Let me start by saying I don’t know the best approach to vegan advocacy. I’ve long thought that all approaches are spokes on a wheel rolling towards animal liberation.
There’s an old adage: You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I haven’t field-tested this because I don’t do honey. And what the hell would I be doing catching flies anyway? What’s relevant about this saying is the way we vegans do outreach.
I have often thought that the stereotype of the angry, in your face vegan was mostly just that, a stereotype, an image promoted by meat-eaters as justification for their meat-eating ways, promoting, “I wouldn’t want to be like him.” But I’ve actually known a few loud, angry vegans. I’ve even stood in the street with a sign a couple of times, once with a friend with a bullhorn. Sometimes you just have to do that to let off steam, but is it effective?
One vegan I know was recently kicked out of a Facebook group because he personified the concept of Vegan Police. He expressed pride at being an angry vegan. He chastised people in the group that he didn’t think were as vegan as he was. He insulted a Bookclub Meetup Group for reading How to Create a Vegan World because it embraced incremental change that didn’t fit into his philosophy.
I don’t disparage the work of those who stand in the streets wearing Guy Fawkes masks or those who write angry letters to the editors of their newspapers. All methods of outreach are important, but I think some are more effective than others.
In the beginning of our veganism, most of us were angry; most of us wanted to change the world overnight. We were greatly saddened by the number of animals slaughtered each day. As much as you and I hate to face it, we were unable to change the world overnight. We haven’t been able to change it even when we have pointed out that animal agriculture is causing damage to the environment which will destroy most life on this planet. I have become negative in my outlook. I don’t think we can prevent a dystopian future. In my mind, I can only convince people to go vegan so that they don’t have to be a part of this horrible process, and we can hope that life will rebound.
Many people still have optimism. They see veganism as a major trend, that more and more restaurants are offering vegan options and companies are producing new meat alternatives. At the same time, a recent United Nations report revealed that a million of the planet’s eight million known species are threatened with extinction because of human activities. The report had the optimistic view that we could change things if we act right now. Will we act right now? Are we near the tipping point? It’s up to us to be the change we want to see. It’s up to us to be the most effective activists we can be. It’s justifiable to be angry, but we should balance our anger with successful tactics if we really hope to make a difference.
As Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
How to Create a Vegan World, by Tobias Leenaert
The Animal Activist’s Handbook, by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich
Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, by Nick Cooney
Strategic Action for Animals, by Melanie Joy
Greg Lawson, VLCE, retired in 2015 after serving as a National Park Service ranger for 30 years. He is Vice President of the Veg Society of El Paso and has been a speaker at NAVS Vegan Summerfest and FARM’s National Animal Rights Conference. For 16 years he has hosted Animal Concerns of Texas, a vegan radio show on KTEP, National Public Radio for the Southwest.