If you decide to read the 276 pages of "Get Political for Animals," be prepared. Author Julie Lewin is essentially grabbing you firmly by the shoulders, jerking you violently back and forth, and trying to shake some sense into you.
Her message is simple: the animal protection movement will not win major legal protections for animals from lawmakers until animal protection advocates vote as a bloc and demonstrate our collective power to politicians.
She essentially argues that politicians think in terms of packages or blocs of voters. They see the world, through their political lens, as a collection of various organized interests—anti-war, pro-defense, pro-life, pro-choice, pro-gun, labor, small business owners, evangelicals, pro-environment, and a laundry list of others. In order to win, politicians have to assemble a critical mass of these blocs to secure a majority, or in some cases a plurality, of votes. Until the politicians see animal protection advocates as a distinct voting bloc, they will take us for granted.
She is right. Voting as a bloc means being willing to set aside other political concerns—sometime even party affiliation—and focus your voting power on those candidates who put animals first. We ask legislators to make animals a priority, but until we do that, as voters, we won’t be taken seriously. For that reason alone, I recommend you pick up her book and study this how-to manual on political activity.
While she recognizes that some groups derive power from having and distributing money, she says that the presence of an active and cognizable voting bloc trumps money every time. She says that the NRA and other political opponents of animal protection are powerful primarily because of that core capability, and that their money only augments their power.
When animal protection advocates start voting as a bloc—and doing it successfully—Lewin says that we will see a raft of strong animal protection legislation pass.
As a charity, The HSUS can lobby for or against legislation (including ballot initiatives), but it can devote only a limited percentage of its work to that purpose. And the group, registered as a 501(c)(3) organization with the Internal Revenue Service (like almost every other animal protection organization), cannot favor or oppose candidates in any way. That is forbidden territory.
In 2004, The HSUS helped to form the Humane Society Legislative Fund. Originally, the HSLF was created to conduct more lobbying activity, in order to pass more animal protection laws at the state and federal level. But last year, the independent board of the HSLF voted to allow the group to engage in some candidate electioneering—favoring or opposing candidates for office. Indeed it did so, and with great success.
Julie’s Lewin’s manual is a wake-up call for a more sophisticated political approach for our movement. It also gives the animal protection advocate the basics on how government is structured, how lobbying works and how bills get killed, modified or passed. For those sections alone, the book is an important read and a primer on being a more effective advocate of legislation.
We’d be a stronger movement if every advocate studied this important text.