Leafleting isn’t my favorite form of activism, but it is something that I can easily do, and one of those things where most people don’t bother. So when a friend wanted to meet up somewhere to leaflet for a couple hours, I agreed. Sometimes the hardest part about getting things like this going is just getting people off their couches and doing anything!
So I drove up to Philly this morning. Almost no traffic, and despite my worries about it being really cold, it ended up being a good day for leafleting. People were out and about, not so cold that they weren’t willing to slow down and grab a leaflet. We mostly used some leaflets from peta that are pretty gentle, not heavy on the graphic pictures. I have no idea what kind of leaflets are most effective, but I’m personally most comfortable with giving out the non-graphic kind, and so that’s what I do.
We spent about 45 minutes outside a theater where the Nutcracker was showing. Just by luck we got there a few minutes before the doors opened. A lot of people took the information. Some of the notable responses to my “would you like some information?”
him: Michael Jackson?
me: no, would you like some information?
him, taking a leaflet: well, okay, but really I’d like you!
me: uuummmm…I’m not available. sorry!
so strange! but then there was this one:
him: hahaha. save the chickens!
me: and the pigs.
him: save them for what?
me: for themselves.
him: don’t you mean from themselves?
I should note that all of my responses were with a nice smile!
After the crowd dwindled to nothing, and the foot traffic got really light, and the theater employee (security?) who had been hovering near me got a bit too interested in heckling me, we headed to lunch. Su Xing House Vegetarian Chinese Food, as recommended by urbanvegan. Excellent! We really enjoyed it.
We then headed to Rittenhouse Square. This is a nice small park with some interesting architecture around. Once again we handed out quite a number of leaflets, and mostly people seemed to read them. The notable responses:
him: i can’t be vegetarian.
me: *patient silence*
him: i tried being vegetarian. I was vegetarian for like 2 years. And then I passed out one day.
me: *amused silence*
him: They told me that maybe I needed to eat protein.
me: There is an abundance of protein in plant based diets as well.
him: Maybe I should give it a try again.
me: I think you should!
I’m not sure, but I think he was making up the part about being vegetarian for 2 years. Maybe he was quoting some funny part from a TV show that I totally missed the reference to because of my hatred of all things TV. I’ll never know. What I do know is that people who eat meat pass out too. Even if he was telling the truth, I have a hard time believing that all he needed was more protein to make the unspecified aliment disappear. I wanted to say something snarky like “that’s what happens when you drink too much” but I restrained myself.
Then there was the older gentleman who had quite the string of questions for me. First he had to make sure I was a “real” vegan, an “orthodox.” I chuckled. I assured him that I ate no animal products, and that yes, fish were in fact animals. That I didn’t eat eggs, milk, honey, etc. He asked if I could smoke. I explained that though I’m not personally a smoker, the ethical issue with smoking would be the animal testing and human exploitation, and that as far as I knew, there were a couple brands sold that passed those criteria. Then he asked about marijuana! We went through the same basic criteria as for smoking cigarettes, with my disclaimer on the legality. And then we moved on to alcohol! This man was actually asking interesting questions, in my mind, though his real purpose was to figure out whether vegans could enjoy life. Turns out his son is a vegan and has tried to convince this man to go vegan. I think I convinced him to give it a try, though if I did, it was his son who laid the groundwork.
Finally was a man that proves to me that there are people out there willing to listen, and that we can learn from them, as well as them learning from us. He took the leaflet I handed him, and something about him stuck in my mind. I recognized him when he came back, and had a feeling he wanted to talk to me about it. But he kept walking. And then a few minutes later he did come back. He wanted another leaflet! I gave him a few. Then he started talking to me.
him: Is this normal?
me (not sure what he was asking): Yes, the treatment described is the standard in the industry. [more stuff along those lines] But was that what you were asking?
him: Well, I mean, I eat meat. Isn’t that normal?
me: It is true that the majority of people eat meat. Not everyone does. I don’t eat any animal products at all.
him: But it is part of the human culture.
me: Yes, that is true, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. There are a lot of things that are part of human culture that we really should stop doing. War, for instance. We can be more compassionate, after all.
him, after a thoughtful silence: That is true.
me: And when there is the choice available to be more compassionate, I believe we should make that choice.
I have to admit, I wasn’t really sure how to answer him at first. I think I have a few people to thank for being able to come up with the “compassion” response, as it clearly struck him deeply, and I think it is something he will think about. I don’t know if he will make changes in his life, but if not now, I think it opened a door for him to listen more later. Joy and Gary have both talked about compassion, and that helped me come up with my response. I also admit that having just had lunch helped as well, so I also need to thank Su Xing for being able to handle that man as well as I did.
I felt like I learned from him, though I’m not sure I can put it into words. Perhaps it was just a reinforcement that no matter how strongly I might feel about these issues, and how urgent I feel the situation is, when interfacing with others, it is often best to present the calm peaceful front. I know I have it in me, no matter how hard it is to find sometimes. It served me well today, and I know I will remember that man and his response to the literature for a long time to come. My thanks to him, and to all who keep an open mind.