Appearance Matters
from No Compromise Issue 17

By John Duerk

Your appearance makes a difference.

Over the past several years I have encountered many activists at different demonstrations against almost every form of animal exploitation. Usually I leave with the following positive feelings: 1) that awareness has been generated on an issue that is very important; and 2) that I have networked with other like-minded people, thereby strengthening the movement as a whole. Occasionally though I leave with very negative feelings about the effectiveness of our efforts for the animals.

What has bothered me so much concerns the personal appearance and behavior of certain activists. Before I continue, it is imperative that our movement' s ultimate goal be addressed along with the typical reaction of the average person to those who look different. As activists we are speaking out on behalf of the animals in an effort to convince members of the general public that they should change their speciesist perceptions of non-human beings. We want people to alter their diets and buying habits. In other words, we encourage them to change their values in order to lessen suffering. Though we maintain that conviction in our hearts, some of us ignore the fact that all humans pass judgment upon one another and that judgment is inescapable.

Translated: What you wear to a protest makes a difference in how your ideas are received, and first impressions are crucial because not everyone is as liberal in what they accept or tolerate of others.

With this in mind, imagine you're standing out in front of a major department store on a busy sidewalk holding signs, distributing leaflets, and a chanting through a megaphone. You only have seconds to communicate your message to the people passing by. What do you suppose the average person thinks of our cause when he or she sees one or more activists with purple mohawks, shirts and patches that display nihilistic phrases, spiked bracelets, tattoos and piercings, torn pants, a cigarette hanging from their lip, and 'leather' combat boots? Now, before you assume that I despise the fashion characteristic of the punk rock counterculture, I must defend myself by saying that I once dressed that way and still maintain my appreciation of the style (less the leather of course), so I'm not trying to come off as condescending. My point is that we have to think and adjust ourselves appropriately to effectively deliver the concept of "animal liberation" to the masses.

I'm sure there are activists who will scoff me for arguing the issue of appearance and behavior. My immediate response is that of a question: Whose side are you on? Let's face it: our struggle has been marginalized enough. Moreover, the industries that thrive on animal exploitation will only feel the moral pressure intensify if we convince people in the middle portions of society that our lifestyle is more ethical than those who profit from and/or ignore animal suffering. Part of convincing the multitude involves dressing like the average man or woman in a world where personal attire matters. Does this mean that you have to sell out to help the animals? Absolutely not! If spending two hours a week at a protest wearing plain clothing helps us move toward our ultimate goal, how could that be construed as sacrificing one's principles? Likewise, how could fashion ever be more important than saving innocent lives?

For those who take my concerns here seriously, I offer the following suggestions when attending demonstrations: 1) wear a plain t-shirt or plaid button-up (keep one in your car or backpack that you can access easily); 2) wear a baseball cap if your hair is dyed any unusual colors; 3) never wear leather (even if you still own any from before you went vegetarian because you leave us all open to mockery); 4) wear clothing that covers tattoos if possible and leave the more provocative jewelry off/out; and finally, 5) smoke before or after the event because it just doesn't look appealing (especially when you're attempting to convince someone that a vegan diet is healthier than eating meat).