With many greatly varying ways of advocating for non-human animals, it can sometimes be a challenge to discern which is the most effective for bringing about real and lasting change.
I am writing a series on “Effective Advocacy” to present a list of ideas, tactics and resources that may be utilized by those wishing to help animals and create a better tomorrow for all.
In the first installment of the effective advocacy series, we will be covering:
Reaching out to people with information on animal abuse issues is perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of the Animal Rights movement. Unless people are correctly informed about how animals are truly treated in laboratories, circuses, farms, slaughterhouses, nets, pet trades and zoos, their motivation for change will always remain minimal at best.
Getting information to people unaware of the subjects, or who may in fact show great hostility towards you for trying to share said information, is perhaps the greatest challenge we face in outreach.
Unlike other educational resources — wherein people actively seek out information to help themselves or others — in the Animal Rights movement we must search out those people who may perhaps be interested and open to new information. Because our outreach can be very much a shot in the dark, in an attempt to reach receptive people we must place ourselves in public spaces where large numbers congregate already.
A simple and surprisingly effective method of outreach is passing out leaflets to passersby. It can be a rewarding experience for yourself, as well as those receiving the information.
Getting literature from your favorite organization on a topic that is either location or event specific (i.e. circus leaflets at the opening of a circus or ticket office, or Veganism leaflets at college dining halls, etc.) can result in positive connections with people, as well as furthering the public image of Animal Rights in a good light.
Having done a good deal of leafleting myself, the importance of having an open and friendly demeanor cannot be stressed enough. People are much more likely to take, read and discuss the leaflet you hand them if you offer it with a smile, eye contact and a pleasant question, such as “Would you care for some free literature on animals?”
The majority of people you may come in contact with will be friendly or just indifferent to your presence, but undoubtedly you will be met with people who do not appreciate your stance on animal abuse issues. Remaining calm and patient when dealing with confrontational individuals or groups is extremely important while doing this form of outreach. There is no use in getting into a shouting match with people who do not share the same feelings as you do — all over a leaflet.
Listen to their arguments and then gently let them know why you don’t see it the same way. Remaining calm while speaking will (usually) calm them down. Many people will expect activists to fire off at the mouth over animal issues we feel passionate about, but by presenting your stance in a levelheaded and gentle manner, it may give them pause to rethink their approach. Try to continue the conversation — even if they get irate — by asking their opinion on a different, but related topic that you can bring back around to the subject at hand. Most people love to talk about what they think. And anyone who confronts you aggressively, obviously wants to share their opinion, so let them.
It is important to never back down on the issue that you are promoting during a conversation or debate. There are no justifications for animal abuse issues that aren’t based in laziness, selfishness or arrogance. If you must, remind an argumentative person of this fact and ask for an argument which is motivated by something else.
Engaging in conversation with as many individuals as possible during leafleting is important. If someone stops to read the leaflet that you hand them, ask what they think about the subject, or provide more information than the leaflet covers. Creating dialogue will help many people form their own opinion of an issue, and it gives you an opportunity to help influence that opinion positively.
When leafleting, I routinely encounter someone shouting at me that I “should be doing something to help humans instead!” I always inquire what it is that they do to help humans, since they obviously think human issues are so important. I ask this question not argumentatively, but rather engagingly to try and draw them into a conversation. If someone is actively involved in human rights issues, they should have no trouble understanding your altruistic motivations for animal rights. And if they aren’t involved, I encourage them to get involved in the issues they feel strongly about and start leafleting!
Leafleting locations are best chosen by the number of people congregating there, or the amount of people traversing an area.
At animal abuse events, as mentioned before, having appropriate literature tailored to individuals attending is important.
If you are leafleting in public spaces you shouldn’t have an issue with police or security. At certain events and locations though there may be a distance you must stand from entrances and/or buildings. It is advisable to check with security or local police before you begin leafleting.
Unfortunately, a lot of leaflets will go unread, thrown away or just stuffed into purses and pockets. This can be discouraging, but you never know how many unread leaflets end up on people’s kitchen tables and are read by others. After a full day of leafleting, even if only one person changes their life due to the new information, that alone is a success and should be kept in mind.
At some events, such as rodeos and circuses, you can expect a tremendous amount of literature to be thrown away. At Barnum & Baily circuses, I’ve even seen trash cans labeled “activist literature”. A simple environmental and economical solution is to have one person go in and retrieve all the discarded leaflets to be passed out again the following day.
If you are leafleting with a group, it is important to make sure that you are spread out a bit and not clumped together so that you are able to reach as many people as possible.
Having information tables at events with a range of animal related literature is another great way of getting information to people. This allows people the option of coming up, rather than having the literature handed to them directly.
Getting permission to set up a table may be required at some events, but that usually is only if you have merchandise for sale. Again, checking with event promoters or organizers can clear this up quickly.
Having a TV and portable DVD player showing animal abuse videos can be amazingly effective in creating dialogue as well as attracting people to your table. The videos, although extremely troubling to view, are tremendously important for people who might otherwise be able to deny to themselves that such horrific abuses occur.
Again, as with leafleting, it is important to always remain calm and patient with people you are speaking with, even if they are being disrespectful towards you or the cause you are promoting.
Another great form of outreach are speaking engagements at schools, youth groups, churches or any other community-based location. Inquiring about teachers at schools who might be willing to have you come speak to their classes is a great avenue to use.
Tailoring your talk to match your audience is of the utmost importance with this form of outreach. If you are speaking to young kids, it is going to be more effective to focus on treating animals nicely, as we all want to be treated, rather than focuses on the horrors of slaughterhouses, in my opinion.
Making a talk interesting with multimedia or group participation is important with all ages to keep attention focused. Preparing your talk well in advance and practicing what you will say will make things easier for yourself and those listening.
Getting an audience to be receptive can be difficult if your talk is simply about going Vegan, so it may be necessary to shift the focus toward the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture, global poverty linked to animal-based diets, spiritual teachings towards compassion for all living beings, or a host of other topics directly related to Animal Rights.
Having two people giving a talk can create a lot of diversity in how a message is conveyed and help with dynamics of how a message is received.
Utilizing all forms of multimedia can reach far more people than any other method of outreach.
Creating websites, Myspace profiles, Facebook profiles, Care2 and other social networking profiles dedicated to animal issues, which can be viewed by literally millions of people per day, has the potential for changing people in mass.
In many areas of the USA, public access TV channels are available to people and groups looking to have their own shows. It can be as simple as signing up and providing the channel with the necessary videos or DVDs to have animal rights-related videos broadcast throughout your community. Having been involved with this personally, it can be very effective in more rural areas, where larger populations watch public access channels regularly.
Public access radio is another option that can be used. Getting a radio program dedicated to animal issues can be difficult in many places, but not impossible. Getting involved in college radio is one of your best bets, although your hour or weekly slot may be less than desirable.
Making films and/or documentaries on animal abuse issues has a tremendous impact on the viewers, without a doubt. As does writing books, articles and … hopefully blogs.
Music and art is another avenue that can be used to reach people and raise awareness. I in fact became Vegan due to the lyrics of an influential band called Earth Crisis back in the 90′s, as did thousands of my peers of the time. Music and art, I feel, are one of the least utilized resources we have at our disposal. Because of this, I created an Animal Rights music project several years ago called xTrue Naturex, which has been met with a good deal of support and has allowed me to reach, speak and perform for people in over 18 countries, thus far.
With all forms of outreach, it is important to be well-versed on the topic you are raising awareness for. Educate yourself as much as you can and then help to educate others.
Get active and get out there!
In upcoming installments of “Effective Advocacy”, I’ll be covering:
- Protests, Demonstrations and Marches
- Boycotts and Letter writing
- Laws and Legislative Reform
- Personal Daily Activism