VEGETARIAN ACTIVISM

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FORMING A STUDENT GROUP
by Rachael Lutz

As a graduating high school senior from Garrison Forest School in Garrison, Maryland, I am presently working as an intern with The Vegetarian Resource Group. Initially, my vegetarianism was linked solely to ecological concerns. Over the next two years, ethical beliefs and nutritional reasons became part of my reasoning. Having gained considerable knowledge on the many aspects of vegetarianism, I am now comfortable discussing the beliefs and thought patterns which have brought me to vegetarianism.

This year a few friends and I saw the need for an Environmental Awareness Group at our school. Through careful planning and organization, a small group of concerned students educated the entire Garrison community on environmental issues. By the year’s end, practically all students, faculty, and friends were practicing more environmentally aware lifestyles.

The following Guide to Starting a Vegetarian/Animal Rights/Environmental Group in Schools is based upon my experience initiating, participating in, and leading such groups at Garrison, and on my recent work with The Vegetarian Resource Group. In addition to providing guidelines and suggestions for those who wish to begin such groups in their high school/college, this guide explores some problems and frustrations you may encounter and how to resolve them. Please remember that this is only a blueprint of ideas and should be adapted to your particular situation. Those who have never started a group will follow the guide more closely, whereas those with previous experience may adopt only a few suggestions. The more you incorporate your own ideas and creativity, the more helpful the guide will be.

I. GETTING STARTED

  1. Before appealing to others, write your own "statement of intent" or summary of what you would like to do. Address such questions as:

    What do you see as the group’s main message?
    What would you like this group to accomplish?
    What ideas do you have for the group? (activities, etc.)

    *Although the answers to these questions will change as you get the input of others, it is necessary to have an idea of what direction you’re moving in.

  2. Find other students as interested in the issue as you are, and who you know will be committed.
  3. Contact students who seemed most interested and ask for their help in starting a group.

    From the students who seemed most enthusiastic and dependable, form a steering committee (ideally 4-8 students). Duties of the steering committee:

All of the above are effective ways to introduce your group and its message to the student body. Place a sign-up sheet in a convenient place for those who wish to join/be active in the group.

II. ONCE THE GROUP HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED

Now that you have a steering committee and group members, the group is ready to become an active, organized, and popular activity in the school. As the attitude of group leaders usually affects the disposition of all members, the communication, commitment, cooperation, and enthusiasm of the leaders themselves determines that of all involve. The following actions are especially helpful in instilling these qualities in group members:

  1. Effective, organized meetings-
  2. A variety of fundraisers—to raise money for group activities and projects.
  3. Activities throughout the year—
             field trips        demonstrations, marches
             filmstrips         restaurant dinners
             outside speakers
    

III. OTHER SUGGESTIONS

  1. Never let old projects remain half-finished.
  2. Delegate rather than dictate.

    By rotating duties among group members rather than trying to do everything yourself, you give others a chance to participate and to exercise responsibility. For example, if the group prepares a monthly bulletin board, assign two or three members to a particular month. The less often they have to do it, the more likely they will do the job well when given the chance.

  3. Communicate with a faculty advisor and/or a national organization.
  4. Know your audience. (especially if the ideas your group presents are seen as controversial or "liberal")

    Choose projects or issues that will appeal to or interest them. For example, if you are speaking about vegetarianism to an animal rights group, begin with and focus on ethical reasons while briefly introducing the other aspects.

  5. Always welcome new members.

    Be willing to teach them about the group, to listen to their ideas, and to allow them to participate. The larger the group, the greater your influence throughout the school.

  6. Recognize and thank members for what they do.
  7. When it is time to pass on leadership positions, make the transition smoothly.

As a group expands, it is vital not to lose sight of original goals and beliefs. Once a strong base has been established and mobilized into action by its leaders and members, its ideas will expand outward. The beliefs and practices of a few aware students will spread throughout the community, eventually making others as informed and involved as the students themselves.

An additional thought regarding online groups:
By Rachael Prokop
Facebook groups can be a good foundation for starting a high school or college Vegetarian Club. Somewhere amongst of all the useless in-joke groups that students join, there will likely be one that is titled something like “Vegetarians of *SU.” It will then be very easy to round up a few eager members for a new club by sending out a message to all the members of this online group.

For more information contact The Vegetarian Resource Group, Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203. Call (301) 366-VEGE. You can access a wealth of information on the website at www.vrg.org. They will be glad to provide your group with handouts and materials.




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Last Updated
August 18, 2000

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