Action for Animals Forum 2019

The final panel of the forum
Action for Animals Forum 2019

The idea

The main reason I decided to organise a forum was that I wanted the various Animal Rights groups in my home town of Brisbane to have an opportunity to come together. I didn't want to fly people in or have hundreds of people attend. I felt that we had a bunch of great people locally, who are as well thought through as anyone overseas or interstate, even if they didn't have the same number of social media followers, and I wanted to give them a platform. My belief is that when people get together in a space, preferably with food and beverages, conversations happen that wouldn't have otherwise, and things then go on to happen that wouldn't have otherwise.

My theory was simple.  Have faith in the community. Book a space, have food, make it as cheap, and let people make of it what they will.

The most controversial part of the forum was my "no stressing" policy. I designed the event to require minimal effort. I found a local community hall that could fit 60 people and cost next to nothing. I used a free website and Facebook to promote the event. I invited people I knew personally to talk at the sessions. I asked friends if they could handle the food.

Very close personal friends whose opinions I respect told me it wasn't going to work.  Though these were people who have burnt themselves out organising events, so I took their advice with a grain of salt. It is more important that our activism be sustainable than perfect.

Also I wasn't aiming for a huge event. I wanted a community to happen, and I can't see that working with an event of too many people. We had 60 on the day and it was great, and I think 70-100 is probably about all I would want if we repeated the forum. 

The day was a spectacular success, with people telling me it was better than the nationally organised forum. For posterity, I thought I'd go through how I organised it, in case anyone else wants a simple model to do something like this that doesn't involve months of stress etc.

Step 1 - Pick a date

I coordinated with a small selection of speakers, Paul and Lisa with food, and Jeremy who was going to host the community events. I figured if I had a couple of good speakers, interactive sessions and food, the rest would sort itself out. Once we had an agreement from this group of about 6 people including myself, it was full steam ahead.

Also, obviously, a weekend! I don't know who these people are organising things on weekdays, but you have just lost a bunch of people who work.

In the forum feedback, people mentioned that the area around the venue had a sporting event on that day, so it was hard to park. I get around by bike, so not something I thought about.  Anyway if I'd done some more brainstorming with car people beforehand we might have picked this up.

Step 2 - Venue

I looked at all the possible venues and realised that like most towns there are very cheap halls one can hire. The Brisbane City Council has a number of community halls for hire, and we also have a local non-profit Communify which has a number as well.  I located a Communify hall as central to the Brisbane CBD as possible so that people from all parts of the city could access it equally, went and checked it out and booked it in.

The community hall was very cheap, indeed every time I spoke to them and explained more about the event they kept lowering the price. I hindsight I think it was about $90 AUD. It had two large rooms, one with a stage, chairs, a small kitchen, toilets, everything we needed.

When I see other people organising events, they always seem intent on having an impressive venue. In doing this you are upping ticket prices and changing and limiting who can afford to come to your event. Really as long as the venue isn't actively bad, people aren't going to care. Get the content right, make people feel included, anyone who is going to judge you on how fancy your venue is, probably isn't the sort of person you want coming.

I asked for feedback about the venue, everyone thought it was great, not one complaint.

Step 2 - Budget

I budgeted about $500 for food, $30 for beverage things.  So with the venue, my total costs were $620. 

Initially, I was just going to cover it and make the event free, as I am lucky enough to work in a reasonably well-paid industry to donate a few hundred dollars to make such an event happen was fine with me. I decided though to charge a token amount. This would help make sure people came for the event and not the free lunch, that we had a good idea of numbers for catering, and that people were a little invested in getting something out of the day.

In the end, the food came in well under budget and thus the total costs were only about $450. If I had charged $10 (or $5 unwaged, $15 waged), we would have covered our costs.

The PA we loaned, the projector we loaned, we asked people to bring their own cups for tea and coffee. Minimalism was the order of the day.

Note we used Eventbrite for ticketing and they charge a pretty heft ticketing fee, well hefty as a percentage for a small event like this.  So we got about $220 from the 50 tickets, paying about a $30 fee.  In the end, I donated the $220 from tickets to Animal Liberation Queensland. 

Step 3 - Food

In Brisbane, we are blessed with the wonderful Paul and Lisa, who cater vegan events for the activist community.  Their food is always exceptional, they know more about food prep and catering than I ever will, so I gave them a budget and asked them to take care of it.  In the end, they came in well under budget and got the biggest round of applause for the day for their work.  My friend James helped them out on the day as well, which I just thought would be useful in case they needed someone to run errands, help with prep etc.

If you don't have a Paul and Lisa, then you need to figure out a cheap, reliable food option and find people to handle that for you. If you organise something like I did it's going to be the biggest item in your budget, but food is important and integral to everyone's experience of the day.

Lunch was either a Mexican bowl (Gluten-free) or "chicken" parcel and salad, and an afternoon tea of biscuits, fruit, dried fruit, crackers and vegan cheese etc. 

We also bought a couple of things of tea, some biscuits and a variety of plant milks which all up it was about $30.  People were asked to bring their own cups (we had a few extra at the venue) and make their own drinks throughout the day.

Step 4 - T-shirts, brochures, stickers, event bag

Waste of time. Didn't do any of it. If someone else had wanted to do it for me and I wouldn't have resisted but I wouldn't have wanted to put much time or any budget into it.

I made some badges which I designed and made myself for the day, but in the end, forgot to hand them out :)

Step 5 - Speakers and timing

I am reasonably well connected in the local animal rights community so I was able to directly ask speakers from all the major groups. We offered them a small audience of activists and a free lunch, and most of them were happy to participate. Only one group I asked declined to speak, and after coming to the event and seeing what it was they said they felt it was a mistake and that they should have participated.

The speakers were divided between the two rooms. This was the source of the most common negative feedback I got from the event, that people couldn't see both talks at the same time. We could have filmed the events but this would have required me to organise more people and might have changed the interactive nature of the event. Anyway, it's not bad negative feedback that people wished they had seen more.

In that respect I asked speakers to allow feedback from the audience throughout their talks, and for us to try not to have a large gap between the speakers and the audience. The idea was that people in the audience could imagine themselves standing and giving the same talk next time.

I also made sure there was a 15-minute gap between sessions.  This allowed sessions that were going really well to have some extra time, and also for people to speak, chat and meet others during the gaps.  The event was all about making connections and people having a voice so we needed this time, but we didn't want them so spaced out people felt awkward.

Step 6 - Volunteers

There were virtually no volunteers required for this event other than the food team up until the day and Jeremy to bounce things off so it wasn't all in my head.

On the day, friends who were coming I asked to arrive early to help set up. Two friendly friends manned the door to sort out tickets.

I had a number of friends, including my brilliant wife, who had the positive attitude to do little things that needed doing on the day. Also, members of Animal Liberation Queensland who I volunteer with pitched in where needed on the day as well.  This goodwill wasn't essential but made everything easier for me, so much so that sometimes I found myself with nothing to do and could just watch the talks, eat my lunch etc.

At the end of the day, all sorts of people helped pack up. It looked like a well-oiled operation, but really with a good community spirit people just pitched in and did what was needed.

Overall I wanted to not rely too much on anyone I didn't know really well.  I knew Paul and Lisa would be solid with the food, I knew Jeremy with the community sessions, I knew the speakers were all keen and on side. I did actually plan to give a talk if any of them cancelled last minute though :) 

Maybe it would be nice to have someone introduce all the speakers, but maybe it's better not to. When I listen to talks online I just fast forward through those people. 

Step 7 - Website, marketing etc.

I used a free Wix website, not even paying for a URL.  I then made a bit.ly link to it (or some other link aliasing/shortening service) that was a little friendlier. Really no one cares, and it fits in with the homemade theme for the whole event I was going for that in the end was one of the things that made the event special. Slightly less optimal was that Wix used my username in the URL but really it didn't matter, people go to your event website once or twice and then never again. Make it functional, but don't spend too much time on it. It still seems to be here, but may not be by the time you click on it https://camerongreen35.wixsite.com/

I used the open-source GIMP editor to make a couple of images with the logos of the organisations involved on it to share on social media, and then I posted in a few local groups.  I also asked the speakers to post in their groups. There are other tools which people not familiar with GIMP could use like Canva which is online and free for basic usage. It has templates that already look good, and you just change the image and text.

I then made a Facebook group that a couple of hundred people liked, and used that to communicate.  I made posts for each of the speakers and put them up regularly in the weeks and days before the event.

That was it for marketing.  If I was going to do the event again, I might push the numbers a little more, so might need to put more thought into this.

I did a follow-up survey which only a handful of people answered, but I got some excellent feedback on the event if there is a next time. 

Final thoughts

It's nice when a plan comes together.

One thing that helped on the day was obviously my connection with the volunteers and speakers.  I told them this was an experiment, that we were going to see how the day goes, and they all joined in that spirit.  It's not something I will guarantee will happen for others, but I deliberately didn't try to appear overly professional, that it was grassroots and people joined in the spirit. We want to build a movement, not a corporation. We want people to identify with the organisers and speakers, not see the people talking as leaders and themselves in the audience as followers.

The most talked about and popular session of the day was the first community forum "Grass Roots Activism". People have a lot to say, and we need to give them a forum for their voice to be heard. Jeremy who facilitated the session has a similar anarchist perspective on community organising to me, and it was good to see just how well it worked in practice to let the people speak.

OK, so you can totally do this. One or two committed people with a few connections can easily organise a small forum on any topic cheaply if you keep it minimalistic. Don't be afraid to have a few cracks around the edges.  Perfection often means stress and if you want to keep doing things as an activist, you have to avoid stress and enjoy what you are doing.

My main advice from this experience is to focus on the core things, venue, speakers, website, Facebook, and food if you can. Keep it all to the essentials and don't let people around you distract you by saying you need someone to introduce all the speakers (you don't and it can be annoying), or you need a concert/social event at the end which is more hassle to organise than the rest of the conference (just go out to a bar somewhere) or you need things printed etc. (everyone has a phone in their pocket), or you need an expensive venue (like really, who cares but snobby people). To get rid of people suggesting such things, I just asked them to organise it, and they stopped suggesting them.

As I did a final check of the hall before locking up, I looked out from the back terrace, and there was a double rainbow in the sky. I don't think that means anything, but it was a lovely way to finish the day.

Agenda

Welcome and introduction

10:15

Main hall

Instructions and information for how the day and session will run.

We'll also be explaining the community sessions here and canvassing for speakers, so don't miss it.

Effective activism

10:30

Main hall

Chay & Amanda - Animal Liberation Queensland

Animal Liberation Qld employs a range of tactics - from fun positive outreach to undercover research and direct action, and everything in between. But these tactics are rarely effective in isolation. We need an effective strategy. And while there's no single answer to what is effective, there is real need for experimenting, trial and error, evaluation, research, learning from others, and learning from the past. The animals need us to be as effective as we can be. 

Creating a global campaign

11:35

Main hall

Coast To Coast Animal Friends

Coast To Coast Animal Friends, Queensland: a community of like-minded people who care greatly about the suffering and injustices caused to animals.  They will be discussing taking their campaign Women Against Dairy global, and their work including their support for the ban on live export campaign.

Community session - Grassroots activism

11:35

Annex

Our first community session. Come along and get involved in a conversation led by some fantastic grassroots activist. We have some great organisations speaking at the forum, but if organised activism isn't for you there are a bunch of other ways you can, directly and indirectly, help animals. Come along and join the discussion.

Lunch

12:30

A delicious vegan, mostly gluten-free lunch (included for all ticketholders at no extra cost)

The Thoroughly Modern Farm Animal

13:30

Main hall

Brad - Farm Animal Rescue

While consumers are becoming familiar with battery cages, gestation crates and feedlots, few understand just how much farm animals are now imprisoned within their own genetics and how far away from their natural lives they have been forced to live. We will discuss the darker side of genetic development and the impact of this on both rescued and not-rescued farm animals as well as talking about standards for animal care set by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. We will also work through the horrors that occur with backyard chickens and “pet” farm animals.

Politics 101 for Animal Rights Activists and Animal Lovers

13:30

Annex

Animal Justice Party

This session discusses the importance of a political wing in the Animal Rights Movement. Exploring fundamental questions, such as ‘How does the government influence the lives of animals’, and ‘How are animals represented politically’, we unpack how the Australian political system works, how decisions are made and how the Animal Justice Party can influence government decisions even before being elected. From here, it becomes evident just how important the Animal Justice Party’s role is as we progress towards achieving our goal of having animals’ rights, needs and interests represented at all levels of government.

The Animal Justice Party: Vision, Mission and the Federal Election

14:35

Main hall

Animal Justice Party

The Animal Justice Party’s first session argued the need for a strong political wing of the Animal Rights Movement. In this session you will hear from the AJP’s Senate Candidates for the upcoming Federal Election. Learn about the Animal Justice Party’s mission and vision, our policy platforms, and approaches to outreach, education and influencing change. You will also learn how you can get involved with the AJP, upcoming events and have the opportunity to join in lively discussions about how the Party can best serve the greater Animal Rights Movement.

Community Session 2 - Activism beyond the stereotype

14:35

Annex

Our second community session. Come along and get involved in a conversation led by people helping animals without traditional activism. We'll be discussing making change through business, academia, and culture, drawing on the experiences and opinions of guest speakers who are making change in these ways but are equally very keen to hear your thoughts in this space.

Panel discussion - Growing our movement

15:45

Main hall

Join our speakers from throughout the day for a panel discussion on growing our movement.

Audience questions highly encouraged.