The Greens currently have a bill before parliament to end animal cruelty in cosmetics in Australia. On Saturday, a group of us met outside of Myer in Pitt Street Mall to hand out information about supporting cruelty free cosmetics. With Christmas coming up, we wanted to encourage people to make cruelty free choices when shopping. So armed with leaflets and wearing bunny ears we fanned out to spread the word.
I’ve not had a great deal of experience in direct action, and this was only my second time handing out flyers so I was a little bit apprehensive. It feels quite daunting to try and approach complete strangers and offer them information they may or may not be interested in, and it certainly goes against my nature of being a socially awkward penguin to put myself in that kind of situation but I was (and am) keen to try and use my time to help make a difference, no matter how small.
Andy is an absolute pro at this kind of thing. He’s like the flyer ninja – twirling, arm thrusting, weaving, smiling. It’s quite the dance. And he never appears threatening or pushy. He simply smiles, gets in people’s line of vision and bam, leaflet delivered. He puts himself right in the thick of it and remains positively charming.
I don’t dance the dance quite so well but making eye contact and smiling definitely worked in my favour. My cheeks were starting to hurt after 3 hours of intense grinning. But it seemed to do the trick. Smile, make eye contact and say good morning and people responded really well.
It was an interesting experience and I learnt that you definitely can’t judge a book by its cover. You find yourself targeting people in the crowd, trying to guess who might be sympathetic to your cause, but I found no particular pattern. There were glamorous women who I wrote off as probably not caring who were really interested in the information and there were earthy looking students who wouldn’t even glance at me.
Most people were really receptive and polite. The majority of people, if not interested, would smile apologetically and say no thank you. Some people simply ignored me and carried on about their business. Some people actively came up to me to request a flyer. Some people wanted directions.
I only had one hostile encounter. About 2 hours into my stint handing out flyers I was approached by a man who was oozing aggression. He wanted to ask me something and I was waiting for him to lay into me about why animals should be tested on. He caught me off guard when he demanded to know if I was pro-abortion. Not pro-choice, but pro-abortion. He spat the words at me with such venom and seemed deaf to my protests that my opinions on abortion were entirely irrelevant to handing out a leaflet with options for cruelty free cosmetics. He was unrelenting, vicious, and I must say I probably looked entirely like a rabbit in the headlights. The ears helped. I’ve never had so much anger projected on me and I honestly didn’t know how to react. I was lost for words. I didn’t feel unsafe, I was surrounded by people, but the verbal attack was as shocking as a slap in the face. He then told me that as a woman I had no choice over what happened to my body and that animal activists were vile creatures who were letting babies die. He then stormed off like an angry little tornado.
I was shaking. I tried to hand out a few more flyers but my mojo was definitely battered and I was scared of running into another ball of rage. I did what I always do when I’m scared or upset – I found Andy. As soon as I saw him I found my eyes welling up. And I was annoyed at myself for that. I didn’t want that horrible man to affect me. I wanted to be stronger. I vented, we hugged and then I forced myself back into the masses.
Between us we gave out hundreds of flyers. Individually I interacted with hundreds of people. Of all of those people, only one was mean to me. I wasn’t going to let that one man scare me into not doing something. If he’s carrying around that kind of hate and wants to pick on a small woman wearing bunny ears then he’s the one with problem. He will only make me stronger.
I have no doubt that I’ll be put in that kind of situation again, but I’ll learn to deal with it calmly and without shedding a tear. I’ll smile and I’ll be polite and continue to spread a message of compassion. I’ll add my voice to a growing chorus who speak for those who cannot.