One big highlight of this conference was being able to meet Tobias Leenaert in person. We’ve corresponded by email and Facebook from his home in Belgium and mine in the U.S. for about a year. Through my design firm, we worked on his identity and some presentation/book illustrations that have not yet been finished.
When I discovered his blog, The Vegan Strategist, it was like a breath of fresh air for me. I had been struggling with the dogmatic ideas I had about veganism, and some abolitionists in the movement. I felt like I didn’t fit in, and that my ideas weren’t accepted.
Through Tobias’ blog, I met many other similarly-minded groups and individuals: Vincent Berraud of The Animalist blog, The Reducetarian, Melanie Joy’s Carnism website, the consultancy he and Melanie have formed called Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy, and Friendly and Pragmatic Vegans on Facebook.
In person, Tobias was just as he is online, more of a listener than a talker with a dry sense of humor. I attended a few of his talks, mostly panel discussions. He presents his ideas as open for discussion, but has clearly thought everything through evident in his responses to the audience questions.
He is working on a book that I was fortunate enough to read an early draft. This is a book that needs to be written, and to be read by vegan advocates and activists. “Practice slow opinion” is his tagline. If our goal is to make change, than being effective is more important than being right.
I actually saw this in practice one evening as I listened to a direct activist actively try to change the mind of a non-vegan. The non-vegan had plenty of time and opportunity to learn about veganism and was not opposed to the ideas. He just felt differently about animals than the vegan activist.
The vegan activist was speaking very loudly, and asking rapid-fire questions that weren’t questions (“would you kill babies?!”). It was intense and included physical pointing along with the verbal pointed questions. I felt stressed myself just as a spectator. In the end, the non-vegan was playing a game of defense the entire time. It stayed in a respectful zone, but definitely didn’t create any change in either of their minds.
I would encourage you to watch Tobias’ video “Making compassion easier”. I hope very much to meet up again one day, hopefully bringing him to Portland. It was great meeting his wonderful partner Melanie, and colleague Carolina as well during this conference!