California ferret advocacy group releases poll results showing that people are overwhelmingly opposed to legalizing the little creatures as pets. Other advocates say that sometimes it might be better just to keep your mouth shut.
The San Jose Mercury News (Dan Reed) reports on a statewide poll showing that only 38% of Californians favor the legalization of ferrets as pets. Here's the shocker: the poll was paid for by an advocacy group called Ferrets Anonymous (Business league EIN 33-0580141, too small for a Form 990).
The article quotes Pat Wright, who founded the organization and who ran the campaign to fund the $6,000 poll (using the Field Research firm in San Francisco). Mr. Wright has been pushing for a statewide initiative on ferret legalization after years of unsuccessful attempts to get a legalization bill passed.
But other ferret advocates like Jeanne Carley, who describes herself as a twelve-year volunteer lobbyist, vehemently oppose both the initiative and the poll. She posted her views in the blog of Californians for Ferret Legalization (informal umbrella association, no Form 990). According to Carley, the poll results are no surprise, because several California state departments have been putting out anti-ferret propaganda for decades. She argues that advocates can continue to build support in the legislature—they have reach the point where a bill passed but was vetoed. However, a failed statewide initiative could cripple their direct lobbying efforts for years. Her frustration continues:
I can tell you as someone who has represented this issue in Sacramento for over a dozen years on my own time and my own dime, there have been so many times it has been hurt by the same well meaning but thoughtless person. There is little wonder that the frustration level is high among ferret clubs in California. Part of the reason I won't lead another legislative charge is because I was very tired of seeing some of our hard work undone or damaged by another "advocate" for ferret legalization.
One paradoxical impact of the Internet: it is making civil society noticeably less civil. It has the capacity to amplify the voices of the do-it-yourself advocates, who are often "well meaning but thoughtless," at least from the perspective of practitioners of traditional representative democracy. The ferrets are caught up in the familiar debate between representative and direct democracy and between experts and the wisdom of the masses. It's Bush vs. Gore and Britannica vs. Wikipedia, with fur.
This is a useful case study because it's an issue that most people probably don't have strong feelings about, one way or the other. It illustrates a general principle about advocacy in the current media environment, and it can be presented without getting bogged down in the emotions of the underlying issue (unlike, say, gay marriage vs. civil unions).