Legalize chickens – 3 final tips April 4, 2014
Throughout March, we’ve been discussing ways to work toward getting chickens legalized in your communities. Last week, we took a brief break to share some amazing news with you, but this week we’re wrapping up our legalize chickens DIY series by discussing petitions. This is often the first thing people who contact us ask about with regard to legalizing chickens, but it probably shouldn’t be.
The problem is that for the most part, petitions are of limited use. They CAN be a powerful tool, of course… but the truth is that even if 80% of the people in your town signed a petition FOR legalizing chickens, that fact can matter very little to zoning boards, boards of health or homeowners’ associations. Those who don’t answer directly to the public may have little motivation to listen to the public’s desires through petitions, letter writing or email campaigns.
Public support, and petitions demonstrating that support, can be of more use if you’re dealing directly with elected officials. But even then, I think we can agree that the bare fact that there might be a majority (even an overwhelming majority) of voters who agree on an issue–and even when logic and reason is on your side–it is not guaranteed to sway your officials when they may have donors to please. Without my having to name specific examples, most people could probably name at least two issues over which there’s been a huge public outcry and support for change… but about which legislative bodies seem to have great difficulty making any progress. It also helps to have actual supporters present, just as with letter writing campaigns it’s more effective to have people write about legalizing chickens in their own words. That shows they took time and effort to support the cause, rather than just signing their names to a petition or clicking an “email your representative” button online.
Even knowing that tools like petitions are of limited use, don’t lose hope. Especially with small, local elections, there is not a huge likelihood that big money will be involved to oppose you. In addition, there are public servants who genuinely want to do the right thing. Furthermore, keeping backyard chickens is one of those rare issues that appeals to a wide audience; it appeals to people on both sides of the aisle because it is an issue of property rights, support for local food, families, health and so on.
So here’s the main thing to remember if you have a popular petition in support of backyard chickens and you’re ready to present it: don’t expect your work to end there. Instead, in most cases, you’ll have to remain on top of the issue until rules get changed or measures get passed. And the best person to stay on top of the issue is the person who cares the most about it–YOU.
So, as YOU begin this final phase, remember…
Legalizing chickens – 3 tips for convincing board members and officials
- Remain polite. After all, if you’re hostile, aggressive or act like a jerk, that’s no motivation for a board member or official to help you. You can stand your ground without expressing frustration or anger. Keep in mind that you’re trying to persuade this person. Be firm about the facts, but being a brute when you present them will only weaken your position.
- Be persistent–without being nuts! Calling once or twice a week to ask about updates and progress on the issue may be good… but use common sense. After all, if the zoning board member you’re working with won’t have any more information about the legalizing chickens project until after the monthly meeting, calling six more times before the meeting happens just comes across as crazy. A little “henpecking” is good, but don’t go bonkers.
- Finally—and this is the thing most people forget—remember to express gratitude for the help you do receive. “Thank you for putting this issue on the agenda for the public forum. ” “Thanks so much for advocating for backyard chickens; your speech was great.” “We so appreciate the way you’ve helped us arrange meetings with the folks we need to reach on this issue.” Not only will this encourage continuing help—everyone likes to be appreciated—it will make the process more pleasant for you, too, when you stop to recognize and appreciate the help that is being directed your way. In fact, studies have shown that taking time to be grateful actually increases success with your personal goals, as well as increasing your determination. (Perhaps a good idea would be to keep a gratitude journal specifically geared toward your goal of getting chickens legalized in your area.)
Frankly, even if gratitude didn’t have those benefits—even if it wasn’t likely speed your success—do you want the lengthy process of legalizing chickens to be pleasant or unpleasant? If this takes 6 months or a year (or more!) of your life, do you want to feel gratitude or outrage during that period of time? I know what my answer is.
To those of you who have already gone through this process—or are currently going through it, or just thinking about it!—I invite you to share your experiences in the comments.