Activism can take many forms, and I believe that we can all make a difference no matter how small even with the most seemingly insignificant actions. Today I will be talking about and exploring street activism.
Street activism is not for everyone, both for activists and their audience. However the importance of such activism cannot be overlooked, regardless of the few who may not understand the compassion behind the message. PETA is a highly vocal organisation that performs and encourages street activism. Although there is much about the group that many, myself included disagree on, their activism is often very powerful. Their most powerful activism is often the most controversial, and this can be said of many of the activists I will be looking at through the vegan activism series. Often the most reported activism involves the activists putting themselves in the positions of the animals, ‘personifying’ the exploitation. Other methods can include questioning pedestrians, as has been seen time and time again by many prominent online ‘controversial’ vegans.
Both PETA and Direct Action Everywhere have been criticised by vegans and non-vegans alike due to their controversial ‘stunts’. The recent actions of Direct Action Everywhere in relation to Bernie Sander’s campaign in the United States has further aided the branding of vegans as irrational and hot headed. Personally I find it hard to see the value of this particular stunt, as the issue of animal rights was not the focus of the spectators, rather it became the ’emotionally unstable’ animal rights activist. It is a difficult balance to find, be loud but not too loud seems to be the message, but how can vegans work with that message to spread theirs? Perhaps then this highlights the importance of speaking up, regardless of how small your audience is. Half a million Brits all singing from the same hymn sheet will surely have more power than one singular voice hated on one hand and loved by the other? These are questions I can’t answer yet. Do these stunts make vegans look bad? Occasionally, I agree they do, but in the same breath even if one person is motivated to make a change then it cannot be looked upon as a failure.
The power of proactive activism can be seen in the impact that it has on society and the industries that exploit animals for profit, and this is reflected throughout the media. Here is an article I found whilst researching examples of activism for this piece. It touches on a form of activism I hope to research further and write about in the weeks to come . This piece presents the real threat that animal activists are to the meat and dairy industries through undercover investigations, and although they are writing the activists as the bad guys, it just leaves me wondering, if they are doing absolutely nothing wrong, why fear exposure? Why would a farm need a crisis management plan if what goes on behind their doors is ‘humane’ and ‘right’? More on this to follow.
My personal experience with street activism was largely positive, however handing out leaflets to university students in the city wasn’t the most controversial form of activism I could have done. Overall I handed out over one thousand leaflets for Vegan Outreach – although their paid associate that accompanied us on the day did have rather questionable dining habits for a ‘vegan’. I’m not the type of person you would expect to see handing out leaflets and speaking to people, however I was grateful for the chance to give it a go, and I did find a sense of pride in myself for doing it. I can’t say how many people simply dropped their leaflets on the floor or threw them away, but again, even if one person looked through the pages and decided to make a change we made a difference that day. Looking back, considering my household’s recent ethical changes in our lifestyle beyond veganism, I can’t say I would leaflet again, and I believe that there are more environmentally friendly ways to spread the vegan message, however I do not regret the experience. I would recommend that anyone and everyone try street activism, even if it isn’t for veganism. It’s a challenge, but it is a wonderful way to increase confidence and communication skills, not forgetting the potential impact for the animals.
Something that I wanted to broadcast in this post is a steadily growing form of activism, known as the Earthlings Experience, with over five thousand people supporting the movement on Facebook. This activism involves masked individuals presenting Earthlings to anyone and everyone, often in city centres to gain the largest audience possible. So often people refuse to look at animal cruelty, where their food and clothing comes from, but this form of activism can move more people to open their eyes and look. Earthlings is an incredibly powerful film, and if there are any non-vegans reading this post, I strongly recommend that you watch it. If you are vegan, I see no need to put yourself through the heartache of watching it, but if they will listen to you I would suggest presenting it to family and friends. If you’re in Leeds this Saturday, show your support to the wonderful activists who will be standing up for animal rights in the city centre. For more details see their Facebook event here.
There is so much more to say, and I will be writing much more about vegan activism in all forms over the coming weeks and months. My aim is to keep the posts here short and sweet, so watch out for further additions to this series and topic. Thanks for reading, and if you have any experience with street activism let me know how you found it!