Introducing Pro-Animal Future's 10-Year Plan

Aidan Kankyoku
April 10, 2024

Charting a Course: Pro-Animal Future’s 10-Year Roadmap

This post is intended to contextualize Pax Fauna and Pro-Animal Future’s current work in relation to our past work and future plans by elaborating on the 10-year plan outlined in the graphic above. I’ll start with a word about what this is ultimately meant to achieve, though I’ll save a full discussion of our theory of change for another post. 

At present, Pax Fauna is focused on supporting Pro-Animal Future, a social movement organization we incubated through our initial research phase. Pro-Animal Future is focused on systematically developing grassroots ballot measure campaigns as an intervention in the farmed animal protection movement. Our goal is to perfect an impactful and inexpensive model using these campaigns to grow the movement, influence public opinion, and win ambitious laws, all to accelerate the transition towards a kinder world for animals.

If I had to pick the top three reasons we consider ballot initiatives a particularly promising tactic for animal advocacy, they would be, in no particular order:

  1. Better laws, sooner: numerous historical examples show that voters are often less attached to the status quo, and thus willing to endorse policies that their own elected officials won’t touch. Women’s suffrage, marriage equality, cannabis legalization, and minimum wage increases are all examples of issues where the voting public has far outpaced political elites’ appetite for change.
  2. Public engagement: while traditional legislative campaigns are necessarily focused on lobbying a few elected officials, ballot initiatives campaigns are all about winning over the public. That means that even if we lose, we can rest assured that our efforts moved the needle and made future victories more likely. Our research also shows that engaging the public through a civic lens is more productive than doing so through a consumer lens (as animal advocates typically do).
  3. Movement building: by providing a concrete, winnable objective, ballot initiatives can unite grassroots advocates while providing the kinds of incremental wins we need to stay motivated.

In other words, while we aim to win ambitious laws for animals, that’s not the only impact our campaigns can have. Our ballot measures compel voters to wrestle with their own inner conflicts around what happens to animals in these industries. And by offering lots of high-impact, low-risk ways to get involved, our measures can also increase the number of people who identify as pro-animal activists, increasing the power of our movement to win even greater change.

Stage 1: Research

Pax Fauna was founded in late 2020 and commenced full operations on March 1, 2021 (which we still observe as PF’s birthday). Our purpose was to identify and execute research projects for the purpose of overcoming flaws in the grassroots animal movement’s strategy. All of us (Eva and Aidan, plus John who played a smaller but important role) had spent years organizing with Direct Action Everywhere, a social movement org known for confrontational protests but that I still insist is better characterized by a primary focus on community organizing. Through our time in DxE, we had seen many highs and lows, ultimately culminating in a frustrating plateau in the size of the organization and, as we saw it, the wider movement.

The two overarching questions we set out to address were:

  1. How can grassroots animal freedom organizations shift their strategy to engage 10x or 100x the number of (nonpaid) activists?
  2. If we cannot significantly increase the number of activists at this time, how can we create more tangible progress with the number we have?

While we carried out several research projects, by far the largest share of our time was put into an extended study on framing and public opinion, eventually published as the Evolve Together study in a series of lengthy reports and a more concise interactive website. This research went far beyond messaging and is central to Pro-Animal Future’s current strategy. The next largest piece of research was on recruitment and retention of highly engaged activists and organizers, which we refer to as the Organizer Study.

At the end of 2022, as we were preparing to publish all of this and deciding what to do next, we learned that Brent Johannes, the initiator of the successful Boulder fur ban in 2021, was planning to carry out a ballot initiative in Denver in 2024. At this time, we had identified ballot initiatives as the central strategy of the social movement organization we were planning to incubate, but had not yet taken any concrete steps to shift into campaigning, and were by no means committed to doing so in time for the 2024 election. The rapid decision to hire Brent and adopt his Denver ballot initiative as our pilot campaign pulled us out of our comfortable ivory tower and compelled us to pivot toward campaigning on a much faster timeline than we may have otherwise.

Stage 2: Pilot Campaign

The last months of 2022 and the first of 2023 were spent frantically clearing a series of hurdles necessary to circulate a petition in the summer of 2023, including:

  • choosing the jurisdiction for the campaign, mainly between Boulder and Denver (though a statewide measure was considered); 
  • developing a short list of policy options, narrowing them down to the two eventual winners, and drafting robust legislation (the decision between pursuing one or two initiatives was itself a difficult one); and
  • naming and branding Pro-Animal Future, and creating the first version of our organizing model.

At a team retreat in March of 2023, we agreed that the top priorities for the pilot campaign had to do with launching a new style of civic-focused animal advocacy, rather than in the immediate impact of passing one law. This logic partly contributed to the measures we chose to pursue– we opted for policies that we felt would inspire the movement and give us a strong shot of initial momentum for a new strategy, as opposed to prioritizing the short-term instrumental impact of passing one policy vs. another. Thus the core goals of the pilot campaign were:

  • to learn as much as possible about effective ballot measure campaigning and develop a comprehensive platform for grassroots campaigns (i.e. relying on a bare minimum of paid staff),
  • to build a strong grassroots campaigning organization in one city from which we can spread to other cities and eventually pursue a statewide campaign, and
  • to establish a demonstration effect that would better allow us to attract activists and funders to future campaigns.

We hosted a kickoff event in April 2023 which decisively marked the beginning of the Pilot Campaign stage. We received approval to start circulating the petition in early May. Through the end of October, our twin foci were gathering signatures and experimenting with our organizing model. While there were brief periods of anxiety, in the end, we comfortably cleared the required signature threshold, and refined a shift-based organizing model that we believe helped contribute to that success.

2024 marks the second phase of the pilot campaign: persuading and turning out as many voters as we can to support our measures at the ballot box. The campaign itself has two wings:

  • Organizing: building and organizing a community of activists to carry out voter outreach and persuasion strategies, including handwritten postcards, guerilla marketing, and deep canvassing.
  • Communications: using social media, web search results, email marketing, and digital ads to get our message out en masse, while generating donations and recruiting activists.

By the end of the pilot campaign, we hope to have nearly optimized our organizing, voter outreach, and digital communications strategies, enabling us to be more effective from day one of our next round of campaigns. 

We also have some projects that are more purely focused on these future campaigns, including:

  • Policy research: ensuring that we will have viable policies for each of the cities where we hope to launch campaigns during the next election cycle. The current focus is a policy that would require large food service businesses to provide at least an equal number of plant-based to animal-derived options, paired with a measure related to dogs and cats (the leading concept is a housing rights policy).
  • Organizing software: we are expanding on our new activist portal Stampede. While Stampede is providing a boost to our current campaign, we are continuing to develop new features that will uplevel our next campaigns.
  • PAF handbook: documenting all aspects of the campaign into guides that future campaign leads can use to avoid reinventing the wheel.

Stage 3: Gain a Foothold

For the 2025-26 election cycle, we hope to launch as many as 10 PAF chapters each pursuing their own ballot measures (usually in pairs) in different cities across the country. How many we can actually launch will depend on a few factors:

  • Success of our campaign model (organizing, voter outreach, and digital comms strategies). If our model is performing very well, we can focus all our energy on replicating it as many as 10 times. If the model is struggling, we will need to focus more energy on continuing to improve it, and will not be able to pursue quite as many concurrent campaigns.
  • Funding. We expect each additional municipal campaign to cost at least $100k-$200k per year, and likely more for much larger cities. While Pax Fauna has largely been supported until now by seed funding from large foundational grants, most of this budget growth will need to come from small-dollar grassroots fundraising.
  • Hiring. Finding competent organizers to lead in each of the cities where we hope to launch campaigns will be a challenge.

Whatever the exact number of campaigns, starting in Stage 3, PAF will transition to a hub-and-spokes organizational model. A central hub will provide certain strategic capacities for all campaigns: social media, websites, design, software management, policy development, legal, etc. As a result, each additional chapter will only require one or two additional full-time organizers to focus on building the activist organization in each city.

Even as of Spring 2024, I think of PAF as primarily building not a Denver campaign organization, but a national network of grassroots campaigning organizations with the capacity to run (eventually) dozens of municipal campaigns or several statewide campaigns simultaneously. We should prioritize experimentation, and be willing to spend extra resources on testing and learning now whenever we feel confident that the results/lessons will be applicable to future campaigns. For example, we may choose to face rather than avoid an unknown risk in order to learn as much as we can.

Stage 4: Storm the Nation

This strategic vision culminates in placing statewide measures to ban factory farming on the ballot in every state that allows citizen initiatives and may be reasonably receptive to such a measure. (We may also work to develop a parallel model that can be pursued in jurisdictions that don’t support citizen initiatives.) The rough plan at this point is that in each state, we would start with a single municipal campaign in a strategically chosen city, then scale to multiple cities across the state, building up our grassroots infrastructure and support from the wider public over multiple election cycles until we are prepared to run an effective statewide campaign. (While “effective” here does not necessarily mean winning the campaign on the first try, it does mean generating sufficiently positive impacts on public opinion and movement power to justify the cost and make an eventual victory more likely.)

Statewide ballot initiatives are a massive undertaking. Merely qualifying a statewide measure through paid signature gatherers (the typical method) might cost $600,000 in CO and $3M in CA, while paid media budgets for large, contentious statewide campaigns often reach into the tens of millions. We aim to build a different model that more effectively incorporates people power and earned media, our movement’s relative strengths, while making the most efficient use possible of a smaller (but still substantial) ad budget.

An organization capable of running 10 effective statewide ballot initiative campaigns simultaneously will necessarily be one of the largest in the animal advocacy movement (in terms of budget and impact, not to mention activists). That’s what we’re here to build.

Beyond the Horizon

Predicting the future is, to understate the case, difficult. With the rise of artificial intelligence and other profoundly disruptive technologies, our society is almost certainly in for a wild ride over the coming decades, and that’s before we try to account for the climate crisis, nuclear-charged geopolitical conflict, and countless other sources of instability. Many institutions that we take for granted today may not exist in 40 years, at least not in their current forms. The world that emerges could be brighter, darker, or both.

What are animal advocates to do in the face of this volatility? At Pax Fauna, we believe the most reliable strategy is to try to shift cultural values. Efforts to change institutional policies (whether private or public) in ways that sidestep public attitudes are at risk of being completely washed away. But there seems to be a good chance that the fundamental values underpinning the human-animal relationship won’t be erased so easily. As the world continues to reinvent itself, opportunities will likely appear to affect change at a speed and scale that we can scarcely imagine now. Building new values around animals in as many clusters as possible gives us the greatest hope of seizing those opportunities.

Statewide measures to ban factory farming are meant to provoke a sort of identity crisis for the voting public. We believe this is one of the best methods available right now to bring these values to the surface and force a re-examination. Social movement legend George Lakey likens this process to a forge, where heating up metal makes it malleable enough to reshape. The question is, will our movement be powerful enough and smart enough to shape things in the right direction? This 10-year plan is meant to put us in the best position possible.

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