No Compromise

Feature

Issue 11

Page 17

Organizing Student Groups
by Adam Weissman

In the tightly knit community of the college campus, animal rights groups have a chance to seize public attention to a degree that is impossible in any other forum. Campuses are limited and fairly uneventful communities (similar to small towns), where any news is big news. Additionally, because students are geographically concentrated over a comparatively small number of buildings, student activists can maintain an extremely high level of face-to-face visibility.

Getting Started

Most schools have activities offices where you can find out everything you need to know about acquiring formal recognition and funding for a new group. Many institutions require a statement of purpose, a member list, formal officers, and a proposed budget.

It is helpful to assemble a small steering committee of animal liberation-minded people on your campus. If you don't know any other pro-animal students, contact a local animal rights group and ask if they know of any students on your campus. Leave notes on windshields of people with animal rights bumper stickers on their cars. Approach clubs with similar goals--like environmental groups--and announce your intention to start a group and pass around a sign-up sheet to see if anyone wants to be involved. When you have a core group of about five or six students, hold a series of meetings to brainstorm potential club goals and to wade through the administrative red tape necessary to get a group started.

Below are some of the issues that need to be discussed in steering committee meetings and some of the work that must be completed before official meetings begin.

Budgeting

Some schools automatically fund new groups while others require students to appeal to the student government for funding. Most schools, though, will require that all budgeted funds be roughly pre-allocated, meaning that you will have to guess in advance on which issues/programs/events you will be spending the money. Don't forget to find out how much flexibility you have in reallocating at a later time.

Costs and Benefits of Formal Recognition

Formally recognized groups have access to meeting space and, possibly, offices, funding, and a level of respectability to administration that will facilitate dialogue. On the other hand, many schools place severe restrictions on what groups can and cannot do. In the past, animal rights groups, such as at Brown and the University of Guelph, have been forcibly disbanded following Animal Liberation Front raids. Some militant student animal rights groups deliberately avoid recognition so their school cannot threaten to disband them when they use tactics such as home demonstrations against vivisectors.

There is a simple way to enjoy the best of both worlds: operate an unrecognized group specifically for activities not approved of by school policy for recognized groups. For example, New York University requires that groups holding rallies and other street events formally register these actions. Worse, they can decide the time, place, and location. NYU student activists avoid being hampered by these policies by either making other local organizations the official demonstration sponsor or by using an ad-hoc name such as NYU Students against Animal Cruelty, as opposed to the formally recognized Students for Education on Animal Liberation.

Publicity

As people tend to make group commitments early in the school term, it is critical to begin outreach as soon as possible in the semester. Investigate activity/club fairs at your school, hang posters announcing your meetings all around the campus, make and distribute "show card"-sized handouts announcing your group, and table at concerts on campus and well-traveled areas (like student centers in colleges and main entrances in high schools). High schools students can stuff all faculty mailboxes, particular those of teachers with homerooms and, after a little research, possibly include information on your group in the school's daily announcements. Try to include a new announcement each day with a different animal rights fact. You should also approach the campus radio TV stations, as well as the student newspaper about running an announcement about your group's first meeting.

Even if there isn't a specific campaign that launches the group, a steering committee should try to define both long-term and short-term goals. This does not mean that the steering committee will define the whole agenda for the duration of the school year. Rather, the committee will develop a base of ideas to draw upon when the group is officially launched, regardless of whether they are actually used or not.

The First Meeting

The Power of Campus Media

It is easy to underestimate the importance of campus media on the grounds that very few students actually read their school papers. Ignoring your school paper causes you to miss out on great outreach and educational opportunities. It is fairly easy to develop one-on-one relationships with educators and reporters at your campus paper by simply visiting their office and talking about your issue. You can also send press releases a few days before every event you hold. Some school papers will allow the animal rights group to write a weekly column, so be sure to ask if this is possibility and find out if you can run photos with the articles.

Campaign for Change

Groups should choose campaigns considering their members' level of interest in an issue, the potential for the campaign to achieve change in policy, the likelihood of changing attitudes of members of the community, and the potential to further the animal liberation movement. Most importantly, the goal of the campaign must be attainable. Taking on a campaign with no chance of success will only promote frustration and apathy once it becomes clear that victory is impossible. It is far more meaningful to take on smaller--winnable--campaigns, thus building confidence and a formidable reputation, and training your members for the bigger battles that lie ahead.

There are many, many animal rights issues to address on campuses, including banning dissection, abolishing animal experiments, ending campus use of rodenticides and insecticides, stopping your school from investing in or purchasing products from companies that abuse animals such as Procter & Gamble, promoting veganism on campus, challenging campus animal agriculture programs, and educating the campus community on a wide range of animal rights issues.

Because the world will not go vegan overnight and meat consumption is such an entrenched practice, promoting veganism works best as a less confrontational campaign. It is hard, after all, to be accusatory, when the majority of the public are the accused.

Campus groups tend to have three major goals in promoting veganism on campus: education, increasing vegan food options, and specially eliminating particularly cruel animal "foods."

Tactics for education include tabling, holding veganism seminars, leafleting with literature such as Why Vegan, promoting awareness of campus vegan options through a vegan guide, and free food events:

Historically student organizations have been at the forefront of freedom struggles. Student animal rights groups, with proper planning, can help make animal rights one of the most powerful social justice movements of the 21st century.

Special thanks to Freeman Wicklund and Melanie Bartlett, whose ideas and experiences have been drawn upon heavily throughout this article.Related Stories/Links:
 

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