With World Farm Animals Day upon us, this is a good time to consider what each of us is doing for animals. The sad truth is, wherever you are in the world, non-human animals are being exploited. Not just farmed animals, of course, but companion animals, animals in labs, animals raised for fur, animals used for entertainment and animals who are shot, hooked, netted, trapped, speared or otherwise killed because someone thinks it’s fun or profitable.
Being an animal activist means speaking out against these abuses. It means telling family and friends why you have made the decision not to exploit animals. It means cutting through the clutter, speaking over the static, agitating the status quo and explaining to the public why animals are not ours to use.
I am sometimes asked about the title of my book, and what I believe to be the “root” cause of animal abuse. I think the root cause is the public’s nearly total lack of knowledge about what is happening to animals every moment of every day. This in turn is enabled by animal enterprises like agribusiness and medical researchers, which work to make people feel good about eating animals, using them as test subjects, exploiting them for our amusement and so much more. That’s why effective animal activism addresses both the public and the businesses abusing animals. People need to understand animal cruelty is happening all the time, not just when an undercover video is shown on the news, and that our daily choices directly impact how animals are treated. Businesses and policymakers need to know people won’t tolerate animal abuse.
When it comes down to activism, all forms are important, because you never know what is going to inspire someone, and it’s usually not just one thing that does it. So here are 10 things you can do to help animals ― on World Farm Animals Day and every day:
1. Leaflet. I think it’s hard to beat leafleting at a college. It’s easy to do, the students are ripe for change and it helps disabuse people of the myth that activists are in some way different from the mainstream. Other places to leaflet include farmers’ markets, concerts, fairs and busy downtown areas. You can order flyers and leaflets from Vegan Outreach, Animals Australia, Mercy for Animals, PETA, Vegetarian Action and many other groups.
2. Bring a vegan dish to work or school. The simple act of sharing a delicious plant-based meal with someone more accustomed to dining on dead animals may not inspire them to immediately embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle, but it removes another brick from the massive edifice built upon the myths of ethical eating: that vegan food is strange, that it is hard to prepare and, perhaps the biggest false premise, that a meat-based diet is ideal for optimum health.
3. Join or start a local group. Many campuses have an animal rights or vegetarian club; try searching online. If there’s not a group in your area, why not start one? It needn’t be a huge undertaking; just start small and find like-minded people willing to collaborate. You can post a notice on Web sites like craigslist or vegetarian/vegan sites in your geographical area, asking people to join.
4. Give a talk. Do you enjoy public speaking? You can speak to school and community groups about such issues as factory farming, veganism and animal rights. It’s not as daunting as it sounds. Consider taking a class in public speaking at your community college, or join Toastmasters to get your skill and confidence levels up.
5. Table. Arrange a selection of leaflets, fact sheets, stickers and other printed information on a folding table or something similar in a public area (just don’t block entry into businesses). Some of the best locations for setting up activist tables are government-owned property like metro stations, public streets and even some convention centers. Your table can also display a banner and even show a video ― anything to attract people and help them understand the extent of animal abuse in our culture. Ask a like-minded, outgoing friend to join you and the experience will be more enjoyable. One person can stand behind the table while the other mingles with the flow of foot traffic, handing out leaflets and directing people to your display.
6. Volunteer at a farmed animal sanctuary. Sanctuaries are always in need of committed, reliable volunteers who don’t mind a little physical labor. I highly recommend activists spend time directly helping animals, as this is not just good for them ― it will help your commitment to being an animal activist. If there’s not a sanctuary for farmed animals in your area, volunteer at a shelter. And think creatively: it’s not just your county or city animal shelter that needs help, but groups that rescue or assist rabbits, dogs, pigs, feral cats, horses and just about every other exploited animal. I’ll bet there’s a group like this near you. Give them a call.
7. Join a writers group. Since the Letters page is one of the most highly read sections of newspapers and magazines, a letter to the editor is one of the best tools animal activists have for making our message heard. Letters to editors are easy to write, and every community has at least one newspaper. Groups like Animal Liberation Victoria, PETA, East Bay Animal Advocates and Mercy For Animals are always looking for writers. They’ll send you links to stories in the news, along with tips on how to submit your letter.
8. Set up a signature line in your email with links to one or two of your favorite animal rights videos or current campaigns. These auto-signature lines are one of the easiest ways to spread the message.
9. Support an organization. You may feel giving money is just “checkbook activism.” Yet, while I encourage everyone to get active for animals, there are a number of groups doing wonderful things on behalf of non-human animals around the world. (You can also set up an account with a site like iGive.com or goodsearch.com, which allow you to support animal groups with a percentage of your online shopping.) Do a little research and find a grassroots organization that is working on a particular issue you want to support, such as anti-factory farming, anti-fur, anti-vivisection or anti-blood sports. Ask them for more information. What are their goals and approaches to animal rights activism? How much of their budget is spent on campaigns vs. administrative costs and fundraising? What are some examples of their success? A small donation might go a long way toward helping.
Whatever you do, remember that the public is always assessing animal activism, so be polite, be prepared to answer common questions — such as “Where do you get your protein?” — and bear in mind that not everyone is going to get it right away. Most of us grew up eating meat, so try not to be too hard on people.