When we first started the Chicken Vigils outside Hallmark Slaughterhouse at Commercial and Hastings almost a year ago, our goals were simple: we wanted to be there for the chickens and let the public know what is going on behind that big grey wall. We were inspired by Toronto Pig Save, Chicken Save, and Cow Save. Now that the one year anniversary is around the corner, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned about how to get the most out of the vigils in terms of helping animals.
Over the past year, activists at the vigils have held signs and waved at motorists passing by, drawing attention to messages of compassion for chickens. We are often rewarded with honks which is inspiring and motivating. I hope that our presence outside the slaughterhouse has brought some comfort to the birds inside. I hope that it has influenced managers to make sure they are, at least, following the welfare standards that are in place. There is no question that more people know about the existence of this slaughterhouse than did a year ago. I hope that many of those people have been affected by our invitation to show compassion for chickens. It has been heartening to see how many activists have attended the vigils at various times throughout the year, in all kinds of weather and I am proud of what we’ve accomplished!
So what’s next? How can we improve? How can we maximize benefits to animals? How can we inspire as many people as possible to re-think their food choices?
First, it is time to say goodbye to our well-used home made signs! Initially these signs contained only verbal messages until it was brought to our attention that old adage, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and we added photos so that even those with only a second to take in the images would have a sense of our purpose. Still, most of the signs do not offer any type of call to action. We are now in the process of having new, professional signs made that are designed to allow readers to LEARN something, FEEL something, and DO something. The main message will be big and bold with vibrant images to reach the eyes of those drivers passing by when the traffic light is green. The rest of the message will be seen easily by those who get stopped at the red light.
While the messages on the signs are crucial, I believe that those of us who are holding the signs play a just as crucial a role in maximizing the likelihood that the message will be received. We do this by acting with genuine purpose. I have recently begun to pay closer attention to what I actually do at the vigil to see how, along with better signage, I can make a bigger impact on more individuals. Initially I had been waving generally, at the masses passing by, to get their attention and reacted gratefully when someone honked in response to my message. But when I really started to pay attention, I began to direct my waves and focus, purposefully, towards each individual pair of eyes, for only a brief second. I was amazed at what I saw! Many people made eye contact, smiled, waved, nodded or gave a thumbs up, and, of course, some of them honked! Previously, I had only paid attention the honks but now I was able to see that many more people could be engaged, with this kind of personal connection. Now I wave at each car when the traffic is moving and when it slows down for a red light, I stop waving and move where necessary to let as many people as possible read my sign. It might be a good time to give my waving arm a rest but it is certainly not the time to lose focus. As the traffic begins to move again, I make eye contact with as many of these people as I can, wave, and wish them a good day – that’s when I see the most reactions! I’m not sure these people would be waving or smiling if no one was actually looking at them. Maybe, just maybe, that personal connection, that personal invitation, makes a difference! Alex, a regular at the vigils, says that she sees the same thing. She says she waves at each car as though she’s waving to a good friend and then she visualizes a light going on in their heart! And it doesn’t have to be done by waving…I watched Allissa one day, direct her attention to a passenger on a bus and have a whole conversation with him, using only her eyes! The key is being present, doing what we do with purpose.
Maybe just as many people would be affected, just driving by and seeing a bunch of people with signs but I believe that potentially many more can be affected through personal connections. If I am fully present for the whole time I’m out there, reaching out to people with purpose, I believe I can help animals more! At least I can go away from the vigil feeling I’ve done everything in my power to help animals. Sometimes I feel I must seem anti-social at the vigils because I don’t chat very much. But that is only because I have decided to dedicate that time to the chickens and feel I owe them every single second. A driver once asked how long we had been on strike. I realized that it was an easy mistake to make when you see a group of people with signs on a corner. I believe that being fully present in our outreach will ensure that our message is clear!
There has also been some discussion about holding the vigils at different times to allow more activists to get involved and to reach a different audience. This may be possible in the future. For now, the time works well because there is non-stop traffic and there are no parked cars in front of the slaughterhouse at that time. For sure we are seeing some of the same drivers every week. Those who are already on our side make sure to honk louder and louder each week. This not only supports us but it all sends a message to the public that it is not only a handful of activists with signs who see this as an important issue, that there are many more people who care about justice for animals. For those who were not on our side the first time they drove by, I hope that they are being worn down a little by little every week! At least, I hope they might admire our determination! But there are definitely many people driving by seeing us for the first time, or at least noticing us for the first time. It is clear, when you pay attention, that they are taking in the message. The sign I like to hold tells that 1000s of innocent beings are being slaughtered every day behind the big grey wall. I see them look up at the wall after reading the sign.
In closing, I just want to comment on the potential irony of smiling and waving when the subject matter is so tragic. For me, the smile and the wave are used to make a human connection. I believe I need to allow individuals to see me as a warm, caring person who they might want to relate to. I want to invite them, with love, to learn about a very difficult subject. I have learned this from The Animal Activist’s Handbook by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich and from listening to my non-vegan friends who say they feel intimidated by the stern, angry appearance of some activists and are reluctant to approach them if they want more information. While I believe there is a time and place for a more somber atmosphere, I don’t want anyone to be afraid to approach me to talk about the issue, even if they don’t agree with my views. I believe that hundreds of thousands of connections like these will contribute greatly to changing the hearts and minds of the world!