Written by Aidan Kankyoku on January 13, 2021

What We’re Up to in 2021 (Short Version)

Pax Fauna exists to create a kinder world for animals, human and otherwise, by accelerating the emergence of a highly intelligent, collaborative, Nonviolent grassroots mass movement ecosystem to abolish the animal slaughter industry in the United States. We aim to achieve this by conducting research and developing educational, informational, and material resources to enable local advocacy communities to seize the narrative about animal agriculture using controversial mass protest and scalable community organizing.

That mission statement is quite a mouthful! (If you’re curious about what it all means, you can read more here.) For now, I want to share about how we’ll be acting out our mission in 2021.

We think of our plans for 2021 in terms of three work streams, which all flow from our overall objective of launching a new, research-based mass movement organization (MMO) dedicated to abolishing animal agriculture. To set a mass movement up for success, we’re focused on:

  1. Hands-on research to test and develop a new policy-centered narrative;
  2. Producing training materials enabling independent organizers to successfully campaign in their cities; and
  3. Building out digital infrastructure for delivering our materials to activist communities and enabling collaboration between them.

I’ll examine one of these in depth now to give you a flavor of Pax Fauna’s work.

Narrative Research

The movement against animal agriculture is presented with a daunting task when it comes to communicating with the public. Modern animal agriculture is a highly complex issue, and its complexity appears only to increase year after year. Its harms include incomprehensible levels of animal suffering; decisive contribution to climate change, and separately to habitat and biodiversity loss; jeopardizing public health in several distinct ways including incubation of antibiotic-resistant zoonotic pathogens, promotion of global food scarcity, and promotion of malnutritious food, and grievous harm to air and water quality in surrounding communities (almost always impoverished and nonwhite); acute mistreatment of workers resulting in high rates of PTSD, domestic violence, and death; displacement and annihilation of sustainable bioregional agricultural practices, many of which are permanently unrecoverable; and even undermining the integrity of government through enormous subsidies paid to highly profitable multinational corporation which in turn sponsor political campaigns. It is in no way an exaggeration to say that animal agriculture presents multiple discrete existential threats to human civilization.

Yet precisely because of the multitude of harms it causes, messaging to the public about animal agriculture is profoundly challenging. Imagine a volunteer canvassing for support of a ballot measure opposing animal ag; if they merely launched into the list of harms above, listeners’ eyes would quickly glaze over and nothing from the conversation would remain in their memory. Most animal advocates especially struggle to present the issue as one of government policy rather than individual consumer choice. Research shows that even messages designed to address food system policy often inadvertently trigger personal-choice frames in recipients, which in turn activates strong opposition.

We hope to enable mass numbers of animal advocates to take on the task of persuading society to ditch animal agriculture, one conversation at a time. To do this, we need to provide them with a simple, highly memorable story which distills the most rhetorically persuasive harms into a short paragraph with a clear call to action. A well-crafted story could be even further crystallized into a powerful three-word declaration which captures the essence of our message, the way Black Lives Matter and Water Is Life have done for their respective movements. Crucially, such a slogan is powerless unless it is a stand in for a clear, memorable story being repeated constantly by a coordinated movement. It would be at its most powerful if every person in the movement was repeating that same story every chance they got, using more or less the same words.

Creating such a story may sound fanciful, but there is an entire field of research dedicated to just that purpose. We can use its methodologies to create a powerful new story for opponents of animal agriculture. 

Research Questions

Purpose: to gain key insights into how the public conceptualizes animal agriculture, by engaging with the public directly through focus groups and surveys, in order to craft a more persuasive message capable of changing the public’s voting behavior to demand policies restricting or abolishing the animal ag industry.

The central goals of this project are:

  • To understand what frames, opinions, and beliefs the public already holds which make them sympathetic to abolishing animal agriculture, and what metaphors can influence their voting and consumer behavior to support abolition;
  • To understand what frames, opinions, or beliefs the public already holds which make them antipathic to abolishing animal agriculture, and what metaphors can influence their voting and consumer behavior to oppose abolition;
  • To assess public support of specific policy objectives and the persuasiveness of specific messages designed according to the frames identified above.

The project would be considered a success if it gave us tangible insights into how the public conceptualizes animal agriculture in a way that would help us craft persuasive messages advocating the abolition of animal agriculture, or advocating specific policies which would move us in that direction.

Research Methods

Our primary model for the procedure of this project is the Race-Class Narrative Research Project conducted by Ian Haney-Lopez, Anat Shenker-Osorio, and Lake Research Partners. If funding is available, we may commission LRP to conduct aspects of this research. These are the steps of our project based on LRP’s approach:

  • Map frames. To the best of our ability with existing research such as the Frameworks Institute’s report on framing the food system, we will determine what existing frames inform people’s attitudes and behavior towards animal agriculture, favorably or unfavorably.
  • Reflect carefully on objectives. The goal of a message is to influence people’s behavior. If we don’t think very carefully about what change we want to cause, we’re wasting our time. Do we want to influence political behavior or consumer behavior? Do we want to have more influence on progressives, or society more broadly? How are our long-term goals different from our short-term goals? The answers to these questions will affect the outcome dramatically. Generally, we know that we are trying to create a message which causes people to think about animal agriculture in terms of policy, and inspires collective action, to avoid the backlash caused when members of the public perceive their individual choice to be under assault by a pro-animal message.
  • Ask people. We will convene focus groups in various geographies. In the earliest focus groups, we mostly want to stay out of the way and hear how people already think about the issues. The most important insight from this project would be to find a way that people already frame their opposition to animal agriculture; then it would simply be up to us to craft messages based on that framing, and make them relevant in national political discourse. 
  • Craft narratives. After the initial focus groups, we would develop several different narratives based on what we have heard. We would also write out the narratives that currently exist in the movement, as objectively as possible based on public-facing communications of different advocacy groups, as well as narratives used by the opposition. 
  • Test narratives. With continued focus groups, we try to test responses to these different messages. Gradually, we expand beyond focus groups to surveys and other means of testing messages against each other. We’re looking for which messages shift people’s thinking or behavior in the ways we desire, particularly those which are most resilient against the opposition’s narrative. For instance, we could canvas door-to-door with several different narratives saying that they are hypothetical ballot initiatives and see which one got the most support. 
  • Survey test final narrative. Once we think we have a final narrative, we commission a poll to test it against opposition narratives, using the movement’s current narratives as a control. This may reveal a need for further work.

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