Been to a circus lately? Then, you’ve probably seen them - that group of people holding signs, handing out leaflets, trying to engage you before you go in. What do you do? Do you hurry by, avoiding eye contact? Do you stop and listen?
They seem to come from all different walks of life; artists to engineers to medical professionals, young and old alike. But, they have one common goal – convincing you not to support the circus.
Hot or cold, rain or snow, they stand with their signs and pamphlets in front of circus venues all over the country. Do you wonder why? What motivates these people to give up their time to do this? Are they crazy?
Several leading animal advocates from around the country were asked that very question. Here, they share their personal, first-hand experiences and what it is that motivates them:
Kristal Parks, M.A.
"I owe who I am today to the two very kind and friendly protesters who stood patiently and quietly with their signs outside the Ringling Brothers circus venue in Denver. I noticed them as I was walking toward the entrance into the coliseum to attend the circus. I saw their graphic poster and walked over and asked simply 'Is that true?' They gently said 'Yes,' and handed me a flier. My friend and I continued into the venue (we had already bought our tickets) and sat down. We were early, so we had time to read the flier. Then the circus started. When they brought in the elephants, we could not bear the sight because now we knew the truth. We got up and walked out.
Over the next few years, I educated myself about the reality of elephant suffering at human hands. I went to Asia and Africa to learn more about them as domesticated elephants in Asia and wild elephants in Africa. I fell in love with them. They are the most incredible beings walking the earth... so tender toward each other, playful, compassionate, loyal, full of expressive feelings with great nobility and grandeur. Now, my life is totally and completely dedicated to doing everything I possibly can to stop the horror taking place on the African continent. One hundred elephants are killed per day. One every 15 minutes. For the ivory market. Trinkets and trophies. I am now a full time elephant conservationist working in Denver, Colorado and Kenya, Africa to save the incredible and majestic Elephant! The name of my organization is Pachyderm Power! Love in Action for Elephants."
Andrew Kirschner is leading the 2013 Florida March Against Cruelty to Animals in Ft. Lauderdale on November 16, 2013. According to Andrew, he sees three different types of people pass by whenever he is demonstrating at the circus; i.e the befuddled, naïve Followers, the angry, nasty, cursing, middle-finger-raising Spitters, and the good-hearted Changers.
"The Changers say, 'Wait, the employees abuse the animals?' with tears in their eyes. They listen, ask questions, and talk to other members of their family. Most of all, they often turn around and leave, throw away their tickets, don’t buy tickets, and even join the protest. They find other forms of entertainment that don’t involve abusing animals. They realize they weren’t thinking. Now they are. These people care, they give the animal protection community hope, and they remind protestors that their efforts are worthwhile. They are the target audience and their decisions matter. Their potential to impact change should never be underestimated. One changed child or adult may start the next Mercy for Animals, Farm Sanctuary, or PETA, run for public office, or advocate in their own way. It’s not always how many people the protestors reach but rather who they reach that matters. The Changers make the protest worth it every time because they changed. Don’t let the Spitters win!"
Nikki Benoit has been involved in outreach for many years. She shared memories from one particular demonstration that stuck out in her mind. While demonstrating at a Ringling show, her group had run out of leaflets. As guests walked by, they decided to share talking points with them instead. Nikki said to a young couple, “They don't perform tricks like this in nature. They are beaten, food is withheld or they’re frightened into performing.” The girlfriend slapped her boyfriend on the arm and said "See??? I told you!" The show started 10 minutes later, so the demonstrators packed up and left.
Later that day, the group received an email from a man explaining that he and his girlfriend had been given free tickets to the Ringling show. Because of what they heard from the demonstration, they decided to observe the circus with new eyes, to judge for themselves. Not only did they witness the fear-controlled atmosphere between the animals and trainers, but they recognized the unnaturalness of the animals’ behavior as unhealthy versus exciting. They left the show and, amazingly, they asked when the group's next demonstration would be so they could join them. They came out with rabid enthusiasm. He held two signs, one in each hand, pacing the main walkway to the venue, while his girlfriend leafleted. It was a beautiful transformation to witness!
Hulya V. Johnson
"Most of my free time is spent attending fur and circus demonstrations and volunteering at animal sanctuaries. At one particular circus, a family of four asked me why I was there, as I handed them a leaflet. They were interested in hearing about the training processes used by the circus and the cruelty involved. As with most people, they had no idea what goes on behind the scenes. By the end of our conversation, they were so moved that they went back to the ticket counter to let them know why they would be leaving. They didn’t want to support such cruelty and everyone in the family helped hand out leaflets with us to other guests!
As I’m leafleting, I often wear a costume. Many will approach me to have their picture taken with me. One day, a father and son approached me and, it turns out, we happen to work at the same organization. They wondered why I was there and I explained about why it’s so wrong to support the suffering caused by the circus. By the end of the show, the son told his father he could hear the elephants crying. To this day, they haven’t returned to any circus featuring animals. This is the goal we all work so hard for."
McKenna Grace Fisher
"While at the Ringling Brothers Circus protest this past August, we were speaking with a couple and their two children. The father didn't seem too interested, but I could tell the mother was. We spoke for a bit and they proceeded into the gated area and gave their tickets to the man there. Next thing we knew, the family came back out and told us they'd decided not to go see the circus. They thought about what we'd shared and read the leaflet and saw the pictures of the baby Elephant that was being electrocuted while being strapped down, and that broke their hearts. We all cheered and drew a lot of attention to their decision to leave, in hopes that other people coming in would listen and see the example they were setting; i.e.changing their minds and not supporting the circus of cruelty.
Then, recently at Sea World, there were at least 100 activists lining the road leading into the parking entrance. A family received a leaflet from one of our activists. They turned around and came back out, telling us they’ll never go to Sea World again and were going to the beach instead. Throughout the day, other cars turned around after they read the leaflets, too." Blackfish and The Cove are films recommended so the public can see, for themselves, the real truth about Sea World and the enslavement of captive marine life for profit. Activists, and films like these, are definitely changing the public's outlook on animals used in entertainment.
"I have seen the positive effect demonstrations can have on many occasions. One time, I noticed a woman in her 20's standing nearby, reading our signs for quite a while. She finally walked up and asked us if what the signs said were true. I was holding a sign detailing the historic $270,000 fine Ringling paid for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act. We told her the signs of Ringling's animal abuse were true and that Ringling had just paid the largest fine in history. She said it was her birthday and her friends were meeting her there to go to the circus. But, after having talked with us, she was going to tell them that she didn't want to go to the circus for her birthday - or ever again!
Another time, we were near the ticket line showing a video of the abuse Ringling trainers inflict on elephants. A mother was there with a group of children to go to the circus. While they were in line to buy tickets, they saw a few minutes of the video. The oldest girl talked to us about it and they all decided to go to the movies instead, having learned of the animal abuse involved in the circus.
Even when guests go into the circus, I’ve learned that you may never know the impact your message has made until later. A couple went inside the circus with their children, rolling their eyes at us as they walked by one of our demonstrations. After the circus, they came up to us and thanked us for what we were doing and said we were right, the animals were abused and they were never going to the circus again. Their little boy said he saw the elephant crying. Anyone who knows about elephants knows that they cry when they are distressed, the same as humans do. How wonderful that they paid attention to the animals and saw the circus for what it is."