*Thanks so much to everyone who read and liked my first post, Days of Chickens!*
As an activist, I can tell you that there is nothing more satisfying than planting a seed and watching it grow in someone’s consciousness. But just as in literal gardening, planting seeds is only possible under certain conditions. Changing the elements can mean killing the sprout at it’s most precarious point. A lot of sun helps plants grow – in the activist’s case, a sunny demeanor goes a long way too. Some additional conditions for planting seeds in activism are empathy, compassion, and intuition.
If I made any progress at the recent Kapporos demonstration it was through Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s podcast, How to Talk to Hunters (or Anyone With Whom You Disagree). I knew I was in for a challenge, and needed to head off any negative energy with inspiring ideas. I had listened to this podcast earlier in the year, and remembered the profound impact of her message. Colleen suggests that we have “compassion for people with whom we disagree or who participate in behavior we find abhorrent… It’s easy to be compassionate towards like-minded people; the challenge is choosing to have compassion towards those with whom we disagree.”
With these words on my mind, the demo became less about expressing my position against Kapporos, it was about expressing my position for the animals in the most positive way.
For the most part it was a very successful event. But even a few ineffective people can derail any modicum of progress. There were some negative signs bearing strong, accusatory messages. A few people (on both sides) shouted when intelligent conversation might have helped. One activist who had very good intentions was often oblique or rambling and repeatedly lost her audience. These were all missed opportunities, and I found myself wishing that everyone at the demo had listened to Colleen’s podcast.
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t express my joy for the successes of this year’s demos- the issue attracted considerable media attention, many chickens were rescued, and a few operations in Los Angeles were shut down. But I believe that with consciousness and awareness we can move toward a more productive advocacy, allowing us to win over communities. Just a little more empathy and planning could help us end this thing once and for all.
Both the mishaps and my own small victories gave me more insight into what works and what doesn’t when facing people with whom we disagree. A few practical ideas:
Familiarize yourself with the materials and the issues. We’re out there to educate, so be sure you are educated! This may sound obvious, but look closely at the information you’ll hand out and the signs you hold. You are the ambassador for this message.
No matter how your beliefs diverge, try not to think of anyone as an opponent. They are people just like us, who fear change as much as we all do, who want the best for themselves and their families. Try to see commonalities and focus on that.
Engage in conversation, not argument. Keep it positive!
Don’t use a canned response. Change your words depending out your audience. Kids respond to different ideas than adults do, for instance.
Be friendly. Smile, always smile.
Once again, you are the ambassador for the animals, and for the movement.
Have empathy even when it seems impossible. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were on the other side of the issue, and what methods would impact you. Embody that empathy in your words and your body language.
When you find common ground, use it! I spoke to a woman who wanted to know more about where to swim in Brooklyn. No, it had nothing to do with the chickens, but a conversation about friendly topics opened her up to hearing what I had to say.
Find any way to bring an issue closer to someone, and use that too.
Often, in speaking to kids, I talked about how chickens like to play just like they do- they like to run in the grass and hang out with their friends. Letting them know that animals are similar to them is integral to their viewing them as individuals, not objects.
Is it easy to have empathy for those on the other side? Of course not. But the easy things aren’t necessarily right, it’s generally the opposite. It’s easier to eat microwave pizza for dinner every night, but it’s not healthful in the long run. It takes more forethought and consciousness to cut veggies and and cook healthful meals. But it’s not tough by any means and these simple actions make us stronger. It’s just a question of changing habits. Reacting emotionally rather than intellectually is a habit as well. It can be changed, and it often leads to growth. Your own growth, and the growth of many seeds.
What have you found effective in your advocacy efforts? I’d love to hear.
For the last week, I’ve been following the stories of the 3000 rescued “spent” layer hens through every conceivable media outlet. It’s my daily dose of giddiness- every time I see a new photograph of the chickens exploring at Farm Sanctuary, finally stepping on green grass, I smile so much that my face hurts.
While the rescue is an enormous inspiration, the upcoming Kaporos rituals deliver an equal measure of misery. I only learned of the Kaporos ritual five years ago, just after I went vegan. Performed by certain orthodox Jewish sects, Kaporos involves swinging a live chicken over one’s head- ritualistically transferring the sins to the animal. They are then butchered, often with dull knives.
Every Yom Kippur I’m overwhelmed with grief for the chickens, but regardless of how abhorrent I think the practice might be, I’ve simply been too afraid to stand up and protest in person. When I received the Meetup invitation for the demonstrations last week, I allowed myself to consider it sincerely. What would happen if everyone were afraid when it came to the animals? There would be no undercover MFA investigations and nobody would see inside factory farms. What if photographers like Jo-Anne McArthur were paralyzed by fear- we wouldn’t have the images that move us to action.
We need witnesses. I’ve let people do the dirty work for me for a long time, simply because I’m afraid to be a witness. I think about everyone else’s bravery, then relish in the rescues. But I’ve finally realized that I won’t feel right sitting around eating (vegan) bonbons while chickens are swinging over heads nearby in Borough Park.
I was also really scared to go vegan. Scared! Afraid that I would miss the foods that I liked- because they were the foods that I knew. And what happened? My life became about hundred times better- I simply didn’t know what was waiting for me when I conquered my fears.
I’m not saying that attending the Kaporos demonstrations will be enjoyable. But I do think that we have a tendency to build things up in our minds simply because they’re unknown, then miss the good we can derive from those experiences. So here’s where it ends, here’s where once again I live up to the words “animal advocate.” I’ll be thinking of my brave humane heroes, like Jo-Anne, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Susie Coston at Farm Sanctuary, and so many more incredibly active activists. I’ll adopt an open stance, as Colleen does, and do something.