Divide and Conquer. It’s one of the oldest and most effective strategies for getting and holding power.
Divide and Conquer works by creating in-fighting within a group of people. Take animal advocates, for example. Our numbers are staggering. If effectively harnessed, we are a force to be reckoned with. But the movement is divided between animal welfarists and animal rights advocates. The two groups often fight each other. Animal rights advocates, or abolitionists, see welfarists as sell-outs while welfarists see abolitionists as idealists.
The movement further fragmented because the larger advocacy organizations (PETA, HSUS, and to a certain extent, ASPCA) focused on fundraising and growth without utilizing effective community-building strategies, which forced those wanting to make a difference locally to start their own organizations. This separation allowed opposing forces to move in and point out our divisions by reminding us that those large fundraising agencies weren’t supporting community efforts at all, despite the emotion-laden fund-raising ads that led viewers to believe that was the case.
Did it work? Oh, you betcha it did!
The ASPCA went through a period of infighting that went public. Board members turned on each other. ASPCA president Ed Sayres left after his contract wasn’t renewed and became CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a pet industry trade group that supports the sale of puppy mill animals. New ASPCA president Matthew E. Bershadker was hired as Sayres’ replacement despite some board members’ misgivings with a salary half that of Sayres’ and comparable to the salary of HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle. It’s unclear if the fighting has calmed down or if they’re just keeping quiet about it.
Meanwhile HSUS is still being targeted by HumaneWatch, a group supported by animal agriculture that seeks to “educate” the public that HSUS is not in the business of saving animals, but is a lobbyist group. HSUS has finally pulled its head out of the sand and admitted that’s partially true, while promoting all the services they do offer. HSUS still uses the heartstrings approach to fundraising such as with the Wendie Malick voice over video that shows animals starving and in need of veterinary care; however, they seem to be moving toward a more honest approach with the That’s Why I Donate commercials.
Others in the animal welfare arena jumped on the bandwagon to talk down the big guys while trying to make a name for themselves. One of the most famous is Nathan Winograd of No Kill Advocacy Center, who teamed with the Huffington Post to talk down PETA every chance he got.
So how was Cecil’s death different?
The killing of this beloved lion in such a horrific manner upset both welfarists and abolitionists alike. I mean, really, there is no way anyone could justify what Palmer did as appropriate. Big game trophy hunts were brought to light as a selfish pastime for the wealthy. But it wasn’t the Big Three that got America’s blood boiling. Jimmy Kimmel’s YouTube video and Facebook video had a combined total of over 17 million hits since both were uploaded a little over a week ago. Kimmel’s plea to donate to Wildlife Conservation Research Unit helped WildCRU raise almost a million dollars.
While few of us believe in the sincerity of the Zimbabwean government, we know they heard us and want our eco-tourism dollars badly enough to at least act like they’re concerned. The guide and property owner have been charged.
Of course there has been a great deal of backlash to try to divide those who would try to put an end to trophy hunts, from those who claim we’re caring about animals to the detriment of humans (like we can’t care about both?!?!) to the tired old argument the status quo always uses- we’re just a bunch of nutjobs. But this time was different. This time we didn’t end up fighting each other. This time we stood up together against our outside critics.
So what changes came about? That remains to be seen.
To be sure, we put the fear in some trophy hunters, but at the same time we were calling for laws outlawing American citizens from hunting overseas, state governments here in the US were making it legal to hunt wolves, bears, and other protected species.
Three major US airlines agreed to not allow big game trophies be shipped on their planes, but it’s still legal to ship them here, so some company’s going do it (right UPS?).
But the biggest thing I think animal lovers got out of this was a heaping helping of reality. If we want change, we’re going to have to stop fighting from within and join together to fight those who truly mean animals harm. Welfarist, abolitionist, or rescuer: there is strength in our numbers when we join forces.
It’s just too damn bad a lion had to die to teach us this lesson.