Staying positive as a vegan activist

Ironically, many activists spend much of their day viewing the images and trying to assess the magnitude of the suffering they so hate. My Twitter feed is filled with beaten animals. I’m being sent articles about slaughter. And the south side of Central Park seems to stretch on forever, when I’m just trying to walk past the horses without losing hope in the species that sells their power.

I’ve never been tough. As a child I thought it was my obligation to pick a buffet’s least popular cake, so „he“ wouldn’t „feel bad.“ I remember insisting my mom buy the chocolate snowman whose hat had been damaged, surely leaving him „sad“ and „humiliated.“ We brought Snowman home and made him a new top hat. My mom used to say: „How will you deal with the really sad things in the world, when even these little things get you down?“ Now, as an adult, I know that question was not rhetorical.

Everyone has their own strategies for staying positive. I believe every activist needs them, especially with a cause like anti-speciesism, where you’ll encounter what you’re fighting against every hour of every day and in almost every person you meet.

These are three little strategies I’ve developed over the years to stop myself from feeling down.

Spare the details

I used to think it was my duty to watch every new movie on animal suffering (they come out quite frequently on German TV) and to read every article on the subject. It’s not. The truth is, few documentaries and articles provide any new information. Scandals are very much alike and differ only in location and details. Besides, I know the suffering that goes on in slaughterhouses, labs, and other sites of animal abuse. Watching individual animals within these institutions and learning about the minute details of their abuse and killing is more likely to get me down than to make me a better advocate. And besides, I care far less about scandals than the widely tolerated aspects of animal abuse. Even meat eaters are upset about „scandals“ like non-organic conditions on organic-certified farms. Vegans’ job is not to join them in their complaints about „lack of transparency“ or „inhumane“ slaughter, but to convince them that the real problem isn’t the scandals, but the obscurity of virtually all other suffering.

Don’t gloss over the victories

When we care about something, we tend to focus on what’s still to be done. I certainly spend more time crying over a story of abuse than in happiness over a story of rescue. When there’s some news story on veganism, I read through all the upsetting comments by readers who are callous (or try to be in order to justify their eating habits) rather than digitally fist-pounding those commenters who think like me. When you care about a non-mainstream issue, it’s easy to get sidetracked by the majority whose lifestyle offends your convictions and sets back your activism instead of focusing on the small number of people who think and live like you. Similarly, reminding myself of the very few individual animals whose lives are respected also motivates me. As trivial as the adoption of one shelter dog or the rescue of one hen may seem (and be in the scheme of the movement), to that individual animal it is not trivial. Imagining the world from these lucky animals’ perspective makes me feel better.

Distance yourself

When all the animal suffering gets too much for me to wrap my hand around and when the numbers of those suffering in every corner of the world seem insurmountable, I just have to distance myself emotionally. This may seem at odds with vegan advocacy; this emotional distancing, after all, is the very problem behind animal abuse, the abstraction that allows otherwise empathetic people to eat animals. I would never tell meat eaters to remove themselves emotionally from the suffering of other species. But as a vegan activist, you sometimes need to distance yourself from what you’re fighting against in order to keep afloat at all. At least, that’s been my experience.

What are your strategies for staying positive as a vegan and as an animal rights advocate?