As far back as I can remember I was always an animal lover. In my teens, I was having lengthy debates at dinner tables with friends and family, and in my early 20s, I evolved to volunteering with various initiatives to help animals. And then somewhere along the line, I was no longer just an animal lover or a volunteer. I became an activist.
We animal activists often emphasize the fact that we want to change the world for animals. But first, we have to change 7.7 billion humans.
We simply cannot afford to not be effective.
When we start off as young activists, we are often driven more by passion than by planning. But an effective activist takes more than just passion and guts. I wish someone had told this to me when I was younger.
The following are some guidelines that will help you be the most effective activist you possibly can be.
Would you be able to excel at a job, run a race, or perform a music piece without any training? Not really. But often people jump into advocacy for animals without any training or learning. You need to learn the best way to run a successful leafleting campaign, stall, or event; you need to learn to negotiate with a corporation or meet a government official; you need to learn the laws, the marketing strategies, and much more.
Utilize online resources, books and organizations that train people for the animal rights movement. If you are going to be a representative for animals, be the best representative possible. All of us can learn more, improve and evolve.
Thankfully, networking is not the scary smooth-talking they show in the movies. Networking is simply connecting with people on things that interest you. Networking at its best can be about reaching out to people and being your authentic self. You will be able to leverage the connections you make networking, and when you are stuck you will have someone you can ask for help.
Take support from established organizations
Organizations have expertise and resources that can be immensely useful to you when you’re starting out. Leverage that. You will never agree 100% with anyone in your life. But if you can leverage whatever support you can get, then you’ll be able to make yourself as effective as possible. Focus on growing your activism rather than being limited by a ceiling.
Think about who aligns closely with your work and approach them. Ask them for help, and offer to help them.
Think long-term by focusing on recruiting activists
Activism can be a long and lonely journey if you don’t involve others. So think long-term and invest in people and recruit them. You cannot do everything all the time. Nothing would be worse than doing all the work you are doing now to set things up, only to watch it all collapse a few years later just because you didn’t invest in people.
Always ask yourself, how can I involve someone else in this?
Don’t waste time on ideology and armchair activism
In my early 20s, I spent a significant amount of time debating on the big topics like rights vs. welfare and incrementalism vs. abolition. I debated with hunters, farmers, feminists, environmentalists, and so on. I cannot deny that those arguments widened my own perspective significantly, so much so that now I can see conflict and interconnections where others can’t. However, it is all too easy to cross over from a healthy discussion to a dogmatic argument, which leads to factions.
Looking back, I now realize that the scale of the problem is so huge that arguing about hypothetical and philosophical situations, and being dogmatic about them is like arguing if we should take a red or a blue fire engine to put out a house on fire; it doesn’t matter. Jump on either, because we are probably going to need both.
Get out of conflict
Unfortunately, people in the animal rights movement get into fights. There are only so few us, and there is such little time. Conflicts will always happen. So, either make use of the mediation that organizations like Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO) provide, or just get out of it and move on. Getting stuck in personal conflicts costs you and the animals.
Never ever give up. This is really the single most important takeaway. There are many challenges on the path of an activist. Maybe your family doesn’t support you, or your friends think you are nuts, or you are not making enough money, or you are constantly in conflict with others in your group, or you’re not getting much success with your work, or you may be all alone. Most of us at some point in time will get burnt out, and that’s a terrible place to be in. Don’t fight it. Simply survive those times. That’s enough.
Most of us started this journey because at some point in time we fell in love with an animal. And we made it our job to stand up for them. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being smart and strategic (after all, David didn’t win against Goliath without any strategy), but I must also emphasize the importance of our values, the core of which is love: love for environmental justice, love for ourselves through self-care, love for our fellow activists through not fighting, love for people through not using violent tactics, and of course, love for animals through standing up for them.
Featured image: activists hold a National Animal Rights Day banner in downtown Toronto. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.