Judging by the reception thus far, the most controversial aspect of The 2019 Global Vegan Survey released earlier this week was that it appeared to show that only 1.4% of survey participants (or 184 out of 12,814 people) turned vegan as a result of public activism.
For some people, this understandably seemed a little low.
When we released the first survey we did three years ago, there was a similar response to the seemingly small amount of people that were positively affected by the hard work of vegans selflessly giving up hours of their time to engage with strangers holding opposing views.
Here is the image representing the part of the 2019 Global Vegan Survey in question:
- 14.7% of people chose "Other" which included 1.4% (or 185 people) who first seriously considered going vegan as a result of public activism.
This post is addressing any doubts people have about the accuracy of the 1.4% statistic and any doubts people may have as to the effectiveness of public activism in general.
As you can clearly see in the image above, the actual question that was asked in the survey was not "Have you ever been positively influenced by public activism?", nor was it "Did public activism ever play a role in turning you vegan?" but it was "What was the first thing that made you seriously consider going vegan?"
So it could easily have not been a factor at all, but it could also have been the second, third or the very last thing they needed to experience to remove the final shred of doubt in their mind that veganism is the right thing to do.
Anyone who's taken part in a form of public activism like the Cube of Truth events hosted by Anonymous for the Voiceless will know that public outreach can not only be very effective (it's hard to deny it when you see people going vegan right in front of you) but also that the easiest people to talk to at these events - that is, to get through to - are those who already have at least a little knowledge of or experience with veganism.
So I will put forth here that the people who are most receptive to public activism are people who have already come into contact with veganism previously. Therefore, for the people who we have the most productive conversations with on the street, the first thing that made them consider veganism could not be public activism.
It evokes strong, memorable reactions in people when you have a solid, logical conversation with them in conjunction with showing them footage of horrific, legal, RSPCA approved animal abuse like that shown at a Cube of Truth event. The dynamic duo of logic and emotion is precisely the required combination to form the most persuasive argument a human being can be exposed to. (This is just one reason why feature length documentaries topped the list, because they are designed to achieve this potent mix with surgical precision.)
And whether someone is exposed to this at the very beginning of their "vegan journey" or it is the final step in their journey doesn't matter one bit to the animals, but it does matter when you're answering a question specifically referring to the first thing that made you seriously consider going vegan.
Honestly, I would not be surprised if nearly every single person who chose "activist handing out leaflets" in the survey (the most popular choice for specific forms of public activism, followed closely by AV Cube events) were actually receiving those leaflets from an Anonymous for the Voiceless Cube of Truth event and were simply unaware of the name of the event at the time of taking the survey, because, really... who ever sees anyone else handing out vegan leaflets?
I would assume some people probably give out PETA leaflets or those from other big animal charities, but how often have you personally ever witnessed this? I have never seen an activist giving out leaflets for any other vegan organisation since AV began in my city a few years ago - before that time I did, once, but not since. This is not a rhetorical question, I'm genuinely curious to know how often anyone see's or actually hands out leaflets themselves not at a Cube of Truth event.
Until I know otherwise, I'm going to continue to assume it happens very infrequently in comparison to AV events.
Building on the last point, Anonymous for the Voiceless - probably the main cause of public activism today - is a pretty new organisation, starting in Melbourne only three years ago, in 2016, and only really picking up steam in other cities and countries the following year.
As you will notice if you study the survey results closely enough, all of the most effective forms of activism are not new on the scene. (The only exception to this is the most effective feature length film, probably because other than Earthlings from 2005, there really aren't that many being made.)
For example, the most effective book was The China Study, published in 2005. The survey showed that Gary Yourofsky's brilliant Georgia Tech speech from 2010 was by far the most effective online video (other than feature films) in terms of turning people vegan, even though Earthling Ed's speech has gathered half the amount of views Gary's has in less than one year of being released. (And if you include Facebook video views, Ed's speech has actually out-viewed Gary's more than six times.)
While Earthling Ed is undeniably a massively effective activist online and offline, he showed up less in the survey than other YouTube activists who have been around for a lot longer than he has in part because their work has been able to affect more people in that longer time frame.
The point of all this is that new things take time for their effects to be felt, and especially to be reflected in samples like this survey. As anyone who's had a good chat with a carnist knows, public activism clearly can quite effectively chip away the speciesist conditioning we are brought up into, but there just really wasn't that much public activism being done until AV showed up with an effective model just a few years ago (even if they did take that model from The Earthlings Experience) and then made it happen regularly all over the world in an organised, controlled fashion.
This brings us to the next point: numbers.
How many people actually partake in vegan street activism? At the Cube of Truth I attended last Saturday in Perth, judging by the photo taken afterwards, there were about 25 people there.
Now, how many vegans use Facebook? In the Facebook group for my city there are currently 14,720 people. Let's be conservative and say that 10,000 of those are actually vegan.
That means approximately 0.25% of the vegans in my city partake in the most popular form of public activism, which happens roughly once a week, and judging by the final tally, last weekend we each had approximately four good conversations in the four hours we were there.
When you look at it like this, while remembering the first point I made about the kinds of people who are most responsive to conversational street activism, is it really that surprising that the Vomad survey showed that only 1.4% of participants said the first thing responsible for making them seriously consider going vegan was public activism?
Compare the effort (and skills) required to stand in the street and wait for someone to stop, then maybe chat with you or maybe just walk away, to the effort required to share someone else's post on social media (the fourth most popular choice in the survey - pictured above) that can instantly go out to thousands of people.
When you consider how few people do public activism compared to like, comment and share things on Facebook, it really isn't too surprising that much fewer people reported public activism as the first thing they were influenced by.
Additionally, compare the effort required to stand in the street chatting to strangers you probably have nothing in common with to the ease of having a chat with a friend or family member you have years of rapport with (the second most popular choice - same picture above). Even if your mates have an equal openness to new ideas as the stranger, just the amount of time you spend with them will open up much more avenues to discuss animal rights and be the first thing that made them seriously consider going vegan.
Finally, let's not try and act like the only benefit of public activism is the person you're directly talking to.
Who reading this right now has seen a clip online of an activist talking to someone about veganism on the street? I would assume we all have seen many.
These kinds of videos are responsible for Earthling Ed's account blowing up, for Joey Carbstrong putting out so much great content and for so many other lesser known activists planting seeds of compassion and logic in so many people's heads who might otherwise not have been exposed to them. This is especially true for street interviews because, unlike speeches or debates, which are also longer in duration, it's easier to clickbait carnists into watching street interview clips with titles like "This is Extreme! Student Flips at Vegan" or "3 Christian Guy Mock Vegan Woman".
Another important aspect of public activism that can not be reflected in a single stat from survey like this is the effect it has on denormalising animal exploitation to the general public. Even for people who never stop to chat to street activists, even for people who only pass by and catch a momentary glimpse of a cow getting her throat slit or a group of people wearing "vegan" shirts have seeds planted in their minds that can later sprout into conversations about either animal rights, vegan food alternatives or just "those militant vegans in the mall". Regardless of the content of these conversations, it seems obvious that the act of getting together and unashamedly standing up for what is right in a public place is a powerful tool in denormalising animal exploitation for the masses, which is an essential tool in creating a vegan world.
I think it should now be clear that public activism can affect a lot of people who were never even present when it was taking place, as well as people who no one could ever know were affected by it, and just as clear that these effects could not be measured by the 2019 Global Vegan Survey (and are one of limitations we will work on for the next survey we do) and were certainly not reflected in the 1.4% statistic.
I mentioned at the end of the main survey article that it is probably biased towards online forms of activism because the survey was conducted online and shared almost exclusively through social media, but, once it's broken down like I have in this article, I'm sure it makes much more sense to everyone how the 1.4% figure came about, how accurate it actually is (we can only presume all survey participants were being honest) and how we can all continue doing the form of public activism that we resonate with most without any doubts that it is certainly not a waste of our most precious resource: our time.
What do you think? Is public activism effective? Let me know your thoughts on the topics discussed here in the comments below.