Jon Camp of Vegan Outreach provides a fascinating discussion of the impact of leafletting as a tool for social change and how it has helped draw attention to the plight of exploited animals in his  post entitled The Power of a Leaflet, Then and Now.

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The Power of a Leaflet, Then and Now

Nelson Mandela, the late and inspiring South African leader said that “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Of course, Mandela was also a man of action. But he realized that in order to bring about forward-moving action, you needed an educated general public.

Throughout history, those seeking to ignite social change have used education as a means of bringing about real results. And the ability to get ideas in a format suitable for mass distribution has been instrumental in transforming ideas into new polices and ways of living.

Especially favorable to mass distribution has been the leaflet – a single- or multi-page piece of literature that describes a new way of thinking or living. This approach has been embraced throughout the last many centuries and is still used today to good effect. I personally have spent the majority of my waking hours over the last decade engaged in leafleting campaigns throughout North America for the non-profit animal advocacy organization Vegan Outreach, and I’ve witnessed thousands of individuals who have been profoundly moved by this simple approach. But before I discuss Vegan Outreach’s work, let’s take a quick look back into American history to see some examples of concise manifestos being used to bring about real change.

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Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which was released in 1776, articulated many of the ideas that were gaining ground in favor of the American Revolution. Paine advocated for rejecting the tyranny of the British government and for adopting a more egalitarian system of governance.  Common Sense reached hundreds of thousands of American Colonists and played an instrumental role in galvanizing them to take up the cause of the Revolution.

Throughout the 19th century, those working to abolish the horrendous practice of human slavery spread their pamphlets far and wide – from poignant essays to regular publications, such as the National Anti-Slavery Standard. The individuals responsible for creating these publications did not count on those in the popular media outlets (many of whom had a vested interest in preserving slavery) to present their rhetoric, so they took their undiluted message directly to the general public.

In 1876, at a celebration in Philadelphia marking 100 years of US independence, not a single woman was invited to speak. The National Woman Suffrage Association used this opportunity to give out copies of their Declaration of Rights for Women. This was one of the many tracts distributed in pursuit of US women getting their due right to vote in the United States.

In the 20th century, leaflets were spread far and wide amongst members of the civil rights movement, the LGBT rights movement, the anti-war movement, and eventually the animal rights movement.

Vegan Outreach, the organization I work for, has been at the forefront of leafleting on behalf of animals for the last twenty years. In the early 1990s, we recognized the influence of books such as Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, and we saw a need to condense much of this information into a 16-page leaflet, where we could concisely advocate for more vegan eating as a way to reduce animal suffering.

Our leaflet would eventually become Why Vegan?, and we distributed this by the thousands in the first few years, primarily to young individuals (our most receptive demographic) at colleges and concerts. We continued to refine this approach and created new booklets such as Even If You Like Meat, which advocated for meat reduction, and Compassionate Choices, which used less graphic images, a preferred option for certain venues. We’re now distributing around 3 million booklets a year, most of these through our Adopt a College program, where Vegan Outreach volunteers and employees take the plight of farmed animals to tomorrow’s movers and shakers at college campuses.

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In our world of Wi-Fi and smart phones, is a leaflet still effective? Our experience has led us to answer this with an emphatic “Yes!” Our efforts on college campuses and at concerts such as the yearly Warped Tour, where we can directly reach thousands of young minds each day, lead to hundreds of vegan starter guide requests each month. And we’re always receiving feedback such as “Your booklets started me down the path of reevaluating my food choices. I’m now vegetarian.” Many individuals simply don’t know what animals endure on today’s factory farms, and a mere leaflet can help bring about real dietary changes.

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History for the animals is currently being shaped, and you can play a big role in this! If interested in getting involved in Vegan Outreach’s efforts to bring about a better world for the animals, please contact us. We’ll get you connected with a local leafleter so that you can add your part to social justice history.

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Jon Camp is Director of Outreach for Vegan Outreach. Throughout the last nine years, Jon has traveled throughout North America, reaching out to college students with the plight of farm animals. In this time, he’s visited over 500 schools and reached close to a million students with his outreach efforts. His commentary has been featured in various books and documentaries on effective animal advocacy.