West Coast vs. East Coast: Exploring Approaches to Activism

October 1, 2013

When moving across the country, one begins to notice peculiar things. For instance, take the popular vernacular: never before did I associate the word ‘wicked’ with anything markedly positive, nor did I understand that the name ‘Fenway Park’ connotes a stadium packed with crazed, beer-guzzling sports fans. There are other cultural distinctions, too. East Coasters have a different style of dress, unique mannerisms, and a driving culture all their own. Beyond these items, I’ve also discovered that the East Coast animal activist communities differ in fundamental ways when compared to their cross-country comrades.

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West coast activism in action: Vegan Outreach member hands out flyers.

It was my freshman year of college when I was first introduced to animal activism. A doe-eyed freshman, I joined efforts to protest the local rodeo, distribute pro-veg leaflets to students on campus, and raise money to support local sanctuaries. As I became more acquainted with the movement and its attendant philosophies, I naturally befriended other activists who shared a similar world view. Together we would commiserate over the protein question and discuss the best way to scramble tofu. Simply put, my veganism was founded in grassroots efforts and grassroots efforts alone.

Don’t get me wrong: this is all well and good. I know many people that came upon veganism because they dated a vegan, attended a talk by a local activist group, or were handed a leaflet. For example, inspiring groups like Vegan Outreach (a national organization, but based in the Southwest) integrate themselves into the local art and music scene by printing and distributing pro-veg leaflets, which makes up about 90% of their expenses. The influence is real, and West Coast vegans are committed to their lifestyle and determined to educate others.

However, after moving across the country (and living for a brief period in D.C.), I’ve learned that East Coast vegans approach advocacy differently. First–and perhaps most obvious, given their proximity to the country’s most powerful lawmakers–activists living on this side of the country are more inclined to enact pro-animal legislation. Of course, there are plenty of individuals in my hometown that also work towards this this goal, but I find that East Coast vegans believe they have more clout in the legislative arena. Activists on this side of the country also tend to measure their work on a larger scale; rather than working to gain individual converts, people are more likely to engage the veg-curious through lectures, movie screenings, and vegetarian food festivals. In all, it seems to me that East Coasters prefer a top-down method of activism, one that seeks approval from powerful individuals and bodies.

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High profile individuals advocating for policy-level changes characterize East Coast activism. Here, Peter Singer speaks at MIT.

We see high profile individuals like Martha Stewart calling upon the New Jersey legislature to ban gestation crates. Prolific author and Princeton professor, Peter Singer delivers thought-provoking lectures to university students and surrounding communities. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), based in Washington, D.C., regularly lobbies congressmen and their staffers for more ethical and humane legislation–all while promulgating existing statutes so that they are better enforced.

Despite these differences, it is important to note that I believe activists throughout the country are united in the most important goal of all: to end animal suffering. Sure, there are plenty of variations therein, but my experience moving from one coast to the other has proven to me that ideologies are likely to intersect at some point. As for the differences outlined above, I couldn’t be more grateful. We need all kinds of talents to propel this movement forward. Whether joining a local protest, lobbying legislators for humane legislation, or simply patronizing your favorite vegan restaurant, cross-country variation should be valued and encouraged.

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Photo: Vegan Outreach; Joel Travis Sage

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Contributing Editor Molly Lansdowne lives in Boston, Massachusetts. In her free time, she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and traveling around New England. Follow Molly on Pinterest @bostonvegan and Instagram @molly_lansdowne.

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