Most activists do a combination of outreach and direct action work. They may hand out vegan outreach literature occasionally and participate in protests/demonstrations for issues like fur, ending animal exploitation in the Shrine Circus, or shutting down Marineland. Even though many activists participate in both of these types of activism, they are distinct. When the outreach and direct action become muddled or lumped together, the result is often ineffective or even counter-productive action.
Definition: 1) actions that work to change negative attitudes and behaviours, 2) actions that inspire and invite people into the animal rights/liberation movement.
There are many different forms of outreach:
- Handing out leaflets with information about a specific issue
- Putting posters up at a school, in a community space, or on a street post
- Putting stickers up on street posts and washroom stalls
- Video screenings (in a public library, in a classroom, in a hallway, on the side of a building)
- Tabling at a school (ie. setting up an informational display at a table and handing out information)
Since outreach is about working to educate people, outreach activists need to be approachable, friendly, and warm. People are much more receptive to the message if the people delivering that message look and act kind.
Outreach can easily be done by new activists. Even a bit of outreach is effective, so it’s accessible even to activists who don’t have very much time to commit.
Definition: actions that directly create change.
This could include:
- A campaign to shut down a fur store, animal circus, aquarium, or zoo
- Directly liberating animals from places of abuse, captivity, and exploitation
- Undercover investigations that document animal abuse
- Legal campaign to press charges against animal abusers
- Campaign to ban animal testing and experimentation
Unlike outreach, direct action involves doing what ever is necessary to reach the end goal, even if this means not being seen as approachable. To shut down a fur store, this may mean yelling into a megaphone all day to disrupt the store’s business. To shut down a factory farm, some activists participate in property destruction to make animal abuse less profitable. Direct action is less about getting through to the public and more about making it difficult for exploitative businesses/industries to profit from animal suffering. Direct action activists need to appear strong and unyielding in the eyes of their opponents.
Direct action campaigns require a serious commitment of time, resources, and experience from the activists involved. They require strategic planning and a dedication to stick with the campaign until the initial goal is reached.
When We Combine the Two…
When the distinctions between outreach and direct action become unclear, we run into problems.
- Some activists may try to use direct action tactics while outreaching. For example, they may be abrasive or argumentative when distributing vegan outreach materials. These activists often have a low take-rate and can end up alienating a lot people.
- Activists may think that direct action is also outreach. They may think that a protest in front of a fur store with megaphones and chanting will educate people about cruelty within the fur industry. Or that a protest outside of a slaughterhouse will convince passersby to go vegan. While there are some people who will be educated by these actions, that is not the primary purpose and is not what direct action is suited for.
- Activists who are more comfortable or familiar with outreach may want to transfer outreach tactics over to direct action campaigns. They may want the public to see them as nice, even when this may limit their ability to be seen as a threat by their opponent.
- Activists may do sporadic direct action campaigns, not realizing that the demands of direct action are much different than outreach.
We need to recognize the differences between outreach and direct action. Whenever doing an action, activists need to think about what the purpose is and then plan out the tactics and approach accordingly. We also need to consider which issues are best suited for outreach and which issues are more appropriate for direct action.
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