One of my favourite parts of social media is how it brings like-minded people together and allows one’s community to expand. Social media allowed me to ‘meet’ John Oberg.
John grew up in Detroit, Michigan with his mom, Karen Oberg. As a child, he loved soccer, throwing a baseball, watching the Detroit Red Wings, but it was his love for animals that was his biggest passion.
Growing up, John and his mom were fairly poor and often collected bottles from trash cans for which they received ten cents per bottle.
The search for bottles occurred early in the morning, when deer could be seen roaming. Unfortunately, not everyone was as happy about the deer as John and his mother. John discovered that a cull had been planned to kill off many of the animals. Unwilling to simply stand by and let this happen, John and his mom protested the cull for several months.
Despite their efforts to raise awareness and stop the cull, the deer were ultimately killed. Though John was devastated by the deaths, this was also a turning point for him. It was the first time he realized he could stand up against injustice and let his voice be heard. John calls it his ‘first foray into animal activism’, and will always be thankful to his mom for supporting him.
John credits his mom for instilling in him his love for animals. Though he grew up eating meat, at the age of 20 he became vegetarian. He did so in order to align his beliefs with his behaviour. He felt if cared about animals, then he shouldn’t eat them.
However, he soon discovered that a vegetarian diet wasn’t enough to prevent animals from suffering. Farm animals, including dairy cows and egg-laying hens are forced to exist under gruesome conditions.
In October of 2009, ten months after becoming a vegetarian, John made the leap to a complete plant-based diet. One particular show that persuaded him to make the switch was a documentary called Earthlings. It’s about humanity’s use and abuse of animals for food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research.
Becoming a vegan changed John as a person. He became more empathetic and understood the suffering others endure. He found a way to live a life that is true to his heart, that is true to himself.
While many find the early stages of becoming vegan difficult, John says he made an effort to find a social group who supported his beliefs. He did so by attending various vegan and animal rights meetup through the site Meetup.com.
John believes it’s important to find a community of people with similar views to increase the chances of successfully maintaining a vegan diet.
But for John becoming vegan wasn’t enough. He realized he could help even more animals by encouraging others to change their diets to one that is plant-based. So, John became a vegan activist.
This doesn’t mean John forces his views on anyone who isn’t ready or interested in making the switch. He quickly learned that trying to tell someone the benefits of becoming a vegan would often make them feel judged if they weren’t open to this conversation. He usually only shares his opinions when asked.
After graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in Non-profit Leadership and Management, John worked for Vegan Outreach. The goal of this non-profit is to end violence against animals. While working at Vegan Outreach, John travelled around North America, handing out pamphlets about veganism to over a quarter of a million people!
Sadly, during this time, John’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. He took a two and half year hiatus from Vegan Outreach to help care for her. She passed away in November of 2015.
John then joined The Humane League, an organization whose mission is to end the abuse of animals raised for food. He worked with them for three years, running and overseeing their social media presence.
Though John loved working for The Humane League, in January 2019, he branched out on his own and harnessed the far-reaching power of social media to spread his message. He launched his own independent animal advocacy initiative.
John looks at social media as a science and believes it offers a huge opportunity to help animals. One such way is to post details of what happens behind the closed doors of farms and slaughterhouses.
When asked how he mentally gets through witnessing such horrors, John says,
“It’s difficult to face the cruelty that we inflict on animals behind the closed doors of slaughterhouses and factory farms, but I focus on the fact that by exposing this cruelty, it will make a difference for animals in the future. These animals’ lives and the cruelty they endured were not in vain.”
For John, the most difficult part of what he does is dealing with people who don’t understand the problems we face and how to best address them.
“People who fail to see the common ground that we all share are the ones who cause the most damage — no matter what side of the debate they’re on.”
But John is inspired to continue his mission to help animals by the many tweets and direct messages he receives from people telling him his posts have inspired them to stop eating animals. Just the other day, John received a message that said,
“I am compelled to tell you that your twitter account has been inspirational and has helped brace me against people snickering at me and saying things like, ‘the dairy industry isn’t cruel…who gave you this stupid idea?’ So, thank you for the tweets and for helping my awakening. Happy New Year.”
In 2019, the content John shared on social media accumulated over 200 million impressions. That is a tremendous reach.
When asked if could change one thing in the world what would it be, John’s answer is,
“To get people to understand the cruelty that animals — especially farm animals — face in today’s world and then to understand that they can make simple adjustments in how they eat and live that make a tremendous difference for these animals.”
If you would like to connect with John, you can follow him on Twitter at @JohnOberg. You can also support his efforts to make the world a kinder place for animals at patreon.com/JohnOberg