Update: October 1, 2014
Since the fall 2003 launch of Vegan Outreach’s Adopt a College program, Joe Espinosa has handed out more than half a million booklets! And Joe has just received an Unsung Vegan Hero Award from the Pollination Project!
See also this fall 2009 article (PDF) published by Ball State University.
August 20, 2008
At the Animal Rights 2008 conference, longtime animal activist Joe Espinosa was presented with the Henry Spira Grassroots Activist Award. Matt Ball introduced Joe at the award ceremony:
“I have known tonight’s honoree, Joe Espinosa, for almost 16 years now. We met at the University of Illinois’ animal rights group, before Vegan Outreach was even formed. As long as I’ve known him, Joe has been extraordinarily dedicated to the animals, and in pursuing efficient, effective advocacy on their behalf. Since Vegan Outreach launched our Adopt a College program, where activists offer booklets directly to students, Joe has consistently been one of our top leafleters.
I want to share a few of Joe’s statistics:
Since the fall of 2003, he has leafleted at one or more colleges throughout the Midwest on 298 different days, often in bad weather, with temperatures frequently below freezing.
Joe has given booklets to over 140,000 students at 62 different schools; he’s reached thousands more at other venues.
He was Adopt a College’s top volunteer leafleter during this past spring semester, handing booklets to 27,890 students.
However, these numbers don’t give a full sense of Joe’s dedication to the animals. For years, he’s arranged the schedule of his full-time job – as a social worker at a methadone clinic in Chicago – so he works Saturdays. That way, he has a free weekday for leafleting. In order to get in a full day of leafleting, he gets up as early as 2am. Once, he and Leslie Patterson drove all night to be at the opening class change at Miami of Ohio, as the kickoff to a leafleting tour. In March. That was his vacation. He also spends much of his free time working with activists – new and old – to pursue thoughtful, constructive activism, and has helped many advocates reach new levels of effectiveness.
Yet these facts still fail to capture Joe’s selfless commitment to the animals, which comes from his big heart. His essential goodness and powerful spirit make me incredibly fortunate to have him as one of my oldest pals. He is not only everything the animals would want in an advocate, but everything you could ever ask for in a friend. I only hope you have the chance to spend time with him, too.
I’ve never known a person and an award to be better matched. It is truly one of my greatest honors to be able to introduce to you tonight, this year’s recipient of the Henry Spira Grassroots Activist Award, Joe Espinosa.”
June 15, 2005
Why do you leaflet colleges?
Colleges are a great collection point for an audience that is likely to be the most receptive population for us to reach. I particularly like to be on college campuses, as opposed to getting people at concerts or festivals, because people on their way to class are typically sober and in a relatively serious mindset, ready to think. The numbers really speak for themselves in terms of booklets given out for the time invested. It is vital that as a movement we do a better job of covering colleges.
What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?
It is really not hard to leaflet and makes such a difference for farm animals who are suffering and will continue to suffer because we were too afraid to simply ask passersby if they want a booklet against animal cruelty. I tend to be a pretty shy person, but this issue is important enough to overcome that.
How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested in this?
Matt Ball let me in on the truth about animal suffering in October of 1992. I went vegetarian 4 weeks after meeting him, then got involved in AR activities after graduating in 1993. I was not particularly interested in political or social causes, but the massive suffering that I was witness to compelled me into action.
What made you decide to start leafleting? If you were nervous the first time, how did you get over it?
I began leafleting after becoming dissatisfied with the results of the standard animal rights techniques that were in use (demos seeking media attention). The quality of the message that gets out is often lacking. The essay that Marsha [Forsman] and I wrote for Vegan Outreach’s enewsletter, which was also used by Erik Marcus [in Meat Market], gives a good explanation of why we decided to take off the costumes and start leafleting. I was nervous the first time, but realized it is much less confrontational and much more promising than probably any animal rights work I had done before. I was simply asking people if they wanted a booklet, not accusing them or moralizing over them like many of the demos we had done before.
What was your most positive college leafleting experience this year and why?
INDIANA! I was afraid to go into Indiana, but all the schools were quite worthwhile, and my fears were unfounded.
What was the last good book you read?
Meat Market by Erik Marcus.
Who is a source of inspiration to you and why?
Of course other leafleters and supporters of VO. But my inspirational hero is Twiggy Ramirez, former bassist and songwriter for Marilyn Manson. Beyond the music which is really quite strong, I am quite interested in free speech; it is an essential tool for us to do what we do. Without an open marketplace for new ideas, there is little hope for progress / justice. Manson began as a concept band that wanted to explore the boundaries of free speech. While many may not agree with the content of the lyrics or the behaviors that the band has engaged in, they have been at the front lines guarding our rights to speak the unpopular opinion. Several of us have experienced schools limiting our first amendment rights, so this is an important area that we should be concerned with.