From little acorns do mighty oak trees grow – one man’s idea to chalk up his local streets with thought-provoking, celebratory messages goes global thanks to the power of the worldwide vegan community. Talking to James DeAlto, the man who started the Vegan Chalk Challenge, Kim Willis celebrates happy activism at it’s best…
If, like me, going vegan made you want to shake people who are yet to see the vegan light, shouting in their carnivorous ears while wondering why you’re getting nowhere, you might just fall for the more cool, calm and kind activism favoured by James DeAlto, from North Carolina, USA.
DeAlto spent the first few years of his vegan life (which began six years ago) trying to convince family and friends to go vegan, with little success. He found real-world activism intimidating, but felt a growing need to do something effective.
James explains: ‘One day it occurred to me that I could easily write a vegan message on the pavement with some chalk. My first read: ‘Want peace? Go Vegan!’ Empowered, I was compelled to craft more elaborate messages wherever I went. There was endless potential for creativity. Unsure if I was actually reaching anyone, I reasoned a few minutes of my time spent writing pretty messages couldn’t hurt.’
As James’s reputation as the Vegan Chalker grew, friends and fellow vegans joined in. Launching a Facebook page, ‘The Vegan Chalk Challenge’ saw over 1000 people join James’s ‘chalktivism’ within months.
Co-ordinating regular ‘chalk-bomb’ days, James’s collective grew. In January 2016, 1,600 participants debuted their chalk-signage, from America, Australia, the UK, India, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Spain and China.
The most recent event, over the first weekend in October, saw nearly 3000 chalk-happy activists from every corner of the globe, post #VeganChalkChallenge photos across social media.
James says: ‘Never did I imagine it would become what it has. I think the secret to our success is that chalking empowers vegans in an accessible, fun and effective way. The public reacts so warmly because what we’re doing is intriguing and non-threatening.’
‘Veganism can’t be ignored. We’re willing to take a beautiful stand against unnecessary violence, sparking conversations and inspiring other activists. I see it happening with my friends in North Carolina and it’s so exciting.’
Many vegans have shared stories of overwhelmingly positive experiences as they create chalk masterpieces, leading to fruitful conversations with interested passersby.
James explains: ‘We’re planting seeds and creating repeated exposure to the same message in a variety of ways. When the public sees our messages over and over, they’ll be reminded that veganism is a “thing.” They’ll get curious. In time, stories of how our collective efforts influenced individuals to change will come back to us. Then we’ll have even more to celebrate.’
Next up, James is focusing on the 45 million turkeys destined to be killed during Thanksgiving next month.
Hoping to bring attention to the plight of these beautiful birds, James is orchestrating an alternative Thanksgiving dubbed “Vegan Chalksgiving” which you can find out more about on his Facebook page.
As James watches his idea grow into a worldwide phenomenon, he hopes that carnivores see that the vegan movement comes in peace.
He explains: “Marches are powerful. Protests and vigils are powerful. However, I don’t think aggressive tactics lead to the kinds of conversations we need. If you stir people’s anger, you put them on the defensive and create resistance to the vegan message. I encourage other “chalktivists” to leave messages centred around love, mercy, kindness and compassion – things most people already believe in. Chalk up facts about agriculture, the suffering it imposes upon animals and the environmental devastation it’s causing. How we communicate harsh realities is vital. Chalking is a way to soften the blow – to “call people in” to consider the impacts of their food choices and the beauty of veganism.”
When my vegan sister, all the way over in Burma, sent me an invitation to James’s latest chalk challenge, I felt so excited to be a part of something beautiful. I scribbled chalk on the road by my Wiltshire home, my sister scribbled hers as the sun set over a distant pagoda. James brought us together. He brings the vegans of the world together to celebrate the joy of being vegan. That’s a pretty infectious message, even if it does get washed away with tomorrow’s rain. But that’s the beauty of chalk. Another day, another message, another seed sown.
To join in, visit www.veganchalkchallenge.org or visit the Facebook page, Vegan Chalk Challenge. Look out for more wonderful photos across social media using #VeganChalkChallenge. James posts on Instagram under @veganchalkninja.
About the author: Kim Willis is a feature writer who graduated from the London School of Journalism and now writes for women’s magazines and national newspapers. She had her vegan epiphany in January after watching ‘Dairy is Scary’. The five minute and 41 second long YouTube video changed Kim’s life for the better. Now a proud member of the united nations of veganism, Kim enjoys writing about her vegan discoveries (and other adventures) on her blog: www.lunacyofink.com. She also enjoys yoga, handstands, sunshine and travelling with her photographer husband, preferably all at once, because then her yoga-handstands in the sunshine can be documented in glorious technicolour by said husband.