Oh, the many ways you can make the world a better place for human and non-human animals! We’ve got the whole voting with our dollars bit down, as you can tell from the many animal-friendly products we bring you via our marketplace, but we know there’s more to it than that. We asked one of our fave activists to give us a few tips on entering the animal activist game. Read on to see what The Humane League‘s Ethan Dussault has to say about doing more for animals.
Stepping Up for Animals: An Activist Approach from Ethan Dussault of The Humane League
So you’re vegan now and you’re buying really cool vegan stuff from Vegan Cuts and you’re surrounded by other vegans. How much better does it get? The world is amazing. Let’s go play in the sun!
OK. So, that happy place is only a part of our reality. Sadly, the big picture looks a little different though, doesn’t it? We’re leaving out the part of the story where somewhere a hen is stuck inside of a battery cage so small she can’t even spread her wings because she is crammed in so tightly next to her sisters and cousins. She also will never know her brother who was culled at birth. And what about the story of a beloved friend or relative who spends more time in the hospital than out due to a debilitating condition that could have been prevented by a transition to a healthy vegan diet?
This can seem like a really daunting reality to take on head first. The good news is that there are things you can do to make a difference for animals, both human and non-human. Thankfully for new activists, being a more effective advocate from the start is a lot easier than it used to be.
For many activists, finding public areas with heavy foot traffic and handing out veg advocacy booklets is the ‘foot in the door’ to the wide world of activism, however digital activism is also an incredibly common and useful first step. Sometimes though, it can be too common. How many memes depicting animal suffering should I share? What kind of language should I use when writing tweets and status updates about animal abuse? If you aren’t careful, you run the risk of having social media contacts clicking that “Unfollow” button.
Whether you choose to hit the streets and leaflet or share information online, some simple guidelines apply. The organization I work for, The Humane League, is driven by research and measurable results. We even have a division called Humane League Labs which is dedicated to uncovering the most effective ways to help animals and promote veg eating. While we are always learning, here’s a little of what we know now:
Make reasonable requests.
It is important for activists to be good at listening and at asking questions. When we’re having a discussion which we hope will result in a change of behavior, we have to speak with the person as they are and not at them as we want them to be. Regardless of how we feel about animals, rights, ethics, environmental devastation, and health, how another person eats is their personal decision. We have to know if the person is open to change and how much they are willing to change. If we don’t take the time to hear this person because we are too busy giving them an ethics lecture, we may be asking them to make a commitment they are unwilling to make. If we are patient, we may discover they are ready to take a “22 Day Vegan Challenge!” On the other hand, we may discover they have little interest in veganism, let alone vegetarianism, but they are willing to give up eating chickens.
A commitment to take a “22 Vegan Challenge” or to “cut out chicken” are both victories. If someone is willing to make a small change now, they are more likely to continue making small changes in the future. Add those small moves together, and you’ve got one big move. How often does one go full Organic Vegan Activist overnight? Hardly ever. If lectures in Ethics were the most effective form of outreach, a lot more college students would be vegan today.
Graphic Images Work*
Whenever you are sharing information about what is going on behind closed doors on factory farms, if you use disturbing images, it is important to follow up with a message of empowerment. Take these two scenarios:
- Here’s an awful image of incredibly disturbing abuse. You are now depressed and angry. Deal with it.
- Here’s an awful image of incredibly disturbing abuse. You are now depressed and angry. Here’s what you can do to help make the world a better place. You are capable of making a significant and positive change.
In scenario one, because the disturbing image is so effective, the person receiving the message is left in such a negative mood. Making a positive change is more difficult from this position. In scenario two, you’ve used this effective image in a way which is far more likely to motivate someone to change. In terms of social media activism, knowing that graphic images are effective at reaching people emotionally, we should use them sparingly, perhaps only as part of an organized campaign or once a week if you are posting independently. This way we won’t overwhelm or desensitize. It is important to remember, when we do use this type of image in conjunction with a message of empowerment, we are more likely to inspire change. For example, when sharing a graphic meme, picture, or video, be sure to include a link to a site like ChooseVeg.com and let people know that they can do something about this problem.
Humans: A Social Animal
No matter how independent we may be individually, there’s no denying we thrive socially. This has a few implications. For one, people are more likely to do something if it is already trending and popular. Trendsetters are the minority. Let’s face it, it is a lot easier to do something mainstream and ‘normal.’
Also, we like stories more than numbers. When friends ask, “What did you have for dinner tonight?” You don’t reply, “I had my 37,230th meal.” Rather, you say, “I had this really great BBQ seitan cutlet with some sautéed greens and mashed sweet potatoes. Our server was very nice and everything was seasoned really well.” Which answer do you think is more likely to elicit the response, “I have to go try that restaurant!”?
Trying to empathize with 9,000,000,000 hens is not easy. Put a name and a face to the animals. First of all, they are unique individuals, but also, we make a stronger connection to their lives when we know more about their individual experience.
Though the numbers may be large, the fact is you can and do make a difference when you eat vegan and when you inspire someone else to take similar steps. Vegans are a fast growing demographic. We are fortunate because not only are more and more people changing the way they eat, more and more people are getting active.
I’ve only touched upon some of the great information that is out there for developing animal advocacy skills. For more on being an effective activist, I highly recommend “The Animal Activist’s Handbook” by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich as well as “Veganomics” by Nick Cooney. Also, look into these notable online resources:
- Be A Better Advocate from Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign
- Advocacy Essays and Articles from Vegan Outreach
Thanks for reading and thanks for getting active!
About our Blogger Friend
Ethan Dussault is the Texas State Director for The Humane League, a national animal and vegan advocacy organization focusing on smart, local grassroots outreach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
To keep up with The Humane League in Texas, please ‘like’ The Humane League – Dallas Office on Facebook. The Humane League also has offices in Boston, Charlotte, Maryland, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle and the league is growing fast.