Activist Profile: Ben Sylvester
August 14, 2013
Where do you live now?
I am from Lansdale, PA, and I live in Philadelphia.
What are your favorite things to do outside of leafleting?
I enjoy mountain biking, playing trumpet in my college’s jazz band, reading, and writing.
Who has been / is a major influence in your life and why?
For non-activist influences, I’d say my dad is a huge inspiration in my life because of his work ethic; despite everything that could – and did – go wrong, he still would push through and get any job done. My mom and siblings too have influenced me to keep doing my best at school and continue doing animal activism – my family is slowly going vegetarian! For activist influences, I’d say all of The Humane League is a sort of second family that has helped me push through some personal and social boundaries, whether it was learning how to leaflet or how to deal with multiple opinions at once. I was fortunate to go on a leafleting trip with David Coman-Hidy in March of 2012 and within three days I went vegan, after being a vegetarian for two years.
How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested?
I was mostly an environmental activist my freshman year at Pace University, but one of my professors, Laurel Whitney, showed me the basic processes of factory farming. After trying to go vegetarian to lose weight, I focused on being a vegetarian more for the animals. I fully went vegetarian in January 2010 with some negative feedback from my parents, but didn’t focus on activism really until I interned at The Humane League. It was with David Coman-Hidy, Nick Cooney, Kathy Seufert, and Lydia Chaudhry that I felt like I was doing something hugely important, and it encouraged me to work harder and learn more about factory farming and the lives of animals in general.
What made you decide to start leafleting? / Why do you leaflet?
The first leafleting experience I had was while interning with Lydia and Kathy. I was on Market and Broad St. in Center City; it went well, but I wasn’t totally into it. When I met Dave and went to Michigan with him to cover colleges there, he taught me the importance of leafleting and how effective it is. That was enough to really put me on board with leafleting. Since then, I have a lot of fun leafleting! I’ve even leafleted my college in the morning and then went to classes, getting some stares from classmates.
What was your most positive leafleting experience?
Hate to sound like a broken record, but I was leafleting with Dave in Detroit, and a guy about my age came up to me and basically yelled at me about how I was wrong to hand these booklets out, I didn’t know anything about animal agriculture, and I was spreading lies. He left me finally, and after looking totally demoralized, Dave took me to the campus’ Taco Bell (where I learned to make burritos vegan!), and made me feel a little bit better about the whole ordeal. We went out to leaflet again, and this guy went up to Dave and started arguing with him. To be frank and say the least, Dave tore him apart, verbally. Then this same guy came over to me and apologized! I was so shocked that I didn’t fully absorb what just happened until after the trip. Ever since then, I read as much as I could to have an arsenal of comebacks, and the experience taught me to 1) not care about a person’s insults, they’re just disconnected, and 2) remember that ultimately we’re in the right and doing more good than most people. Ever since then, Dave has been a model for me in molding how I approach animal activism.
What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?
1) Bring a friend, even if they are not totally on board with animal advocacy. It’s better to have someone by your side than initially feel vulnerable being alone.
2) Remember that you’re just handing out paper. Have fun doing it! Wear comfy clothes, especially in the winter, and try different ways of spreading the info. Sometimes I’ll say “Free info!” and be able to get a couple hundred out in an afternoon.
3) Also remember that although you’re not handing out gunpowder, these booklets can spark people to become involved almost immediately – I’ve had people hug me and shake my hand for doing this work. You can get people that really appreciate what you do, and there is nothing more satisfying than that.