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In the Public Eye

One of the best ways to spread the word about animal issues is by taking your campaign to the streets — or the campus, or the capitol, or anyplace public. By tabling, leafleting, or sponsoring a public event, you can reach people in a face-to-face manner, educate your community about your concerns, garner valuable media attention, and directly change hearts and minds. Below, a few strategies for spreading your message in your community.

Tabling

Displays of animal-related materials can provide an excellent opportunity to educate the public and recruit new members to your particular group and the animal protection cause. Exhibits can be ongoing, such as displays at your local library or community center, or can be limited to single events such as festivals and fairs. You can also distribute materials by leafleting at colleges, parks, and other appropriate venues.

When you learn of an event to be held in your area, contact the event sponsor to inquire if your group can set up a table or other display. Small fairs may provide a space for free or for a nominal fee, while larger festivals may charge a significant rate for a one-day or weekend exhibit. Nonprofit rates, however, are often available for these larger events. If exhibit fees are prohibitive, consider contacting other groups in your area, such as the local SPCA or animal rescue group, about sharing a booth.

To attract people to your table you'll need an attention-grabbing display, preferably one that includes photos. If electricity is available, running videos on a continuous basis is usually very effective. Giving away food or items such as calendars, pins, bookmarks, or bumperstickers also works well. Games for children, such as a quiz about animals, are always popular. Focusing your exhibit on only one animal-related issue may be more effective than trying to include information on a wide range of topics.

People enjoy having something to do when they stop at exhibits. Offer them postcards or petitions to sign. Don't forget a sign-up sheet for your group's mailing list. If you have a timely issue such as pending legislation about which you need letters written, you can supply paper, pens, and sample letters. Ask visitors to take a few minutes to jot down a short paragraph or two. After the event, you'll have time to look up the name of the appropriate legislators and then address, stamp, and mail the letters.

If you need literature to stock your exhibit, contact us. We can offer bulk supplies of fact sheets and brochures for a nominal fee (single copies are available for free). You can attach a label or stamp with your group's contact information to information you distribute. This literature can also be used in leafleting or to display at venues such as health food stores and other willing businesses.

Staging an Event

Well-staged events — such as marches, rallies, sit-ins, and candlelight vigils — can be used to deliver a powerful message to the public about protecting animals. Even something as simple as handing out flyers can be effective, especially when done at the right place and time. While the immediate goal may be to educate people at the location where the event is being held, your bigger objective is often to motivate the media to broadcast your message to more people than those you can meet in person. Marches and rallies usually require a large number of people to garner publicity, but sit-ins and vigils can often receive media coverage with only a small number of participants.

Capturing media attention requires that your event be either newsworthy or interesting, and preferably both. To be newsworthy, it must be related to something that's going on at that time in the community. Protesting when the rodeo or circus comes to town, holding a vigil at a marine park or zoo when a well-known animal dies, or organizing a rally at the state capitol prior to the vote on an animal-related bill all qualify as "news."

If you protest every circus, however, or hold a vigil for every animal death, or rally repeatedly in support of animal legislation, media coverage will wane quickly. To increase chances for media attention, an event can be made interesting by featuring a "hook." When animal activists held a vigil at Marine World following the death of the orca Vigga, they displayed headstones announcing the name and age of animals who had died previously at the park. Animal activists marching at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle all dressed in unique, hand-made sea turtle outfits. The image of a surging sea of thousands of brightly-colored marching turtles was captured by the media and broadcast around the world.

Before organizing an event, contact the venue to determine where you can set up and whether a permit is required. Schedule the day, time, and place of the event with the media in mind. Distribute your news release, giving the "who, what, when, where, and why," several days prior to the event. Follow up the day before the event with a second news release and personal phone calls to news editors at newspapers and program directors at television and radio stations.

Media should be instructed to arrive at least 30 minutes after your participants are scheduled to show up. Identify one or two of your most knowledgeable people to serve as spokespersons. No one else should speak to the press. Media packets are useful but not essential. Simple handouts that illustrate your main points will suffice. Always remember when performing any advocacy for animals that your appearance and conduct will communicate more about you to others than anything you say.

CASE STUDY #4

A Local Voice for Vegetarianism

Since 2001, we have distributed nearly 25,000 copies of Going Veggie, our free, informative beginner's guide to adopting a plant-based diet. More than 1,500 of these copies have been put to good use by Vegetarian Advocates, a local animal advocacy group based in Bradenton, Florida.

Vegetarian Advocates founders Stacy Perry and Dennis Lightfield contacted then–Senior Program Coordinator Monica Engebretson, and asked for her assistance in spreading the word about vegetarianism in their community. Their group began distributing the guides at local festivals, and leaving copies on displays at area libraries, restaurants, health clubs, and other willing businesses. Group members take a few copies with them wherever they go, in case an unexpected opportunity for advocacy arises.

According to Stacy, people are first drawn to the guide's attractive cover and simple recipes, then learn more about the benefits of vegetarianism for animals, human health, and the environment as they read the guide further at home.

We and other groups have also distributed the guide at college campuses, meat-free meals served to the public, Earth Day celebrations, and many other venues. In fact, almost any time can be the right time to spread an animal-friendly message!

To receive free copies of Going Veggie, or for assistance with animal-friendly public events, contact us at 800-348-7387 or info@bornfreeusa.org.

Every Action Counts

Victories for animals occur every day, thanks to the efforts of "thoughtful, committed citizens" just like you. Whether you write letters, distribute leaflets, or join your neighbors to speak up for animals, know that you make a difference. Know, too, that Born Free USA is there to support the grassroots efforts of individuals and local groups that work to protect animals. Just give us a call, and we'll assist you in whatever way we can. Together, we can truly change the world.