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Attention, armchair advocates! Here’s a chance to do a little something for animals without spending a dime or even leaving the comfort of your chair.
During the most recent salmonella outbreak, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration, an agency within HHS, focused the public’s attention first on tomatoes and now on jalapeño peppers as a likely source of the infectious bacteria. However, contaminated produce is only the last link in a chain that begins with the meat industry. It is essential for consumers to know that burgeoning meat consumption has caused a massive overproduction of chickens, cows, pigs, and other animals, leading to unprecedented production of feces that end up in rivers, streams, and irrigation water, and contaminate otherwise healthful produce.
Salmonella are intestinal organisms. Needless to say, tomatoes and peppers do not have an intestinal tract. When feces end up in irrigation water, salmonella can contaminate the surfaces of plants and can apparently pass into their rootlets, ending up inside produce. Infectious bacteria from animal feces also contaminate agricultural fields, workers’ hands, retail shelves, and kitchen surfaces.
Join the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in calling for the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the source of the recent salmonella contamination: the meat industry. Sign PCRM’s petition and urge your friends to sign, too. Help provide a wake up call to HHS and demand it start protecting us and our food supply.
Last month at the Let Live Conference in Portland, I ran a workshop with Veda Stram of The Animals’ Voice on solo activism. I gave special attention to letter-writing, as I believe this is one of the most under-utilized tools in our activist toolkit.
Following is some of the information I shared with attendees.
Letters to the Editor
Since the Letters page is one of the most highly read sections of newspapers and magazines, a letter to the editor is one of the best tools animal activists have for making our message heard. Letters to editors are easy to write, and every community has at least one newspaper. Sending letters to the editor is effective because they:
- reach a very large audience
- can be used to rebut information not accurately addressed in a news article or editorial
- create an impression of widespread support or opposition to an issue
- are widely read by community leaders and lawmakers to gauge public sentiment about current issues.
There are essentially two kinds of letters to the editor: “soapbox” letters in which the writer expresses an opinion but is not responding to something in the paper, and letters that are in direct response to an article, editorial or another letter that recently appeared in the publication.
Tips for Getting Your Letter to the Editor Published
- Be concise. Start with a strong introductory sentence and follow it up with short, clear facts. Focus on the most important issue rather than trying to cover everything. Most newspapers publish letters that are no more than three hundred words.
- Always include your first and last name, mailing address and daytime and evening phone numbers in case the newspaper or magazine wants to verify that you submitted the letter (though generally only the larger publications will contact you). Only your name and hometown will appear in print.
- Stay professional. Polite, proofread letters are far more effective than personal attacks.
- Mention anything that makes you especially qualified to write on a topic. For example: “As a cancer survivor, I understand the importance of a diet that avoids animal flesh.”
- Readers care about how an issue will affect them personally. Including information on the local economic or other impacts of an issue will draw readers’ interest.
- It is just as important to respond to positive stories, like pro-vegetarian articles, as it is to respond to the negative ones, such as a pro-vivisection article. Generally, people writing letters to newspapers are more likely to voice complaints rather than give compliments, so complimentary letters may be valuable and more likely to be printed.
- Letters to editors sent via email arrive promptly and don’t need to be re-typed. Type your text into a word processing program (i.e., Microsoft Word) and then paste the letter into the body of the email – do not send attachments.
- Remember who your audience is. Direct letters to readers, rather than the newspaper or author of the piece you are responding to. Write your letter so that it makes sense to someone who did not see the piece. Avoid long sentences and big words that the average reader may not understand (unless you’re writing to a scientific or technical publication).
Tips for Effective Animal-Rights Letters to Editors
- Tell readers something they might not know – such as that most hens are confined in battery cages or how dairy cows are treated to produce milk – and suggest ways readers can make a difference (stop buying eggs and dairy products).
- Include information about the issue(s); do not assume that readers already know. For example, rather than writing “Foie gras production is bad,” be specific: “In order to create ‘fatty livers,’ foie gras producers subject ducks and geese to an invasive feeding technique that forces into their stomachs up to thirty percent of their body weight every day. That’s like a two-hundred-pound man being forced to swallow sixty pounds of food a day.”
- Watch your language. Instead of referring to an animal with an inanimate pronoun (“that” or “it”), use “who,” “she” or “he.” Also, use “animal advocates” rather than “animal-rights groups,” “farmed animals” rather than the friendly “farm animals” and “painkiller” rather than “anesthesia.”
- Use positive suggestions to help readers make a difference. For example, rather than simply writing “Boycott the circus,” you can suggest events that don’t use animals, such as Cirque du Soleil, or direct them to Web sites like circuses.com.
- Do not use overly dramatic language, which may turn some readers off. Let the facts speak for themselves.
- Use an affirmative voice. For example, rather than writing “Vegans are not wimps,” write “Vegans have a much healthier body-mass index than most meat-eaters, and they live years longer.”
- Promote the friendly side of veganism/vegetarianism and animal advocacy, and refrain from insults, which will hurt your credibility and perpetuate a negative opinion of animal activists.
- Like humans, animals have a wide range of emotions. Try to depict this in your letters and help people understand how similar animals are to us. For example, “Like all animals, pigs feel pain and fear …”
Don’t be discouraged if your letter is not printed. Every letter you submit educates the editorial board of newspapers and magazines worldwide and paves the way for future letters to be printed.
Welcome to the first post of Striking at the Roots.
While there are a lot of great blogs on animal rights and veganism, this blog will focus solely on animal activism. Having spoken at AR events, discussed activism with countless people and given interviews about my book, I know that animal advocates want clear information about how they can help.
Sadly, there are a lot of misconceptions about animal activism and those who engage in it. You read it on the disgruntled blogs of animal exploiters and in the mainstream media. It fills the public discourse and is satirized in movies and television. I’m hoping to add some clarity to the debate, as I worked to do in Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism.
As an adjunct to the book, this blog will feature original profiles of men and women around the world working on the frontlines of activism, explore tactics for getting involved at a grassroots level and, I hope, empower you to get started or do even more. You’ll see it doesn’t take a lot of time or a lot of knowledge — just a passion for compassion.
I should note that I believe there is a place in this movement for welfare reforms, so I will frequently bring these campaigns into the discussion. I know many activists disagree with that position, and they are quite vocal in their belief that incremental reforms to relieve the suffering of farmed animals — such as Prop 2 (the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act), the ballot initiative currently sweeping over California — have no business in so-called “real” animal activism. While I respect the dedication of these thinkers, I disagree with them. No activist I know thinks cage-free is cruelty-free, for example, and each of us is working hard to abolish all forms of animal exploitation. For an excellent discussion of this topic, please see One-Track Activism by Norm Phelps.
As pattrice jones said:
“Every successful social-change movement has involved a multiplicity of people using a multiplicity of tactics to approach a problem from a multiplicity of angles. Some people push against the bad things that need to be changed while others pull for the good alternatives. Some people work to undermine destructive systems from within while others are knocking down the walls from without. We all need to recognize that and find our place within a multifaceted struggle, being sure to be generous and appreciative of those who are working toward the same goals using different tactics.”