To be an activist, there are a few things that most of us can do that are much easier than we think. Of course, to start, we need to select a cause. Even though quite a few of us hold veganism and animal rights close to our hearts, there may be other causes that we want to help out, such as reducting poverty, saying no to drugs, keeping bullies from intimidating the less popular and weaker children, promoting peace, saving the penguins the polar bears - who are literally on thin ice, if they have any at all - and so on. I put together a list of tips that can give you ideas on how to start your own activism, or how to join an existing crew and help them out with advice of your own.
1- Find role models. Those that are already activists have experience. Ask questions, join their team, and help out.
2- Explore. There are several websites, such as Care2.com and iPetitions.com that offer you the possibility to sign or start your own petition. They also have lists of different causes and some information that can inspire you on what you can do.
3- Tell people why you do this. A tale may help. If you are vegan because you saw a cow die, tell them. If you support peace because a family member went to war - or worse, dide in war - talk about it. It makes people listen. If you are passionate about the environment, it will show. They will know you are doing this for a reason and not just to look good or because you need a letter of recommendation for your resume.
4- Talk to friends and family. Surely there are causes that your friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers would love to join. Here is one that I've seen have quite a lot of success: sponsor a child as a group. It's not a lot of work, and the interaction with the child is just precious. If some of you want to give more, the organisations that allow you to sponsor these children have catalogs of gifts that you can chose from to send to either your child in question or their family or village.
5- Start a club. Although joining an existing organisation is usually the easier way to go, if you have the time and the inspiration for it, start your own. If an full organisation seems like too much work but you want to get active, get a group of people together once a month - or on a regular basis, according to your schedules - and prepare activities for the neighborhood, the city, or for anyone who wants to take part. An idea is to prepare a park clean-up, or to plant flowers where you feel the city needs it most.
6- Spread out the cause. Anyone can stand on a street to collect signatures for a cause, be it a decision that your mayor took that you disagree with, or for a farm that you know raises animals in an unethical way. Then give it to the person you wish to advise directly. You may just be surprised at what they could say. It may just be a simple "thank you" (most won't be mean to you - that would make them look bad) or, as we would want, they may ask questions. Be prepared to answer as many as you can.
7- Don’t do it alone. Of course doing this alone is much longer and harder than gathering a team. Delegating rocks. Burnout sucks.
8- Find inspiration anywhere you can. The news are a great place to start, be it your local newspaper, on TV, the radio... and keep everyone to date about what you find. This could lead to ideas on what or how to do an act for the good. Find rallies and join them. Go to fundraisers. Speak with charity groups. You get my drift.
9- Tell people. Tell as many people as you can by using whatever means you have at your disposal to let them know. The internet is full of message boards, classifieds, forums, social networks and chat groups; charities have newsletters; local newspapers love interesting stories; or better yet, open your own blog.
10- Don't forget your own personal network. You already know people, so use them. If you send an email to your entire mailing list and ask them to send it to anyone they know who would be interested, the message could get passed around very quickly. Do you have children? The teachers and school staff may be interested. Do you take classes? Tell your classmates.
11- It doesn't have to be big. Even if the result is just an open talk with your mayor but you didn't change his mind, for example, don't give up. You spoke to him and you let him know how people feel. There's nothing wrong with trying again later. You never win at every attempt, and we all know the luck large oranisations have with major companies, so it will be the same for you. But don't give up.
12- Keep it real. You may want to end world hunger, but try to keep it real. You need a goal that will be possible to achieve, such as starting in your own backyard. Hunger is everywhere; you may find people close to you who want a good, hot meal. You can help out with schools that cater to children who may not be able to eat properly at home. Food drives always need a hand, even if you're not actually giving them food.
13- Go to your library. This is a wonderful place for information, inspiration and advice. Often libraries host a charity or drive of sorts, like picking up used glasses from people to donate them to the poor. Or, you can ask them where you can get information on anything as small as how to write a petition to finding the perfect organisation for you, to founding your own charity, to fundraising, and so on. They have books, magazine, newsletters, newspapers and movies. Don't reinvent the wheel - chances are you don't need to, and if you're just starting out, it will be much easier to rely on past experiences. Ask the staff to help.
14- Know the law. Nothing is worse than starting something, only to find yourself with a cop in your face, asking you what the heck you're doing. Make sure the activity you do is permitted, the fundraising location and type is allowed, and so on. Once again, there are several good sources of information out there, but for those that can afford it - and if it's a large venture - ask a lawyer that specializes in this sort of thing. NGOs like Greenpeace use lawyers, so there are some that are specific to rebels like us.
15- Choose the type of activism that suits you best. Some people like to get media attention while others prefer to do it quietly. Some like to be active - like literally climbing a tree to protest - and others prefer sitting in a location to stop people from passing. Others only want to get signatures. Whatever suits you best is what you should take part in.
16- Keep it positive. Nothing scares people away more than being told that they are wrong. We don't, either, and the majority won't listen to us if we tell them that meat is murder. Instead, find ways to enlighten them by giving them advantages of becoming vegan. They will also be much more willing to listen if you offer a solution, especially one that is viable for them, such as Meatless Mondays instead of full veganism, for example.
17- If they don't want to hear it, don't push it. If they say no and repeatedly say no, let them be. By pushing too hard, you are giving activists a bad rep. It doesn't matter that you're trying to be polite and only trying to help; it's their perception of you that counts. Especially watch their body language. Although they may still be listening, if the smile disappeared off their faces and they seem to be fading you out, or look like they just want to leave, let them. Ask them if they have any questions and wish them a good day.
18- Recycled paper works. If you're too shy to talk to people, give them the information. Try to make sure they are really interested and not pretending to be just to make you lleave them alone, because nothing makes us feel worse than finding a trashbin close by filled with the papers we worked so hard to hand out to everyone. A simple "Do you want to know more about the effect of bullying on a child's psychological development?" is enough to let them decide quickly.
19- Seeing further than the action. You want to change something, but will it be viable on its own? Will it need to be tended to often to ensure roots take place, or will you be able to move on to the next step? Depending on what you're doing, you may need to proceed with something else to ensure you steps are being followed. The best example I have of this is how Greenpeace worked hard for several years to save the Great Bear Rainforest in British-Colombia, Canada, in 1993, but about 12 years later they discovered that negotiations continued between the government of BC and the companies that wanted to tear into one of Canada's only two virgin forests (and we have LOTS and LOTS of trees and forests!). The problem? They didn't get it in writing. The parties involved thought they could let the dust fall, then start back up with negotiations, hoping the public had forgotten about the initial fight. Oh, did Greenpeace learn their lesson. They now know that words don't stick...
20- Get buttons and t-shirts. If you have the time and the budget, go for it! The word gets out much better with a keepsake of the action, whether it's a t-shirt, a button, stickers, flyers, etc.
21- Keep writing for The Flaming Vegan. And other blogs, of course!
Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)