Successful strategies for dealing with animal rights activists

Meetingsnet.com recently published
an excellent article on the American Association for Animal Laboratory Science‘s (AAALS) strategies for dealing with animal rights activists
who showed up at its national meeting last November.

After being tipped off by
Americans for Medical Progress that the AAALS meeting was being targeted
for protest by animal rights activists, AAALS executive director Michael
Sondag put together a three-prong approach that succeeded in minimizing
confrontation with the activists.

First, he involved local,
state and federal law enforcement agencies in the planning and security
arrangements of the conference. When 140 or so animal rights activists
showed up to protest, AALAS was prepared with over 200 police officers
to keep things under control.

Second, Sondag and the AALAS
gave conference participants a tip sheet with advice to travel in groups
and completely ignore the animal rights activists. Specifically, Sondag
advised participants that this conference wasn’t the time or place
to debate with the animal rights activists.

“The bottom line is,
you’re never going to win that battle,” Sondag said. “All
it’s going to do is turn into a confrontation with pushing and shoving
and someone will get hurt, or sued, or end up in jail.”

Sondag made a couple interesting
observation about the protests at the conference. First, most of those
who showed up to protest the conference weren’t all that interested
in convincing through persuasion. “Ninety percent of what [the protesters
said] had nothing to do with animal rights. They said filthy stuff, made
remarks about people’s anatomy.”

Second, many of the protesters
apparently weren’t animal rights activists but paid protesters. Sondag
said he found classified ads in the local newspaper offering to pay people
$5/day to protest the AALAS.

In a very sad commentary,
however, part of Sondag’s advice included not discussing the science
of animal experiments with the media. “Forget science,” he told
representatives who talked to the media on behalf of the AALAS. “Most
Americans have the equivalent of an eight-grade science education. Speak
plainly.”

This is a strategy destined
to backfire. One of the reasons animal rights activists get some support
from otherwise sensible people is precisely because what goes on in a
scientific laboratory is largely a mystery to most Americans. By refusing
to talk about the science, people will only see labs as even more removed
and remote from their lives and become more likely to take the claims
of animal rights activists at face value.