By a happy coincidence, leafleting is both one of the easiest models of activism and one of the most effective. It is also about as old as the printing press, with religious leaders, monarchs, and elected officials from centuries ago publishing heated language designed to sway public opinion and stimulate change. It was a list of questions and propositions for debate written by Martin Luther and supposedly nailed to a church door in 1517, after all, that started the Reformation in Europe. In the 18th century, “pamphleteers” were the bloggers of their day, distributing hastily printed tracts that helped foment revolutions in France and the United States. Of this period, perhaps the best-known pamphlet is Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which took a decidedly radical stance on political issues and led to the US fighting for independence from Britain.
This tradition continues today as activists use leaflets to advocate for the liberation of millions of nonhuman animals. Leafleting has been a tremendous boon to the animal rights movement, since it does not have the budget to wage an advertising war with those industries that exploit animals; McDonald’s currently spends about a billion dollars a year on ads, many times the combined budget of every animal protection group—and that’s just one example.
Getting our message out there often means face-to-face meetings with the public. The good news is this personal interaction is tremendously successful at affecting the hearts and minds of people, and this can be much more effective than advertising or legislation; after all, an ad can be ignored and a law repealed, but once someone is enlightened about the harrowing abuses that occur every day within animal agriculture, biomedical research, circuses, puppy mills, and more, it is unlikely that a compassionate human being could forget what they’ve learned. You probably won’t convince someone to give up eating meat or wearing leather overnight, but on the other hand, you just might. At the very least, you are planting seeds of change.
Leafleting is often described as a numbers game, working to influence as many people as possible. An average leafleter at a busy spot, such as a concert or packed festival, can pass out 150 to 200 leaflets in an hour. In that same amount of time, a superb leafleter can pass out as many as 500 leaflets—about one leaflet every eight seconds. If you commit with a friend to hand out leaflets for an hour each week, you will reach about 30,000 people a year with the message of compassion for animals.
While an activist can leaflet in support of any animal cause, from spreading the word about animal shelters to asking local residents not to visit the circus that’s coming to town, leafleting in support of veganism is probably the most popular tactic. That makes sense, because every person you convince to adopt a vegan diet saves about 100 animals a year and doubles your impact as a vegan. Think about that: Each person you sway to embrace veganism is just as important to animals as your lifetime commitment to not consuming animal products.
Some of the best places to leaflet are busy street corners, healthy-living festivals, street fairs, outside concerts, and on public college campuses—especially if you are a student or can pass as one. Indeed, the learning atmosphere of a college, with students challenging old beliefs and embarking on new experiences, is ripe for positive, life-affirming changes. “At the moment, I don’t think the animal protection movement is even reaching 10 percent of college students,” says Erik Marcus, who uses his site Vegan.com to promote activism. “Given that leafleting requires no special background and is something that anyone can do, I can’t think of a better starting point for new activists who want to make a difference.”
One of the key points to remember when handing out vegan literature is to not complicate the issue by engaging in too much rhetoric about animal rights, if you can help it. Most people already oppose animal abuse, so when leafleting, it is a more efficient use of your time to focus on how animal factories and slaughterhouses abuse animals, rather than constructing an abstract argument about how animals’ rights are being violated.
Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism
10th Anniversary Edition - New Tactics, New Technology
by Mark Hawthorne
Mark Hawthorne is a leading figure in the Animal Rights movement. He is author of several seminal animal activism books including Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, whose 10th Anniversary edition is published by Changemakers Books in 2018. Mark stopped eating meat after an encounter with one of India’s many cows in 1992 and became an ethical vegan a decade later. His writing has been featured in Vegan’s Daily Companion. He and his wife Lauren live in California.
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