Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When a Chicken Isn't Just a Chicken

A year ago I met with two other women at one of their kitchen tables to discuss getting backyard chickens legal in my city. We had to convince City Council that keeping backyard hens wasn't just a back-woods fallback to Farmville, nor did it mean roosters, slaughtering, smell, or other dangers and nuisances. We had one vote in favor, the woman whose house we met at.We needed six "yes" votes in order to get the ordinance passed. Most of council was adamantly opposed to the proposed ordinance, which had been soundly turned down a few years earlier. They were afraid of "those people" who will not act responsibly in caring for their hens (i.e. immigrants and renters).

So we launched a grassroots effort to let Council know that people wanted hens. I started a blog, created flyers, and posted on a few websites like backyardchickens.com. A woman emailed me offering to setup a Facebook page. We met at a local school, sometimes with nearly two dozen people, but usually with two or three. Our Council woman lead us through the maze of politics, I ran the web end of things including a petition on Change.com, and others got signatures on a paper petition. People spoke at council meetings. We used social media and word of mouth to get people on board.

We started out with nothing. With major opposition. Last night, with 220 likes on the Facebook Page, more than 1000 page views on the blog, and over 600 signatures, Council voted to change the proposed amendment! We wowed them with our political presence - ninety people showed up for the meeting where the official vote would occur, with kids in tow. A dozen people spoke in favor. One person opposed came to speak, but when he saw the ninety people stand in support, he removed his name from the speakers list and walked out!

What we showed Council was that a chicken isn't just a chicken. They stand for sustainability, food security, community, responsible action, and personal freedom. Most people who want to keep chickens are responsible members of society. We stood up against racist and classist fears about hen keepers.

We also showed our community that if something matters we can work together to get it changed. I hope to use that power to keep moving - fine tuning the ordinance, but also involving more diverse populations in our gardening and sustainable living movement.

There are a million and one actions that need to happen in our world, and as many people and more who have different opinions about what "matters." Many might roll their eyes at how insignificant this movement is. But I'm proud of our little movement to support backyard hens in my corner of the world.

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