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  • Elections, Free Trade, and Legislator Accountability

    Elections, Free Trade, and Legislator Accountability:

    A Guide for Animal Rights Activists

    (portions of this guide were adapted from a flyer by Citizens Trade Campaign)

     

    With the Midterm elections coming up and many of our Senators and all of out House Represenatatives up for reelection, now is the perfect time to take our elected officials to task if they voted against animals or thank them if they voted compassionately. Since the last election, members of Congress have voted on the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement and more recently the Oman Free Trade Agreement. Many of those who voted for the interests of corporations over workers, animals, and the environment and supported these disastrous agreements are hoping the public isn’t aware of these issues or won’t remember them at election time. It’s our job to ensure this doesn’t happen.

     

    Many animal organizations are incorporated as 501(c)3 corporations, meaning they cannot work to influence the outcome of elections. But they can educate voters on where candidates stand on the issues, allowing voters to draw their own conclusions. Of course, individual members of animal groups can choose to volunteer for the reelection of candidates 501(c)4 organizations, 527 organizations and PACs have a much wider range of options, and can explicitly endorse and campaign for candidates.

     

    Whatever type of organization you have, it’s important to know what sorts of activities are legal for your category before engaging in any sort of activity surround elections. You can learn more about the options available to your organization at http://citizenstrade.org/pdf/advocacy_and_elections.pdf and http://www.allianceforjustice.org/spotlight/fec_prop527.pdf . One you’ve done this, you can consider these strategies to put animals and trade on the minds of voters and to pressure your elected officials to vote responsibly on trade issues.

     

    LEARN THE ISSUES – Read about the impact of global trade on animals at http://freetradekillsanimals.org.

     

    APPEAL TO PUBLIC INTERESTAside from animals, there are MANY good reasons to oppose free trade agreements—environmental concerns, national security, support for small farmers, concern for human rights, economic impact on communities, labor rights, indigenous communities, access to generic drugs, opposition to privatization, and more. Of course, there are many people who oppose an animal rights agenda, but can be swayed on these arguments. Learn more about the MANY arguments against free trade agreements at website like http://stopcafta.org, http://bilaterals.org, http://citizenstrade.org, http://sierraclub.org/trade/, http://globaltradewatch.org, http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/, http://www.maketradefair.com , http://www.hrw.org/doc/?t=corporations_trade, http://www.healthgap.org/camp/ftaa.html, http://www.polarisinstitute.org/, www.gatswatch.org, http://tinyurl.com/pl492, http://aflcio.org/issues/jobseconomy/globaleconomy/tradeagreements.cfm .and the satirical http://gatt.org/. If other groups in your community , aren’t already addressing these arguments, along with animal arguments in your campaign to increase public support. Of course, if there are groups already addressing these points, you can choose to focus solely on the animal aspects of the issue.

     

    BUILD ALLIANCES – To increase your credibility in making these additional arguments and at the same time increase your organizing capacity by including more people in your efforts, link up with other groups concerned about trade issues. Talk to global justice/anti-globalization groups, local labor unions and Central Labor Councils, environmental groups (especially Sierra Club chapters), human rights groups, anarchist and Marxist organizations, AIDS activists, Latin American solidarity groups, Latino community organizations, progressive church groups, fair trade organizations, Hunger activists, small farm groups, anti-war activists,. and others. Find out if your community already has a coalition of organizations committed to fighting corporate globalization, and if not, build one!

     

    IDENTIFY POTENTIAL TARGETS – Study the federal Senators and Congressmembers in your area. Who is up for reelection this year? Study the voting records of legislators in your area on recent trade agreements at http://freetradekillsanimals.org/?page=Votes. Study local media to find out how political analysts are calling the election. Are there elected officials who have been consistently voted with us fighting tough reelection battles? Are there officials who have opposed us fighting strong challengers? Are there elected officials who have voted inconsistently who need to hear that voters demand consistent opposition to anti-animal, anti-public interest trade agreements? You can also contact Global Justice for Animals for advice on strategic targets in your area.

     

    PLEDGE FOR TRADE JUSTICE--– Elected official’s voting records are a good way to find out where they stand on trade issues. Another is to ask them to sign the Pledge for Trade Justice. Developed primarily by Latin American solidarity activists, this pledge asks candidates for Congress to commit to not supporting CAFTA-style free trade agreements. . This is helpful because you can ask challengers as well as incumbents to take the pledge. Unfortunately, the pledge does not directly address animal issues, but it would force legislators to commit to oppose CAFTA-style agreements—agreements which are invariably bad for animals. To learn more about the Pledge, visit http://stopcafta.org/

     

    USE THE MEDIA – Use the mass media to get the word out to the public on where candidates for election stand on trade issues. · Write op-eds and letters to the editor to bring up trade issues and hold reps accountable for their past votes.· Call in to talk radio shows when candidates are on the air and talk about the impacts of trade. Hold demonstrations at candidates’ offices before and after key trade votes and announce them with press releases.

     

    VOTER GUIDES – Even if your organization is legally unable to endorse candidates, you can still provide voters with information on the implications of trade votes—and how their elected officials voted on them. To learn how to do this, visit http://citizenstrade.org/pdf/how_to_voter.pdf – Distribute your voter guide through your activist networks and at cafes and grocery stores or anywhere else you can reach lots of people. If your town has a sizeable Latino population, make a Spanish version. You could announce the voter guide with a press release and conference. Do outreach to local newspapers and organizations with newsletters to encourage them to cover the event or write a story on the impact of trade on the election. If your budget allows, take out an ad in a newspaper or utilize bus or subway stop advertising.

     

    LOBBYING – Lobby the candidates: Ask for meetings with all of the candidates and use the candidate questionnaire and the candidate pledge included in this packet . If you can’t get a meeting, distribute the survey or pledge to all candidates and then publish the results.

     

    SHADOWING Everyone you go, your shadow goes with you—and candidates with bad or unclear records on trade issues need a shadow to remind them that just trade policies matter. Shadow candidates at parades, events, rallies, debates – any public events where a candidate will be present. Carry posters, wear a sandwich-board, and hand out voter guides or fliers explaining the importance of the trade issue. Ask questions about incumbents’ fast track votes and their stance on the FTAA and demand that new candidates take a stand.· It is hard to figure out where candidates are going to be. Work with others to compile a list of all the appearances you expect them to make. Some local newspapers do this. If yours does not, encourage them to. Do outreach to generate attendance by fair trade activists. Approach candidates in different manners. Some are friendly and will welcome your questions while others are evasive or hostile. With those whom you have no opportunity to interact, leaflet and use signs or sandwich-boards to express your opinions.· Be creative! Use street/guerilla theater to educate candidates. Look for opportunities to get in their face and creatively demonstrate your message.

     

    DEBATES – Organize a candidate debate or forum. Be sure to invite all the candidates and the media. Don’t just send press releases—try to speak directly to political reporters at local media and personally invite them. If they express interest in coming call any candidates who haven’t committed to attend and tell them that. If they don’t get back to you, tell them that they will be represented by an empty chair if they choose not to participate. Of course, work with them before setting the final date of the event to schedule an evening that works for them. Put notices in events listings in local media, send email announcements over activist email lists, post announcements on websites like http://indymedia.org and hang posters around your city to get the public to attend the debate. Be sure to get a hall large enough for the crowd you hope will attend.

     

    FOLLOW THE MONEY – Dig up the candidates’ campaign contributors. With this info, you can publicize if the candidates receive money from bad guys. If, on the other hand, a contributor is a potential ally, contact them and ask them to use their influence to meet with the candidate to express that fair trade is extremely important to them. Use the following web-sites to do research:

    · www.opensecrets.org ; · www.followthemoney.org ·; www.commoncause.org/laundromat ; · www.fecinfo.com (not free, but it’s good)

    · www.vote-smart.orgwww.publicampaign.org/stateresources.html (listing of state and regional resources)

     

    BUILD COMMUNITY – You can also use elections to increase your outreach. Bring up trade as an election issue within your coalition and with other groups. Sponsor a non-partisan “Trade Election Watch" party where coalition members and friends can talk about Bush’s trade agenda and other election issues. Utilize your newsletter and the newsletters of member groups to write about what the future trade stakes are and keep people engaged.

     

    ENDORSEMENTS – If your group is legally able to make endorsements of candidates for office, you can endorse those candidates who have signed the CAFTA pledge and those elected officials who sign the pledge and have consistently good voting records on trade issues. A press conference announcing your endorsement and the candidates’ commitment to sign the pledge is a great place to do that.

     

    VOLUNTEER FOR CANDIDATES – You can also volunteer time for the candidates you support—staffing their offices, handing out promotional leaflets, poll watching on election day, etc. This will help your candidate, and the candidate will remember supportive groups when elected. Even if your group is not legally able to endorse candidates, you can volunteer as individuals and let the candidate and the candidate staff know that you are volunteering because of the candidate’s stance on animal-unfriendly trade agreements.

     

    ISSUE OUTREACH – Work to educate the public on trade issues and where candidates stand on them. Run booths at community fairs, table at busy intersections, hang posters throughout the district that explain the threat of free trade and where the candidates stand.. Be sure to have materials in languages besides English if there are large populations that primarily speak another language in the district. If your group can explicitly endorse candidates, let people know who they should vote for. Otherwise, explain the issue and the candidates’ records and whether they’ve signed the pledge and let them draw their own conclusions.

     

    CANDIDATE MAILINGS – You can also mail postcards to your members prior to election day encouraging them to vote for the candidate you support. Other national and regional animal advocacy groups may be willing to rent their mailing lists to you for a fee so that you will have more people to outreach to.

     

    CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS – If your organization is legally allowed to contribute to candidates for office, this is a very powerful way to show support, particularly in close races. It’s not unlikely that your candidate is being outspent by a more corporation-friendly opponent, so your contribution may be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, the people who finance elections are the first to get an audience with elected officials, so your contribution will increase your chances of access to the candidate if (hopefully) your candidate is elected. Some groups may choose not to contribute to candidates on philosophical grounds. Unfortunately, this puts us at a disadvantage to our opponents who have no such qualms.

     

    Global Justice for Animals and the Environment is a project of:
    Wetlands Activism Collective
    Phone: (718) 218-4523
    Fax: (501) 633-34761
    activism @ wetlands-preserve.org