Complementing Roles: Nationals and Grassroots
from No Compromise Issue 11

By Mike Markarian

After being in the animal rights movement for about 12 years, I am starting to see an unfortunate schism between grassroots and national groups. I would like to offer some thoughts on how national and grassroots groups can be beneficial to each other. And, more importantly, how the animals can benefit.

Bill Moyer of the Social Movement Project has studied the evolution of different social movements and has reported on the similarities between the steps through which every social movement evolves. He claims that every social movement has four types of activists:

THE CITIZEN - Activists in this category uphold good social values and bring out people's goodness. For example, if an animal rights group offers a reward for information leading to the arrest of a person who tortured a dog, then that group is viewed as upholding values that the general public supports.
THE REBEL - Direct action, civil disobedience, hunt sabotages and Animal Liberation Front activities all fall under this category. Activists purposefully breaking laws that are unjust, such as hunter harassment laws, or committing acts of civil disobedience to help animals, are tying the movement's issues together with First Amendment, freedom of speech and civil liberties issues.
THE CHANGE AGENT - Activists in this category put the movement's issue on the political and public agenda. Activists who mobilize to attend public meetings and get involved with the decision making process are working as change agents. Offering alternatives, calling radio talk shows, writing letters to the editor and teaching humane education in schools are all examples of involving the community and promoting the long-term goals of the movement.
THE REFORMER - Reformers become part of the system and work within the system to promote the movement's goals. Passing federal legislation to cut subsidies to the mink industry, filing a lawsuit to stop a bison hunt or gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to end trapping, all fall under this category.
Every activist in the animal rights movement falls into one (or more) of the above categories and the movement cannot survive unless it has people working effectively in all four categories. There are some people who are very good at civil disobedience and jail support. There are some people who love to go into schools and talk to children about animal rights. There are some credible scientists and doctors in our movement who can promote alternatives to dissection, hunting or a meat-based diet. There are some people who love to meet with their elected officials. Everyone in the movement has a niche, and they should all be embraced, not alienated.

The blame for the growing split between the grassroots and national groups can in some ways be placed on both sides. Certain segments of the grassroots movement believe that unless you are getting arrested at every protest and unless you follow a certain code of always refusing bail and fines, then you are not doing anything for animals. Similarly, certain segments of the national movement have turned their backs on the grassroots, because they believe that civil disobedience makes the movement look too radical. Some national groups pay their top brass $200,000 salaries and deprive the animal programs of that money, and some are unresponsive and even hostile to the concerns and criticisms of grassroots activists.

However, many people who work for national organizations started out first as effective grassroots activists and were hired because they are talented and committed to the cause. Whether we are involved with grassroots and/or national groups, we all need to realize that our niche is not the only one. We can draw from Bill Moyer's action plan and recognize that all four types of activism are crucial to the movement, and that there are some ways that the different types of activists can help each other.

For example, let's say a national organization has wildlife biologists on staff and has literature available that refutes all the myths about hunting wildlife to control populations. In order to help grassroots activists, that organization should make the literature available for free and should provide a space for local groups to stamp their own name and address on the literature. If a grassroots group is planning a direct action protest against hunting, wouldn't it be beneficial to use these leaflets for the protest so the media and the public are educated about the reasons hunting is unnecessary? I don't think anyone wants to waste their time and money reinventing the wheel-time and money that could be spent helping animals.

The "rebel" activists can draw media attention with civil disobedience, and then channel that media attention to become "change agents" by educating the public about the available alternatives and the goals of the movement. By recognizing the value of different types of activism, we can maximize our efforts to fight for the rights of animals.