Photo by David Camilli
I have always known that animal rights was a very important part of my identity. I can’t trace back my feelings of empathy with animals, as they go back to my very core and roots, as far back into the depths of my childhood as I can remember. I have always felt very strongly about the fact that we should avoid hurting animals at all costs, and I’ve always wanted to go out of my way to protect them.
As a child, I would preach about vegetarianism to anyone who would listen but especially to those who would not. I signed petitions with a fiery conviction. I wore “Stop animal testing!” pins on my backpack to school. Everyone who knew me was aware of my stance on animal rights. Even so, I didn’t fully find my voice as an activist until I left my job in fashion and went into animal rights and vegan advocacy full-time. After going vegan in 2012, I gradually became more and more involved in animal rights – attending protests, speaking to other vegans, getting informed, writing about animal rights – until the point where activism is a constant presence in my daily life. I am still finding my voice, and I know it’s not an easy journey, but it’s definitely one worth embarking on.
Photo by Karen Denton
First, find your cause.
I could write an entire book on this, but let’s keep things short: I believe that finding a cause you believe in is fundamental to everyone’s purpose on the planet. I think that every human being has something that they want to fight for, whether it’s children, animals, the environment, refugees, women, the poor, the elderly or anything else you feel passionate about. “But Sascha, I am passionate about ALL that stuff,” I hear you say. “How do I pick just one?” First of all: loving the enthusiasm! Secondly: I have a simple trick to find your cause. It’s this: think about the things that make you the most angry. Is it learning about refugees drowning at sea or families being separated at the US border? Is it reading about the enormous amounts of plastic in the ocean or how many child workers are put at risk in garment factories? Is it learning that the fur industry takes millions of lives every year? Think back to when you first found out about issues you care about – how did you feel, and for how long did the memory of seeing that video or reading that article stay with you? Did any of it make you cry? More importantly, did any of it make you want to go out there RIGHT NOW and change things? There. That’s your cause.
Now that you’ve found it, here’s how to actively and effectively speak out for it:
Vote, and encourage others to vote. I have never understood those who don’t use their precious right to vote. Especially women – other women were tortured, jailed, force-fed, and even died for our right to vote. How can we forgo that right just because we can’t be bothered? It’s beyond me.
Attend events. Online activism is great – I am a vocal cheerleader for “clicktivism” and am firmly convinced that it has and does make a difference. But actually going outside, joining to like-minded people, holding a sign and physically standing up for what you believe in, can’t be beat. It’s a powerful feeling that will put more fire in your belly and will encourage you to keep fighting for your cause. Plus, you will meet so many amazing people through actual, physical activism. I’ve met lifelong friends that way.
Join your gang. Strength comes in numbers, and as far as I can say, joining the 2018 Animal Rights March in London with 10,000 other vegans was one of my most powerful activism experiences. And it’s one that I would never even have known about if I didn’t get active, join groups, reach out to other like-minded people. Find your people and join your voice with theirs.
Find your voice online. I used to hate my Instagram account. I wasn’t as young, rich or pretty as the other Instagrammers I followed, I couldn’t afford to travel as much as they did and no matter how much I tried, the “cohesive Instagram aesthetic” eluded me. But when I decided to use my account for activism instead of showing off my lunches and outfits, something shifted. I unfollowed the identical-looking influencers in favour of vegan and feminist accounts and wrote longer captions about the environment, animals and equality to accompany the photos of me at protests, of vegan chalking, of me wearing Meat is Murder t-shirts and more. All of a sudden, I freaking loved my account. Just looking at it now makes me happy. Use your influence, whether you have 100 or 1m followers, to speak out for what you believe in – that’s what the world needs, not another photo of a perfectly arranged smoothie bowl.
Learn the art of effective advocacy. This is a hard one. I still find it difficult to speak to people – online or offline – who don’t understand veganism or feminism, and don’t want to listen to my points because they have decided that they are against it. I get so emotional that I find it hard to stay calm. But if I look deeper into myself and my motivations, I realise that this is because I myself have blocked out their points of view and taken a stance where I’ve decided that I am against them. We will never achieve change if we shut each other out. Conversation is the key to change. I’m learning every time I attend an outreach event, simply by listening to the conversations that experienced outreach activists have with people. It’s that simple. If you’re a vegan activist or even if you’re not, so much can be learned about effective advocacy in any field from watching Earthling Ed’s public debate videos on YouTube.
Go beyond the fear. Is it scary to stand in the streets and confront people about their way of living? Yes. Hell yes! It’s even somewhat uncomfortable sharing feminist and anti-racist posts on Facebook knowing that not everyone in your friends list might share your views. But if we all keep quiet or stay anonymous, change will be just that – quiet and anonymous. And we need change to be big and loud! So find a way to face the fear. One thing that will definitely help is remembering your why. Take your mind back to the reasons why you are doing what you are doing. Think about the injustice you are fighting, and the fight itself will become less intimidating.
This month I am reading: The Dead Zone by Stephen King – so ahead of its time!
This month I am listening to: the new Muse album! Can’t wait.
This month I am watching: The Great British Bake-Off, which is actually having a vegan challenge week this year!
This month I am planning: my holiday in Croatia – so excited.