Like politics, effective activism is the art of the possible.
Feature: Effective Advocacy
To everyone who donated to our Winter Fundraiser.
Without your support, we would not have reached
hundreds of thousands of new people this past
year. We are closing in on 3,000,000 total pamphlets
The new version of Why Vegan will
We are back in the office, getting caught up
as fast as we can. We apologize for the delays
in sending out Vegan Starter Packs and other
orders. In the past week, Jack and Matt leafleted
at 9 schools in 4 states and took part in a
conference. Jack also spoke to ~100 people at
Youngstown State University.
The point of this talk, "Stealing from
the Corporate Playbook," is to discuss
ways of becoming more effective. There are two
"playbooks" that nearly every successful
businessperson has read.
What I thought was most valuable in Steven
Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective
People is a concept that he calls "the
tyranny of the urgent." Basically, Covey
suggests that most of us are so busy with the
endless deluge of whatever comes up next--e-mail
on your screen, the phone ringing with this
or that emergency, and so on--that we don't
have time to focus on actually accomplishing
something. How often have you thought, "I
accomplished nothing!" at the end of the
day? Covey gives us the tools to focus on making
sure that those days are as few and infrequent
as possible by helping us to focus on prioritizing
what is necessary, effective, and goal-oriented,
rather than whatever happens to be immediately
in front of us.
One thing I now do is end each day with a list
of things I will accomplish the next day. I
will sometimes turn off my e-mail and not answer
my phone so that I can finish a book edit or
a project analysis or review new undercover
videos or prepare a memo for long-term strategy.
These sorts of things are not urgent, they could
wait, but they are very important. I turn off
the onslaught of "urgent" stuff that
really doesn't need my immediate attention,
and I accomplish something.
Another book that offers some very useful tips
for effective advocacy is Dale Carnegie's How
to Win Friends and Influence People, which
could easily be retitled, The Basics of Human
Nature. Some of the anecdotes are amusingly
outdated, but mostly, it's a book about being
mindful and understanding in our interactions
The first principle from Carnegie that I want
to cover is that we should look presentable
so that our appearance does not distract from
our message: the suffering of animals.
Ask yourself, if you were the chicken on the
factory farm, drugged and bred so that you couldn't
even stand up, or the pig in the slaughterhouse,
drowning in boiling water, how would you want
your advocates to look? I don't believe our
personal desire to reject society's norms is
nearly so important as advocating effectively
for animals. If our goal is to be as effective
as we possibly can be in behalf of animals,
it is absolutely essential that we put our personal
desires second to animals' singular desire to
have us be effective advocates.
This argument applies to health as well. I
am consistently amazed by advocates who ignore
their own health. The fact is that if you look
sickly or seem lethargic, you'll be less effective
as an advocate. If you are frequently sick,
drop dead from a heart attack, or end up in
the chemotherapy ward, you're making veganism
look bad and you're no longer helping animals!
Also, if your diet consists of junk food, other
potential vegans will think that's all that
vegans can eat, and they'll be less likely to
want to be a part of it.
The second principle is to always be respectful,
even if the other person seems not to warrant
it. Being discourteous or saying something nasty
is never effective. I say something like, "Have
a nice day, sir," or if it's a slow leafleting
session, I might say, "Would you like to
talk about that?" Not only am I taking
the moral high ground in the eyes of others,
I'm consistently surprised by how often I'm
able to have excellent conversations with seemingly
No matter how right you are, the question we
must ask ourselves in every situation is "What's
in the best interests of animals?" Please
allow me to repeat: It is never in animals'
interests for you to say something disrespectful
to someone in a discussion of animal rights
The third vital Carnegie principle is the art
of convincing people through dialogue. Try not
to make your vegan advocacy a monologue--and
especially not a ranting one.
This is the one that I had the most problems
with when I first became a vegan. The weight
of all the animals' suffering on factory farms
and in slaughterhouses enraged me. Consequently,
I wanted to beat everyone into becoming a vegetarian
or a vegan, to force them to share my horror
and outrage. I am now convinced that this is
not the most effective way to convince people
to change their behavior.
I know that there are situations--far too common--where
you don't even open your mouth and people are
on the defensive; they feel judged simply because
you are a vegan. Don't let their anger make
you angry. Practice staying calm and good-natured.
If they bring it up first, try to laugh and
say, "Hey, you brought it up. I'm happy
to talk about it, but you seem kind of angry
right now. Let me offer you this vegetarian
starter kit and maybe we can talk about it later."
Everyone wants to be liked. Everyone thinks
of themselves as a decent person. If we grant
people the opportunity to be heard--even if
they don't seem to deserve it--we can be far
more effective in our interactions. Certainly,
everyone witnessing the conversation will come
away with a good impression of us and, thus,
of animal rights activists in general.
Learning From Our Mistakes: Five Things
We Do Wrong
The number one thing that we do wrong--and
I am speaking from many years of doing this
myself--is that we place personal purity ahead
of being as effective as possible for animals.
We lose sight of the fact that veganism is not
an end in and of itself but rather a means of
ending cruelty to animals. Being vegan is not
about being perfect and causing no cruelty at
all--it's about decreasing suffering as effectively
Animals don't need your purity, or else it
would make sense to go live in a cabin in the
woods, causing as little harm as possible. What
the animals need is your advocacy--and they
need for it to be as effective and influential
as possible. Ultimately, veganism can't just
be about us, or it will become just one more
narcissistic cultural fad. Veganism must be
about helping animals.
So the issue of personal purity becomes one
of basic math: Adopting a vegan diet means you're
not supporting the torment and slaughter of
dozens of animals every single year. Helping
just one more person to go vegan will save twice
as many animals. But the reverse is also true:
If you do something that prevents another person
from adopting a vegan diet, if your example
puts up a barrier where you might have built
a bridge, that hurts animals--so then it becomes
anti-vegan, if vegan means helping animals.
We all know that the number one reason why
people don't go vegan is that they don't think
it's convenient enough, and we all know people
whose reason for not going vegan is that they
"can't" give up cheese or ice cream.
But instead of making it easier for them to
help animals, we often make it more difficult.
Instead of encouraging them to stop eating all
other animal products besides cheese or ice
cream, we preach to them about the oppression
of dairy cows. Then we go on about how we don't
eat sugar or a veggie burger because of the
bun, even though a tiny bit of butter flavor
in a bun supports significantly less suffering
than eating any non-organic fruit or vegetable,
or using a plastic bottle, or about 100 other
things that most of us do. Our fanatical obsession
with ingredients not only obscures the animals'
suffering--which was virtually non-existent
for that tiny modicum of ingredient--but nearly
guarantees that those around us are not going
to make any change at all. So, we've preserved
our personal purity, but we've hurt animals--and
Always, always, always remember: Veganism isn't
a dogma. Veganism is about stopping suffering.
Let me say that again, as a 17-year vegan: Veganism
is not a list of ingredients or a set of rules.
Being vegan is about doing our best to help
animals. So it requires thought, not a checklist.
In the same vein, I went years refusing to
eat with meat-eaters. Please be aware that many
meat-eaters read your non-attendance as either
deprivation, self-righteousness, or both, and
that's the sort of club nobody wants to join.
"You can't even go to parties, can't go
out to eat, whatever. Who wants to live like
If you agree with me that the animal rights
movement is the moral imperative of our time,
then I hope that you will also agree that animal
rights must be our focus. So we must accept
people where they are and not argue with them
about other issues, even if they try to distract
us. Often, people will feel more comfortable
discussing an issue that they've thought a lot
about, so in response to your vegetarianism,
they'll ask you about abortion, God, or politics.
If we make veganism and animal rights a package
deal that includes other issues, it will be
easier for others to dismiss us. Someone who
might have otherwise considered veganism might
write you off because of your position on the
death penalty or abortion. And really, there's
also the "Why bother?" factor since,
for example, you are far more likely to awaken
a conservative to the animal issues they may
not have considered than to sway them to reject
their political philosophies. In fact, some
of the best advocates for animals are not progressives,
including George W. Bush's vegan senior speechwriter,
Matthew Scully, as well as former Congressional
members Bob Smith and Bob Dornan. Bob Dole was
much better on animal issues than Bill Clinton,
and right-wing ideologues like G. Gordon Liddy
and Oliver North are quite sympathetic to animal
issues, while political liberals like Bill Press
and Michael Moore are dismissive at best.
Also, if we're advocating a certain type of
vegan diet, such as macrobiotic or raw foods,
that could harm animals because it's far harder
to follow these diets than a vegan one. And
remember, most meat-eaters are already worried
about what they're going to eat if they give
up meat. Our message must be the animals' suffering,
not our personal dietary preferences where those
preferences don't actually help animals.
Finally, please try to use the Carnegie principles
in every interaction you have: Dress nicely,
be respectful, have a conversation not a dictation,
never lose your cool, and never be rude. When
you fail to be as positive and constructive
as possible, you fail to help animals. It is
always good to listen and affirm people, to
ask questions, and then to really listen to
the answers, bringing the discussion back to
the things that they already believe and how
the case for compassion connects with those
Animal activism in the developed world has
never been stronger or more effective. We have
more and more people going into the streets
showing what happens on factory farms and in
slaughterhouses, taking seriously the need to
be not just active, but as effective and focused
In the U.S., given the quantity of animals'
suffering, the extent to which they are suffering,
and the stupid and gluttonous reasons why they
are intentionally made to suffer so horribly,
I am convinced that animal liberation is the
moral imperative of our time. I firmly believe
that our focus must be on ending the suffering
and the death as quickly and efficiently as
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