It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear.
—Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)
I don't like approaching people I don't know. In fact, I have trouble with people in general. I'm an introvert and find social interaction to be exhausting. It's not that I don't enjoy it, because sometimes I really do, but it's something that I have to work at and that leaves me ready for a lengthy nap.
Accordingly, I never fancied myself as a person who would do outreach with strangers. My sister is one of those people and has spent the past few years touring with musical acts and talking to kids and teenagers about animal rights. That sounds terrifying to me.
But really, how bad can it be? A few hours approaching strangers? Even if they're completely rude to you, that's about the worst you can expect to happen. That's why I committed to buying fliers from Vegan Outreach last August when Erik Marcus posted that month's list for Commitment Tuesday. I immediately and publicly committed to buying, reading and donating the books. That was easy.
It took a few days, but I settled on buying some fliers to have on hand when people asked me questions. But it didn't quite work out that way. The Vegan Outreach team got in touch to make sure that I knew what resources were available to me, and how to find on-going leafleting in my area. Then, I received an email from Jon Camp, Outreach Coordinator, saying that he'd be leafleting at Bowie State University, which is just down the road from my house, if I wanted to join.
That was the game-changer. I read The Animal Activist's Handbook, which was invaluable in its advice, but the opportunity to go with a veteran for my first time really motivated me.
In my email exchanges with Jon, he said something that made all the difference in the world:
I should also note that I'm not some great extrovert. But I found there to be a great need for those who do outreach and I've been overwhelmed by how positive it can be and what great feedback we receive as a result of it. So it's important to remember that the hardest booklet to hand out is the first. And it gets easier and easier from there. So if you don't think much about the first booklet, you should be good to go.
So I made arrangements to leave work early one cool November Monday, and set off to Bowie State with one of my favorite vegan buddies to join Jon.
Jon was a nice guy who gave us a few pointers. I think he could tell I was nervous, so he said, "I'm just going to let you go ahead and give out that first one." So I did. Jon relinquished his spot to us, and headed a few yards away to reach another segment of traffic.
Honestly, the first 20 minutes crawled by. I felt apprehensive and weird and kept glancing at the huge tower clock above me, hoping that the hour I'd promised would fly by.
But the source of my pain was not the passersby. Everyone was nice to me. The worst I got was an occasional, and polite, "No, thank you." One man did walk by, loudly saying, "Birds are such bastards and should be dipped in acid," but he wasn't saying it to us. He was being passive-aggressive and that doesn't upset me.
In fact, the response was largely positive. People took fliers happily, read them, talked about them, and a few even sought me out and asked about them. People expressed love for animals and dismay at the information in the pamphlets. It was a rewarding event in the end.
Honestly I don't think I'll become the star leafleter of any organization, but between the three of us, we handed out over 300 leaflets on that campus, and that's a start. Even if I never become comfortable with it, isn't an hour or two a month of discomfort worth it to educate people about the cause I love?
So how about you? Do you think you could approach strangers with a smile on your face and ask them if they'd be interested in some "info to help animals?" I think you can. So why don't you check out the resources below and give it a shot. If there's an organization you really like, why not ask them if they do leafleting and get involved? If the thought of leafleting leaves you queasy, why not order a few to have on hand for when someone asks about your ethics? Answering a few questions is great, but putting information in their hands is even better.
Even if you think you know what to do, read this first. The Animal Activist's Handbook will answer so many questions, give you good ideas, and help you understand how to approach and talk to people. I can talk to people well, despite being an introvert, but this book really opened my eyes to effective outreach techniques.
Handing out leaflets requires one thing above all others - leaflets. Vegan Outreach has a few different designs, so look for one that suits you. I really like "Compassionate Choices." A lot of people expressed adoration for the happy animals on the front, and then realized once they looked inside that such adoration made the reality of factory farming more difficult to face. I also handed out "Even If You Like Meat" and Jon gave me some "Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating" for people who had questions.
If working with Vegan Outreach is appealing to you, and you live near a college, check out their Adopt A College program. College kids have the time to stand around and talk to you, and so many schools have established programs that you can probably join some experienced leafleters.
As scary as leafleting may seem, it really is one of the quickest and most effective ways to spread your message. Give it a go once. Worst case scenario you decide not to do it again, but my bet is that you'll be happy to have done it and be looking forward to doing it again.