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Obama’s words for the no-kill movement

Kitten hugging another kittenNo, the president didn’t actually talk about the no-kill movement, but he did give a rather interesting speech recently at the Howard University commencement that I think will resonate with a lot of us about how we go about our work of ending the killing of pets in shelters. Trying to blog about anything even closely related to national politics never really seems like a good idea, especially these days, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge, so here goes.

Love him or hate him (indifference seems to no longer apply when talking about how we feel about any politician), the president said some things in this speech that you might find interesting. Consider this quote:

And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100-percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you are still going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want … change requires more than just speaking out — it requires listening, as well. In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise.

Now before you start trying to apply that to the dysfunction of Congress, don’t think about that quote in political terms. This is a powerful statement that applies to so many people fighting for no-kill programs in communities across the country.

Moral purity is a personal, self-referenced stance, not a coherent strategy, and it can put the brakes on progress in all sorts of reform movements. If you’re an animal activist, you can stand on your soapbox all day and call people murderers or worse. (Yes, that actually happens around the country far too frequently.) But that kind of action doesn’t bring about change, it just starts arguments. You might as well not say a thing — in fact, keeping your peace and posting some photos of shelter animals for adoption on Facebook is likely to accomplish more than throwing around righteous vilification. We may feel good about ourselves as we stand on that soapbox, but the animals, at the end of the day, are no better off and more of the people you need to get what you want done are turned off.

Compromise doesn’t mean abandoning principles or goals. Rather, it’s a tactic to move the state of play closer to our goal when other avenues are blocked.

Even when we are able to leapfrog our opposition and achieve rapid success, it makes no sense and accomplishes nothing if we go out of our way to make enemies or alienate people who we may have to work with in the future. Apart from anything else, that kind of personal negativity is just a time-suck. It is possible to call it like we see it and advocate for change without insulting people — something we proved in the context of public protests as Best Friends staged peaceful demonstrations outside pet stores with puppy mill animals for sale.

The truth is that unless you’re in a position to take over your shelter system contract (like Rebecca Guinn in Atlanta or Brent Toellner in Kansas City, both of whom will be speaking at our upcoming conference), you’re going to need to partner with the same people who are involved in running the shelter in your community and inserting your personal attitudes into the mix just complicates things.

Don’t think this is some kind of kumbaya singalong session, but would you yell at a frightened, aggressive dog? Really, what I’m talking about is learning to treat frightened people like you would a frightened animal — with patience and gentleness.

There is a phrase I hear far too often: “I love animals, but I really hate people” (or some version of that same sentiment). It can be easy to fall into that “I hate humans” trap. Animals have admirable qualities that many humans will never possess. Animals don’t judge us, they love unconditionally, and they’re always there when we need them. That’s fine, but the animals can’t help themselves, so if we want to do something to help them, we first have to relate positively to people.

Finally, I will leave you with another quote from the same speech by President Obama:

Change is the effort of committed citizens who hitch their wagons to something bigger than themselves and fight for it every single day.

No-kill is bigger than any single one of us. Let’s all hitch our wagons to it and, together, Save them All.

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Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society

  • Pingback: 2015 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Significant Improvement and Prove Advocacy Works | NJ Animal Observer()

  • Dog Mom

    Great message in this post. I sincerely hope that the readers who are so inflamed will take a few deep breaths, then reread so as to understand its real intent and meaning. As for me, I’m going to try to keep this message in mind the next time I’m tempted to soapbox about animals or anything else, and will instead try to take my own deep breaths and do something more productive. Thanks, Francis!

  • Joan DeMartin

    Thanks to Mr. Battista for using a creative analogy to help us understand the power we all have to make change. As Mr. Battista, said, this is not about politics or any one elected official. It’s the idea behind President Obama’s words—that moral purity, even if you’re right, may not be the best vehicle to move change forward. Creativity, including seeking ideas from other disciplines and marrying them to your own, is a wonderful (and often the only way) way to solve problems in a complex world..

  • Eileen goodman

    As an Obama supporter, I have been deeply disappointed in his apparent disinterest in the welfare of animals. The BLM is murderous, the USDA is worthless, and factory farming, puppy mills trophy and canned hunting, etc. etc go on every day. How hard would it be for him to say and do something to help stop cruelty to animals??? We are not a humane country.

    • jaspurranddude

      I don’t support any human governments but I agree with you that animal welfare seems to be on the bottom of the barrel in political issues.

  • Teresa Raschilla

    I appreciate this post. It is a reminder that compromise and consensus are not the same thing, and one may be achieved when personal interests differ. In the end, it’s all about something bigger than or our own egos. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Brian De Grego

    “change requires more than just speaking out — it requires listening, as well. In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree”!!!

    A Truism no matter who said it when or where!!! Difficult but Doable!!!

    Francis is a Caring Loving Man!!! As are YOU: commenting reading working and supporting “SAVE THEM ALL”!!!
    We share a common bond WE can Work together!!!

  • beautycoach

    “Don’t think about that in political terms.” Then you go on to discuss the disfunction of Congress. And then another Obama quotation. Seriously? May I suggest that you step down as you really seem adept at stepping in it. I thought Best Friends was about animals not about your political convictions. This is a very sad day for Best Friends.

    • jaspurranddude

      You have completely missed the point of his article. Please reread it. He’s not talking politics, he’s encouraging people with differing viewpoints to work together to save the animals.

      • beautycoach

        Because I have a “differing viewpoint” neither makes me wrong nor incapable of mastering the art of personal interpretation. To me using a quotation from a political figure at a time in US history when there is much ado about politics did not work for me. Obviously, it worked for you. That’s life. Have a good one!

        • jaspurranddude

          I’m sorry if you thought that I was implying that you were wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but, Best Friends really is ALL about the animals. That’s why they work so hard to keep good relationships with those that don’t feel the same passion about saving the lives of animals. My grandma used to say “you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar”. People’s attitudes about animal welfare are gradually changing for the better, and, it’s because of organizations like Best Friends and others working cooperatively together, that it is happening.

      • Middletown

        No, He is actively aligning himself with the Obama administration. Regardless of what you feel about Obama. That is what he has done.

        • beautycoach

          Absolutely!

      • Ann McCall

        Thank you. Someone finally got it right.

    • Middletown

      Yes, That is what i read too. I agree the intent was to offer an olive branch or make some kind of analogy to this speech.
      but why? why pick the most divisive figure in recent US history at the most politically divisive time in recent history? Why go there?
      The only reasoning i can guess is that, francis loves the current admins political party over their complete neglect of animal related issues.
      He must accept that this man, Obama, has legally allowed the slaughter of our national bird as well as the millions of other migratory birds and animals. That he turns a blind eye and commends the Japanese whale and dolphin slaughter not to mention BO’s stated (his claim not mine) personal love of dog meat.
      Just when you finally put complete faith into an organization mission to read this……i guess its going to be the Best Friends Political action committee, and we rescue animals when it suits our agenda?
      Are they the next PETA? Killing kittens in your parking lot?
      It is sad. very sad for me to read this. i have not stopped donating, but we will be cutting back and we are considering stopping.
      I am watching them very very closely now. this is troubling.
      who knows. ..jeez.. sorry cant get over this.

  • Lovetheanimals

    Please keep Obama out of this. I love everything Best Friends stands for, but Politicians are opportunists who say what you want to hear, and Obama is the worst.

  • Middletown

    Respectfully Francis, You are walking a very fine line here, It would serve Best Friends best to avoid entering political arena. Especially interpretive commentary. This is not a good article. The intent is good, but it is not well received by aligning it to a political figure. Frankly it gives me doubt about your intent by even posting this. I’ve never had to question any aspect of BF organization until now. That is the arena you are entering.