We at Farm Sanctuary are often asked by members, “how do you go on?” With such cruelty constantly happening all around us, it can be difficult to persevere as we work (alongside you) to end animal cruelty. In the U.S. alone, 286 chickens are killed for food each and every second, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (I actually have the number of chickens killed every second tattooed on my left wrist… it helps me put things in perspective and stay focused.)
At the recommendation of some of my colleagues who (like me) are often sent e-mails asking how we go on, I decided that “Making Hay” was the perfect arena to further explore that question. This subject relates very much to avoiding activist burnout – a subject I once wrote about for Veg News Magazine. Since I could go on and on about this, I’ve broken this blog entry up into two parts. This coming Tuesday, I will post Part Two.
To start, I asked my fellow bloggers (those from “Making Hay,” “Sanctuary Tails,” “Walk Talk” and “Gene Baur’s Bloggings”) to let us all know how they go on with their animal activism, when animal abuse is rampant and commonplace. (Actually, maybe that right there is the answer: It is rampant, so how do we not go on?)
When times are tough for Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, he focuses his attention on the individual actions of so many who face the realities of factory farming head-on by choosing to no longer consume animal products. Gene remarked, “I realize the enormity of the cruelties we face, but don’t allow thoughts about these abuses to pull me down. Instead, I focus on any positive developments, even very small ones, such as a person making the choice to no longer consume veal or foie gras – or a person connecting the dots to realize that all animal products are the result of cruelty, and then deciding to go vegan. I am very heartened when I think about animals rescued from factory farms, and I’m inspired by people who are making a difference, especially by choosing to be vegan.”
Counting the small victories is a great way to keep things in perspective. Especially in this movement, when the “big” wins can sometimes be hard to quantify, paying attention to the little victories is necessary. So, remember that woman with the cute dog to whom you passed a “Say No to Factory Farming” flier last week? Did you see that glint in her eye as she looked it over and quietly remarked, “Hmm”? Yeah, remember that the next time you say to yourself, “What’s the point?” What about the vegan cupcake you gave to your co-worker just before he realized that vegan food can be out-of-this-world delicious? Wasn’t it cool when he asked if he could borrow a vegan cookbook because his girlfriend’s birthday was coming up and he’d love to make her a vegan cake? Yeah, keep times like those filed in the front of your brain so that you can pull them out whenever you feel blue. You might even write them down on post-its and put them all over your work area. By paying attention to those little victories, you are giving yourself little pats on the back – and sometimes, it’s those pats that are just what the activist ordered.
For Farm Sanctuary’s National Walk for Farm Animals Coordinator Beth Begany, it is not surprising that the vital fund- and awareness-raising that is a result of the Walks – as well as the dozens of tireless volunteers who make them happen – are what drives her. Beth told me, “The Walks are a powerful and moving expression of people coming together to work for change. The energy of that is incredible, and I focus each and every day on how much potential there is to make a difference.”
As for my “Making Hay” co-blogger Casey Martinson, he also remembers the potential we each have for making a difference as he keeps his eye on the big picture. Casey said, “In the most worldly terms, I draw strength from knowing that our movement is making progress. It is painfully slow at times, but I really believe that some day, the slaughter will stop. It may take seven generations or more, but I just can't imagine a truly advanced civilization that persists in killing animals for food. Also, I'm essentially a Buddhist, which is a tradition rich with teachings on compassion and equanimity, both of which are important for any kind of activism.”
My other “Making Hay” co-blogger Delci Winders gets by with a little help from her friends. Together, they can call on one another for support – which I know from experience is key for avoiding activist burnout. I, myself, use my community not only when it’s a particularly bad day, but also when I simply need a diversion, or want to be in a comfortable setting of friends and peers who “get it.” Delci said, “Unquestionably, working as a full-time farm animal advocate can be emotionally draining. I’ve been able to sustain myself and keep going by surrounding myself with others who are supportive of my work and share my deep concern for the way that animals are treated in our society. I basically have an informal support group that I can call upon as needed, and that can also call upon me.”
For Susie Coston (our national shelter director) and Leanne Cronquist (our California shelter director), their activism is hands-on. Susie and Leanne are on the frontlines as rescued animals wind up at our doorstep. It is not uncommon for these animals to show up at our shelters in desperate shape – needing food, water and immediate health care. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit one of our two sanctuaries, then you know that they are places where rescued farm animals can truly thrive. Without Susie, Leanne and our shelter staff, that just wouldn’t be possible.
But how do they go on?
It’s something I’ve always wondered, too. So tune in again this coming Tuesday to learn the answer to that question. And let me tell you, after reading Susie and Leanne’s responses to that question, I got the warm-fuzzies, and my eyes welled up. In addition to discussing what it’s like to be on the frontlines, I will also provide some more tips for avoiding activist burnout.
See you tomorrow, then!