(First published in conjunction with Vernon Coleman’s Health Letter - see Healthletter section on this site for more details)
The way you protest, what you say and to whom you protest are all crucial.
1. The way you should protest:
Letter writing is by far the most effective way to protest. Travelling to a rally or demonstration may make you feel good. But it will probably take you several hours and cost quite a lot of money. Unless your protest is reported in the national newspapers (a fairly unlikely occurrence) it will do little or no good. Giving money to a charity of your choice may make you feel good for a few minutes – but the chances of your money having a real impact are slim. You will do far more good by writing letters. Nothing you can do will have as much influence as writing letters. ‘To hold a pen is to be at war,’ wrote Voltaire.
Everyone knows that it takes effort to sit down and write a letter of protest – particularly when the letter writer does not have a personal interest in the subject. Letters are counted and their contents assessed when policy is being made. Journalists, editors, producers and politicians do take letters very seriously.
VCHL now has enough readers for us to be able to make a real impact on the world – if we work together and if we continue to write letters week in, week out. Together we can be an army of single cell protest groups – operating alone but operating as one. We will be our opponents worst nightmare. But remember: letter writing campaigns only work if they carry on and on and on.
I want you to commit yourself to spending one hour a week writing protest letters.
2. What you should say:
You letter of protest should be sensible, sane, concise and polite. It should include necessary facts. If you have any qualifications you should include those on your letter. You should do your best to make it clear that you are a sane, sensitive voter/reader/viewer/consumer. Politicians do not like annoying sane and sensitive voters. Publishers and producers do not like annoying sane and sensitive readers or viewers. Large companies do not like annoying sane and sensitive consumers. Politicians, publishers and large companies all know that they will inevitably annoy a few ‘nutters’. Don’t let them be able to dismiss your letter as coming from a ‘nutter’. Incidentally, when you are writing to a large company don’t forget to say if you intend to boycott that company’s products or services. Tell them that you intend to ask all your friends and relatives to boycott the company. And send a copy of your letter to the company’s bankers, publicists and stock broker.
Your letter should include no room for compromise. Be clear and firm. It is dangerous to compromise. The big hazard is that the steps forward will get smaller and smaller and the goal will for ever remain out of reach. State your aims simply and starkly. If you don’t actively campaign for what you really want then you will never get it. Have you ever heard of any campaigning group getting more than they campaign for? Be blunt, bold and dogmatic.
We will achieve nothing without certainty and belief, conviction and commitment.
3. To whom you should protest:
Every month, in VCHL, I intend to include a campaign of the month, addresses of people to write to, and a suggested letter for you to write. But I hope that you will expand your own letter writing campaign to include national and local newspapers, magazines, TV stations and radio stations. Even if these publications and stations don’t print or broadcast your letter they will take notice of it. And in the medium and long term your letter will have an influence on editorial policy.
I also suggest that you send copies of your letter to local and national figures of influence. Nationally, it is worth writing to celebrities to ask if they will take a public stance on an important issue. Locally, it is worth writing to local politicians, doctors, magistrates and others. When you write to politicians don’t forget to include politicians in other countries (I will give you addresses) and if you live in Europe don’t forget to write to your M.E.P.
And, of course, you should write to companies who operate in the area of your concern. So, for example, if you are protesting about genetically engineered food then write to food companies and to supermarkets. When writing to supermarkets send one letter to the manager of your local store and one to the chairman of the company which owns your local store.
If you have a computer and printer you can simply change the salutation and print out numerous copies of the same letter. If you have access to the internet then sending copies of e mails is easy. You can write one letter and send a copy to every major politician in the world.
HOW NOT TO PROTEST
1. I do not endorse or recommend illegal protests.
Although it might one day be necessary to fight the system by breaking the law, this is not yet necessary. Most of us can still protest and make our voices heard without having to contravene any laws. Breaking the law would give the moral high ground (which we currently hold) to those whom we would overcome.
2. Make sure you differentiate between facts and opinions.
And make sure that you have evidence to support any factual claims you make. If you make statements which cannot be backed up with evidence you risk looking stupid (and damaging your cause) or being sued for libel (or both).
3. Remember that most newspapers prefer to print relatively short letters.
(Check on recent issues of your local newspaper to see how short). If you write a letter that is far too long someone else will cut it and decide what you say. Politicians are far more likely to read – and respond to – a short letter which makes just one or two clearly defined points than they are to a lengthy, rambling tirade which merely makes a number of general attacks. This does not mean that on occasion you cannot send a longer letter if you have an important issue – and important things to say. Do not be afraid to be provocative or controversial. Good editors like controversy.
4. It is vital to win over people who are uncertain or neutral.
There is no advantage to be gained from preaching to the converted. And you are unlikely to win over your opponents with a single letter. You will antagonise neutrals if you patronise them or treat them as though they are mad and bad.
5. Know as much as you can about your opponents.
Information is vital. You need information on the subject about which you intend to protest. And you need information about your opponents. You need to know who you are taking on. If you are tackling a big company get hold of their latest accounts. (You can do this by simply writing to the company secretary and asking for a copy). Check out organisations and individuals through the public library and the internet. It is also wise to try to guess at your opponent’s response. If you can deal with what you think will be their best response in your original letter so much the better.
6. Know when to cut your losses and move on.
You can’t win every small battle. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in arguments over minutiae. If you allow yourself to be pulled into a lengthy letter writing campaign with a public relations company or division you will find that instead of taking a major stance on an important issue you are arguing about some minor aspect of the issue. For example, protestors who complain about animals being transported long distances to be killed in laboratories or in ritual sacrifices are likely to find themselves involved in an argument about the size of the cages being used to transport the animals. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from a powerful moral argument by opponents who want to argue on contentious scientific grounds – where, because of conflicting evidence there is likely to be no clear cut answer. Genetic engineering is wrong because it is dangerous; it is wrong because it is inherently hazardous; it is wrong because it is immoral to play at god with animals, plants or human cells. The supporters of genetic engineering prefer to argue on specific points – where there is no clear evidence. Stick to the big arguments. And, if necessary, be prepared to move on to more productive protests. Sometimes the amount of effort required to obtain a result means that it is better to close the file and do something else. This is often very hard to do – especially if a battle has become a personal one and you feel that you will be losing face if you turn away.
7. Don’t allow the other side to make all the rules.
If you wish to make a complaint or a protest about an organisation, or someone working for an organisation, and you do so through the official channels you are giving all the advantages to the organisation.The chances are high that you will be worn down (emotionally and financially) by the complaints procedure. Meanwhile, nothing will happen and your opponent will carry on as before. Formal complaints channels may appear to offer justice but they rarely do.
8. Don’t have any faith in the courts.
Justice and the law are two quite separate things. When you think about initiating legal action think again. If you decide to go ahead and sue think again. And then decide not to bother. No one ever wins in court except the lawyers. ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,’ said William Shakespeare who knew well of what he spake.
9. Don’t waste time writing to journalists who have already written supporting the point of view you have put forward.
(Unless it is to write them a letter of praise. Better still send a letter of praise to their editor.) And don’t write letters of complaint to journalists (or politicians) who are partly supportive of the cause you support – but who don’t go as far as you would like them to go. Instead, send them letters of encouragement.
10. Don’t waste time criticising or attacking others who share your view in general terms
Those who campaign on animal issues have powerful moral and scientific arguments in their favour. They should have won their battles by now. But there is so much back stabbing within the animal rights movement that the animal rights movement has not moved forward an inch in the last century. The animal rights movement is losing and will continue to lose because of the fact that too many of those who claim to care prefer to spend their time attacking others within the same movement rather than attacking animal abusers.
11. It is a waste of time to write to a government minister.
If you get a reply it will come from a civil servant – who neither makes nor has any control over policy. A letter written to your political representative (MP) will do far more good. If your political representative then writes to the minister he will always receive a reply. If you write to a politician who is not your elected representative he or she may write back and tell you that you must write to your own representative. But he may not. Despite what some politicians say there are no rules that say you cannot write to as many politicians as you like. If you write to lots of politicians you will have a wide impact, you will make a lot of politicians think and you will undoubtedly influence a few.
12. Beware of looking like a crank.
Try to keep letters sharp and to the point. Don’t draw attention to words or phrases by printing them in capital letters, underlining or writing them in red or green ink. It is a waste of time (and counterproductive) to send huge files to politicians or journalists. Don’t make rash accusations. Don’t send out endless copies of routine letters you have sent and received.
13. Try to stick to letter writing.
I do not recommend fasting or any other form of self harm. No politician is ever going to take action because of a hunger strike. Indeed, if a hunger striker demands something the chances are that even if politicians were inclined to act in that way they wouldn’t. I believe that in Britain the Labour government would have agreed to a Royal Commission on vivisection (a pre election promise) if it had not feared that by doing so it might have appeared to have been giving in to hunger strikers. I am sympathetic to hunger strikes and I have always done what I could to help them. (I gladly sent documents to one hunger striker which encouraged him to end his strike). But the bottom line is that I don’t think they do any good.
14. I don’t recommend fund raising either.
I wonder how many of those who spend their evenings and weekends collecting money for protest organisations ask themselves what the money will be used for. Sadly, some organisations spend a remarkably high proportion of the money they raise on salaries, pensions and fund raising activities, rather than on the cause they are supposed to be helping. Many of the individuals closely involved with protest groups and campaigning organisations seem to have forgotten why they are doing what they do. Their work has acquired a purpose and a life of its own – a purpose and a life which no longer bears any relationship to the cause they are supposedly committed to fight for.
15. And I do not advocate marching or other forms of public protest.
Unless these are professionally organised (and that means bringing in protestors on ‘free’ coaches, buses and trains) there is very little chance of anyone taking notice. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that although demonstrations and public meetings help make those who attend them feel good they are unlikely to prove effective. Neither holding a placard outside a public building nor standing in a field blowing a whistle are likely to alter government policy. It is sometimes possible to have an effect on an individual or a single institution by picketing but the problems we currently face are so huge that any such victories would be of little long-term value.
16. If you asked to appear on a television programme be wary.
Be extremely wary when the programme is pre-recorded. Just remember that anything you say can be turned against you and however sensible and logical you may be television journalists (and their technicians) can make you look like a blithering idiot (at best) or a dangerous, homicidal maniac (at worst).
17. If you protest and make your voice heard you will be putting your head above the parapet.
There are risks. You may be blacklisted, threatened, assaulted or censored. You may be harassed or ostracised. Rumours about you may be spread. You may be threatened with dismissal or refused promotion. You may find that bank loans mysteriously disappear. You may be black listed. You may lose work. Of course, any or all of these things may happen even if you keep quiet. And if you keep quiet, and manage to still your conscience, you will be allowing the other side to win unhindered.
18. Don’t be too upset if you are attacked or ridiculed by those whom you seek to overthrow.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated that all truths go through three phases. The first is ridicule. The second is violent opposition. And the third and final stage is acceptance as being self evident.
19. Don’t be disappointed if nothing seems to happen overnight.
You may send out fifty letters before you get one published. It doesn’t matter. Your unpublished letters will have not been wasted. You will have added your voice to the increasing clamour of protest against the unthinking, the insensitive, the cruel, the thoughtless and the greedy. You will have done your bit to help influence those who can control the power of the unfeeling bureaucratic machines which rule our world.
Your First Protest Letter
Send copies of this letter (feel free to personalise the letter to suit your own style) to the suggested list of names on page 23 opposite. You can, of course, add your own names to the list. If you need to send a shorter letter then I have suggested some parts you can cut out (see sections in italics).
NB: The topic of genetic engineering was discussed at length in VCHL Vol 2 No 11 and briefly in Vol 4 No 2.
The mistaken belief that genetic engineering techniques are merely an extension of long-established breeding methods seems to be well established.
But it is a nonsense to argue that there is any link between attempts to change animals or plants through breeding techniques and attempts to change animals or plants through genetic engineering. Natural breeding methods rely upon changes within a species. Genetic engineers will put a fish gene into a strawberry, a human gene into a tomato and a gladioli gene into a politician. Genetic engineering is abnormal, unnatural, untested and hazardous. It is done simply and solely because it is enormously profitable. The only thing we know for certain about genetic engineering is that the changes that are made will be irreversible.
It is now routine to argue that there is no evidence that there is any risk with genetic engineering. But this shallow piece of nonsense glibly ignores the fact that the absence of any proof that a technique is dangerous does not mean that it is safe – particularly when little or no research has been done to find out the truth.
When genetic engineering first hit the headlines, the public was promised that there would be strict rules about just what could and could not be done. But the rules that were intended to protect us have been bent, pushed aside and ignored. Regulations were, it was claimed, slowing down progress, interfering with the competitiveness of the developing new industry and getting in the way of individual scientists keen to get on with their plan for improving the world.
Genetic engineers claim that there is no need for caution and that only the narrow minded and the reactionary had reservations about this exciting new branch of scientific endeavour.
But the risks associated with genetic engineering are numerous and widespread. Genetic engineering is at least partly responsible for the problem of antibiotic resistant organisms. And genetic engineering is responsible for some, and possibly many, of the new infective organisms now threatening human health.
Genetically engineered foods have already been shown to produce allergy problems – and to be toxic. One major hazard is that plants which have been genetically engineered to be resistant to disease may be more likely to produce allergy problems.
The manufacturers of genetically engineered foods do not have to identify foods that have been genetically engineered. No one tests genetically engineered foods to see whether or not they are particularly likely to cause allergy problems. The new food is tested when it is put onto the market.
Instead of protecting the public the evidence suggests that politicians just about everywhere are spending public money on protecting the big companies which stand to benefit from genetic engineering.
Genetic engineering is changing the world in a way that no branch of science has ever changed the world before. Chemical pollution, and even nuclear waste pollution, were short term problems compared to the changes which are being made by the genetic engineers. Genetic changes are self perpetuating. The whole process of change builds upon itself and will soon be impossible to restrain. Once a gene from one species has been put into another species it becomes particularly instable. Genetic engineering is not just morally outrageous and scientifically unsound it is also pointless and exceedingly dangerous.
It may already be too late but we have to do something. Even the politicians admit that if genetically engineered crop trials are allowed to continue organic food will be contaminated – and there will be no turning back. But if we do not try then there will be no future.
There is a danger that the genetic engineering issue may become unfashionable. That would be to the advantage of those who stand to benefit financially. It is our responsibility to ensure that genetic engineering remains in the public eye until it is banned.
2. Where to send your protest letters:
1. Your local newspaper, radio station and TV station.
2. Your local MP. His/her address is: House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA, UK. Telephone 0171 219 4272. A listing of UK MPs is available at www.parliament.uk
3. Your MEP. His/her address is: 2 Queen Annes Gate, London SW1H 9AA, UK. Telephone 0171 227 4300. A listing of all MEPs is available at www.europarl.eu.int/uk
4. The American Ambassador in whichever country you live. In the UK the address is: American Embassy, 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1. Telephone 0171 499 9000 or visit www.usembassy.org.uk