Animal Rights/Vegan Activists' Strategies Articles

Leafleting for Animals: A Time-Honored Activist Tradition

From Karen Davis, President, UPC United Poultry Concerns
March 2023

Leafleting is both an easy and a challenging way to extend our message. By challenging, I mean to the leafleter. Why? Because it requires approaching strangers with a brochure the strangers are not asking for and may not wish to receive. We are putting ourselves – and the animals we desperately want people to care about and help– in a position of being rejected, even taunted.

Listen to Thinking Like a Chicken Podcast, February 24, 2023. Transcript below.

leafleting for animals
UPC Correspondent & Database Manager Ronnie Steinau, Encinitas Street Fair, CA, 2022

Today I want to speak about a longstanding tradition of animal activism: Leafleting.

Even people who care very much about animals and animal advocacy can find it hard to take to the streets with our message. The general public continues to resist information about animals and animal abuse. Who wants to learn about the terrible things we do to chickens, pigs, cows, horses and others? People aren’t lining up to learn about the animals whose “products” they like to eat.

Fearing rejection, many advocates wince at the thought of getting “Out There” and facing people directly – complete strangers. In my experience over many years, the person to whom I hand a brochure in a friendly way will usually accept it and keep walking, and I will say to them, Thank You. Others will walk rapidly past you with a look of “Don’t bother me.” Others will stop and ask a few questions expressing at least casual interest. And then there are those wonderful people who thank you for what you are doing and tell you they are already vegetarian or vegan. They’re happy to see you.

Some, of course, will say things like “Oh, I LOVE chicken” and think they’ve scored a point. There can be pleasure in wounding the advocate for animals, being mean however nice and polite we are. Nothing is easier than scoring points in the mind of a person who assumes the whole world shares his or her negative attitude.

Being with a group of fellow activists, rather than being alone, reduces our fear of handing a brochure to a passerby. Even so, some who leaflet hold their brochures in a way that invites people to reject taking one. They hold a brochure closer to their own chest than to the person they hope will take one. This approach invites passive rejection by the intended recipient, reinforcing the activist’s feeling of futility and anxiety. The reality is that hesitancy and timidity are always on the losing side of activism. A confident, friendly attitude is necessary. This attitude can and must be cultivated.

Years ago I realized that a big reason I cringed, inwardly if not outwardly, at approaching anonymous people on behalf of animals, particularly with posters depicting scenes of chickens or turkeys suffering on farms, was that I hated exposing these defenseless, innocent birds, and their hopeless, wounded bodies and faces, to the indifferent eyes of the public. I wanted to protect them from those callous eyes and sometimes hurtful retorts.

Harder than leafleting and holding posters and banners in the company of one’s allies is speaking up and holding out a brochure to a stranger when one is alone, say, in a store or the office or the airport or some other public place. I know because I’ve done it often enough. Actually I’ve made some friends that way and have elicited from folks, who at first seemed hostile, some touching stories about a rooster or hens or a turkey or a duck they are currently caring for or have cared for and loved in the past.

One person recently explained to me how hard it is to intervene in discussions about food among her colleagues at work. She said food is a constant subject among them and it isn’t about how much they love to cook and eat vegan.

I totally get her point about the unfeasibility of intervening in an endless run of frequent discussions in the same location day after day. It would be like, each time I'm in the checkout line at the supermarket, I would call out the people in line with me about the contents of their shopping cart. I do say something sometimes, but would soon be a basket case if each time I went to buy food I felt I must say something to each non-vegan customer.

That said, there are many occasions when I do say something or politely put a brochure or a card (like our "Dying for Dinner" card about the FEAR in each chicken's eyes as the chickens hang upside down on the slaughter line) in a person's hands without getting into a dispute with them, but simply saying, "Please look at this when you have a chance. The chickens suffer so much." No one has ever said, “No thanks.”

One thing I will not ever agree with is the idea that leafleting or acting alone is a waste of time and a hopeless cause. Many people use that excuse because they are timid about approaching a stranger, a friend or a relative. No one likes to face rejection or ridicule.

Social anxiety is in fact a big reason why so many compassionate people hide their feelings about animals and reject an animal-free diet. Fear of Other People.

As animal activists, we cannot control what others are going to do with our information, but we do have control over our own activist behavior. And we must never forget that most people, including ourselves probably, have become animal advocates and vegans because someone held up a graphic poster or put a brochure in their hand. Even if they did not respond immediately, eventually, they did.

When opportunities arise, the anxiety of speaking up or offering a brochure lasts only a minute or two. When we seize the opportunity, we feel good afterward – as we should. When we forego feasible opportunities, the burden of guilt and self-recrimination lasts a lifetime. This, anyway, has been my experience.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast, and that you will share it with others. Please join me for the next podcast episode of Thinking Like a Chicken – News & Views. And have a wonderful day.
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