Speaking in School
from No Compromise Issue 17
 

 

Having been active in the animal rights movement for over six years now, I am constantly evaluating the tactics I use to promote awareness concerning the plight of animals (including our own species) and the environment. While I wholeheartedly advocate protesting, civil disobedience, tabling, and legislation as ways to affect change and create awareness, I feel that we must also dedicate more time to educating children of all ages.

Toward this goal I have given a total of 27 animal rights presentations over a two-month period in high schools alone. I encourage everyone to design a presentation format that works best for them, but I'll share with you some things that I found effective.

Prior to calling the individual schools, I came up with a list of dates and times when I would be available to speak. I then called every public and private high school in Charlotte in an attempt to find environmental or animal rights clubs. After several phone calls, I was given the advisor's name of an environmental club at one of the high schools. While he was very enthusiastic about my willingness to speak to his classes, I discussed some of my views with him so he clearly understood that I would be talking about animal rights, not animal welfare. (The last thing you want to do is cause a stir in the school system simply because the teacher was unaware that you'd be talking about animal rights). In addition to speaking to his classes, he also referred me to other environmental science and horticulture teachers who he felt would be open to animal rights. If it weren't for obtaining referrals from each teacher, the speaking engagements would have been much more difficult to arrange.

Prior to the speaking engagements, I read up briefly on issues such as hunting, fur, vivisection, and zoos/aquariums so I'd be able to provide more updated information and statistics. I also carry fact sheets with me on various topics including hunting, circuses, Belk (the Charlotte based chain that has a fur department), animals in captivity, etc. for those who want more specific information on issues. I always have plenty of Why Vegans to hand out at the end of each class. I also bring along Andrew Linzey's Christianity and Animal Rights, Carol Adams' The Sexual Politics of Meat, and Eric Marcus' Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating for those who want more specifics on biblical quotes, the correlation between feminism and animal rights, and veganism.

I start every presentation by letting them know that I am open to any and all questions, as I think evasiveness can really thwart a discussion. I try to limit the time I speak to about 10 to 15 minutes, to allow them plenty of time for questions and answers. After telling them how I became involved in the movement, I talk about a few animal rights campaigns I've participated in and discuss the interconnectedness between the human rights, animal rights, and environmental movements. I also explain to them that since I think both the human animal and other species are equal when it comes to the right to live free of exploitation and abuse, I frequently make analogies between human slavery and the enslavement of animals. When I explain this prior to the discussion, the students do not get defensive when I make comparisons between animals and humans.

During the question and answer period, be prepared to answer all sorts of questions on issues ranging from abortion and birth control to dating and economic sabotage. While I answer all questions posed to me, I prevent tangents on unrelated topics and avoid arguments by offering to meet with students individually afterwards. Also, I gently remind them that while I understand where they are coming from, sometimes it's best to agree to disagree. When I am asked my stance on issues such as abortion, religion, and drinking, I always stress that these are my own views and are not necessarily reflective of views held by others in the animal rights movement. Again, while I think it is imperative that we honestly answer questions posed to us during speaking engagements, we must not criticize other activists in the movement or students participating in the discussion who hold differing views. Nor should we allow the discussion to digress into a debate on abortion or religion. When we show a willingness to answer any and all questions in a respectful but truthful manner, we definitely come across as more approachable and believable.

Instead of talking solely about the atrocities being done to animals, the earth and one another, I always discuss some of the solutions as well. After all, if we continually inundate people with disturbing statistics and graphic pictures without offering them ideas on how to affect change, they will feel as if they can't make a difference. I also stress the importance of using a multitude of tactics such as civil disobedience, protests, letter writing, legislation, boycotts, support of the ALF and ELF, etc. in order to promote various social justice issues.

While I feel that the presentations this past semester were fairly effective, there are some things I could do to improve them. During the question and answer portion, I plan on showing the Pink Floyd video (which shows graphic images of animals being tortured to death for various industries) to the middle school and high school students. (If you are interested in purchasing the video, please contact Compassion Over Killing). When I schedule speaking engagements, I will request that the teachers invite other classes to participate. This will enable me to reach more students without having to schedule additional presentations.

Of all the tactics I've utilized, speaking to students has been among the most rewarding. Not only did some students go vegetarian and vegan as a result of the presentations, but many have also started campaigning for vegan options in their schools and asked their teachers to replace animal dissection with computer models. I encourage anyone who is comfortable speaking in front of groups to contact your local school system and get involved!