I wrote recently on the PlantKind blog about advocacy, and a few people commented that they are sometimes overwhelmed by all of the suffering that animals endure, leaving them unsure how to advocate for them effectively. It’s a feeling of helplessness to which many can surely relate.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do not subscribe to the notion that all advocacy is good advocacy. It is important to consider what will resonate with those whose opinions and actions we seek to influence, otherwise our actions could hinder rather than help. It is about the people who we want to impact positively, and the animals, NOT us.
Here are what I believe to be sound starting points for being an effective advocate for animals and veganism.
Know what you want to achieve. Often advocates for animals experience a sense of helplessness and urgency; consequently their social media feeds become a long and scattered list of graphic images, hyperbolic expressions, and seemingly random news articles on a wide range of peripheral issues. The result is that those who are still reading do not come away with a clear message, and are likely to be confused about where to focus. I know when I am taking in a message (or an advertisement, or infographic), and don’t know upon what to focus, my response is often to simply tune out.
And then act accordingly. Think about what you hope to achieve with your advocacy, and then line up your messaging and tactics to accomplish your objectives. If your goal is to help people to become vegan, then focus on the things that will accomplish that. If your goal is to “normalize” veganism, then align your actions to that. (The two things I just mentioned are my primary focus.) If your goal is to end circuses, build your activism around that – but don’t expect anyone to take away a “go vegan” message.
Accept that you can’t do everything. Aside from avoiding confusing messaging, having a goal and objectives – and sticking with them – can also help with the sense of futility that can overtake advocates.
Pick your battles. Along the same line as accepting you can’t do everything. This applies to both issues, and situations. Do not waste your time and energy on “battles” that cannot be won (this is why I do not spend my time proselytizing on animal agriculture sites, for example.) Just tune out the stuff that you can’t influence or change.
Set a good example. Most mainstream people will meet only a handful of vegans, and if you’re one of them, try not to perpetuate the negative stereotypes. They may not be fair or always accurate, but perception is reality. This doesn’t mean you have to blend in with the scenery, but it does mean that people are more likely to take you – and your messages – seriously, if you are relatable, likeable, and leave a good impression. Share your light; don’t snuff out others’.
Be kind, but assertive. You absolutely don’t need to roll over or give your endorsement to actions that you consider to be ethically problematic, but remember that people don’t remember what you do nearly as often as they remember how you made them feel. Open people’s minds to new ideas but leave shaming and aggression out of it. When you’re sharing information that people will find troubling, try to do so in a way that is mindful of how people will receive that information.
Feed people – and yourself. Don’t hesitate to introduce people to vegan food, or suggest a veg restaurant for a meal out. Sometimes eating at a non-veg friendly place is unavoidable, but be proactive with suggesting an alternative. Every time others see you eating something delicious, rather than picking at a crappy salad, it makes veganism seem more realistic and less like a big sacrifice.
Remember that it’s about the animals. This cuts both ways. On one hand, we are their voice, and to advocate for them we need to speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable for us and those to whom we speak. But if you do so in a way that is kind and informative, no matter how others respond to your message, you have planted the seed. On the other hand, it can be easy to let ego and passion get in the way of being an effective advocate. Next time you want to lash out at someone – particularly someone who is already partly there, but could maybe use some further guidance and understanding – stop and ask yourself if that’s really going to accomplish anything aside from alienation and hurt feelings.
Find your safe spaces. It’s okay to be angry and frustrated. The things that are happening to animals are truly horrific. But consider limiting your expressions of these things to others who are like-minded and who can support you, rather than those to whom you are hoping to win over.
Don’t be afraid to use the “V” word. It’s true that there is baggage attached to the label. But after doing all of these other things to make a good impression and change people’s hearts and minds, how are we ever going to change people’s perceptions of the word vegan if we don’t wear it with pride?