I don’t think I can call myself an activist quite yet. I put a lot of time and energy into my two biggest passions, veganism and environmentalism, but for now I would simply consider myself an advocate. I spent countless hours watching vegan activists online before I became vegan, and I frequently engage with the environmentalist community online. After attending my first strikes and marches, I have a renewed perspective on the activism for these two issues.
I attended the Global Climate Strike at the Capitol in Atlanta this September. It was nice to join with like-minded people and rally together, but otherwise, it left me kind of sick to my stomach. I couldn’t help but wonder if this gathering would actually cause any substantial change. Sure, we were demonstrating that the movement is growing, but what else? Did we all drive gas cars to get there? How many of us were going to stop at McDonald’s on the way home? Was the march empowering spectators to take their own action in slowing climate change? It felt pointless.
On November 10, I attended the first ever Animal Rights March in Atlanta. Before arriving, I was scared that the turnout would be low or that the attendees would be leaning on extreme. I care about veganism a lot, and I didn’t want to end up disappointed if this first march just reinforced that vegans are outspoken extremists. When I arrived, however, the turnout was lovely. Some of the phrases on our posters were blunt, but I wasn’t too worried.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this gathering would actually cause any substantial change.
After marching slowly around the Georgia Aquarium, surrounded by young children and their families, I started to feel icky again. People were filming us. We got very few cheers or signals of appreciation. Some of the organizers of the event shouted profanity through the microphone near these kids. I was worried about the movement. Instead of promoting peace, were we distancing people from veganism? Were we perpetuating that all vegans are crazed lunatics?
I can’t poll the families that saw the Animal Rights March, but I can make a guess that it didn’t push most people closer to veganism.
Despite these sentiments, I am still grateful that I could attend these two events and be a part of this turning point in history for veganism and environmentalism. It really is wonderful. My only concern is the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of these demonstrations.
This all pushes me to think about that infamous Ben Shapiro quote, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” I mean, clearly facts don’t care about feelings, but people do. Even though these movements are just spreading facts, they should still consider how their audience will feel about the movement.
I have realized that I believe both facts and feelings are equally important. I can spout my logic on animal exploitation however I want, but I won’t change anybody’s heart unless I present it in the right way (Earthling Ed and Benny the Vegan on Youtube are experts at this!). Failing to consider people’s feelings and reactions can hinder the progress of logic.
I should mention that, in some cases, disregarding emotions can be effective activism depending on the audience. That’s why so many people resonate with Ben Shapiro. It is also why Gary Yourofsky’s blunt and honest vegan activism changed so many hearts back when he was a world-renowned activist.
For an inexperienced advocate like me that handles topics as controversial as climate change and veganism, however, I think a more calm, calculated, and deliberate approach to activism is necessary. We shouldn’t shy away from exposing the dark truths of the world and the things that deserve attention. We should present movements, however, in a way that meets the audience where they’re at. In my case, many people are completely uninformed on these issues and their solutions. Instead of dividing people and pushing them away from movements, the focus should be on education and empowerment. Activists can educate their audience on the reality of these issues, and they can follow up by empowering them with solutions to these problems.
Hopefully, this way, activism can gain more momentum and peaceful movements can be interpreted as just that: peaceful.