A week of online activism
My reflections on the past week of participating in online vegan advocacy
After my last post where I mentioned hearing the call to become more active in my vegan advocacy, I took to Twitter, Medium and Facebook to speak up for the animals.
It has been an incredibly trying, funny, frustrating, glorious, infuriating, saddening and, ultimately, rewarding week. Most of my interactions took place on Twitter, where I started out by responding to the call for vegans to hijack the #MeatyMarch hashtag, the way they did for #Februdairy to expose the cruelty in the dairy industry.
I have had numerous debates, polite and respectful at times and, at other times, less than civil. I tried as much as possible to stick to my intention of approaching people with generosity and curiosity, even while taunted and mocked. At times I failed to do that and was pushed into a defensive position. When I ended up in debates/arguments with farmers and a hunter, it was challenging and eye-opening. I was even blocked by a few fellow tweeps.
A day ago I started reading “How to Create a Vegan World” and it has proved incredibly thought-provoking. It is also uncanny how what is covered and discussed in the book is so relevant to the first-hand experience I gained this week. The author writes that, while it is admirable for vegans to argue ethical veganism from a moral standpoint and idealogical position, a pragmatic approach is required to gain the support the movement needs. Based on what the book points out, many nonvegans actually hold the same values that vegans do, and yet for a variety of reasons they do not tend to live according to those values. That often leads nonvegans to feel judged (and the way we communicate can give that impression) and it was my observation that the way nonvegans argue is by undermining the vegan individual, not the vegan ideology itself. By ridiculing, embarrassing or pointing out that a vegan is a hypocrite, the nonvegan feels more secure in their situation. This does not form the basis of a valid rational argument, but it doesn’t need to be for the nonvegan to feel “right”.
Based on my own intuition and interest in observing how my own varying approaches over the past week elicited different responses, the more rewarding ones were those where there was positive reinforcement rather logical arguments involved and definitely better than shaming or belittling. It is almost impossible to measure the effectiveness of all approaches, though, and often it isn’t one argument, tweet or image that convinces someone to change their behaviour. I am not suggesting that one approach is superior to the other. However, when a conversation — rather than an online “screaming” match or logical debate— took place, it seemed to me to be more effective. Finding common ground through “talking their language” is an obvious way not to alienate someone you want to engage with.
Once you find the right way to get through to them, to find out what they value, they tend to open up. You find out details that show you why perhaps the message “Go vegan” is just not available or accessible to them. You see why encouraging them in the steps they are taking is so much more loving than throwing an ethical discourse in their online feed.
I look back on the past week with the perspective that it has been a great platform for me to practice my advocacy and to confront the reality of the current situation. It might seem from social media that veganism is growing as a movement— and it is — but it is not yet mainstream. Sometimes it’s easy to live in a “vegan bubble”, eating vegan meals and associating as much as possible with like-minded people. Starting out, I was somewhat inexperienced with having “the vegan conversation” with people in person, so after facing the sometimes ruthless responses that come with anonymity of the Internet, I now feel much more able to have these conversations in person. I was able to observe other activists online and how their approaches were received. I learnt so many disturbing things about animal agriculture and fishing industries and how pervasive are the problems we face. I gained a great deal of awareness around my own reactions to feeling “attacked” and needing to defend myself.
I remind myself constantly that this was not about me, but about the innumerable animals exploited, abused and killed every day, the destruction of the environment on this planet that I love and about fellow human beings that are just as trapped in the cultural conditioning that normalises carnism and animal exploitation. People who are where they are, each trying to do the best they can with what they have.
There is so much more that unites us than separates us.