Last year I had the opportunity to interview Bob and Jenna Torres of Vegan Freak fame. Like most of the activists who gave me suggestions for Striking at the Roots, they offered more input than I was able to fit into the book. But with the advent of this blog, I’m able to post all the advice these authors and podcasters had to share.
What impact do recent media advances like blogging and podcasting have on animal activism?
Bob: The Internet is a wonderful tool, if only because it is radically democratizing. Instead of being rigorously hierarchical, the Internet is more rhizomatic, and it allows for interconnections between people that previously were impossible. This relatively non-hierarchical structure means that we no longer have to be dependent upon large, managed organizations to participate in this movement. We can begin to build something unique, authentic and truly grassroots, rather than the Astro-Turfed populism of the national organizations like PETA or HSUS. The power in using the Internet as an organizing medium to route around the big groups is that we can begin to see truly genuine and unique ideas channeled into activism, rather seeing human creativity forestalled by organizations that call donating money “action.” I also predict that we’ll see increasing empowerment of individuals and more local groups as technologies like podcasts, videocasts and the like become increasingly easy to use. The upsides are tremendous. When we no longer have to rely on “professional” activists and their overpaid CEOs and directors, everyone can be an activist, everyone can be an organizer and everyone can begin to easily work for the abolition of animal exploitation.
Can you share a story that demonstrates how your outreach activities have had an impact on the movement?
Jenna: Bob and I started a vegan podcast (Vegan Freak Radio) and forums in 2005. Being vegan wasn’t enough for us; we wanted to do some activism to share our enthusiasm about veganism. Both the podcast and the forums have been successful beyond what we could have ever imagined in terms of vegan outreach. When we first started our podcast, we envisioned that it would be a support network for people who were already vegan; but as time went on, we realized it was not only that, but also a tool to let people know about the various reasons for going and being vegan. I can’t tell you how many emails we get from listeners to our podcast who have gone vegan after something we said reached them, and for everyone it’s something a little different that resonates.
We started the forums on a whim after publishing our book in 2005. We thought that it would be a simple place to discuss where to get vegan goodies and chat with other vegans. Since we started, we’ve seen the forums grow into a vibrant community of vegans who act as a support structure for each other. Many of the people on the site didn’t know any other vegans when they signed on; the forums give them a place where they don’t feel so alone in their joys and frustrations, and I think many of them are more likely to stay vegan when they realize that there are plenty people out there that are like them. The forums have also been a place where people join together and encourage each other in different types of activism — both virtual and in real life — including letter-writing campaigns, leafleting, cooking classes, art, zines or just acting as a vegan mentor for those around them. The forums have even created real-life community as well. Since we’ve started, there have been meetups all around the world, and we’ve even had two couples who met on the forums get married.
We do both the podcast and the forums on a shoestring budget but have gotten amazing returns in terms of getting people to go and stay vegan and fostering a community that then encourages further creative activism.
What advice would you offer someone who either wants to use your techniques in his/her activism, or wants to do anything at all for animals but doesn’t know how to get started?
Bob: This sounds cheesy, warm and fuzzy and kind of grade-schoolish, but I always say — half jokingly — that each of us is a unique and individual snowflake. Though my term makes fun of the idea, I do truly believe that each person has the ability to leverage their unique talents and ideas for the movement. Everyone has some talent, and my advice is always to use whatever talent you have to support the movement. Many people tell me that they just can’t stomach protesting, leafleting or anything that involves directly confronting people. But that person who doesn’t like to leaflet could maybe serve as a support person by providing warm drinks, a hot meal after the demonstration, rides for folks without cars or even designing some posters. The point is, we all excel at different things, and we just need to find people with whom we can work to leverage all of our individual talents together. Everyone has something they can give, and it may require a little creativity to figure out how to make it fit, but with some effort, you can find something. Ultimately, I don’t believe in just sitting back and letting professional activists do the activism for you. Activism and outreach are wonderful tonics to the occasional aggravation, frustration and helplessness we all feel about the ways animals are treated in our society.
Activism is empowering, and there’s nothing more rewarding than making a changes — however small — in our society. Giving money to groups you support is important, but it shouldn’t be all that you do. Similarly, being vegan is important, but it shouldn’t be all that you do. If you want animal exploitation to end, you have to get out there and fight for it in whatever ways you can. We need as many voices as possible in this fight.