Rachel Bjork, President of the Board of Northwest Animal Rights Network (NARN), is a fairly recent contact of mine but I am already so impressed by the kindness, dedication and commitment to positive messaging she shows on social media. A vegan since 2000, Rachel has seen the ebb and flow of the vegan movement, especially through the lens of being so deeply involved with a very active organization like NARN, so it’s always great to get that long-term perspective. I am honored to feature Rachel as this week’s Vegan Rock Star.
1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
I was a gradual vegan. I college I started going vegetarian for health reasons. Once I got back home to Seattle, I started attending EarthSave potlucks where I met some vegans and from there I learned about eggs and dairy and the more I learned, the less I wanted to eat either. I become serious about going “full vegan” once I got involved in NARN (Northwest Animal Rights Network) in 2000. It was so helpful to know other vegans and to be reminded of WHY I didn’t want to consume animal products. Community was definitely important in getting me to fully commit to being vegan.
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
I think that I got that influence from people that were just honest with me about why cow milk is terrible for you, and what happens to chickens used for eggs and cows used for dairy. No one got angry with me for NOT being vegan, they just provided me with information. That approached worked on me.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
It really depends on who I’m communicating with. I’m a big proponent of tailoring your message to your audience. I always tell other animal rights advocates and folks interested in engaging in outreach, to LISTEN to the other person. Pay attention to what they are concerned with, what are their obstacles to making more compassionate choices. Then you can figure out the best way to approach that person with the “vegan message”. One size does not fit all.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Our passion and that we are right. Not exploiting animals is the RIGHT thing to do. Making more responsible choices for the environment is the RIGHT thing to do.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Our lack of strategic thinking. Often times, we are so anxious to get our message out that, we do not think about what is the most strategic way to do that. Just going out and doing actions without thinking about what your goal is, and what audience you are trying to reach can be a waste of time. It can lead to people being busy “doing activism” that is ultimately ineffective.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
Often times I say: “I’m vegan because if I can live a full and happy life without causing harm to animals, why wouldn’t I make that choice? When we are able to choose, why wouldn’t we make the kinder, more compassionate choice?” Sometimes I will also say: “I wouldn’t personally kill an animal, so why should I pay someone else to do something I’m unwilling to do?”
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
People that I was active with when I initially got involved with NARN. Just other fellow vegans. Throughout my life as a vegan, I’ve continued to be influenced by people like Che Green (founder of Faunalytics), lauren Ornelas (founder of Food Empowerment Project), Jerry Esterly (one of NARN’s founders), Stephanie Bell (a cruelty caseworker with PETA and long-time local activist), the organizations Vegan Outreach and Food Empowerment Project. Currently I follow the work of the blog Striving with Systems, and activists like Christopher Sebastian McJetters, A. Breeze Harper, Carol J. Adams, Zarna Joshi and I’ve been working more with PCRM. I also admire what the Center for Biological Diversity has been doing.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Going on vacations where I’m away from email and social media. I love to travel. If I also love watching WNBA games. I’m a big Seattle Storm fan.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Wow, too many to list. Although vivisection is a difficult issue to do effective advocacy about, animals in labs suffer tremendously, and I really wish people knew more about the kind of things that are done to animals in the name of science. I attend the IACUC meetings at the University of Washington, and the kinds of things they do at the UW, is just horrific.
I also wish new more about how many animals “Wildlife Services” kills or just how little many state Departments of Fish and Wildlife care about wildlife. They are very pro-hunter.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”
The best thing I ever did.