Getting Active

Getting Active

This year, my personal activism has ramped up dramatically, such that it has become a full time job, though I have yet to determine how I could actually make a living at it. I don’t recommend working full time for no pay. While money is not the be-all end-all of life, it does pay the rent. And the grocery bills. And the phone bills. In other words, we can’t ignore it.

However, just because my idea of living an animal-friendly life has me currently filling my schedule with unpaid activism doesn’t mean I think it’s the best choice for you, too. It may not be the best choice for me, long-term, but it’s what am most compelled to do right now. In future columns, I’ll consider other ways to extend your animal-friendly lifestyle choices beyond going vegan, whether through extracurricular activism, full-time employment or entrepreneurship.

In the meantime, maybe reviewing some of the steps I’ve recently taken on my animal-friendly journey will give you some ideas. Remember, you don’t need to do everything. Find what excites you or plays into what you already enjoy, and adapt it to your compassion for animals. In my case, I’ve long been involved in writing, filmmaking, public speaking and organization, so what follows is a natural extension of interests I’ve had since well before embracing vegan principles.

Surprisingly, the decision to step up my activism to a full-time basis has me doing more of the things that I was already interested in. I’m writing more, first of all. In addition to my own blog and writing this monthly column for stayingvegan.com, I recently interviewed John Robbins for Herbivore Magazine (subscribers only) and enjoyed writing a guest post for PBS.org’s “Remotely Connected.”

All this on top of always writing letters, including my new foray into attempting to have an Op-Ed published, as well as co-writing a screenplay with a vegan theme. As a writer before all else, it’s been a real pleasure steeping myself in words that make more of a difference to me, even if it feels like I rarely have enough time to stop and compose something resembling an articulate point of view. People tell me that it all comes out a lot better than it appears from where I’m sitting!

I’ve also enjoyed various forms of public speaking for years now. But, instead of conducting exclusive VIP tours for celebrities, deep-pocketed tourists and heads of state at Universal Studios, or giving heart health talks to Rotarians, I’m now speaking out directly about veganism and effective animal rights activism. This year I spoke several times at the Animal Rights 2007 conference and in front of 100 students at Northeastern University. As with the writing, it has been deeply satisfying speaking out more directly on the issues, deriving more pleasure out of something that I was already doing, and probably accomplishing more.

If a vegan association or society doesn’t exist in your area, why not start one?

But the biggest change has probably been stepping up to co-found and direct a community-based vegan organization. I never intended to run a non-profit but, when I learned that I would be moving to Boston earlier this year, I quickly realized from local contacts and friends at national animal protection organizations that there was a big piece of the puzzle missing out here.

As you might gather from my previous column, I very much believe in taking the initiative and making things happen where you’re able to. For a variety of reasons, launching a vegan association made perfect sense to me. I won’t deny that one of the primary reasons was selfish: I wanted to see more vegan options in Boston, and to be part of a community in the region that didn’t back away from using the word “vegan.”

Ultimately, though, this was a calling. The idea of starting a vegan association sparked a drive in me that I was unable to resist. When you experience this drive, you’ll know it, and you’ll know that it’s worth taking a leap to align your life with that ambition, because it so clearly asserts itself in your mind.

But I didn’t jump in blindly. Thanks to the interconnectedness of the Vegan Freak Forums, I had befriended a number of vegans in the Boston area before I even knew I would be moving here. Encouraged by their responses to my idea, I decided to proceed with launching the Boston Vegan Association. One fellow VFF member took some initiative herself, registering the domain bostonvegan.org.

We joined forces as co-founders. I would lead the organization, laying out the vision, mission and action plan, as well as securing non-profit status, and she would build us a website to promote the organization, create an online community for local vegans and to provide them with useful resources like a user-contributed restaurant database, blog and weblinks.

Of course, it’s difficult for even two people to do everything. I’m still terribly behind on getting our FAQ finished, for example, and we’d really like to get our recipes database going, but we are still moving forward by focusing on the priorities in front of us, such as bringing more people in to distribute the load.

While we’ve only been active in Boston since early September, we have signed up over 60 members, many of whom show up frequently for community activities. We’ve registered nearly 200 users at the website, and have signed hundreds of people up for our mailing lists. We’re getting noticed with some regularity, and we’ve already made some progress with increasing vegan options available in the area.

As I mentioned in my previous column, the time is right for healthy vegan communities to spring up everywhere. Many vegans are looking to join a group that understands their needs and interests, and that leverages them as individuals to achieve more together than they can alone. By stepping up to create that space for a community to flourish, you can make a big difference for vegans in your area and, by extension, the animals they will go on to help by a) not eating or wearing them, b) staying vegan with each others’ support and c) working within the community to change peoples’ attitudes toward animals.

If a vegan association or society doesn’t exist in your area, why not start one? You don’t need to work full time to get one going, and you don’t even need to seek out non-profit status first if you don’t intend to raise money. If you start off small, gathering people together for social activities like potlucks, restaurant meetups or hiking, it can grow from there.

If you simply can’t fathom running an organization yourself, and you don’t know anyone you can coerce into running one with you, don’t give up. I’ll cover other options for individual activism in future columns.

Eric is the publisher of An Animal-Friendly Life and co-founder of the Boston Vegan Association.

Originally posted January 4, 2008

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