Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Perspective: From 2003

This time of year often brings reflection, as a way of providing a basis for moving forward...

10 years younger.

10 years ago:
excerpts from
EarthSave Portland's 2003 Interview with Matt Ball

Why Why Vegan? What made you, Jack, and Anne get together and say “Hey, a pamphlet!”? What made you choose to found VO on the principle of direct outreach?

We never really had an “epiphany” like that. We were – and still are – always searching, debating, trying, listening, and evolving.

The evolution is apparent in the Vegan Outreach literature. You can just look at the very first one-page booklet – Vegetarianism – that Jack did (funded mostly by Phil Murray’s last National Merit Scholarship check) in 1990, how it changed to And Justice for All, to Vegan Outreach (all copies of which we collated, stapled, and folded by hand) to the many versions of Why Vegan? and the upcoming Try Vegetarian! 

But just looking at the change in that piece of literature fails to mention the Vegan Starter Pack, the Vegan Advocacy booklet (and other materials we provide, such as the Christian Vegetarian Association’s What Would Jesus Eat…Today?, PETA’s Alec Baldwin version of the video Meet Your Meat, etc.), as well as Jack’s leafleting college campuses across the country for two years, and subsequent events….

Toss in with this our fur campaign, getting arrested, holding “Please Stop Eating Animals” banners on bridges and street corners, fasting in public, dressing up like pigs, etc. There was no straight progression to what we do now, and we will continue to explore new things, and adopt and/or endorse those we find efficacious.

So in short, we are where we are because 1. We are and have been dedicated to maximizing our impact on the amount of suffering, 2. We’re willing to try new things, and 3. We’re not afraid to admit failure.

You advocate a positive, non-confrontational approach to animal liberation that eschews demonstrations and other similar types of activism. In a recent interview you said “More people are realizing that we aren’t going to chant and scream animal liberation into existence.” How did this philosophy of offering humble, honest information as a primary activist strategy develop for you?

Trial and error, and plenty of bashing of head against brick wall.

I wish I could say that I had a brilliant insight into the human psyche from day one, but that isn’t true. For years I acted from the anger and near-misanthropy that many activists have. This fury – understandable and justified – is certainly real, and a start for many. But fundamentally, it isn’t about my anger (or ego, or needs). It is about those suffering. It is about creating the greatest change we can.

A lot of new animal activists operate out of anger and despair. In fact, a lot of activists spend much of their lives depressed, angry and burned out. What sparked your transition to a life of joy and openness – of becoming “an example of a life that others would admire and be interested in understanding”? 

Again, I wish that I could give an answer that would be inspiring to all readers, but my personal views are a result of odd bounces and lucky twists. If I had gone to Georgia Tech instead of U. Cincy, if I had ended up on the engineers’ floor of the dorm instead of with Fred as my roommate, etc. It is all the butterfly effect, although some elements – like Jack, of course, are obviously central. But for me, at least, Anne has been, far and away, the key to everything.

Two seemingly at-odds facts:

A. As mentioned, fury and/or despair are entirely understandable. I think most people deny / block out the reality of all the suffering in the world – a psychological defense mechanism. Those who don’t suppress this truth yet don’t feel anger and/or hopelessness are often psychopaths.

B. Perhaps the best way to have a significant impact on the state of the world, though, is to find a better space in life, to be an example of a desirable, meaningful life.

Getting from A to B is vital for the animals, but an incredibly difficult path. This should, I think, be a priority for everyone who cares about reducing and preventing suffering.

What has most surprised you during all your VO experiences? 

That I didn’t die of stomach ulcers from worrying about upcoming leafleting and public speaking. Those activities used to make me sick with worry for days beforehand. I now have Crohn’s disease, though, so….

How has VO changed since its inception? 

We’re always changing, trying to find the best ways to prevent suffering.

One thing that I think has remained the same, though, and it relatively unique to Vegan Outreach, is the amount of, shall we say, “personality” the group has. We don’t claim to have all the answers. We’re just a relative handful of folks trying to do our best, and help others to their best, with what knowledge we’ve accumulated and resources we have at the time. We disagree amongst ourselves (vehemently at times), make mistakes and enemies (e.g., “You have become a corrupt marketing arm of the meat and dairy industries”), but we keep plugging away.

Karen Dawn of recently asked how we would describe Vegan Outreach. “Fanatically anti-dogmatic” is a good start. Being able to promote values such as humility, joy, and humor is another upside to our more personal approach.

What are the biggest challenges VO faces now? 

Raising money.

It is hard, with all the cruelty, abuse, and suffering going on in the world right now, to donate to something as abstract as promoting veganism. Human nature responds to the known and immediate. Donors react to the picture and story of an individual animal, with a specific plea, rather than a nebulous, “Help us print Try Vegetarian!, and somewhere people will stop eating animals, and down the road, some animals won’t be bred and suffer in factory farms.” (This is, of course, true for me as well; there are two cats I know that are headed to the shelter for lack of a home; Anne developed a terrible allergy since Ellen was born, or we would take them. The plight of these cats has caused me a great deal of grief, although it is nothing compared to the suffering going on in factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses.)

It is also very hard to get people to fund honest and balanced nutritional research and reporting as well.

To generalize, people like to back an immediate winner, someone who has the cheery, sure-sounding, inspiring, attention-grabbing message. And this doesn’t even begin to comment on the state of today’s economy, especially as relates to our standard member – a college student.

Vegan Outreach has existed for years on an annual budget less than what some groups put towards relatively minor projects. We’ve distributed millions of copies of Why Vegan? and Vegetarian Living! as a tiny, relatively unknown group. Yet so much more could be done; e.g., having Why Vegans and Try Vegetarians on display in every willing health food store, library, bookstore, coffee house, restaurant, etc. – not to mention having activists regularly leafleting their local high school and college – would reach so many interested people for a relative pittance.

Full interview, with personal sidebar, here
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