Nettie Schwager

Where are you from and where do you live now?

I grew up in the Bronx, where I attended high school and college. I have also lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, and currently live in Corvallis, Oregon – talk about different worlds.

What are your favorite things to do outside of leafleting?

I love to go for walks, which I do every day. I also love thrift stores. That’s where I get my wardrobe and lots of other things. And I volunteer in the local humane society thrift store. I love talking to people, dancing, eating in vegan restaurants whenever I can, beading, and watching funny movies.

How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested?

When I was growing up, I didn’t know or even know of a single vegetarian. (I am 56, so things were different than they are today.) I do remember asking my mother why we killed and ate animals. She explained that it was sad but necessary. When I learned that it wasn’t necessary (in my early twenties), I became vegetarian. However, for years after I became vegetarian, I didn’t know what happens to animals. I thought they had happy lives on the farm. I eventually learned a little about what happens, knew it was bad and went vegan. But again, even as a vegan I didn’t know that much. Then in 1999, I started to do a lot of reading about animal issues. I also watched (or tried to watch) videos. What I learned was so horrific and beyond belief that I was forever changed. How could such cruelty be allowed and perpetrated on a massive scale?

I had always been concerned about humanitarian issues, but now I became dedicated to helping animals. Contrary to the misconception, it is not because I care more about animals than people. It’s because I recognized the tremendous need. This is an extremely important issue – made more so because the victims are powerless to defend themselves, the cruelty happens hidden from view, and the suffering is immeasurable.

Who is a major influence in your life?

My mother is number 1. She had a heart of gold and taught me to be kind to everyone, to help others and to follow the Golden Rule. She hated cruelty and specifically talked to me about cruelty to animals.

I also greatly admire all the amazing activists who are dedicated to this issue. You are all my heroes.

And Vegan Outreach has been very influential and helpful. I wanted to help animals so much. I was passionate. I was very outspoken. I took to heart the idea of being the voice for the voiceless. And I made mistakes. I had my share of uncomfortable conversations and frustrating experiences. I never considered giving up my efforts or not speaking out, but I wanted to figure out how to do it better. In all my reading, and I read many books, I hadn’t come across information or tips on how to talk to people about the issue, and how to be an effective activist. The articles on the Vegan Outreach website and The Animal Activist’s Handbook were just what I needed. I could write pages about everything I have learned.

What made you decide to start leafleting?

I met Jessica Dadds in Portland at Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals. She told me about leafleting (this was before discovering the VO articles and AAH). I had done other kinds of activism, and although I had made people aware of issues and had changed a few people, I wanted to do more. Leafleting made sense. At the time, I didn’t know that people gave out hundreds and even thousands of booklets in a day. The first few times I leafleted, I took a bundle of 50 booklets, gave them out and thought, “Wow I did it!”

What was your most positive leafleting experience and why?

Leafleting is always a positive experience, and every day I leaflet is a good day. I know I have done something great. I think about how the people who received a leaflet will be reading it, thinking about it, showing others and talking about it. Obviously not everyone who gets a booklet does this, but some do. I am seeing results and changes. I see more and more people becoming aware of and caring about this. This is an issue whose time has come.

What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?

Please do it for the animals. We can’t even begin to imagine their pain, terror and suffering.

By leafleting, we are putting the information directly into people’s hands. We aren’t hoping that they will seek out this information or stumble across it – we are doing something to make it happen.

I enjoy leafleting. I enjoy the conversations and experience, but what is important is that I can reach hundreds of people in a day and I’m reaching the population most open to the message. That’s what counts and that’s what makes leafleting worth doing.