An animal activists' handbook
2. setting up a LOCAL GROUP
While running stalls at fairs and festivals and also on the streets, we are often approached by people who want to be put in touch with their local campaigning animal rights group. We firmly believe that the most effective way to spread the message about animal cruelty is through the work of local activists, so we encourage the enquirer to get involved with their nearest group and look up the address for them in the Animals Contact Directory which is a directory of all the local and national animal rights groups in Britain.
Unfortunately, in many areas there is no local group or the group that exists is not very active. It would be wonderful if there was an active, dedicated group based in every school, college, village, town and city. If that was the case, imagine how widely information could be spread!
The idea of setting up a local campaigning group sounds daunting, but it's actually very straightforward. This chapter provides some useful hints and guidelines in order to inspire and encourage you.
The first stage in setting up a local group is to get in touch with other like-minded people in your area. One good way to do this is to place cards or posters which state your address or phone number and the fact that you want to set up a group in local shops. We would start off with Health Food, Animal Welfare charity and general Grocers shops. Don't forget libraries.
DO YOU CARE ABOUT
DO YOU WANT TO HELP DO
SOMETHING ABOUT IT?
IF YOU'VE ANSWERED "YES" TO BOTH
THOSE QUESTIONS, WHY NOT GET
TOGETHER AND FORM A GROUP?
CONTACT ME SOON AND WE'LL
ARRANGE A MEETING
(YOUR NAME): 01234-567 89
If writing your advert on a card, keep it very brief and to the point. Make sure that important words like
are highlighted in some way so as to make them more eye-catching, as in the example above. If shoppers are scanning through a noticeboard or window full of cards and posters you have to make sure that yours stands out from the rest and is seen by as many people as possible. Some shops make a small charge for displaying notices, others will do it free.
You can also try writing in to the letters page in your local paper. It is surprising how many people read them. You can go into much more detail in a letter and I would suggest describing some of the things that concern you, then appealing for people who feel the same way as you to get in touch. Here is an example of the sort of letter I would write:
Your recent story about the large increase in the number of people who take animal testing into consideration before buying household products and cosmetics was of interest to me. Public concern about the cruelty involved in animal experiments is growing all the time as more and more people are choosing cruelty-free goods. Awareness is also growing about bloodsports, animal circuses and the horrors of factory farming.
It is easy for those of us who care to do something to help animals. As well as not buying animal-tested products, we can avoid animal circuses and replace the animal products like meat and eggs in our diet with humane alternatives. We can also spread information locally about animal issues. I'd really like to form a group with others who care so that we can work together and do this. If you are interested, phone me soon on 01234 567 89 and we'll arrange a meeting. Together we can speak up for animals!
Another way to contact like-minded people is to get in touch with organisations such as environmental and human rights groups. A lot of the people who support such causes are also sympathetic to animal rights and vice versa. You could go along to one of their meetings and talk to them about it or pass around some leaflets.
Finally, while you are investigating all the other methods of communication, don't forget about word of mouth. Mention your plans to friends, relatives and colleagues. If they aren't interested, they might know someone who is.
CALLING A MEETING
Once interested people have started to contact you, the next stage is to call a meeting. This should be arranged on a date perhaps about a month in the future, in order to give people a chance to plan for it and to let others know. Early weekday evenings or Sunday afternoons suit most people.
You will have to decide on a venue for the meeting. There are advantages and disadvantages to holding it in someone's house. The advantages are that it's free, you don't have the hassle of booking it and you can prepare refreshments easily. The disadvantages are that some people (especially young people), feel awkward and intimidated about the idea of going to a complete stranger's house, your house might not be in a well known and accessible location, you probably won't have enough room or chairs to accommodate an unexpectedly large turnout and unless you live alone, there are bound to be lots of distractions.
From personal experience, we would strongly recommend hiring a cheap room in a central location on main bus routes which has the facilities for you to make hot drinks. Community centres, church halls and town halls are worth trying. You might even be able to hire a room for free.
RUNNING YOUR FIRST MEETING
Before the meeting, have a good think about all the things you need to know in order to establish the group. Make a list of these things so that you can refer to it on the day. For a start, you will have to establish:
* What the main concerns of your group will be. Will you concentrate on campaigns against animal experiments, bloodsports, or all areas of animal abuse?
* What type of campaigning you will do. Will you just arrange regular street stalls and leafletting sessions or will you also run campaigns and hold demonstrations, etc. Will you produce a regular newsletter?
* What skills and resources you have as a group. Are there any artists or confident speakers in the group? Have any of you been in a campaigning group before? Do any of you have contacts with the press or council? Does anyone have easy access to a computer or photocopier? What about vehicles?
On the day, you should chair the meeting because you organised it. Introduce yourself by stating your name and then a brief description about why you feel concerned about animal cruelty and why you want to be in a local campaigning group, then go around the room with everyone doing the same. This will help everyone relax and put them in the mood to talk.
Read out your list of discussion points and ask if anyone else can think of something you've missed. Then draw up an agenda by putting everything into a logical order, or pass it around for everyone to add to it. Spend the rest of the meeting going through the agenda and make sure that someone who writes quickly and has clear handwriting is taking notes.
During the meeting you will all get a realistic idea about what sort of things you can organise and achieve as a group. A group is more organised and efficient if it appoints a secretary and treasurer. If one person has taken on the responsibility to deal with all the group's correspondence, it is more likely that enquiry letters etc. will be dealt with quickly and confusion about whose turn it is to deal with the mail will be avoided. Likewise, if one person keeps up to date with the group's finances, it is easier for your group to keep in touch with how much money it is spending and to plan ahead. You might also choose to appoint a press officer, but this isn't as important and depending on how the people at the meeting feel, it could work out easier if you take it in turns to deal with the press.
At the end of the meeting you will all need to agree on a name for your group. This should reflect your principles and sound positive. A short name or one with initials which spell a word (an acronym) is easier to remember. You will also need to agree on a contact address and/or phone number. From personal experience we suggest that you set up a PO box. Enquire about this at any main Post Office. If you are going to be promoting your group widely it is not a good idea to use someone's private address. The phone number should be that of someone who intends to be active within the group who is in a lot of the time or who has an answering machine.
You will also need to sort out when and where your next meeting will be held. If you establish a time which you will stick to, for example 7pm on the first Tuesday of each month, you can all make a note of this and future confusion will be avoided.
Finally, we suggest compiling a telephone list so that you can all keep in touch with each other, or at least make sure that the secretary makes a note of everyone's phone numbers. There will be times when people have to be contacted in a hurry or things have to be discussed with everyone but there isn't time to call a meeting.
After the meeting, the secretary should write up a report about what was discussed and what decisions were made and then circulate this to everyone before the second meeting. If everyone present agrees to pay a small subscription fee, this will cover photocopying and postage costs. Your group may decide to introduce a membership fee at some point in the future. It is unrealistic to do this at the very first meeting.
1.) Get in touch with other like-minded people by advertising the fact that you want to set up a group.
2.) Organise a meeting at a suitable venue and make a list of important things to discuss and questions to ask everyone.
3.) Find out what skills, resources and contacts your group has.
4.) Decide what kind of activities the group is going to get involved in and what issues it will campaign about.
5.) Appoint a secretary and treasurer and decide what responsibilities those people will have.
6.) Decide on a contact address and 'phone number.
7.) Choose a name for the group which reflects its aims and principles.
8.) Decide on the time, date and venue for your next meeting.
9.) Make sure that the secretary takes a note of everyone's address and 'phone number and also compiles and circulates a report of what was decided at the meeting.
10.) Have fun, make friends and focus your ideas.
Campaign Against Cruelty An Animal Activists Handbook
available for £4.99 (plus p&p) from Vegetarian Guides, or order it from all good book shops.