The word terrorist does not have positive associations and is usually connected to violent acts that often kill or at least seriously injure people.  Unfortunately, according to the federal government, non-violent animal rights activists can also fall into this category.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), signed on November 27, 2006, is a piece of legislation that allows the government to prosecute animal rights activists as terrorists if they in some way hinder the profits of the industry they are protesting. This act is dangerous due to its implications on First Amendment rights of free speech, as well the ability to classify non-violent acts as terrorism. The act was passed with only six members of Congress present and the support of many industry groups such as the American Meat Institute, National Milk Producers Federation, and the Fur Commission USA, to name only a few.


The first group of activists to face charges under the AETA was four people from California in 2008. They protested the homes of biomedical scientists experimenting on animals by drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, chanting, and leafleting. Luckily, the charges were thrown out in 2010, although two years seems like a long time to take to decide the charges were unsubstantiated.

Many people in the animal rights space are concerned that if non-violent protests have the potential of being prosecuted by the AETA that it will deter others from speaking out for animals. While the chances that this will happen are slim – especially if it is a peaceful, law-abiding protest – it may be a concern for some. The good new is, there are many, many ways that we can all help further the cause for animals without worrying about any sort of prosecution. Get some inspiration from the ideas below and get creative!

1. Letters and Social Media

6 Tips to Help You Become a Better Activist on Social MediaCastawayinScotland/Flickr

Two excellent options to legally help animals are old fashioned letter writing and social media campaigns.  You can write letters to a wide variety of people depending on your goal.  You can also write to editors to get media coverage or to local business owners to encourage cruelty-free options or food choices.  Social media is also a great tool for getting the word out.  An example is using Facebook to comment on local businesses’ pages to encourage vegan options.  Twitter and Instagram are also great options to spread the cruelty-free message.


2. Reach Out

Another great option for activism is reaching out in person.  You can meet with the local government or city council in your area.  Speaking at local government meetings can be a great way to impact legislation.  Successes in this area include the banning of bullhooks and anti-chain legislation for dogs.  If you’re part of a local group you can also offer to give presentations tailored for your audience at places like local churches or nursing homes.  This could also help bring in more members for your group.  The more people, the better!

One of the simplest and most effective methods of reaching out (literally) is leafleting.  This is legal in most communities in public areas, just check with the local authorities first.  You could also leaflet by having a table at local events such as farmer’s markets or fairs to reach as wide an audience as possible.  Other options include screening an animal rights movie or working with local schools for alternatives to dissection.  The opportunities are nearly endless and won’t land you in jail.

3. Volunteering

Farm Sanctuary Programs Teach Kids Compassion for All AnimalsJean-Marc Liotier/Flickr



Another great option for helping out animals without getting a record is volunteering at your local humane society or at a nearby farm sanctuary.  Most sanctuaries welcome volunteers, so just check out their websites for more information.  Farm Sanctuary, for example, offer in person volunteer opportunities at monthly work parties, plus you get a free tour.  They also offer more permanent options such as tour volunteers and office assistant volunteer positions.  If you can’t make it in person, Farm Sanctuary also offers a Compassionate Communities Campaign that helps you educate your community on farm animal welfare, build a strong community amongst your peers, and be an effective advocate for the animals.

4. Reporting Abuse

Another way to help animals is to know who to contact in case you witness animal abuse, so you’re ready to take action immediately without getting yourself into any trouble in the process.  In New York City, you can just call 311 or 911 while New Jersey has an SPCA hotline as well as an online reporting option.  Wherever you live, do some research to find out who you should contact.  Usually, it is the organization that enforces the codes such as a humane organization, animal control, or the police.  Contacting the police is always an option if you aren’t sure, and they can point you in the right direction.


You can also check out One Green Planet’s database of animal rescue hotlines.

We All Can Make a Difference

There is no such thing as a small action when it comes to making a real difference for animals. We all have the power to spark and idea or a conversation that might ultimately change how someone else views or treats animals.

Lead image source: Ralf P/Flickr