Aaron Ross

Aaron RossWhy and how did you become vegan?
In high school, I learned that dogs and cats were eaten by people in some other cultures.  I had a dog at the time and I thought to myself that I wouldn’t want anyone to eat my dog.  Then I started thinking about the animals I was eating like cows, chickens, pigs, and fish, and started to wonder if there was a difference.  It weighed heavily on me for the rest of the day, so I went home and Google searched “vegetarianism” and found a site that explained how horrible factory farms are for animals, the environment, and human health.  I went vegetarian that night and vegan a year later.

What compelled you to start activism, and how did you get involved?
I was doing a lot of social justice work when I got out of high school, like feeding the poor, protesting the war in Iraq, and advocating equality for people of color, women, and the LGBT community, all in addition to helping animals.  I wanted to focus my efforts on where I would have the biggest impact, and since advocating against industries like factory farms helped so many animals, people, and the environment, I chose to focus on that.  So, I started an animal rights group when I was teenager and have been active for animals ever since.

Who has been your biggest inspiration? Have any books or philosophies or people been important your development as an activist?
There are many people that have been pivotal in my activism, like Jon Camp, Erica Meier, Paul Shapiro, Josh Balk, Bruce Friedrich, and others, but by far, the most influential person has been my friend Nick Cooney.  Nick is always thinking about efficiency and how we can help the most amount of animals with the limited resources we have at our disposal.  He is interested in doing what works as opposed to what feels good.  It is great to see that type of results-oriented thinking become more popular in the animal protection movement.

Books that I feel are must-reads are: Ethics into Action by Peter Singer, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, The Animal Activist’s Handbook by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich, and Change of Heart by Nick Cooney.

How did you improve and change as an activist over time? What mistakes did you make, and what did you learn from them? How do you keep improving now?
The urgency of the situation of animal suffering has always compelled me to be extremely active for animals. I used to think I should be constantly doing something for animals no matter what it is. As long as I was doing something, I thought I was doing a good thing.  Now, I constantly ask myself the questions, “What are my actions actually accomplishing for animals and how can I be more effective?  What can I be doing to save more animals and to reduce more suffering?  How can I be reaching more people with my message?”  Asking myself those questions helps me constantly improve my activism.

Why does the Humane League focus on young people? Also, how are youth important to the activism movement?
Young people are often in a mindset where they are questioning existing societal and cultural affairs and are most likely to be open to change. This is exemplified throughout history.  Young people are always the ones to bring about positive change.

Young people also have their whole lives ahead of them to help change the world. If someone goes vegan when they are 99, that’s great!  But if someone goes vegan when they are a teenager, they have an entire lifetime of sparing animals ahead of them.  So we feel if we are going to reach out to a certain demographic, it makes the most sense to choose young people.

Plus, the youth of today will be the leaders of tomorrow.  Imagine if those future leaders embraced values of compassion towards animals.  That would be word-changing.

The Humane League focuses on finding the most effective activism for animals possible. What are effective ways to advocate for vegan choices? Why? How can students advocate for vegan choices?
Farmed animals make up the vast majority of animals killed in this country and they have absolutely miserable lives.  So it is important to get people to reduce their animal consumption as much as possible.  The best way to do that is advocating a vegetarian diet.  If one person goes vegetarian, they will be saving up to 406 animals a year, at least an animal every day!

Leafleting is one of our favorite forms of vegetarian outreach. It is simple, anyone can do it, and you can reach thousands of people in a very short amount of time.

If you are in school, start a vegetarian club.  You can leaflet, get vegan options in the cafeteria, get your school to do Meatless Monday, get a veg starter kit stand in your school, and have guest speakers come present to classes about factory farms.  Get in touch with us if you want to do any of these activities in your school!

You give presentations at schools on factory farming and vegetarianism. Do you have tips for students who want to learn public speaking?
I was always shy and terrified of public speaking.  I thought it was important to do because it is a geat tool for speaking on behalf of animals.  The way I learned was I just started doing it a lot.  The first talk I gave was in front of 400 students at a high school assembly.

I recommend forcing yourself to do it.  Just jump right in.  You will learn as you go.  Your first couple speeches may not be the best, but it will be the best way to learn.  Also, having a script to help guide you is helpful, especially for your first few times.

There are programs like Toast Masters that can be helpful to help build your speaking skills.

Finally, always remember that you appear far less nervous than you actually are. So if you feel like you are panicking on stage, just remember that you don’t appear that way to the audience.  Keeping that in mind will help you a lot when you feel nervous.

What is your educational background and how did it prepare you to do the work you do today? How might students prepare for careers in animal activism?
I graduated from Carver Center for Arts and Technology and studied math in college for a couple years.  Honestly, I didn’t use much of my college experience for activism.  My passion to help animals drove me to focus on being an activist which then led to me doing to full time for work.

The best advice I have for students interested in a career in activism is to follow your heart and to start being active.  Start your own Veg Club at school (high school and college!), volunteer or sign up for internships with groups like Vegan Outreach or The Humane League.  Internships are a great way to get you on the right path for activist careers.

There is another option.  Its a new and growing movement called effective altruism.  It is a really great concept that is focused on how to make the biggest impact you possibly can.  One great thing that people interested in helping charities are doing is making as much money as they possibly can and then donating as much as they can to effective charities.  You could major in a career that will make you a lot of money so that you can support organizations that rely on donations to function.  This may allow you to help far more animals than if you were to become an activist yourself.  I recommend watching this talk by Peter Singer.

What has been your favorite moment in your activism? Has there been a moment when you knew you were making a difference?
Gosh, there have been so many!  Activism is such a rewarding life!  One of my favorite moments was early on when I was advocating against an animal testing lab and I got a major pharmaceutical company to stop contracting with that lab.  I was a teenager and my friends and I had just influenced enormous corporation to change their policy!  I was immediately empowered and wanted to do more of that type of work.  Now, I am doing it full time at The Humane League and love it!

Do you have any other advice for youth activists?
Sometimes it can be easy to get discouraged when you are working to make a shift in society’s practices and attitudes.  Just remember that all throughout history, young people fighting for good causes have prevailed and we will too.  Stay strong, never give up, and always keep the animals in mind.  We have justice and compassion on our side.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” -Martin Luther King Jr.