By Sandy Warf
For successful leafleting, here’s what I advise: Use the most effective leaflet—one that is abolitionist and therefore promotes veganism, not a vegetarian diet, Meatless Mondays or some other irrational message. Why waste your time and hurt the nonhuman animals by spreading an unjust message? Make the most of your time, and spread the best message! We only use “Why veganism?” leaflets from The Abolitionist Vegan Society.
Next, choose your leafleting place very consciously and carefully. My leafleting partner, Sonia, and I leaflet primarily at one of the largest universities in Orange County, California. We chose a university because it has a population which, theoretically at least, is open to new ideas. We have found this to be true, for the most part.
“Right away, we can see why so many vegan outreach organizations target college students. Given that resources are so limited, it makes sense to focus efforts on a younger audience. This is not to say that efforts would be lost on other audiences, but if the choice must be made between leafleting on a college campus and a community center, the college campus would probably extract a greater return.” – The Academic Abolitionist Vegan
We have found “tandem leafleting” very effective, by which I mean we position ourselves such that people must walk between us. For some reason, this increases the acceptance rate. We have found a narrow area on the border of the university campus through which students, professors and staff must pass to reach the adjacent shopping center with its many restaurants, etc. There are also several bus stops there so, altogether, a great many people pass between us. Here we have the highest acceptance rate of any place we have leafleted and the highest foot traffic during lunch hours on a weekday.
I would avoid leafleting high schools. The students there are mostly still legally minors and the administration might well be aggressive in “protecting” them. We also occasionally leaflet at the Huntington Beach pier. The population there is more diverse in terms of class and age, and somewhat less receptive. However, we are able to leaflet there quite successfully and there are also quite a few tourists, which I see as a plus.
Dress so that you don’t appear terribly different from your leafleted population. Approach people with eye contact and a friendly smile and say something very short (you only have a second or two to connect). I say, “Help animals?” in a warm voice and offer the leaflet with the slightest bit of a flourish. I find that about 70% to 80% of the people I approach will accept a leaflet and say, “Thank you,” to which I, of course, cheerily respond, “You’re welcome,”. Usually, those who don’t accept will politely say, “No, thank you.” Most of the rest say nothing, but, of course, there is the occasional person who feels compelled to say something like, “I love bacon,” or “I love animals, they taste good,” or some other similar highly “original” comment.
It’s important to deal with these provocative comments skillfully, not only for the people making them but for those who may be watching and listening. I simply turn away quietly then smile at, and offer a leaflet, to the next person. It’s important not to engage with provocative people. All they may “get” from the encounter is that we would not be provoked. That alone may be, for them and nearby others, an important message about vegans and veganism.
Most likely, you will have to deal at times with the type of person who wants to engage you in debate. One of their goals is to waste your time; another is to show how much they know. They will ask or tell you about plant “sentience”, desert islands, Eskimos, or want to debate the issue of abortion, and so on. It’s important to differentiate these folks from people who have sincere questions about veganism, a vegan’s diet, the consumption of dairy products, eggs, “humane” animal products, or even the issues mentioned above.
I have never been approached by a police officer while leafleting. In the U.S., as long as we are not impeding pedestrian traffic, distributing literature on a public sidewalk is a fundamental First Amendment right. So, be sure you are on a public sidewalk, or, if you are on private property, that you have with you written permission to leaflet there. It works best to have at least one leafleting partner; I don’t recommend leafleting alone.
Please don’t take rejection of your leaflets, or even the occasional nasty comment, personally. It is not about you. Some people will feel threatened by the very concepts of veganism and justice for nonhuman animals. It may be that, quite unconsciously, they realize that their eating habits and non-vegan choices cause tremendous suffering and death and don’t appreciate this reality being brought to light by you and your leaflet. Let your passion for ending animal exploitation provide the energy needed to leaflet and to overcome any initial shyness. As to how long and how often to leaflet, I advise that you know your limits. We are in this for the long haul; it will not do the animals much good if you burn yourself out. Do as much as you can, and also please remember to honor your other responsibilities, age, health and energy level.
Despite its occasional challenges, leafleting is often fun and exhilarating. It’s deeply satisfying to do creative non-violent vegan education, to educate others about the morality and the necessity of the abolition of animal exploitation.