Le Papillon relented and informed SCCAA they would no longer be selling foie gras.
Reflecting on the campaign’s success, Lauren points to several important factors that made victory possible. “In order to be effective, activists need to begin by doing their research,” she says. “They need to make a decision to commit to it. Sometimes campaigns can take a long time, but you don’t start something and not finish it. Consistency is really key.”
And she reminds activists that even a small group can win campaigns. “You don’t need to have a huge organization or hundreds of protesters to make an impact,” she says. “Don’t be nervous. When you do these things, even if there’s just a few of you, know your position well, and do your research in terms of your rights as well as the issue so that you have the confidence that you’re speaking on behalf of justice and what’s right. Don’t ever waver on that. Don’t ever let them feel you doubt your rights or the issue you’re talking about.”