Staying Positive and Effective as an Activist
An activist, by definition, is someone who campaigns for some kind of social change. Throughout history we’ve seen thousands, but some have remained so dear to the human race that we continue to honor them today: Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and all those incredible movers and shakers who led their movements, their social changes, and took the world by storm. It always seems that those who wish to change the world are mocked, considered fanatical, and simply disregarded until they do. But activists, for the most part, do not seem to care if we are mocked or considered fanatical; our concern lies with the humans, the animals, the environment, or whatever it is we strive to save from the destruction. We are in it for the greater good and are willing to isolate ourselves, humiliate, and put ourselves on the spot in front of an extremely judgmental world. This constant being out of our own comfort zones gets to us sometimes, and we begin to fall into a downward spiral of negativity. And the activists who do fall into downward spirals take others down with them; they nag each other, argue over who is “doing more” for the cause, and begin to lose faith in the human race entirely. That is a claim that baffles me entirely. How does one lose faith in the entire human race?
Think about it. You are a human. Other activists, of course, are humans. So it’s clear that there is a percentage of humans, though small as they are, that “get it”- that are fully aware of their decisions and impact on planet Earth and its inhabitants- and are doing everything in their power to change it. But let’s talk about the humans that don’t yet “get it”. The humans who enjoy a steak dinner or a night at the horse races, who don’t check their labels for palm oil or try to reduce resource wastage, who participate in racism, sexism, homophobia and speciesism. Yes, these humans are ignorant. But are they evil? I say no. They are simply unaware. No one is born evil with hatred in their hearts, and society teaches us to participate in cruelty and environmental destruction without knowing it. Most likely, the person eating a steak dinner has never even considered that a cow is every bit as capable as experiencing emotions, pain and consciousness as a dog is, that cattle are full of personality, that cattle in the beef industry are tagged, branded, dehorned, castrated with no anesthetic and crammed into filthy muddy lots, that they die a terrifying and often painful death. Most likely, the person enjoying the horse races is there because he or she loves horses, and again, has no idea that so many horses are sent to slaughter after their glory days are over. Truthfully, most people have never even heard of palm oil- and racism, sexism, homophobia and speciesism have been taught since birth and the majority of people who participate in them do so simply because it’s all they’ve ever known. Still, these practices are simply unnacceptable; so how do we end them? Do we scream at the person eating the steak and call them a “worthless uneducated idiot”, do we cuss out the person eating palm oil, do we call the horse race attendees murderers and tell the judgmental and prejudice-practicing humans they are too ignorant to ever be changed? The answer is no. We do not fight fire with fire, for that only makes the fire grow larger and more dangerous; we fight fire with cool, calming water also known as love. If we wish to bring compassion, kindness and gentleness into the world, then we must practice these virtues. As Gene Baur, vegan activist and farm animal rescuer once said in one of his legendary talks, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?” Sure, by calling that person eating the steak a murderer, you’d be right- because, by paying a middle man to do the dirty work for you, you are participating in second-degree murder. But would it be effective? No. Most likely it would scare the you-know what out of them and completely tarnish their idea of what animal activists stand for. By educating people with kindness, compassion and love, you will fill yourself with the same stuff. Instead of feeling like you haven’t done enough, after each outreach session, each protest, each animal rescue, each blogpost, volunteering session, each conference and city hall meeting, you will feel that wonderful “welling up inside” feeling that I did something good today. People will love you rather than fearing you, and when people love you, they aren’t afraid to approach you and ask questions. No matter how slow their journey towards awareness is, no matter how frustrating it can be at times, if you show someone love and patience they will almost surely come around- because people are good at heart. The majority of humans are kind, loving people who want to show compassion whenever possible- they were simply taught to be unaware. That’s why we tell our children stories in which the good guy always wins, why we always root for the underdog. So we must educate with facts rather than hatred, because while humans almost always
Another tip? Give yourself a break! Sure, if you’re a passionate energizer bunny, then go out there and never stop changing the world- but, if you’re like most of us, spending time away from friends, constantly attending heated demos and travelling far from home, you can become mentally and physically ill and the activism will stop all together. So don’t feel bad to skip out on an activism event or two; sometimes we all need to cool down by going out with friends, relaxing, eating at our favorite vegan restaurants, visiting an animal sanctuary or attending fun meetups and celebrations for people who share your same activism interests. It’s okay to have some time to enjoy in life and still be a hero. And there’s no need to get caught up in the drama, either. Rather than letting those tired activists drag you down, lift them up with positivity. Work with what you have. Always be the peace-maker and don’t waste your energy fighting against activists who are fighting for the exact same cause. Remind your depressed or negative activist friends of this; just because we may not agree with the little things, we are all in it together for the exact same social justice movement and, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend any pent up anger chanting at a protest than causing other activists to become so shut-down that they actually leave their own movement. So just remember the basics: you were ignorant once, so don’t hate and judge those who are still. Sometimes we all need a break. Save the drama for actual activism, not nagging other activists. Work with what you’re given and love your life, your purpose, your cause. Don’t lose faith in the human race because just as we in the US have stopped human slavery, achieved women’s rights to vote, stopped locking away the disabled in “nuthouses” and banned legal segregation, and activists all over the world have achieved the impossible, we will win our fight for world peace, justice and kindness. Just never, never give up. Be happy today because you are a HERO!
shut down from hatred, one can’t argue with facts; especially if those facts are delivered from someone who clearly has nothing but good and kind intentions.