When I first joined the fight against cruelty to animals, I faced a personal challenge. I’m an introvert whose interpersonal style is best described as friendly and collaborative. So I couldn’t quite see myself handing out leaflets to strangers or getting into bruising debates about animal rights with friends and coworkers. I’ve always admired animal activists who can happily hand out literature at a concert or hold up signs at shopping mall demonstrations. But to me, these events are minefields of rejection, confrontation, and embarrassment.
My first breakthrough was realizing that just by living my life differently, I was having a huge positive impact. The average American vegetarian spares the lives of more than 100 animals a year. For me, that’s more than 1,300 animals so far! My parents chose to follow my example, saving even more lives.
But I wanted to do something more proactive to reach out to people who didn’t know about how badly animals are treated. I enjoy writing, so I decided to try my hand at some letters to the editor. This is an introvert’s dream come true–the editorial page is one of the most-read parts of the paper, and you can do the whole thing from the privacy of your living room. My local newspaper has a circulation of over 250,000, and if you can get a letter in a paper like The New York Times or USA Today, you can reach millions of people with your message. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to get some letters published–it’s especially easy to get them printed in small local papers.
After some successes with letters to the editor, I tried writing letters to elected officials, from county supervisors to state senators. I found that a well-written letter from a constituent to a legislator can be very influential. Letters to corporations can be effective also: “I’ve been a loyal customer of your toothpaste for 25 years, but I’m switching to your competitor because of your animal testing policy.”
All this writing made me realize the importance of being well-informed on a broad variety of animal issues. PETA has some excellent and well-researched factsheets on its Web site about companion animals, wildlife, and animals used for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment. These factsheets are an invaluable resource for writing hard-hitting letters. I also found myself reading books about vegetarianism and animal welfare. Not only did these books help me write more powerful letters, they also provided me with a fantastic introvert-friendly tool to reach out to friends and family. Rather than getting into uncomfortable debates over the dinner table, I just pass on a favorite title from my animal reading list. In fact, many people are more open to hearing a difficult message from a credible author than from a friend. John Robbins’ books Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution are especially good–they have opened the eyes of countless people to the health, environmental, and animal welfare benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets.
Now I think of myself as an animal activist, even though I don’t do a lot of the things that “activism” brings to mind. I believe that it’s possible to help spread the word about cruelty to animals in many different ways–it’s just a question of finding the methods that work best for you.