Sentience Politics is young and our team is small, but we are already breaking new ground for animals with our political advocacy and movement building.
In 2015, we demanded that all public canteens in the major Swiss cities of Basel and Zurich be required by law to offer at least one plant-based meal option on their menus. Our demands were backed by well-known politicians and public figures, and made it to the ballot, meaning that over half a million citizens will be able to take a binding vote on the country’s first-ever initiative for animal-free food. The initiative was covered in numerous media articles, and featured in a documentary aired on national TV to half a million viewers. In 2017, before the vote, a detailed justification of the initiative will be sent by mail to every household in the two voting cities, allowing our message to reach more than 400,000 voting age citizens.
In May 2016, we organized the first Sentience Conference in Berlin, which brought 300 people from around the world together to discuss the most effective ways to reduce suffering in all sentient beings. The two-days event featured talks from more than 20 representatives of international NGOs and academic institutions, and brought multiple fronts of the animal advocacy movement together to share ideas and strategies.
In June 2016, our Swiss branch launched another popular initiative, this time demanding basic legal rights for nonhuman primates. We held one press conference for the initiative and are expecting more attention in the coming months. We started carrying out these initiatives in Switzerland because of its unique model of direct democracy: the fact that popular initiatives are legally binding leads to significant interest from the media and public, which makes them efficient instruments for sparking public debates.
We have also organized other events to promote antispeciesism to the general public and effective advocacy strategies to animal advocates, giving talks, hosting lectures and panels with advocates from other organizations, and holding workshops on high-impact careers that help animals. Some past standout events include a panel on the topic of achieving legal rights for primates with Prof. Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project, Colin Goldner of the Great Ape Project, and Sentience Politics president Adriano Mannino, in Berlin in June 2016; two lectures by Prof. Steven Wise at the University of Basel and the University of Bern in April 2015; and a lecture by Adriano Mannino on “Effective Altruism for All Sentient Beings” at the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel in November 2014. Our staff also speak at many conferences and events organized around the topics of animal advocacy and effective altruism.
We have grown significantly in the last year and expect to continue our growth. We currently have initiatives planned in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, and have set our sights on future initiatives in the United Kingdom and the United States.
We will continue to produce thoroughly researched policy papers to advise policy changes, support organizations doing impactful work for nonhuman beings, and detail our positions on issues relevant to antispeciesism. Our policy papers will continue to form the basis of our upcoming initiatives, including a popular vote on basic rights for primates in Switzerland, an initiative to ban factory farming in Switzerland, and a campaign demanding state funding for cultured meat research in Germany. These campaigns will allow us to share antispeciesist ideas in political, intellectual, and public circles at a relatively low cost.
In addition to our political work, we will continue to pursue capacity building for the most impactful efforts to prevent large scale suffering. This includes systematically spreading ideas like effective giving within the animal advocacy movement through online content, workshops and networking. We will host the Sentience Conference on an annual basis to bring animal advocacy groups together to find and implement new effective strategies for helping nonhumans, and we will continue hosting smaller local events and speaking at conferences and events organized by other groups. We will also continue researching neglected but promising cause areas and strategies, to keep our efforts focused wherever they can help the most.