Behind the Sign: My Experience with Activism
I began animal activism this summer, and here’s what I learned:
- When faced with the public, expect the worst.
- Bring armour for your emotions.
- There are risks.
I didn’t expect myself to be the type to participate in activism or protests. Considering my introvert personality, I didn’t think it was even possible. I had never been involved in it or had any friends who were. I had always considered my vegan lifestyle my only form of activism. I was happy with my life style choices and felt it was one of the greatest contributors towards my happiness. I care passionately for animals and knew by going vegan that I was doing my part. Until I met a new friend– who was a vegan activist. Once I had grasped the reality of meeting another vegan (if you’re vegan you know what I mean!), I later found out about her involvement in animal rights activism. I tagged along to a couple protests and found myself getting more involved than I had ever imagined. Before I knew it, I had taken the next step on my vegan journey.
- When faced with the public, expect the worst.
Sensitive people (myself included) beware. Do you think holding a sign is easy? Well I did. When I arrived at my first protest, targeting one of the worst places for captive animals, I had no idea what to expect. Would anyone care that I am here… how would the public respond? How would the target respond?? I took my place on the side of the road with the other protesters. I held my sign up for the public traffic to see as they passed by– it read “honk if you love animals”. Other signs read facts about the target and why we were here. I looked intently at the cars that drove by so that I could identify the passenger’s response. I heard many passengers honk their horn, wave, and give us the thumbs up. We were fighting for animal rights, what could possibly be wrong with that. Everyone loves animals right?
Now imagine that smiling passenger who is giving us the thumbs up and smiling drives off and a new car approaches. There is another honk– I look to catch a glimpse of the next passenger. While making direct eye contact, the passenger then flips you the bird and yells “GET A LIFE”. Hmm, maybe he didn’t read my sign properly… I was protesting to help the animals. But many more passengers drive by, some with young children, yelling similar remarks and sometimes even swearing at you. One man in an older vehicle even pulls over to
speak yell at you directly. Everyone seems heated, including some protesters who have also taken a turn at yelling.
At first this was hard criticism to hear and comprehend for me. But through experience, I became more understanding of where some of these people are coming from and why they act the way they do. For some, the target place is a home-town establishment that they have grown up with. We can be considered a threat and this may trigger individuals to express their emotional attachment with it. They may not be aware of the information you have to offer about it (and vise-versa). I am sure there are many other reasons but this is just one that I had encountered. I learned not to take it personally and to focus on what I came to do: provide reliable information, raise awareness, and push for improvement. These situations (positive or negative) can often make me forget about the goals I have while being there. I am not against the public people, rather, but am here for the target.
2. Bring armour for your emotions.
If you’re protesting at the side of a road– you probably feel pretty strongly about why you are there or you wouldn’t be. This can be a very emotional topic for you and it is something you should always be aware of. Wether you are passing by, or the target, or the one behind the sign. Be aware not everyone will treat you with respect. You may not be able to make the change right then and there, or you may not be able to make a direct change. You may see and hear things that you are terrified of and become overwhelmed. Expect to have a couple emotional break downs when you first start out (at least from my experience).
My advice is to take it slow and provide adequate self-care. I was never good at exercising my voice, I often hid my feelings and never bothered debating over things unless I wasn’t confident that I would cause an immediate change. I learned to value patience with the public, not to take things personally, offer reliable information, and most importantly I had to keep the peace. Stay close with your protest group or have a buddy if possible. It is not always necessary but it can be much safer. It can also be beneficial for you emotionally. Eventually I learned that the people I had seen protesting in groups are not scary (yes I use to think they were… didn’t you??). Your protest group can actually be a great emotional support for each other. They will have your back and know exactly how to calm you down, keep you safe, and have your back. One example that comes to mind is Anita Krajnc’s Pig Trial. This is something I have kept in the loop with and the amount of support I have seen has been incredible for Anita. I am so proud of these good hearted individuals for sticking together for the greater good.
If you are an animal activist and are looking for additional help with dealing with the emotional stress please speak with a professional and/or check out www.helpactivists.org. This is a 24/7 support service that is free and I personally recommend!
3. There are risks.
Typically a peaceful protest shouldn’t have any risks but this is not always the case. There is both emotional (as I have already spoken about) and physical risks. The public, the police, and your identity can all contribute to these risks. The public can be unpredictable and physically violent– even during a peaceful protest. However, this is usually not the case and can be resolved before any harm is done. When I say police are a risk, I am referring to the laws they are enforcing. It is super important to be aware of your rights and the laws surrounding protesting but also to be respectful of the police. You should do things such as letting the police know if you are planning a protest, do not trespass onto property, stay off the road, and the list goes on… Lastly, the idea of personal identity being a risk was one I had over-looked when I began protesting. I soon learned that yes, random people and the media will take as many photos and videos as they desire without your consent. You don’t always know who else is going to view these photos or videos so it is important to be aware of that before you consider doing any form of public activism. Secondly, and you may think I am crazy… but people might not like what you have to say! They can target particular individuals in order to sabotage them (on a personal level). Try to prevent this from becoming an option.
So now you might think well why would I still participate in activism…
It’s something I am genuinely passionate about and care for deeply. I strive to protect and care for others. Yes I may be an introvert but stepping out of my comfort zone to do this has introduced me to: some of the most amazing people I think I will ever meet, saving more animals, freedom to express my voice and concerns, encourage a healthy vegan diet, and certainly to learn and grow from the experiences I am exposed to.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead