The Untapped Potential Of “Quiet Activism”
According to some researchers, becoming an activist may be more effective for animals than simply going veg*n. This is because, if you can encourage other people to take action on behalf of animals, you’ll make more of a difference than you could on your own.
Nevertheless, the authors of this paper argue that participation rates in animal activism remain low. To understand the factors that motivate or discourage people from getting involved in the movement, they surveyed 1,000 individuals living in the U.K. and conducted a follow-up focus group/interview with several respondents who expressed interest in participating in activism in the future. The authors hope their research will help animal advocacy organizations engage more activists while encouraging would-be activists to get involved in the movement in a way that suits their comfort levels.
Before presenting the results, the authors define five different types of animal activism:
- Frontline Activism: Includes “direct” activism such as participating in demonstrations and protests
- Online Activism: Sharing animal activism content on social media
- Everyday Activism: Displaying animal advocacy content (e.g., on clothing or a bumper sticker)
- Charity Activism: Supporting animal protection charities, either through donations or volunteer/paid work
- Social Activism: Discussing animals and diet with one’s friends, family, or other social connections
They also note that barriers to participation in animal activism typically take on two forms — external and internal. External barriers to activism may include things like social pressure and limited time or resources, while internal barriers involve someone’s personal beliefs. For example, someone may feel they don’t have enough knowledge to be an activist, or that they aren’t represented in the movement.
Although 94% of respondents said they did not participate in animal activism, around 17% said they would like to in the future. When asked what type(s) of activism they would be willing to get involved in, participants expressed significantly more openness to less direct, “quiet” forms of activism, such as charity or social activism. Most participants were far less willing to engage in frontline activism, with only 15% expressing interest in this form of advocacy.
When asked about their barriers for participating in animal activism, the researchers found that internal barriers were more common than external barriers. In fact, internal barriers may exacerbate external barriers. Respondents cited self-limiting beliefs and accessibility barriers—not knowing enough or not being veg*n—as the main internal limitations. The most prominent external barriers were logistical (not having time or resources), followed by social and knowledge barriers. According to respondents, having more time and being given activism tasks they’re comfortable with were two key factors that would encourage them to get involved in the movement.
The focus group and interview sessions provided more nuance to the survey results. For example, participants expressed that animal activism often seems to target multiple different issues and lacks a clear objective. They also spoke about social pressures as a hurdle in online activism and the polarizing nature of frontline activism, but also that social activism is becoming easier as acceptance of veg*nism has increased. While participants were not interested in participating in frontline activism, many believed that not being veg*n was a barrier to getting more involved in farmed animal advocacy and saw wildlife preservation causes as a safer form of activism.
While participation in animal activism is low, the resistance is not insurmountable. The numbers of respondents who either wanted to or had not considered getting involved indicates significant, potentially untapped human resources. To encourage more engagement and address existing barriers, animal advocacy organizations may consider promoting “quieter” forms of activism — simple, accessible, low-commitment tasks (such as volunteering skills at a sanctuary or talking to a friend about Veganuary) that can help people with limited time, or those who feel uncomfortable with direct action.
Given the knowledge and confidence gaps expressed by the study participants, animal advocacy organizations should also make sure they have clearly-defined goals in their campaigns to give people confidence when taking part. Many would-be activists may benefit from additional guidance before getting involved and in their early involvement in a campaign, for example through training and certification programs. Finally, promoting inclusion is fundamental to making activists feel welcome and supported — this also means providing a welcoming environment for people who aren’t fully veg*n yet, as flexitarians can still make a big difference for animals.