It was a critique of the duplication, and thus the wasted resources, in the then prevailing animal advocacy movement. In the booklet, lots of prominent British animal advocates were quoted saying, in effect, that the grassroots should be regarded as the backbone of the animal movement.
I’m not sure that similar sentiments would be found as often in the 21st century. The “movement” seems to have more fully embraced the corporate model, dominated by competing national groups, than was the case 30 years ago.
I cannot figure out why we persist with the financial structure of the movement which effectively enriches the national organisations and keeps the local and regional groups in poverty.
One hears regularly of the, perhaps inactive, supporters of the animal movement giving substantial donations to national groups – but rarely of people deliberately going out of their way to fund their local organisations. And yet it really is the case that the local grassroots of many social movements are truly the backbone of the particular mobilisation in question.
I’ve experienced this odd, faulty, funding tradition in recent times in Ireland. I regard the style of vegan education outreach pioneered by the Vegan Information Project (VIP) in Dublin to be a real mould breaker in terms of direct and regular contact with the general public. In effect, the VIP have brought together several elements of street advocacy under one roof – literally a roof - provided by a weather proof gazebo stall (see HERE, HERE, and HERE).
The VIP are still yet to pay off the vegan animal sanctuary from which we bought a van to transport all our equipment – yet national group appeals will provoke single donations amounting to more than we asked for in total.
The Internet Age: Why Are We Stuck in the Last Century?
- Before the internet, there were some, but not many, persuasive reasons why people may have chosen to donate to national groups – but do they still stack up?
Assuming that “looking professional” is important in today’s shallow, celebrity-drenched culture, it is often thought that the “professionals” in the movement, almost by definition, must produce the best campaign materials, and be the most “efficient.” This is not necessarily true, and even if it were, what’s being valued is the amount of money such people have at their disposal to improve, for example, video production values. In relation to videos, it should also be remembered that until the advent of micro-cameras and reliable batteries, a great deal of the footage used in national group videos were supplied to them, sometimes anonymously and at great personal risk, by grassroots activists.
Designing literature and sales goods used to be the preserve of specialists not so long ago – this is no longer the case. There are numerous examples of software, often free, that can facilitate the production of these items now. Indeed, it must be rare to find a local group that does not have within their ranks people with the necessary computer skills for design, including website design. Easily updated, locally-relevant literature is far better than generic leaflets and posters from national groups.
Sociologists suggest that many human beings fervently wish to leave behind some social legacy – some mark on the earth – after they are gone. The most common and socially-sanctioned means of this, of course, is through having children – but campaigners like to think that their financial (and perhaps written) contributions may go on helping causes they supported before their death.
This is understandable on a human level – but well-funded local groups can provide that too. Continued grassroots advocacy on the local level can be a fitting memorial to those who fund local groups.
Continuity and Waste.
It has been suggested that people may prefer giving to national mobilisations with their duplicated staff because they are more “stable” than local groups. Some worry, furthermore, that the volunteer groups may “waste” the funds they receive. There is no guarantee that either will make all the right choices with regard to expenditure but the national group structure may well turn out to be the most wasteful.
First, in terms of stability, and if stability in the sense of consistency of message is meant, then a local group may well provide that the most. There are social scientific reasons for this. Social movement theory teaches us that hitherto radical groups tend to moderate and may quickly lose sight of their original aims once “becoming professional” gets a hold of them: once the paying of wages and the funding of expensive offices become the priority. Social movement theorists use a concept known as goal displacement to illustrate this disempowering phenomenon.
Once the notion of, “we’re in it for the long haul” kicks in, things may well slow down, and attention may well turn to organisation longevity and the building of lifelong career structures.
How long have we simply assumed that the present international movement-wide structure of having many, many, waged staff: duplicated positions, duplicated jobs, duplicated stances, duplicated literature, duplicated materials, duplicated sales goods, duplicated salaries, is the correct and most “efficient” one?
Those who worry about “waste” may well think that “the professionals” in a movement are almost inevitably the hardest working, most talented, and most sussed-out activists a movement has. They rarely appear to consider the waste of a great deal of money on duplicating paying people to do things small groups of volunteers with access to the Web could achieve with the same quality of equipment to hand. The (vegan) cream always rises to the top, right?
Not necessarily. In my own experience, the hardest working activists have been grassroots campaigners. I would caution against anyone getting the impression that the lot of the paid “professionals” is grind and slog! I remember from my days in Vegan Ireland the frustrations the grassroots advocates felt dealing with national group staff who clocked off at 4.30pm and seemed forever on leave, often resulting in delays and missed deadlines.
Time for Change (Again)
I would like people reading this blog entry to seriously consider and assess how and what they give in terms of money and effort for the cause of animal liberation.
Are you paying for multiple wages when you really want your gifts to go straight to educating the public? If so, consider who are best placed to reach the people in their own localities – who knows about animal use in their areas? – who knows and lives with the people, and who are keyed into the local cultural variables?
Why fund the national group to make literature which is then handed back to the local activists for distribution? Why not simply go to the root of grassroots advocacy? Direct advocacy. Seek out your local group(s), see what they do; decide what type of campaigning it is that you want to finance – think what they can do with that extra support: it will not be spent of jetting around the world, that’s for sure.
Better still, why not seek out your local group(s), help fund them, and get involved in the most important style of education there is – going direct to the public. There is nothing more important in terms of animal rights than to bring about an increase in the numbers of vegans in all localities. If you cannot be active – or that’s not your thing – you can still help to have a great impact of changing cultural attitudes about human relations with other sentient beings and their exploitative use through your local groups.