This week, the Ringling Brother Circus announced that after 100 years, they are closing their tent flaps for good, come this May. I had a few mixed emotions about that announcement that I would like to share here, especially in light of the upcoming Women’s March on Washington that I will be participating in this Saturday…
The Impact of a Circus
Like many American children, I attended the Ringling circus at least once, probably a couple times, in my life. I am pretty sure I even rode on the back of one of the endangered Asian elephants… a treat for any young kid. While clowns scared me, the animals enthralled me. Aside from the zoo, the circus was the only other place for me to see these amazing creatures up close. It had a lasting effect on me.
But as I got older I came to realize that these wild creatures shouldn’t be put on spectacle for our entertainment. The cramped cages, the stress of moving from town to town, the impact of performing multiple nights a week, the alleged abuses; they all added up to make me dislike the circus.
My First Protest
In college I started an animal rights group at my school. We spent most of our time trying to get more vegetarian options in the cafeteria and educate people about animal testing. It was a rather tame bunch. In grad school I joined the group there (the only grad student in the group, I might add) and was a member of PETA (something I would not continue for long due to their extreme views). Through that group I protested the Ringling Brothers Circus when it came to town.
I was anxious and had no idea what to expect. Would we experience hostility? Would there be violence? I was surprised by what we did experience… the circus performers who I met were cordial and took the time to listen to our concerns. The parents mostly tried to ignore us. Ignorance is bliss, right?! After all, my parents took me to the circus when I was young. It’s almost like a right of passage.
And that is why the announcement of the circus’ closing left me with mixed emotions. I am so very happy that no more elephants, lions, tigers, and other animals will have to live such an unnatural life performing for our amusement. They deserve much better. But I do feel bad for the performers who loved their jobs. I’m sure 99% of them respected their animal co-stars and treated them kindly. And after this March, kids won’t get to experience the magic of Ringling. Thankfully Cirque du Soleil is still around to fill in some of the gaps.
So as I get ready to go to the Women’s March – which I do want to stress is a march, not exactly a protest – I think back to my first protest and how it has left an indelible mark on me. And it’s amazing that it worked… although it took nearly 30 years and much effort to do so. The people taking part in Saturday’s march have many reasons for doing so. Mine are for women’s reproductive rights, environmental protection, and equal pay for equal work, among others. It will be a slow process making progress, but good things mature with time.