Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Giving Thanks

One of the worst consequences the animal rights movement faces is having its activists become burned out. Many of us remember our first days after we opened our eyes to the interests of non-human animals, the passion we felt to do anything, everything, just so we could feel like we were doing something. Often times this early excitement can lead us to try a lot of things that are unproductive or even unnecessarily dangerous, but many more times it does a great deal of good for the animals as well. Some of us manage to maintain this enthusiasm for years to come, but along the way, many of the activists we once knew will become burned out from activism and this can leave many animals suffering that may have otherwise been saved.

It is entirely understandable why people become burned out. I cannot even begin to recount to you all the negative responses I've gotten from people by merely identifying as an animal rights activist in front of them. When handing out Vegan Outreach literature I have probably received nearly a thousand snide remarks from people telling me how much they love meat. Like any good activist I'll take this with a smile and an affirmation of their experience while trying to open up a conversation with them, but such consistent dismissal is trying on even the toughest hearted of us.

Admittedly out of every thousand people you talk to there will be a handful who will thank you for what you are doing, but for me, the experiences that have the biggest impact and that keep me leafleting into the future is the one person out of every couple thousand who comes back to me later and says, “This had an impact on me. I have changed my diet because of what you've done. Thank you.” Without a doubt, many more people get away without ever getting the chance to thank us for what we've done, but those few thanks we do receive make a world of difference in keeping activists working on behalf of all animals.

People Who Changed Me

This post is also a chance for me to thank those who have had an impact on me.

Almost exactly two years ago now Eleni Vlachos and Rob Gilbride were on tour around the country showing off Eleni's documentary “Seeing Through The Fence”, playing music with their band, and leafleting colleges along the way. At the time I was a couple of months into running a vegan club I had started at my university, and they offered to stop by along their way, inviting us to leaflet the campus with them and offering to show their documentary if we were willing to present it. That was the first time I had ever leafleted and I was incredibly nervous at the time confronting people with information in such a fashion. Eleni and Rob were excellent teachers and after handing out only a few booklets I was feeling much more comfortable. I have now handed out well over 15,000 Vegan Outreach booklets along with engaging in countless other forms of activism, and I would have never had the nerve to have started if not for the two of them.

Brian Grupe is a full-time paid leafleter for Vegan Outreach. In early June of 2009 most colleges had already let out and Brian was leafleting some local high schools that were still in session, one of which my younger brother happened to still be attending. My brother saw the booklets Brian was handing out and immediately recognized them as being the same ones I had showed him in my own room. He called me up on the spot thinking this was some sort of joke I was pulling on him, and upon finding out it wasn't put me on the line with Brian. Since then Brian has taken me under his wing as an activist. He has taught me huge amounts about being an effective advocate for the animals and has been kind and encouraging along the way. There are without a doubt people who are vegan today who would not be if not for the voice Brian has given me.

On March 1st, 2008 I was a lone vegetarian who didn't know a single other vegan or vegetarian in the world. On March 2nd I found the Vegan Freak podcast and Bob and Jenna Torres ended up changing me forever. By the end of the month I was vegan, never to look back. Bob and Jenna made me realize that being vegan was possible, realistic, and that it could even be somewhat humorous at times despite the seriousness of the issue. For me they were the long overdue straw to break the camel's back and for that I certainly owe them my thanks.

What Keeps Me Going

There is also one piece of thanks that I have received that I'd like to share. This came from someone who attended one of the meetings of my vegan club late last year in hopes of writing a report on us. She ended up not writing the report, but sticking with the meetings, eventually turning vegan herself and is now an active part of running the club. I received this message from her a few months ago.

i still haven't gotten over that feeling of standing on the table and shouting at all the people [...] eating their nasty [...] omni meals. i am so eager to tell people i am vegan.. i almost go out of my way to tell people. i guess i am proud. i wish people would ask me questions about it instead of just saying, "oh i could never do that"... and anytime i do try to say something i feel like they are automatically turned off by not only the idea, but of ever hanging out with me for fear of being 'lectured'.

[...] sometimes it is just a bit overwhelming to think of the blissfully unaware and deliberately unaware people. i can't believe that vegans are the minority! i mean how on earth could it be that such tremendous cruelty and pain and suffering is the norm???

hmph. i am very proud of the decision i have made... thanks for helping me see the light [...] i really am eternally grateful.

To the person who wrote me this message, I just want you to know that the small effort you made to share this with me is paying dividends for the animals many times over now.

Please feel free to share stories of people who have influenced you toward helping animals in the comments, but more importantly share the story of how they helped you with them! Send them an e-mail, a facebook message, or even tell them in person. It will mean a ton to them and make a huge difference for the animals.

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