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The Voices Behind the Chalk: The Vegan activists fighting for animal liberation

The Worldwide Vegan Chalking Night has become the largest grassroots day of action in animal rights history. The goal is to chalk messages of compassion on sidewalks in cities around the world, messages that call for justice, love, and respect toward all animals. These messages will then help inspire passersby to embrace a more compassionate, plant-based style, sparing millions of animals from a lifetime of suffering.

CHARIS FUNG: “For you, it’s a meal. For them, it’s their life.” This is one of the many slogans tourists and locals encountered beneath their feet outside Canterbury West Station on the sunny Saturday morning of September 2, 2023. Though a select few hurriedly strolled past without taking much notice, many passersby were surprised to see a large section of the previously unremarkable pavement bursting with colour from vegan messages and designs in chalk.

“Pretty much everyone walking past is reading the messages on the ground,” said Alex, one of the activists involved in the chalking, “It’s planting seeds, I think. It’s good.” Led by Ella Barlow, Canterbury local organiser of animal rights organization We The Free (WTF), a small but passionate and committed group of activists have come together to participate in the Worldwide Vegan Chalking Night (WWVCN) for the first time.

WTF is a global animal rights activism community “focused on defending animals through street and online advocacy.” They focus extensively on “positive and inclusive community-building alongside data and analytics to effectively expose violence against animals and cultivate a vegan world.”

Barlow explains: “We hold an abolitionist view on animal exploitation, which means we don’t view animals as objects, property, or slaves, and we are totally against all animal exploitation in all areas of life.” Straying from their usual forms of outreach, Barlow’s WTF group has opted in what WTF Regional Support Lead, Rebecca Owens, describes as a “very gentle form of activism”…

Appreciation towards the passiveness of the wider vegan movement is a sentiment shared by several passersby who spoke with The Social Talks. A tourist from Suffolk said: “They’ve done it in a nice manner here. It looks really nice, and they’ve put thought into it. I think it’s a good thing, but it still won’t change my mind about the Greggs bacon and sausage rolls.”

When asked about the biggest barrier the movement is currently facing, Clare Griffiths, one of the activists and participants, told The Social Talks: “I feel like it’s people’s taste pleasure. People are so attached to all they’ve known. People still don’t know the reality, lots of people either refuse to look at the reality or look at it and sort of ignore it”…

One of the misconceptions of veganism Barlow wishes to debunk is that vegans are trying to control what people eat. A survey in 2017 found that 97% of US adults believe that deciding whether to eat animals is a personal choice, and “nobody has the right to tell me which one they think I should do.” Several people who passed by the event and spoke to The Social Talks also echoed that belief.

Barlow explains: “We don’t mind what people eat, you can eat whatever way you want. It’s just about who we eat, and we believe that a personal choice no longer is a personal choice when there’s a victim involved.” Indeed, if the animals that are being consumed were human beings, an overwhelming majority of people would, most likely, no longer perceive the decision to eat meat as an acceptable personal choice.

Since a big part of veganism is about seeing animals as equals who deserve equal treatment, 15-year-old vegan activist Harvey recommends spending time with animals at sanctuaries and farms as one way to: “begin viewing animals as individuals, instead of as pieces of neatly packaged flesh one picks up and buys at the supermarket.”

Despite being an organization that upholds nonviolence as one of its main values, and despite the peaceful and nonconfrontational nature of chalking, the activists still encountered a couple of shouts from trolls driving by.

Chantelle also told us: “We get a lot of body shaming and diet shaming. We get a lot of shaming in general even though we’re a protected movement. We’re protected by the Equality Act, but it’s just not recognized, so we get a lot of abuse”…

WTF’s other flagship event, the WTF Movie Challenge, takes a similar approach. Members of the public have a choice to partake in an incentivized challenge to watch a 3-5 minute “horror movie”, which is actually a “supercut of an animal rights documentary showcasing some of the worst legal and standard practices in animal agriculture.” If participants are willing, this is usually followed by a conversation with one of the activists.

Alex adds that attending these events is also great for meeting people within the community, especially because of WTF’s focus on community-building, which increases the incentive and motivation to become a regular participant and activist.

The WTF group in Canterbury will be hosting a Diamond on September 16, 2023, from 12 to 4 p.m., as well as a 3 Minute Movie Challenge on September 24, 2023, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Activists of all levels are welcome to participate.

For vegans thinking about becoming an activist, Smith, who has been vegan for 5 years and an activist for a year and a half, says: “Don’t hesitate, the animals need us to get this message out for them. For anybody wanting to, please do! it’s a very welcoming community”. SOURCE…


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