If you care about animals and you want to be inspired to do more, become empowered with skills to make a difference, and feel confident that there is hope for the animal rights movement, then the Animal Activist’s Handbook is for you! It is a quick read but the information is powerful. I keep the book with me at all times. The authors are Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich, two men who have spent a great part of their lives helping animals. (Bruce is from PETA and Matt started Vegan Outreach.) Together they share some fantastic advice based on years of trying different approaches and making plenty of mistakes.
The book begins with an exploration of what makes life joyful and meaningful. It seems that most of us live as though getting ahead and acquiring material possessions and wealth is what life is all about. But most of us would also agree that once we’ve acquired one thing, we soon want something else and so ‘getting ahead’ doesn’t really seem to make us happy or feel fulfilled. Indeed, it seems that people feel most fulfilled and happy when they are helping others. For the authors, the decision to help animals came from an understanding that this was where they could have the biggest impact – the sheer numbers of animals suffering is enormous, the amount of suffering they endure is atrocious, and the opportunity to change the suffering is great. And while they agree that it is important to make personal decisions – like becoming vegan – to help animals, it is more important for each of us to use our knowledge and passion to influence others to change as well.
In chapter two, the authors give some great advice on how to go about influencing people in the most effective way, never forgetting the goal: to reduce the suffering of animals. It begins with a list of powerful questions that really make it clear that this is not always an easy thing to do, for example:
- “Are you willing to give up/refocus your anger?”
- “Are you willing to do the hard work of being effective and not just active?”
- “Are you willing to accept slow change over no change?’
I know for me these were really important questions that have helped keep me on track when things get tough. They then go on to discuss some very practical tips for being effective, like being likeable and optimistic, having a sense of humour, dressing for success, being respectful, and having a good grasp on information. They make if very clear that we cannot let anyone we interact with go away seeing us as rude, angry, miserable, or uninformed because then we will have not done our best for animals.
Chapter three goes more into more depth about specific things to keep in mind when advocating for animals, most importantly checking out sources of information thoroughly. Since there is so much information on the internet, it is easy to find second or even third source information that is not accurate. Skeptical people will jump on any small flaws and use them to dismiss everything we say. The authors also look at the problems with presenting health or environmental arguments as a way of convincing people who don’t care about animals to become vegetarian or vegan. These authors believe that it is important to keep the animal issue at the forefront because ultimately that’s who we are advocating for. (It is much easier to abandon a vegetarian diet when you have changed for health reasons than if you really care about what’s happening to animals.) They do agree, however, that any activist should be equipped with sound nutritional knowledge and resources to ensure that those who do decide to become vegetarian or vegan are successful. Similarly, using environmental reasons, no matter how sound, are less likely to change the minds of most people who may have already learned that they don’t really have to do much these days to believe they are helping the planet. In the end, while it is good to have some information handy on environmental issues, the authors believe a focus on reducing cruelty to be the most effective argument for people to stop eating animals.
One section that I found most useful was on how to use the Socratic method of question and answer to get the most thoughtful two-way conversations going. They include several great examples of frequently asked questions and cover tricky topics like faith and religion. In every example used, they always come back to making sure they are being as effective as possible for animals.
Chapter four summarizes some of the authors’ favourite forms of activism, from wearing t-shirts to putting bumper stickers on your car to leafletting. It is filled with fabulous tips on things to say while leafleting that make the most out of each encounter. Chapter five outlines all kinds of reasons and data which prove that we should be optimistic about animal liberation becoming a reality, finishing with a strong call to action to not only help animals but to live our lives with a higher purpose.
These two authors are well-respected in the field and I feel privileged to have their sage advice at my fingertips. It is well worth the read – I hope you enjoy it!
(Buy the Animal Activist’s Handbook from Vegan Outreach for only ten bucks!)