Speak Up for What is Right, Sometimes There Are No Innocent Bystanders

Dear Jalen,

Today is March 5, 2015 and it is a day I’ve been waiting to arrive for years. While waiting, I just never knew the day would be March 5, 2015. I wasn’t sure if this day would even arrive at all.

It may not seem like it to you now, but our lives are short and it’s important that we spend as much of it as we can pursuing our passions, speaking out against what is wrong and doing our best to make this world a better place. Of course, this can be much easier said than it is done. I admit, it is easy to get caught up in our day to day obligations that we lose sight of this. I’m guilty of it myself. However, the beauty in this is that your actions don’t have to be anything big or extravagant. It doesn’t necessarily have to affect millions or be the most pressing issue in our world today. Maybe it’s something only one other being will come to know or understand or it may be something everyone sees and disagrees with you on – all of this is okay. What this is and how we do it isn’t going to be the same for everyone. What matters is that it is your passion and that you act on it. For nothing you have passion for will ever be a waste of time, regardless of how it may turn out in the end.

For me, I found myself passionate about Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s use of elephants (or any animals for that matter) as entertainment acts in their circus. In all fairness, it’s not just Ringling Bros. but any circus that uses these animals for entertainment acts. However, it is Ringling Bros. that is probably the most recognized. After all, you’ll find them advertising themselves as “The Greatest Show on Earth!” as they parade their animals in shackles through the streets downtown. Ringling is accused of covering their bull hooks with brightly colored feathers and slapping mud over the animal’s wounds arguably in attempt to fool the audience that these beautiful animals are enjoying performing and doing these things willingly for our entertainment instead of behaving this way out of fear of being beaten. It is Ringling Bros. that is known for their history of abusing animals and it is Ringling Bros. that in 2011 was slapped with largest civil penalty ever assessed against an exhibitor under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). I could go on and on but tons of information, videos, photographs, etc. are out there with minimal effort looking. Today the best place to find it is at the following website:

“One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.” – E. M. Forster

To speak out against the actions of Ringling wasn’t exactly easy. After all, many have fond memories recalling times they were taken to a Ringling circus by their family. Some have excitement to continue a tradition of attending a Ringling circus with their own children. Some honestly believe these animals are enjoying what they are being forced to do. But, I spoke up anyway. I spoke up because I believe it is the right thing to do. I spoke up because it is my passion and important to me. I spoke up because these animals couldn’t speak up for themselves.

My actions weren’t extravagant. I could have done more. To help spread the word I wrote a few letters to editors of newspapers whose city would be hosting a Ringling circus. I left a few brochures in public places. I used Twitter to help educate others on what happens behind the scenes when the lights fade and the cheerful music stops playing. I reached out to the author of a popular gossip blog for help in spreading the word to his audience on his website and he graciously agreed. When the circus came to our state capital I stood outside in the cold December air peacefully holding my protest sign. My fingers and toes went numb but I continued to hold my sign and hand out brochures to anyone that was willing to keep an open mind. Some of these actions were easy, some were not and no action ever seemed to be enough.

What matters most is that I tried and that I took action even when I questioned if any of it would make any difference at all.

Jalen, this morning when reading through the morning news I found a headline that brought tears to my eyes: “Ringling Bros. Circus to Phase Out Animal Acts” Ringling is expected to end all elephant acts by 2018. To say that I’m overjoyed would be an understatement. While I hoped to see this day arrive, I’m not sure I ever thought I would see this day come. While I wish they would stop immediately, I’m beyond thrilled to see there is hope and movement in the right direction. Until then, I will keep taking action. I will teach you about the beautiful elephant sanctuary that exists in Tennessee. I’ll show you their wish list and from time to time we’ll arrange to buy a gift for the elephants. When you want to see a circus, I’ll proudly take you to my hometown where every summer the community children perform an amateur circus complete with live music, flying trapeze acts and tightrope walkers. It’s incredible but most incredible is that as children they’re able to do what Ringling should have been doing all along. They’re providing an incredibly entertaining show and they didn’t have to use a single exotic animal to do it. It is, what I would argue to be, the greatest show on earth.



2 thoughts on “Speak Up for What is Right, Sometimes There Are No Innocent Bystanders”

  1. Good for you for taking a stand. While you say it wasn’t much, it sure seems like a lot to me. Congratulations–It’s wonderful to see a cause that you championed finally become reality!


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