I realize that it is very difficult to be calm, cool and civil when we are discussing something that causes us so much pain. Over all folks did a pretty good job.
After a few minutes of discussion the tone between the two "sides" improved and we were able to learn why these people really support the hunt.
While we may LOL at the notion that wolves are about to drag small children off into the woods- the people we talked to yesterday REALLY believe that this is a possibility. They are getting their information not from the DNR, who they also distrust intensely (common ground) but from "extreme" and other sport hunting groups and publications. One man said that based on his "200 days a year" in the woods, that the expanding wolf population is responsible for there being no more moose, foxes, coyotes or large cats being about. I did not have the data to immediately respond to that, but now I know that I need to get it. He taught me something, whether what he said was true or not. I learn a lot from my opponents, which is yet another reason why I try to talk with them.
When we work with people, we know where we think they "should" be at, but we have to take them from where they actually are. While I find it very difficult to empathize with people who think inflicting pain on an animal (or person) is "fun," I can find some compassion for people who truly believe they are protecting their small children from a menace. Education is the solution to that. We can't teach people anything if we are yelling at them or they us.
As for pets, I was able to make the point that I, too, have had pets injured, one to the point of needing to be shot immediately, by non-human predators because I let them run free in predator territory. However, it did not induce me to wish to go out and kill off the offending species (coyote bit one of my dogs, just a few stitches required, but a bear mauled another horribly). So, that is something we can talk about which has been a major issue. I am no longer just some idiot from the cities who has never paid a price for my choice to live in close proximity to non-human predators.
That was important information for us to have, we are not going to win this one unless we identify and respond effectively to what our opponents are thinking.
We need to find the data that respond to these concerns and present them in a respectful and factual manner.
I told the pro-wolf hunters that were there that if possible I would like to come back maybe next month and have a discussion about this someplace indoors where we can all sit and talk. I was warned it would turn into a shouting match, but if one of "them" works with one of "us" on setting this up, and we are both committed to a reasonable and civil discussion, it can be done.
The DNR has refused to perform its function with respect to assessing public opinion and formulating policy that would be acceptable to most Minnesotans. SOMEONE has to do this job and it looks like it is going to be us.
By "us," I do not mean just the Northwoods Wolf Alliance, but also Howling for Wolves and the many individual wolf advocates that are and have been working on protecting ma'iingan.
If we can effectively dialog and work with our opponents, it will HUGELY benefit our cause. Right now the media, policy makers and many others are reluctant to engage any grassroots activists because of the usually very hostile tone, including a lot of verbal abuse and "ad hominem" attacks- i.e. those that address your opponents character and not his or her argument.
The reason we got the MPR interview to plug our rally Saturday was because we said we WANT to talk to our opponents about policy that would address the concerns of pet and livestock owners without hunting wolves.
We did a good job of getting and keeping this issue visible and need to keep doing that. But the next phase is to get the policy makers to sit down and talk with us and that will be much easier if we are not coming from the `armed camp' mentality that so many have come to expect and fear.
I am not saying I AGREE with all of the concerns these folks express. We don't have to agree to respond though. And I saw several things that we can build on with the folks we talked with yesterday, and we can, as citizens, set an example here for the DNR et. al. to follow with respect to solving this as MINNESOTANS.
Basically- if we are going to win this one we will need to, as CITIZENS, re-take policy back from the DNR, and we are going to need the support of john and jane jones, i.e. "average" rural residents to do that.
Advertising, rallies, lobbying are all a part of this, a very important part, but we need to be "on the ground" talking with our neighbors too.
When I first learned that, though I had been taught as my first lesson in life to be gentle to our kitty, my mom was feeding me cows that had been treated brutally and she KNEW about that, I felt betrayed and outraged beyond belief. I DO understand everyone's anger and pain and how hard it is to get past it.
One of the first steps, for me, is to get inside my opponents' heads a bit. I know what I think they are thinking, but what is REALLY going on in there? Yes, there will be a few people who indeed are just sadistic SOBs. We will never reach them and when we identify them, we should just move on.
People who are conflicted about this are watching us, making up their minds. We can't control the things others say and do, but when we are calm and reasonable, even when our opponents are not, we score big time in the minds of MOST people who are not yet strongly committed to either side of this debate. Those are very important folks.
It takes a little time, but simply listening to people, letting them get things off their chest defuses a lot of the anger and frustration that affects this discussion. If you CAN be the "bigger person" and let them speak first and hear them out, really listen, the turn around in attitudes tends to be quick. Then, they will usually listen to you. Focus on common ground, note things that you can't agree on for later response.