Picketing is a legal protest, organised, peaceful and sometimes lively, outside a target’s premises to demand change, for instance that a business stops selling foie gras or fur. Well organised animal rights picketing can effectively change bad practices.
Activists employ picketing as a form of demonstration to make their demands accepted by an opposing party. Picketing in animal rights is often about gathering as a group outside a company's premises to dispute the company's actions and demand change. The picketing protesters could harm the company by alerting the company's patrons and the wider public about its misdeeds and persuade as many people they can not to enter the premises. If the company does not handle the situation deftly it risks trade disruption, a tarnished public image and a loss of income.
Animal rights activists might picket:
- A retail store - to stop selling fur.
- A fast food restaurant - to stop selling burger meat.
- A restaurant or shop - to stop selling foie gras or veal.
- A supermarket - to stop selling eggs from caged hens.
- A breeding farm for animals - to stop breeding animals for use in experiments.
- A laboratory - to stop doing tests on animals.
- A seaport or airport - to stop importing or exporting live animals.
- The head office of a cargo company - to stop handling animals for trade.
Schumacher Furs, in Portland, Oregon, a family business since 1895. (1, 2) The owner said he could no longer endure the sidewalk picketing protests of the "terrorists", despite a police presence and an occasional arrest of demonstrators. His hand written placard on display in the shop window read: "All protesters should be! -beaten -strangled -skinned alive -anally electrocuted" (sic). The picketing lasted nearly two years. (3)
Animal Rights Picketing is Like Industrial Picketing
Picketing outside Schumacher Furs.
Picketing is best known in industrial disputes as a recognised method of action. Picketing workers stand outside their works forming a 'picket line' at the work's entrance. They may try to persuade workers who are not taking part in the dispute to stay away and prevent access to the works by replacement workers and their employer's suppliers.
Industrial picketing is legal if carried out according to certain rules. Among them are that you must:
- Picket peacefully.
- Not threaten anyone or cause damage.
- Not obstruct people entering or leaving the premises.
- Confine picketing to the employer's workforce.
- Not engage in secondary picketing.
Secondary picketing is when you picket places indirectly connected with your issue. You might picket outside the premises of your employer's suppliers, aiming to persuade the supplier's workers not to deliver goods to your employer. In some countries secondary picketing is illegal.
However, a primary difference between industrial picketing and animal rights picketing is that the former is part of the industrial sector and governed by specific laws. Animal rights picketing is a form of public demonstration and handled differently by the authorities.
How to Picket
The first thing to consider when picking is that it takes time, effort and tenacity because it is a long-haul objective (could take months). Therefore you must have high motivation to begin and sufficient impetus to carry you through. So before you decide to go picketing, first try other means of persuading your target to comply with your proposals (for instance, see Lobbing). Only picket your target when all else has failed to make it move.
Zero in on your target, such as a shop, restaurant or a company head office, once you have decided to stage a picket. Ideally, our target to picket should be within easy reach of your fellow picketers and have many patrons and passers-by you can influence in favour of your proposition. You should also be easily visible to the public for them to see clearly what is going on. The more people you can influence, the more quickly your picket may have effect. You must also be able to picket and demonstrate freely in front of your target. Reconsider your use of picketing for an alternative form of action if your target is in some kind of restricted area, like private land with limited rights of access.
How many fellow volunteer picketers do you need in order to go picketing? You may be able to accomplish everything with just a few supporters, and, in any case, too many picketers may draw unwanted police attention. You may want to keep the number of your picketers to not much more than half a dozen.s
What hours will you picket? You cannot picket 24 hours a day. Find out your target's peak activity period and concentrate your picketing during that time. Try to keep to definite hours and days for picketing so that volunteer picketers know when to arrive. Their enthusiasm may be dampened should they turn up and find no one around.
Your picket will be more effective if you:
- Stage frequent picketing sessions.
- Hand out leaflets and brochures to passers-by and display hand-held placards.
- Play a musical instrument (preferably a loud one - get a bagpipe player or drummer) to attract attention.
- Chant short messages to draw attention to yourselves and tell people what you are about.
- Dress up in animal suits and create a fitting tableau for the public to look at.
You will also want to know your legal rights (they differ from one country to another) so that you can stand your ground if challenged with or by the law. You should also ensure that you picket much like your industrial counterparts in that you:
- Comply with any police instructions.
- Act reasonably and politely with passers-by.
- Do not use threatening language and gestures.
- Do not trespass.
Check your national and local laws. How must you adapt to stay legal, eg keep moving, not use a megaphone, not block entrances? Consider:
- Do you need permits?
- Can you picket anywhere? Some places have restrictions or may be private.
- What is the legal maximum number of picketers?
- Where can you position you picket? You must not obstruct certain places, like highways or entrances.
- What constitutes an obstruction? Blocking people from freely going about their business?
- Can you set up a table on site with literature and erect banners?
- What legal influence, strength, authority, might the people you are picketing have? Be knowledgeable so that they cannot intimidate you (see below: Hitting Back).
- How might your target harass you? Might they hire private security?
- What powers do the police and any private security guards have? Under what circumstances can they tell you to pack up and leave?
- If you are ordered to move on, can you set up at another site close by?
Bear in mind that picketed companies can hit back by seeking an injunction from a court of law. An injunction can ban you from picketing in certain areas, limit the number of your picketers and put restrictions on their behaviour (like stopping them shouting abuse). A company might be more likely to win an injunction if picketers are intimidating, violent or in some other way overly anti-social. Animal rights activists set up a picket outside Oxford University's new unfinished multi-million pound animal experiment laboratory. The protesters were seen as noisy and violent by many and in 2004 the University won an injunction against them. The picketing continued but the injunction imposed exclusion zones where demonstrating, picketing and loitering were legally banned: from around the building site and from around the property of contractors and the homes of people connected with the work.
Picketing works, as Schumacher Furs found out. Examine the issues thoroughly and chose your target with care.
Poster inside Schumacher fur shop.
(1) Local News. 29 November 2006. www.kgw.com.
(2) Former Schumacher Furs building in Portland undergoes extensive. Aaron Spencer, Sept. 2010. Daily Journal of Commerce, Portland, Oregon.
(3) Schumacher Furs. www.schumacherfurs.com.
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