2016 PFIG Recipient Rebecca Eichmann
Journal Entry #1
This summer I’m interning with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)—think sad, Sarah McLaughlin, watery eyed puppy commercials. However, I’m not working for their brilliant PR team but rather their equally brilliant Government Relations team in Washington D.C. So far, this internship has given me a real glimpse into the world of animal policy, a world that is small but full of the most motivated and passionate individuals I have met. In this post I’m going to talk about one of the biggest animal welfare issues that the ASPCA is currently focused on and that I’ve been working on.
I saw soon after starting my internship with the ASPCA that there are several specific issues the GR team focuses on, dependent upon political climate and feasibility. For example, one issue the federal team is especially focused on right now is ending the slaughter of American horses. I had no idea about this issue before starting my internship, but learned quickly that thousands of horses are exported to Canada and Mexico each year to be slaughtered. The only reason horses are not slaughtered here in the U.S. is because organizations such as the ASPCA work with legislators on The Hill to pass an amendment every year in the appropriations bill that would defund the inspection of slaughterhouses. Although defunding inspections does not directly ban horse slaughter, it makes it unable for slaughter plants to exist, which circuitously bans horse slaughter. Working on issues like this one demonstrates the roundabout policy methods that nonprofits and interest groups must use to reach their goals, methods that I find extremely interesting and useful as I pursue a policy career.
The ASPCA is also working with Congress to directly ban the slaughter of American horses by introducing a bill called the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act. The bill would ban the slaughter of horses in America, as well as the export of horses for this purpose. Although horse meat is not typically consumed in America, they are consumed across the globe. What horsemeat eaters failure to realize is that these American horses are not fit for human consumption—throughout their lives, horses are given standard medicines that permeate their flesh and are extremely dangerous for humans to ingest. Not only is slaughtering horses inhumane, but it is also dangerous to human health! Finding arguments to discourage inhumane practices other than the fact that the practice is simply inhumane is another tool I have seen animal welfare activists use quite often. If legislators will not try to pass a bill only because it reduces the suffering of thousands of animals, they will at least try to pass it if it has some positive impact on humans. While I wish animal suffering alone would be enough for Congress to pass humane legislation, finding human-based benefits to the bills we’re trying to pass is an inevitable part of this process.
So far this internship has given me a huge insight into animal policy, and I’m looking forward to talking more about the many unique opportunities this internship has given me in my next blog post!
Journal Entry #2
In this post I’m going to turn my focus to the opportunities this internship has afforded me. I’ll start with traveling to Massachusetts for signature gathering. A few weeks ago, a few members of my team and I flew to Springfield, Massachusetts from D.C. for three days to collect signatures for a statewide ballot measure. In order for the measure to even appear on the ballot in November, thousands of signatures had to be gathered and turned in to the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The specific measure would allow citizens of Massachusetts to vote on whether farm animals should be given the space to stand up, sit down, and stretch their limbs. We all wore our fluorescent orange ASPCA shirts and stood outside Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart, asking passersby for a “quick signature to help prevent cruelty to farm animals?” Although the experience was not without a few negative and borderline hostile responses, it was incredibly rewarding to see the majority of people react so enthusiastically. Our ten person team was able to gather 1700 signatures! After returning to D.C., we received the good news that the Secretary of the Commonwealth received over 25,000 signatures, establishing the measure on the ballot in November! The trip was an incredible experience that allowed me to see firsthand the power of grassroots advocacy.
Another incredible opportunity the Government Relations internship gave me was being able to attend the Taking Action for Animals (TAFA) Conference earlier this summer in Arlington, Virginia. The four day conference began on a Friday with setting up our massive booth space—complete with a selfie station and my supervisor’s adorable French bulldog Ms. Peaches. At the conference I was able to learn about other animal welfare organization and connect with those passionate individuals who share the same values and beliefs as me. For example, I’ve refused to purchase any cosmetic product that tests on animals since I was thirteen, and at TAFA I spoke with leaders from the Humane Cosmetics movement! I was also able to represent the ASPCA at our booth by speaking with visitors and telling them how they can advocate for animals in their state. On Monday, I was able to put my lobbying skills to the test by actually going to my U.S. Representative’s office and telling a staffer why it is important for me as a constituent that he supports various bills. I outlined the bills, what they do, and why they are important for both animals and humans. Although I was nervous at first, it was another incredible experience that showed me how individuals can get involved in advocacy—even on the federal level!
Traveling to Massachusetts and attending TAFA stuck out to me as the most influential hands-on activities I’ve done, but there have been so much more. Having breakfast with the CEO of the ASPCA, attending a Department of Justice Roundtable on animal cruelty, and going to U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee hearings are additional activities I was fortunate enough to take part in. In my next post I'll talk a little more about the day to day activities happening in my office (which is inhabited by a once feral cat named Henry).
Journal Entry #3
In this post I’ll talk a little more about the day to day activities in my office. The office is located in Eastern Market, D.C. and the whole Government Relations team contains less than 15 people, some of whom work remotely. Including interns, there are usually around 10 people in the office every day. The GR branch contains federal, regulatory, state, and grassroots affairs teams. Although my direct supervisor is on the grassroots team, this internship has given me the opportunity to assist all four sectors of the GR branch.
A Typical Day:
My mornings begin with a sweaty commute from Foggy Bottom to Eastern Market. Upon arriving at 9 a.m. I am greeted by our office cat Henry, usually waiting by the front door and meowing at me for breakfast. I feed Henry and put on a pot of coffee, greet my other officemates and check my email. My activities for the day range based on what project I’m working on in what part of the GR team. There is an intern project bank, where staff members may post a project and the interns can sign up for them on a first-come-first-serve basis. One example of a project I worked on was assisting a constituent who had sent an email to my supervisor asking about elephant holding laws in Florida. The constituent was concerned that elephants being held for a circus performance were not being treated humanely, but was not sure where to go to find the right answer. My supervisor asked me to help with the research and I dove into Florida law regarding elephants. After compiling my research, I sent an email draft to my supervisor containing the relevant information and who in Florida to contact for additional information.
Helping constituents with their animal-welfare-related concerns is just one of my day-to-day tasks. Another project I worked on assisted the federal team and required me to write a memo about the BEST Practices Act—federal legislation aimed toward ending the use of animals in live tissue training for members of the military. I also helped the state team by making phone calls to animal advocates in Massachusetts, urging them to call and ask their state legislator to support a bill that would crack down on puppy mills.
After finishing whatever it is that’s on my plate for the day, around 5:30 p.m. I say goodnight to Henry and make my way across the city back to Foggy Bottom.
Overall, this internship allowed me the opportunity to work on a variety of animal issues in a variety of ways. I reached out to constituents directly on a local level and also focused on big picture legislation. The incredible expertise offered by staff members at the ASPCA also enabled me to really learn about the details behind these issues, why they’re issues in the first place, and what we can do to solve them. My day to day tasks were sometimes foreseeable, but oftentimes they were impromptu and challenged me to intensely learn about the issues facing me. These issues include specific animal welfare issues, but also issues with learning how to use Excel, StateNet, Salesforce, or Congress.gov. I gained knowledge on the issues and the practical tools necessary to solve these issues.
This internship with the ASPCA has undoubtedly prepared me for a future in doing what I love—giving a voice to the voiceless through grassroots efforts and policy change. Thank you to the Parents Committee and the ASPCA for making my experiences this summer possible! I truly cannot express my gratitude enough.