Ready to Roar?

Creating lasting change isn't easy, but it is possible. You just need a clear mission, think globally, act locally, understand the systems you look to influence and build a support network to lean on.

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Focus on local issues

When I started my organization Citizens Lobbying for Animals in Zoo when I was 12, I wanted to improve conditions for all zoo animals. That was an admirable but ambitious goal. I realized that while it is important to think about global issues I had to solve them in local ways.

Instead of trying to save all of the zoo animals everywhere, I started by taking regular trips to my local zoo in Sacramento, getting to know that animals there, documenting my concerns, researching laws that governed zoos and networking with fellow activists who could give me advice when I needed help.

What bigs issues are you passionate about? How can impact them locally?

Know the Laws

I learned that I could use the Freedom of Information Act to request inspection reports of the zoo to get a better understanding of the inner-workings and to see if the zoo violated any state or federal laws.

When I realized I needed more information, I tried setting up a meeting with the zoo director. She has zero interest in meeting me. She said no, no, no. But that did not deter me. I educated myself about the zoo’s business structure and discovered the zoo was owned by the city and that the zoo director answered to the city council, who were elected officials.

What laws can you learn about to ensure they are being followed? What structures do you need to understand to know what systems you are working with (or against)?

Create a simple goal that can be your early win

I decided to call the councilman who governed the district where the zoo was located every day until my first goal was achieved. Finally, after two weeks of calls, the councilman was sick of my pestering and insisted the director give me a tour. Everyone answers to someone, so if you are not getting what you want, go find their boss and bug the heck out of them until you get what you need.

That early win felt good and it put the zoo director on notice that I meant business.

What is the first step you need to take? Something that inspires you to press on and something that puts decision-makers on notice?

Set challenging but achievable goals

I eventually befriend zookeepers who revealed the terrible ways the animals were being neglected at the zoo. With that knowledge, I set my next goal. It was challenging but felt achievable.

The cheetahs needed a new home because they could hardly run in their tiny cage and the polar bears needed to be relocated because no animal native to the Arctic should live in the 105-degree temperatures.

These goals allowed me to focus on something that was easy to communicate and something the zoo could actually agree to.

What would the zoo do if I just asked them to “improve the conditions for the animals at the zoo” vs something specific like “the cheetahs and polar bears need a better home”

How can you set challenging yet achievable goals that are clear, concise and easy to communicate?  

Build Strong Narratives

I created this goal and narrative which spoke to my universal mission of helping all zoo animals and was easy for the public to understand. My aim to relocate the cheetah and polar bears was important for their wellbeing and the larger mission. Through their stories, I would help people see that all zoo animals deserve to be treated with dignity and that their natural inclinations should be respected.

What goals can you set and local stories can you tell to rally people around your mission?

Find Allies

My next step might be the most critical in my success in creating change at the Sacramento Zoo. I knew that I couldn’t achieve my goals alone, so I networked, built alliances and found allies. I sent my concerns about conditions at the zoo to the inspector of the American Zoo Association who inspected the zoo and ended up agreeing with me and tabling the zoo’s accreditation. Then I worked with the Animal Protection Institute who rallied the media and helped land a story about the neglectful conditions at the zoo on the front page of the newspaper.

This started a landslide of change that has positively impacted the animals at the Sacramento Zoo to this day. Within four years of my original request, the cheetahs and polar bear had been relocated to better conditions, and the zoo has made efforts to focus of small animals who they can provide ample space for.

You shouldn't try to make change all alone. Who can provide you resources, offer your guidance, share their knowledge or perk you up when the going gets tough?

Creating change is hard work, but it’s possible. Know how powerful you really are, set an ambitious path to success and keep going until you reach your goals.  

Justin Barker