Activist Profile: Eileen Botti
As we’ve done in the past, Vegan Outreach is profiling some of our top leafleters. This week, we feature Eileen Botti. In just one incredible semester of part-time leafleting, Eileen handed out over 29,000 booklets to college and high school students in the New York City area!
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up in Middletown NY, which is about an hour northwest of NYC. Now I live just north of NYC, in Sleepy Hollow, which is a little town on the Hudson River, home of the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and the headless horseman!
What are your favorite things to do outside of leafleting?
I enjoy vegan cooking and baking, culinary school, playing the piano, board games, traveling, and outdoor stuff like camping, hiking, biking, rafting, and swimming.
Who has been / is a major influence in your life and why?
Hearing about the work of other activists and groups is so inspiring, especially regarding youth outreach and work being done for farmed animals. I am amazed every day by the amount of work being done to help animals. Also, hearing stories about amazing animals, like Queenie, the cow who escaped slaughter in Queens, gives me a lot of motivation.
How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested?
I became a vegetarian in 2001 after my friend Cole, the only vegetarian I knew at the time, gave a talk about factory farming in our high school public speaking class. Fast forward to college: my friend Becca – the only vegan I knew – worked with me on a campaign to ban Donkey Basketball from our campus. We won! Shortly after that, we attended the Liberation Now! Youth Animal Rights Conference in 2003. After hearing some inspiring talks and viewing Peaceable Kingdom, I decided it was time to go vegan and get active for animals. When I returned to school, I started up an AR group on campus, focusing on outreach, demos, and campaigns like veganizing the cafeteria. It was a ton of fun! Special shoutout to Cole and Becca!
What made you decide to start leafleting?
Although I did a lot of tabling with my campus AR group in college, we really didn’t hand out much literature. My first involvement with regular leafleting was when I worked for PETA in 2005. We set up an educational display with pictures and video about chickens each day on the National Mall in DC, and handed out Vegetarian Starter Kits and VegDC guides to tourists who passed by the display. I learned so much about friendly and effective outreach during this time, especially from my coworkers, Amber Coon, Drew Wilson, and Matt Dunn. The following year, I got involved with Vegan Outreach leafleting when I heard that Jenna Calabrese was in town, hitting up the colleges in NYC.
What was your most positive leafleting experience and why?
During my first semester with Vegan Outreach, a student approached me with a huge smile on her face and excitedly said, "Hey, I just wanted to tell you that you totally changed my life and I wanted to thank you. I read the booklet you gave me a few months ago when you were here and haven’t eaten any meat since then." I recognized her and remembered answering some lengthy questions about veganism the last time I was at this school. While I knew that leafleting was effective, this was the first time that I saw the direct impact of a leaflet I handed out, and it was very empowering.
What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?
It can be intimidating to show up to a college all by yourself with a box of leaflets. I still get nervous sometimes when I show up to a big school, but once I get started, the nerves go away and I have fun with it! Just be yourself – I find I have a lot more fun when I’m smiling and being friendly, and that more people take a leaflet, too.
Also, don’t worry about being an encyclopedia of animal rights information or having a prepared response for every question someone might ask. I still get questions sometimes that I do not know the answer to – in that case, I am honest and just refer them to a GCFE, or suggest a website for them to check out.
Remember that college students are used to having things handed out to them, and pretty much anyone can fit in at a college – young or old. If it’s your first time, maybe try it out for just a short time during lunch hour with a small number of leaflets. It’s a great way to get involved, and I think you’ll really enjoy it!