No War (No Elephants?)

I understand the act of protesting. Admittedly, it’s been a minute since I’ve stood on a street corner, but I’ve been there. In college, after the 9/11 disaster, I remember being absolutely confused that the United States’ answer was… war? In Iraq? There wasn’t anything clearly pointing that way, and through history’s lens now, there never was. It felt like we wanted an excuse to blow shit up over there, and so we did, with the clever disguise of a country hungry for vengeance.

What could I do? Absolutely nothing, of course. I am a grain of sand. I can vote, but that’s the limit of my influence on my country’s leader’s choice to go to war.

So I wrote “No War” on a sign and stood on the street and held it up. I guess I can do that. I founded a group in college with people there that felt the same: Whitewater United for Peace.

I didn’t yell at anybody. I don’t do up-in-your-face anger. To a fault, I avoid it at all costs. But I got yelled at. I remember a fella who is was frothing-mouth angry because he thought I was disrespecting his father, a soldier. That’s not how I see it, I said. I don’t think your father should have to go to war with an unclear purpose. My fellow protesters thought it was likely something oil-related at the time. I still think that was the main point.

People protest differently, though. In my town now (Bend, Oregon) the chances of a protest being left or right politics is about even. I’ve seen just as many Open! The! Schools! protests (back when they were doing online-only classes because of, ya know, the global pandemic) as I have anti-war protests. Today, people are protesting in Texas against the abortion law and tempers are surely and rightfully hot.

I’m thinking about all this now because of a heated and nerve-wracking protest experience I’m just walking away from.

My family is visiting my wife’s parents, and we took my 3-year-old daughter to the Zoo. On leaving the zoo, there were a dozen protesters or so protesting the zoo. Just the existence of zoos, in general, but I think they are particularly mad about the elephants. Animal captivity is cruelty, to them. Surely they feel like grains of sand. They can’t close a zoo, but they can hold a sign.

They didn’t just hold a sign, though. And they didn’t leave their anger toward individuals out of it. They were vocally mad. Literal-megaphone mad. Yelling at people in line and leaving the zoo for enabling the existence of zoos. Fighting mad. Frothing mouth mad.

One particular white guy protester held a camera in a black woman’s face:

Zoos are slavery. We stood up against slavery and abolished it. You’d think you would know something about that. But you don’t. You don’t give a fuck.

Can you imagine?

And this was a few yards away from my 3-year-old who was very upset and confused, which tested my limits, to be sure. I didn’t even care about the details of the argument anymore. The protesters were so disgusting to me I had no interest in their ideas. We stayed composed and walked past it all.

My daughter is now asleep in the back seat. Surely, we’ll need to have a conversation about all this later so she can understand what she saw. I’m going to tell her that it’s good to have strong feelings and to let the world know how you feel. But angrily yelling at people in public not only isn’t OK, and worse, it will backfire.

Oh shucks sorry gotta run, I’m grilling elephant burgers. Just kidding, just kidding.

Connections with things I’ve read/heard somewhat recently:

Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured. What is the meaning of freedom in such a context? Animals in the wild are, in practice, free neither in space nor in time, nor in their personal relations.



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