The circus came to town this weekend. There was a peaceful protest scheduled for all performances. I joined the protest Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. I got a lot savvier with my sign this year - I invested in a nice foam core poster board (my sign was too flimsy last year and did not hold up against winter weather).
My daughter decided to join me for the protest on Friday. I gave her a rundown of what the protest would be like so that she knew what to expect. Initially, I was a bit torn about bringing my daughter. When I was a student at George Mason University in the early 90s, I remember seeing a man dragging a large wooden cross around the quad. I think maybe he handed out leaflets - I don't specifically recall. What I do remember is spotting his young children with him once or twice. I recall thinking that maybe young children shouldn't be indoctrinated into anything. So, I've always been careful with my daughter and what I say to her. I take her to church with me, but I tell her that she'll be free to choose her own religion when she grows up. I have raised her on a vegetarian diet, but I've told her she'll be free to choose her diet, too. She's almost 12, though, so I felt like she's old enough to decide how she feels about the circus. So, we bundled up (it was around 19 degrees) and headed over to the arena. We parked in the same lot as the circus-goers, grabbed our sign, and walked to the intersection we'd need to cross to get to the arena. Surrounded by families headed for the circus, we waited patiently for the light to change. We could see the protestors starting to assemble on the sidewalk across the street.
"Those protestors are so stupid," said the woman in front of me. I looked down and noticed that her daughter was wearing sandals. In 19-degree weather.
"I'll be the judge of who's stupid in this scenario," I thought to myself.
My daughter and I crossed the street and joined the other protestors. There is a specific area where we are allowed to stand, and we have to be careful that we are not blocking the flow of foot traffic into the arena. The circus is hosted by the Shriners and they will find any excuse to call the police on the protestors. (Side note: money from ticket sales does not benefit Shriners' Hospitals for children.) We do not shout at the circus attendees. We simply stand there with our signs.
A family streamed by me and I saw that one of the children, a girl of about nine, was wearing a crop top. Her bare stomach was turning pink against the cold wind. "Maybe they should go sit with the sandal family," I thought. Again, to myself.
Families continued to flow through us and around us. I saw fathers enveloped in clouds of cigarette smoke, dropping f-bombs in front of their kids (not aimed at us, just as a part of normal conversation). One woman looked at our group's "pro animal" posters and said flatly, "Well, it's a good thing I don't care about animals." Her male companion laughed loudly.
Since this is the Midwest, the vast majority of the circus-goers were polite. They walked by without speaking. The adults looked down or away, but many of the kids read our signs. Once the 6:30 p.m. show had started, we packed up and headed home. I couldn't feel my toes anymore at that point. I made a mental note to wear thicker socks the next day.
On Saturday morning, I watched a documentary on Netflix as I was getting my act together. It's called Accidental Courtesy in case you want to check it out. The program follows the travels of a man named Daryl Davis. Daryl Davis is a black man (and fairly well-known musician) who believes that there is value in meeting with KKK members one by one. If they can sit down together and find some common ground, maybe they can build a friendship. Sure enough, many Klan members have had a change of heart and have actually given their hoods and robes to Mr. Davis. He has around 25 of them so far, in addition to other KKK trinkets like pins. His work has put him at odds with the Black Lives Matter movement, but I do think there is merit in his overall theory: don't be so quick to condemn your adversaries. Look a little deeper.
I thought about that documentary a lot on Saturday as I took my post in front of the arena for the 1:30 show. While I do think that we (the protestors) are on the right side of history, I knew I needed to be less judgemental of the circus attendees. After all, there was a time when I routinely ate a quarter pounder with cheese without thinking twice about it. Granted, that was almost 30 years ago, but still . . . an awakening of conscience causes one to see everything in a new light.
So, I held my sign and chatted with my friend who organizes the protests each year. My daughter opted not to join me this time - partly because she had just slept 12 hours straight and hadn't even gotten dressed when it was time for me to leave.
At the Saturday show, not too many people shouted at us, fortunately. One person did yell, "Don't you have pets?!"
Heidi responded, "Yes, I do, but I don't train them with bull hooks."
Another guy said, "You aren't doing anybody any good." I wasn't sure what his main beef was: was he simply annoyed that we weren't using our time wisely, in his opinion?
Another circus-goer confessed, "I'm totally with you guys - I am just doing this for my kids." I have some hope for that guy!
I invest most of my hope in the kids. The ones who are old enough to read do read the signs as their parents are whisking them past us. Maybe in a few years they will look into how baby elephants are actually trained and will tell their parents, "Nah, I don't want to go." I'm counting on my daughter's generation to end this crap once and for all.