Throughout history, protests have been a highly effective tool in spreading awareness and pressuring industries for change. Animal activists utilize them for these same purpose; when people congregate in front of an institution to expose its practices, people tend to notice. Protests attract the media. This puts more pressure on the institution and spreads awareness about a certain cause, increasing the likelihood for change. For example, people protested at the Del Mar Fair for the past few years because elephants were being held and abused with bull hooks. I went to several of these protests. We did not call for the fair to be shut down, but simply for the elephants to be removed. Our cause was featured on KUSI and other local media in San Diego. This year, Have Trunk Will Travel, the company that supplies the elephants, stated that there would be no elephants at the fair, partially as a result of public pressure.
Film is another powerful tool that activists use because it catches the viewer in a web of emotions, leaving them fired up and wanting to take action. One such documentary is Earthlings, which exposes many graphic atrocities committed against animals very few people know about or understand (i.e. the meat industry, animal testing, cruelty of zoos). The documentary made people more aware of these issues, meaning it also made it easier for them to take action. Some documentaries, like the recent Blackfish, ignite change directly. SeaWorld's stock plummeted after the film was released and public pressure against the theme park grew so out of hand it had to campaign against the documentary. Film is an important tool in the activist's toolbox because it gives depth to issues, thereby spreading awareness and fostering change.
Another highly effective tool is social media (although activists should also get off the computer and do something). In a technological world where social media has become increasingly popular, most people get their news online via Facebook and Twitter. Animal activists conduct social media storms to get an issue trending. For example, when a pod of dolphins, including a rare albino, were driven into a small cove in Taiji, Japan, activists hit their computers and got the incident trending with the hashtag #tweet4taiji. Because the slaughter trended, it was covered in international news, including the New York Times. Even though it was highly controversial already, the social media storm put pressure on Japan to end the slaughter. As a result, celebrities such as Yoko Ono and politicians like Caroline Kennedy, US Ambassador to Japan, spoke out about the topic. Another example is the upcoming Miracle March for Lolita, a captive orca who has been held at the Miami Seaquarium for the past 44 years. As part of its coordinating team, I have been hosting my own social media campaigns to spread awareness and to fundraise for the even. As a result, the #marchforLolita trended number one on Twitter and many celebrities, including including former NFL wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco and actors Jane Badler, Frazer Hines, William deVry, and Kal Penn, voiced their support. We've collected over $9000 dollars simply by sharing the march's GoFundMe page on social media. It is another catalyst for change and is a must-have in the activist’s toolbelt.
Petitions, another important piece of an activist’s arsenal, collect signatures and target a certain company or person. They are essentially an online protest that can rapidly gain influence and support. This efficiency produces results. Phoebe Goldstein, a close friend of mine who lives in Colorado, petitioned her school earlier this year to cancel a visit to SeaWorld as part of a Winter Break program. The petition, signed by students and faculty, succeeded and the school canceled the trip. As a result, the story spread around social media like wildfire, spreading more awareness about the captive industry and inspiring youth to speak up. Phoebe and I came into contact because I read an article about her story (which I found on social media) and contacted her. After that, we met each other in person and started our own organization, Sea Action, with another teen activist. The organization focuses on spreading awareness about animal-related issues and getting younger generations involved. I also created a petition earlier this year that called for Poway Unified School District to remove school functions from SeaWorld. Within two weeks it gained over 2,000 signatures, including over 600 from local students, teachers, and community members. As a result, the media picked up the story and I found myself speaking on national television, bringing the plight of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji and of captive cetaceans to the public eye. Phoebe told me that my petition sparked her to speak to her school. Petitions are an effective way to quickly ignite change and spread awareness.
All of these tools aid the animal activist in his or her quest to protect all life forms on the planet by educating people about the issue and by calling for action. As an animal activist, I utilize each of them on a regular basis. In activism, there is a simple formula: awareness + call for action + action + pressure for change = change. Protests, petitions, social media, and film all stimulate awareness and call for action. Protests and petitions are the actions that create pressure for change as public outcry increases that pressure. Like the tides, change always comes.