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For many of us, this time of year is one of reflection: Are you pursuing your passions? Making a difference in the world around you? Feeling fulfilled by your work?
All year long, the COK Baltimore volunteer team has been doing just that — by showing Charm City the far-reaching impacts of our dietary choices and empowering people to make healthier and more humane food choices. You can see them in action in COK’s 2011 year-in-review video!
- Lesley Parker-Rollins: Stay-at-home mom to 3 very active vegan children.
- Mark Peters: Technical writer for a human capital management software company.
- Elena Johnson: Events and Workshops Program Manager for Alley Cat Allies
How did you guys first get involved in animal advocacy?
- Lesley: I first became vegetarian in 1997 and then vegan in 1998 after reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation.
- Mark: I’d been a vegetarian for a while when I met my future wife in 2008, but I’d adopted this practice without really understanding what was at stake. It just seemed right to leave sentient beings off my plate. Then Alisa and I watched the powerful documentary Earthlings together. At that point, I became vegan and started writing emails to legislators to encourage better animal protection laws and letters to the editor about animal welfare issues.
- Elena: After attending the Taking Action for Animals Conference and the Animal Rights Conference for work, I realized that I wanted to be doing more than just my day job to make a difference for animals. I got involved with folks in Baltimore and started volunteering to go leafleting, hosting feed-ins, and organizing vegan pot lucks.
How has your advocacy changed over time?
- Lesley: I’ve learned that the way people become informed is almost as important as the information itself. Loudly protesting wearing fur or eating at McDonalds can be intimidating to people I found that tactic to be less effective than smiling and kindly offering passersby information on how they can help animals.
- Mark: My advocacy has evolved to be more inclusive, realizing that because of our personal backgrounds and preconceptions, many people aren’t receptive to the message that they’re complicit in a practice of cruelty toward others — not now, at least. Everyone can change! We plant seeds with our banners and our presence at events. The more we present the message that factory farming is cruel, that animals are individuals who have their own personalities, and that plant-based foods can be deliciously satisfying, the more the message sinks in. I’ve modified my approach to praise and celebrate any amount of effort that reduces suffering. If someone’s willing to give up eating meat for one day a week, that’s a wonderful step in the right direction. And by considering their food choices, they open themselves to further reducing their intake of animal products.
- Elena: When I started doing outreach I felt sure of what I was doing, but unsure of how best to relate veganism to strangers. After a few years of practice and learning from other talented activists, I feel much more confident that I can connect on some level with most people who stop to take a vegan food sample or leaflet.
What’s the best feedback you’ve heard during your outreach?
- Lesley: While tabling at a festival, a woman explained that she (a vegan) and her non-vegan friends were out one night last year and ran into some people serving free vegan hotdogs. Turns out that her friends are all now vegan and they got the free veggie dogs from COK!
- Mark: At a recent Tofurky sandwich feed-in, one woman told us she’d just finished reading the Vegetarian Starter Guide, which she got from a COK volunteer the week before, and now she’s leaning into veganism.
- Elena: At a Tofurky sandwich feed-in that we held in a grocery store recently, a man who apparently didn’t like vegetarian food (according to his wife) was surprised by how much he liked our sandwiches. He passed by our table again a bit later, carrying Tofurky, tempeh bacon, and Vegenaise to his cart. He told us that we may have changed someone’s life. It felt amazing to see someone immediately opt for humane food chocies after trying our samples!
What would you say to someone who is interested in advocacy but not sure where to start?
- Lesley: Just try several different forms of outreach and you’ll find one in particular that you really enjoy or are most comfortable with. I often think about how much the animals need us to speak out for them — and focusing on this makes it that much easier to be brave and fight for them. And once you do get involved, it opens up a whole new world of meeting like-minded people, forming awesome friendships, and discovering new ways to become an even more effective advocate for animals.
- Mark: Search for animal advocacy organizations in your area. If there aren’t any, consider starting a COK team! Work at a pace that you feel comfortable with. Feed your soul. Visit a farm animal sanctuary and spend time with the rescued animals who are living out their natural lives in peace and comfort.
- Elena: Sign up with us! Come out for one leafleting day or feed-in event to see what it’s like. If you’re new at it and nervous, we can pair you up with a more seasoned activist who will show you the ropes. The best way to get involved is to try out different activities to see which ones you like best – some people love leafleting, while others prefer tabling, and others like sampling vegan food. The more you do outreach, the easier it becomes – so join us in Baltimore and give it a shot!
What is your favorite thing to do outside of advocacy?
- Lesley: I love to spend time with my family and friends, loving up my companion animals, being out in nature, philosophizing, laughing and singing and dancing to music.
- Mark: I’m enthusiastic about photographing beautiful things. Favorite subjects include my wife and our dogs, landscapes, and the rescued farm animals we visit at sanctuaries.
- Elena: Cooking! Trying out recipes and feeding people is my all-time favorite activity. I spend a lot of time poring over cook books and coming up with new ways to cook my favorite dishes. It’s also a plus that sharing vegan food with my friends and family helps to provide an example of how delicious and fun vegan eating is!
Sign up for our Baltimore Newsletter and you’ll get updates about upcoming events in 2012 like Leafleting at the Martin Luther King Junior Parade on January 16th, or the “Bring the Heat” Chili Cook-Off and Feed-In on January 21st.
And check out just some of the awesome work the Baltimore volunteer team has done in 2011:
- Walking in the Baltimore Pride Parade
- Leafleting at the Maryland State Fair
- Camden Yards Vegan Ice Cream Feed-In
- Leafleting at “Sounds on the Square” Music Festival
- Tabling Natural Products Expo East
- Tabling at BARCStoberfest
- Tabling at Vegtoberfest
- Tabling at Dogfest
- DineKind Potluck: Lesley Parker Rollins on Raising Vegan Children
- Feed-In at the Great Big Halloween Parade of
Light & Luminaria
- Leafleting at the Waverly Farmer’s Market
- Thanksgiving Tofurky Feed-in at Roots Market
- Leafleting at the 39th Annual Mayor’s Holiday Parade
“Volunteering with COK is always fun! Everyone is so positive and eager to make a difference when they come to an event. Each volunteer brings something unique to the group dynamic that helps us effectively reach that many more people while leafleting, tabling or doing a feed-in. Without amazing volunteers such as Kelly Lally, Dan Phelan, Craig Lee, and Alisa Peters, Baltimore wouldn’t be moving as quickly in a vegetarian-friendly direction. Hope you can join us, too!” –Lesley Parker-Rollins