Best advice for animal activists – part one

July 30, 2012

Farm Sanctuary’s Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives Bruce Friedrich was recently asked to share his “top three pieces of advice for aspiring and fellow activists to become more effective.” His response will appear in the forthcoming book Strategic Compassion by Ben Davidow.

Matt Ball and I wrote a book about how advocates can be maximally effective for animals, The Animal Activist’s Handbook. Peter Singer says about the book: “Rarely have so few pages contained so much intelligence and good advice. Get it, read it, and act on it. Now.” Taken from our book, my top three recommendations are:

1. Remember the multiplier

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you’re saving dozens of land animals and even more sea animals every single year. That’s something to be proud of, and it’s a deeply powerful statement in support of compassion and mercy and against cruelty and misery. Amazingly, if you convince one more person to adopt a vegetarian diet, in that moment you’ve doubled your lifetime effect as a vegetarian. So we should all be doing what we can to influence others to adopt a vegetarian diet, including little things like wearing vegetarian T-shirts and putting “Happy Vegetarian” bumper stickers on our cars and laptops, and bigger things like getting active through Vegan Outreach’s Adopt a College campaign or Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign.

2. Pretend you’re Socrates

Socrates asked questions of those with whom he was engaged to help others see that their current moral paradigms supported his position. We should also do precisely that. No one wants to support cruelty to animals, and yet anyone who is eating meat is supporting egregious abuse. So our best way of engaging with people is to help them question how, when eating meat, their values and actions are not in alignment. All other arguments are a diversion from this central and winning argument—which should be framed as a discussion, not a diatribe.

3. Don’t get discouraged

As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s remarkable to think that for most of human history, humans have considered it acceptable for some humans to hold others as slaves, and for women to be—for all intents and purposes—the property of their husbands. Think for a moment about how quickly that understanding has completely changed in the developed world—in just a few generations. There’s so much animal suffering that it’s easy to get discouraged, but we shouldn’t: We have science, logic, and morality on our side; it’s only a matter of time before we win.

 

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Best advice for animal activists – part two

July 30, 2012

Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign Manager Nick Cooney was recently asked to share his “top three pieces of advice for aspiring and fellow activists to help them become more effective” in 400 words. The following is his advice, which will appear in the forthcoming book Strategic Compassion by Ben Davidow.

1. Think like a businessperson

It is wonderful to care about animals.  And, if we do care, we certainly want to be maximally effective with our advocacy efforts.  That means we should focus on the activities that help as many animals as possible.  So, we need to think like businesspeople. Companies have a financial bottom line, and every decision they make is based on whether it’s good or bad for that bottom line. We need to be just as calculating in our work. We need to look at the different advocacy programs out there and decide which of them will allow us to help the greatest number of animals possible and reduce the greatest amount of suffering possible.

2. Ask, “How many animals did I help?”

An easy way to see how effective we’ve been is to ask ourselves (perhaps each month), “How many animals did I help this month?” You might not know an exact number, but you can get a decent sense. If you’ve passed out a couple hundred leaflets to college students you’ve probably gotten one person to go veg and spared 30 animals a year a life of misery. If you’ve shown a video on animal cruelty to 100 people, probably one has gone veg and you’ve also spared 30 animals. These are complete ballpark estimates, but it’s clear that the end result of either of these activities (or similar veg advocacy work) is dramatically higher than many other forms of animal activism. The next important question to ask yourself is, “How can I help a greater number of animals next month?”

3. Be more like your audience

People are more likely to listen to you, and be persuaded by you to care about farm animals, if you look, talk, act, and interact like them. No matter how you may be in your regular life, the more you can look and act like your audience when doing veg advocacy the more effective you will be and the more animals you will spare. Consider it like wearing a uniform to work: uncomfortable, but important to success. And it is doubly important for us because lives are on the line.

 

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The Summer Outreach Challenge is in full effect

By Nick Cooney

July 24, 2012

Kudos to the 60 volunteers who have signed up for the Summer Outreach Challenge and are each aiming to reach 1,000 people this summer with booklets or videos about farm animal cruelty and healthy plant-based eating:

Jessica Spain, Anne Kennedy, Audrey Fotouhi, Katie Moore, Robin Skov, Brandi Duffy, Barbera Thumann-Calderaro, Virginia Hanrahan, Desi Harpe, Dawn Nichols, Dennis Akpan, Don Blackowiak, Eileen Persichetti, Kamal Prasad, Emmaly Beck, Gail Mayer, Renee Gallaway, Gina Esposito, Greg Brumfield, Jolene Olson, Jen Manzari, Judi Megarity, Jonathan Hussain, Karen James, Kimberly Floyd, Laney Hopper, Laura Lyons, Shauna Saling, Malik McLean, Marilyn Nusbaum, Linda Marcovici, Maria Alexandre, Megan Della Fave, Meredith Hemphill, Michelle Brown, Milena Esherick, Myleme Montplaisir, Heather Stadther, Pam Driggs, Pamela Coleman, Patricia Massari, Patricia Haddock, Sarah, Piper Crussell, Ryan Wychowanec, Carla Wilson, Sarah Woodcock, Sherri Hendricks, Sherry Liu, Sarah Shaffer, Sue Bruzzese, Steve Small, Susan Earnest, Silvana Singer, Hilary, Tina Horowitz, Virigina Fitt, Wendy Cliggott, Victoria, Denise Anderson, and Hussein Mourtada.

On behalf of the animals at Farm Sanctuary, and farm animals across the country, thank you! June was our most successful month yet with more than 25,000 leaflets and starter guides distributed!

Challenge participants and other Compassionate Communities volunteers had this to say about their recent work for animals:

“Thank you so very much for sending me the Compassionate Choices leaflets and the Guide to Meat Free Meals. My family started handing them out immediately. My daughter took some to school to pass out to her classmates; I took them to work and passed them out to everybody, and gave one to my hairdresser as I have been discussing this with her for weeks.” –Brenda Lyon

“It was a beautiful day, and I think the turnout was probably their best ever!  I had about 170 people stop by my table…Cute story for Gene:  I had a copy of his book displayed, and one woman said she read it after it literally fell on her head at the library!  Her husband also read it, and it was the impetus for them going vegetarian.” –Susan Jones

“Just want to give you a status report for Central Valley Animal Liberation. We are well on our way to meeting the Summer Outreach Challenge…Grand total: 750 [leaflets distributed so far].” Jonathan Hussain

“My parents have always been indiscriminate carnivores. I used to think that I could simply lead by example, but when I realized that my dining/living habits weren’t really changing their hearts or minds, I sent them two very passionate emails. Yesterday, my dad emailed me back to say that my arguments were very compelling and because of them, he and my mom are going to phase meat out of their diet! Hooray! I’m looking forward to handing out leaflets and making starter kits available – hopefully we can reach even more people.” Meg York

 

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The Caring Vegetarian

By Nick Cooney

July 12, 2012

“There are more important problems to worry about than animals.”

If you’re an animal advocate, you’ve probably gotten a response like this at least once. You may have heard it at protests, when passing out vegetarian leaflets, or even when speaking with friends about animal cruelty.

As a way to ignore the issue at hand, some people spin things around and accuse animal advocates of being the uncaring ones. There is a persistent notion among some that vegetarians and vegans care only about animals, and not people.

The idea is not a new one. In the 1940s, one leading psychiatry journal even published a scholarly article entitled “The Cruel Vegetarian.”  The author — the head of psychiatry at a major American hospital — argued that vegetarians were domineering and sadistic and that they ‘‘display little regard for the suffering of their fellow human beings.”

Of course we know that is not true. Most animal advocates also care deeply about a broad spectrum of social justice and humanitarian causes. An interesting recent study shows that vegetarians and vegans appear to have more of an empathetic response to both human and animal suffering.

Vegetarian, vegan and omnivore brainsFMRI brain scans showed that the areas of the brain associated with empathy (such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the left inferior frontal gyrus in this study) were more activated in vegetarians and vegans compared to omnivores when all three groups were shown pictures of human or animal suffering. Written questionnaires on empathy, in both this and other studies, seem to confirm higher empathy levels in vegetarians and vegans (Preylo and Arkiwawa, 2008; Filippi et al, 2010).

Why do some people still have the impression that vegetarians care only about animals and not people?

For one thing, sometimes our anger over animal cruelty gets directed at others. While it’s frustrating when someone does not care about animal abuse, we need to realize that attacking them for it does no good for animals. It simply creates more of a divide between us and those we are trying to persuade.

A second reason could be that, although there are many serious issues that are worthy of our attention, we have made the choice to focus on farm animals. Because we focus on these issues and not others (poverty, environmental destruction, human health, etc.), we may unintentionally give the impression that we don’t care about other causes.

So when talking to friends, family or the public, it may be helpful to mention our concern for some of these issues. It’s easy to point out that we eat vegan for the same reason that we donate to fund anti-malaria efforts in Africa: they are both easy ways to reduce the amount of suffering in the world.

And sure, it’s true that a small number of people love and dote on animals but lack much empathy for other human beings. While we may not be able to change their attitude, we can work to ensure that, in our own lives,  our empathy and compassion truly extend to all living creatures.

 

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