The importance of protests: an interview with a grassroots activist

The Examiner, Dec 23 2011; story from USA

Demonstration at the Bucks County Zoo, which was effectively forced to cease business shortly after these protests began.

Demonstration at the Bucks County Zoo, which was effectively forced to cease business shortly after these protests began.

Marianne Bessey

Marianne Bessey has been an avid defender of animal rights for many years and has single-handedly organized hundreds of public outreach demonstrations, or “protests.”  Marianne was also instrumental in the recent rescue of Kayli the cow, which made national headlines.  The following is a short interview with Marianne discussing the importance of “street action” and maybe a better understanding of why TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2011 happened to be “the protestor!”
Q.  In your experience, what is the most effective form of advocacy? 

A.  Making the connection between animals we love, like dogs and cats, and animals we eat, like pigs and cows, is very effective, and there are many different ways people do that.  Rescued animals like Kayli really help people to make that connection.  That said, there are no empirical studies proving or disproving which tactic or method is most effective.  I have found that certain things are less effective than others.  One of the most ineffective methods of advocacy, in my experience, is randomly handing out leaflets promotingveganism.  No one has ever measured how many people become vegan from being handed a leaflet, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is far less than one percent.  Petitions are usually pretty useless because they seldom reach their targeted audience.

Q.  How do you spend most of your advocacy time and why?

A.  I focus on ending the use of animals in entertainment, including zoos, rodeos, and circuses.  I also do some advocacy work in other areas.  I find I am a more effective advocate if I focus on a few areas of animal exploitation.  I believe it’s wrong to use animals altogether, but most people are at a stage where they require more information to process why it is wrong.  It helps to educate people on what is going on right now with the obvious forms of exploitation.  At every action, I also provide information on a completely vegan lifestyle.

Q. What sort of things do you do?

A.  There isn’t much I haven’t tried!  I’ve submitted hundreds of letters and opinion pieces and I have had dozens published in newspapers.  I organize things like film screenings and activist training sessions.  I’m not a big fan of socializing for the sake of “networking,” because I find that most of the time the effort ends there, but I’ve also organized a few social events and fundraisers.  The most important thing I do is street action. As Woody Allen allegedly said, 80 percent of success is showing up.

Q.  How many people participate in street action these days?

A.  Not enough!  Many vegans think that other things they do replace it.  They don’t.  Nothing replaces the action on the street.   A good analogy is voting vs. everything else – no one would suggest (I hope!) that hosting a vegan potluck replaces voting at the polls.   The difference between street action and everything else is simply this:  the more people who show up for a street action, the more effective it is.  Just this month, 12,000 people showed up outside the White House for a protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  A few days later, it was announced that any decision regarding the pipeline would be delayed until at least 2013 – a huge victory.  The sheer volume of people involved made the decision makers take notice.  If only 12 people had showed up, the effort would have been largely ignored.

Q.  Some people feel uncomfortable standing with a sign or leafleting – what would you say to them? 

A.  Get over it!  Anything new is usually uncomfortable at first.  In order to grow, we have to challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zone.  I’ve organized or participated in hundreds of demos, and I still feel a little ill at ease when I go to a new place or somewhere where I don’t know anyone.  The biggest thing to remember is that if you don’t like it, you can always leave.  The animals sure don’t have that choice!


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