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Clarification on Messaging


Vegan education/advocacy for animals is easiest for me when I know my audience. And by “know,” I mean I have a relationship with them and/or I understand what drives them, what they appreciate and what they can tolerate. From there, my job is to use images and language that they are comfortable with, especially at the beginning, and then to nudge them gently into areas that challenge their thoughts and actions. Some people can tolerate more than a gentle nudging. Some people get what to me is disproportionately defensive if I’m anything but very accepting of their choices and how much they want to know. Of course, those people, who are often the “spiritual” ones, are particularly frustrating to deal with.

I was going in a different direction with this post when I read Deb’s “Effective Images in Advocacy: Do We Know What Works?” this morning. She makes such a great point that I want to address it now. We don’t know what works. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a story. Anecdotal evidence abounds. We all have a personal preference. But when it comes to reaching the maximum number of people and creating the maximum impact, we simply don’t know what does the job, although we do know what we’re willing to do.

If you’ve seen The Witness, you know that Eddie drove around with a van that had a continuously looping video of what it takes to get the fur that some find so appealing (and he gave out leaflets, too). And right now, Mercy for Animals’ Farm to Fridge Tour is doing that too, in addition to picketing and getting mainstream media exposure for the short film. PETA’s been using horrifying images for years. Earthlings is devastating and although I watched it in full, I can’t imagine anyone I know being prepared for it or agreeing to watch more than a few minutes.

I spent years forcing people to look at photos of bludgeoned baby seals, “veal” calves in crates and skinned animals. I always used the words “flesh” and “enslavement.” I don’t think any of that was incorrect, per se. But I can say that it immediately put the other person on the defensive. As far as I know, all I accomplished was presenting myself as an angry person who people didn’t want to talk to again.

Okay . . . maybe I used the word “murder.” Maybe I used it regularly. And just maybe that was the word more responsible than others for me alienating people. Maybe. I can’t say for sure. I was the embodiment of “agitating for social change.” I was agitating everyone.

Challenging someone’s beliefs–or clarifying that their beliefs are not aligned with their actions–is an adversarial task inherently. And it’s up to us to decide just how adversarial it should be. But I can’t imagine that there’s one way to do it and we should criticize every other way. If you find something that works for you with your audience, I say keep doing it.


5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Have you read the book by Melanie Joy called Strategic Action for Animals? I think maby she has some similar ideas.

    April 7, 2011
  2. Thank you for this. "We do know what we're willing to do" says it perfectly.

    I do PR for vegan/animal rights clients so I take the route of media attention. There’s an Indian proverb marketers love: “Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

    April 8, 2011
  3. What made me think of going vegetarian 6-7 years ago for the first time was not people who were vegetarian, I avoided them at all costs and used to even get angry at them, but when I saw a cartoon "Chicken Run". It is very true that a story, a story of an animal, will live in one's heart. I study graphic arts, animation and interactive telecommunications now too.

    April 9, 2011
  4. "But I can't imagine that there's one way to do it and we should criticize every other way." Moi aussi!

    Not "one way" at all! Thanks for the reminder!;)

    April 27, 2011
  5. Jon #

    Ms. Martin,

    I love your writing. You somehow manage the difficult trick of not compromising your radicalism while at the same time sounding gentle and measured. Whenever I make similar points you do, I always sound like I want to take a hatchet to someone. I'm jealous of your skill.

    Have a great day!

    May 15, 2011

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