Guest post: “Equal Time” Outreach/Inreach with Missionaries

This is a guest post from Gary Loewenthal, co-creator of the advocacy group Compassion for Animals.

A couple of weeks ago, Gary mentioned on his Facebook page the intriguing idea of “equal time advocacy.” That is, allowing others, like missionaries, to speak to you about their message in exchange to listening to you about your animal rights message. Gary has always amazed me with his ability to reach out to people I wouldn’t even give a second thought about discussing animal rights with, and this particular example was especially interesting to me. So, I asked him to write a little bit about the concept as well as his experiences putting it into action.

The other day, two Mormon missionaries on their rounds stopped by my house. As usual, they agreed to my “equal time” advocacy proposal, in which I get to advocate to them as much they get to advocate to me, for as long as they like.

I started doing this several years ago, shortly after I got involved with vegan outreach. Since I’ve worked at home for most of those years, I encounter my fair share of door-to-door evangelists and charity solicitors. At least it seems that way.

The “equal time” technique has worked consistently well. As far as I can tell, “the other side” has the same positive impression. Here are some possible reasons for its success:

  • The people with whom I’m talking are generally experienced at one-on-one outreach. Like me, they’ve had to put up with rudeness, non-sequitur diversions, and so forth. So they’re inclined to listen respectfully to my pitch. As I do to theirs.
  • I imagine that after a high percentage of rejections, the missionaries welcome a chance to say their piece, even with the caveats.
  • Our overall goals and motivations for doing outreach overlap. They are working toward peace, harmony, and justice. So am I. In fact, I think most people want these things; the commonality between the missionaries and me is that we both regularly take time to engage in personal outreach in an effort to bring these goals to fruition. The biggest difference between their goals and mine is that the needs of animals, and our obligations toward them, play a central role in my worldview. Also, their ideas of morality may not always jive with mine – although we tend to agree on basic concepts such as the Golden Rule and the obligation to refrain from inflicting avoidable harm on others.
  • I hold up my end of the bargain. I listen to what they have to say, and my questions and counterpoint are earnest and polite.

During my allotted time for outreach during these sessions, I try to meet my worthy counterparts where they are, and proceed from there. I start by asking them their views of our obligations toward animals, and about their diets. I might ask if they have any companion animals and how they feel about them.

I try to explain how vegan concepts and behaviors are compatible with their religion, and how striving to be as compassionate as possible is a sincere and glorious way to practice one’s faith and to respect and honor both Creator and Creation. (I use upper case here strictly to reflect how my audience at the time refers to the two upper-cased entities.) If those concepts are not met with any serious objections, I generally move into practical tips and personalized suggestions, and finish up by a) emphasizing how important I think it is to transition away from animal exploitation and toward a vegan lifestyle, b) the degree of suffering and hurt done on our behalf that each of us can – and thus should – reduce by choosing veganism, and c) the peace of mind that comes with knowing that one is not inflicting avoidable harm on others.

I listen to what they have to say also. I’m honest and state that it’s unlikely that I’ll convert to Mormonism or become a Jehova’s Witness, but I am keenly interested in knowing what they feel is compelling about those choices.

As it turns out, Mormonism has some fairly progressive views on animals. According to the missionaries, we’re to eat meat sparingly, and mostly in times of famine or when there are insufficient non-animal food sources. I usually ask, in return: “Since most of us in the developed world now have access to an abundance of non-animal food all year round, are we thus obligated to forgo animal products? Would abstaining from animal products reflect an earnest, good-faith adherence to the idea of refraining from killing animals for food except when there is no other practical alternative?” This line of questioning is generally productive. Somewhere in there, I point out the considerable suffering and killing – if not the inherent cruelty – in commercial dairy and egg operations.

Before leaving, the missionaries usually want to leave some literature. So do I. So I propose my “equal amount of literature” policy, to which they, so far, always agree. I highly recommend having some copies of the Christian Vegetarian Association’s “Are We Good Stewards of God’s Creation?” pamphlets on hand.

So far, all these sessions have gone well, and we part amicably. One of my hopes is that if anything I say or hand out to the missionaries resonates strongly with them, they will employ their outreach skills to spread the word to their peers and associates.

I use some similar approaches with people who come by the house to solicit funds for Greenpeace, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and progressive lobbying organizations.

One variation with people asking for donations – assuming I like the goals of the organization – is “if you pledge to be vegan for X days within the next Y weeks, I’ll write a check for Z amount.” This equation is dependent on many factors, such as how much money you can spare, but you can usually arrive at a deal that everyone thinks is fair and meaningful. If the person represents a progressive group, there’s a good chance that they’ve already partly divested from the standard American meat- and dairy-centered diet. He or she may already be vegan, in which case you can just give the secret handshake. More seriously, when I have encountered vegetarians or vegans soliciting for a non-veg group, I ask if they’re in a position to influence the group. They may already be doing that. That response may increase the chance of me giving the group a donation,

I try to be mindful of the solicitors’ time schedule; I figure they want to cover as many homes – and get as many donations and email signups – as possible. But sometimes the discussions are apparently mutually enjoyable and they insist that no, they’d rather stay for a few more minutes and talk. Maybe they get tired of getting curtly turned away or knocking on doors of empty houses, and a polite discussion about topics in which they’re interested is a nice change of pace.

Granted, “equal time” advocacy is not something you can do every day, but it’s fairly easy, since your audience comes to you, and the individuals in that audience tend to be good listeners who know and appreciate the hard work of outreach and are thus likely to give you the respect that all advocates want. You may gain some interesting insight into their worldviews also, and that in turn could help your own advocacy.

On Extreme Incrementalism

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Over the weekend, Stephanie over at Animal Rights and AntiOppression shared a video (embedded at the end of this post), which comes courtesy of the Tribe of Heart folks. In the video, James LaVeck discusses an event held by the Ohioans for Humane Farming, a “coalition of animal welfare, family farming, food safety, and environmental advocates advocating for more humane standards to prevent cruel factory farming practices in Ohio.” The fundraising event was promoted heavily as having “delicious food” and namechecked famous chefs involved. “Hey,” you might think, “I bet they were serving up some great vegan food!”

You’d be wrong.

In actuality, the event featured “grass-fed cheeseburgers with cheddar,” goat crostini, chicken confit, goat with pesto, and meatballs made of lambs. This, apparently, is the HSUS’s idea of “delicious food.”

LaVeck then points us to the Ohio group’s about page, which lists other members of the coalition, including several local humane societies, sanctuaries, and animal welfare groups alongside the Great American Lamb Company, cattle ranchers, and other farmers and organizations whose livelihoods depend on killing animals.

Listen. Enough is enough. Let’s cut the crap and get to the point: we don’t need national organizations that supposedly exist to help animals a.) forming coalitions with people who directly benefit from killing animals and b.) serving and promoting meat at their fund-raising events. I’m tired of hearing about incremental reform. I’m tired of hearing about reaching out to the family farmer. I’m tired of hearing about different approaches aiming for the same result. I’m not interested (and I don’t think the animals are, either) in approaches that actively promote the consumption of meat and other animal products.

The HSUS has some explaining to do. And if I were any of the animal organizations listed as part of the coalition, I’d be embarrassed and working to get my group’s name removed from that page pronto. All the good work that they do could get quickly tarnished by a coalition like this.

Keep in mind I’m not criticizing every person in these organizations. I know and have met dozens of people in HSUS, COK, Farm Sanctuiary, etc. and most are good people with good intentions. But when HSUS pulls something like this, they–as an organization–have to be held accountable. We need to call them out. We need to criticize tactics (without making it personal) and get an honest discussion happening. You don’t get people to stop eating meat by encouraging them to eat meat. (But you may get people eating meat again, churning out another one of those annoying vocal ex-vegans.)

Stephanie sums it up nicely (emphasis added):

Please, let’s hold each other accountable, even when that’s difficult to do (and yes, even when we know there are good, well-intentioned individuals inside groups). Please, let’s firmly stand together to say that this is not okay. Please, let’s change course. Please, let’s stop making excuses for what is inexcusable. Please, animal rights advocates, let’s fight for what we actually believe and stop supporting groups and campaigns that are less than honest, that do not reflect what we know to be right and just, and that give credibility and the “humane” label to the exploitation and killing of animals. Let’s show more loyalty to the nonhuman animals than to the groups that keep selling them out.

Asking for your support: Poplar Spring Run for the Animals

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This Sunday I’m running the 7th annual Poplar Spring Run for the Animals 5k. It’s also my own seventh time I’ve run the race — the first one was just a couple of months after I started volunteering at the farm back in 2004.

As I did last year, this year I’m raising money through sponsorships. I hope that you’ll consider sponsoring me and supporting the farm for whatever you can afford using this big ol’ donate button:

SUPPORT ME... PLEASE?

This year I’m running in honor of two animals, both of whom are very close to my heart, reminding me often why I’m vegan and why I will never stop working toward educating others about animal rights.

The furry daughter with her dad Juniper

First up is Amina. We adopted Amina, a bluetick coonhound, five years ago from Friends of Homeless Animals, a nearby no-kill shelter. She’d been found wandering in southwest Virginia seven months previous. She was probably a hunting dog (she has a small buckshot still under her skin on one of her hind legs) and was likely bred, as she has had a litter of puppies. After being picked up, Amina was taken to a shelter, and her time was almost up before a woman adopted her with the intention of finding a new home for her. After bouncing between foster homes and changing names a number of times, she wound up at FOHA, where we met her and instantly fell in love. After our first meeting with her, my wife and I talked it over and went to see her in her kennel run. We asked her through the cage door if she wanted to come home with us and she pawed at the door as if to say, “Of course!”

It’s been a great five years with Amina and all her goofy quirks. For a coonhound, she’s an unsually quiet dog, only barking four or five times in the entire time she’s been with us. She’s had a rough year this year, being diagnosed with very severe inflammatory bowel disease. She’s been on a steady dose of medications for the last month and as a side effect, her leg muscles have weakened quite a bit. It’s been touch-and-go trying to get her on the road to recovery fighting this severe intestinal disease and though she’s far from herself, we’re still hoping that she’ll recover and start to reverse some of these side effects that have set in. We love the girl deeply and have struggled watching her in various stages of discomfort during the onset of IBD (which took well over a year for the vets to successfully diagnose) and during the heavy medication that’s followed. Hopefully on Sunday she’ll be feeling good enough to join us at the race to meet some of the other dogs.

Secondly is Juniper, who I ran in honor of last year. I won’t recall Juniper’s entire story (read up in Poplar Spring’s newsletter or in Deb’s great post from last year), but in short: her family had to leave their farm and when they did, they simply left her behind. Juniper survived difficult weather on her own with only grass to eat for nine months before the neighbors finally called somebody about her. She’d developed a bad infection in her legs that forced her to walk on her front knees. Amazingly, when she came to the farm, she survived and showed quite an improvement in her health. Though she was never able to fully stretch her front legs out again because the muscles had atrophied, she was able to walk on them and loved her relaxed life at the farm.

She’s now 15 years old, making her the oldest goat or sheep ever at Poplar Spring, from what Terry tells me. She’s struggling with arthritis, but is still loving her treats and surprising everyone at the farm with her strength and amazing will to live.

Amina and Juniper are living reminders of how animals in dire straits can recover and live full lives. They’re perfect examples of distinct personalities that go against what everyone expects for their breed or species (have you ever heard of a silent coonhound? Or a goat that’s picky about food and won’t drink water if you’re looking at her?). They’re reminders that animals don’t exist for our use or taste. Let’s respect them and their lives.

Thanks for supporting Poplar Spring and the essential work they do.

Veg in DC/MD/VA – This Weekend

Two events in the area I wanted to make sure everyone in the area knows about. First…

Vegan Bake Sale Benefit for Haiti (Falls Church)

After having to postpone two times because of, you know, blizzards and stuff, Gary his team will be offering up some great vegan goodies. Get there early! There’s a lot of buzz around this event, so I suspect the foodstuffs will disappear quickly. Benefits go to Food for Life Global.

(My wife and I made some mini-donuts. Try ‘em!)

The bake sale is being held outside of the Giant at 1230 W. Broad St. in Falls Church, VA tomorrow from 10:30am–2:30pm.

More info here.

and second…

DC Premiere of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home (DC)

Though I won’t be at the showing, I cannot wait to catch the video release of this when it’s available. The original cut of this movie blew me away and I can only imagine what this refined and updated version will be like.

Catch the movie as part of the at the Environmental Film Festival. It shows tomorrow at 12:15pm at the Carnegie Institution, Elihu Root Auditorium (1530 P Street NW (Metro: Dupont Circle), Washington, DC) and is free. First come, first serve, so get there early!

More info here.

Talking With People Suffering from CDD

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CDD. So many people have it. In fact, we all do to some degree, but as vegans, we tend to bump up against it in almost any conversation with have with someone about the way we live our lives.

CDD is Cognitive Dissonance Disorder, a completely made-up malady that serves as a good introduction to two encounters that my wife and I had with people this weekend.

The Monkey Torturer

My wife took our daughter to a birthday party in our neighborhood recently and chatted a bit with the girl’s parents while the kids were playing. She comes to find out that the husband does “research” on monkeys. What kind of research, you ask? Something amazing and potentially life-changing for the entire world, because that’s what medical research is all about?

No. Of course not.

The project he’s working on involves “testing the mother-child bond.” One group of monkeys have their children taken away from them right after giving birth. The second group of monkeys have their children taken away a week later. And, of course, all are kept in cages and, according to him, “don’t mind it.”

I don’t need to tell you this is torture. I don’t need to tell you this is stupid. And I don’t need to tell you that we would never even consider doing this to humans, but for some reason, it’s OK to some because it’s being done to monkeys. What is the possible justification for this type of research? I have no idea.

I wasn’t at this party, and it’s probably a good thing. I don’t think I could have held a civil conversation when justified monkey torture was the topic.

(Oh, and for added fun, the research lab is just minutes away in the same town as Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.)

The Baffling Rescuer

Last weekend in our town there was a “Dog Days” event where a couple of blocks downtown were closed off and people were encouraged to bring their dogs down for a pet-friendly fair. It was a nice event overall and there were a number of interesting vendors and groups in attendance.

One was a greyhound rescue group. After looking through their literature, I asked one of the representatives whether they did any work lobbying against racing. She told me that the organization is officially “racing neutral.” She said that if they wanted to be able to continue getting the dogs from the tracks, they needed to remain neutral. That made sense to me.

As we continued our conversation, I proceeded with the assumption that even though the organization was racing neutral that the woman herself would be against racing. I mean, obviously, right?

She told me that she’d read that greyhound racing would likely be non-existent by 2015 because it was becoming less and less profitable each year. I said, “Well, that’s good.” She replied, “It would be a shame because we’d be losing a great, great breed…”

Those who know me know that I’m not a confrontational person. To a fault, actually. But at this point, we kind of got into it.

I explained that it’s not right to bring animals into existence just to treat them badly (at this point I didn’t even get into the “or for our use” thing, because, again I assumed she was against racing). She then asked me, “Have you ever actually been to a track and seen how they’re treated?” I told her I had not (and really wanted to use my favorite “and I don’t need to be hit in the face with a lead pipe to know it hurts” line, too, but I didn’t). She then assured me that most racers treated their dogs wonderfully.

Wait a second. Most racers treat their dogs wonderfully, but they’re discarded at a mere 3-4 years old? And if it wasn’t for your own organization, these dogs would die? I told her that, to me the treatment of an animal that you’re using for your own purposes is incidental. The use of an animal at all, I told her, is the problem. She acted like this was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard.

She then proceeded to throw goofy statements at me like, “Well, you can’t tell me you don’t get something out of having a dog? Isn’t that ‘using’ her?” (“Of course I get pleasure from having her in the family, but that’s not why she’s with us.”)

We both took a deep breath and paused a moment. I told her I appreciated the work her organization was doing and thanked her for being involved. I moved on, still baffled that someone could voice support for an industry that necessitated her rescue organization’s very existence.

When I got home, I tweeted about it and asked Mary Martin if this type of stance was common among greyhound rescuers and rescue organizations:

thevegblog: Got into it with a woman from a greyhound rescue organization today. She was defending greyhound racing. @mary_martin, is that normal?

mary_martin: They often say that their 501c3 status prevents them from having an opinion, but that’s BS. They get $ from the track & the $ they get makes them beholden to the industry. It’s a tough spot IF you want $ from the track.

thevegblog: The woman said the org was “racing neutral” in order to keep getting the animals, but she herself defended racing. Seems crazy.

mary_martin: Yeah, that’s a typical response. & from the adopter side, deciding 2 adopt from someone like that is difficult.

After a weekend of such encounters, I’m looking forward to working the farm this Saturday and going to a potluck with other vegan families on Sunday.