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August 15, 2013
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Editorial fans flames in elephant debate

Recently, The Union ran a piece asking that dialogue remain respectful around the fair board’s decision to allow elephant rides at the Nevada County Fair. Showing respect is an idea that everyone supports. However, in this article, The Union did more to sow seeds of divisiveness than it did to foster productive communication.

Most frighteningly, The Union included a mysterious quote of an inflammatory nature, citing no source. The implication is that the words were uttered at the fair board meeting. They were not. Nothing like this was said at the meeting or in any discussion I’ve observed, and it is far from the tone of any official position from any of the groups working to stop the elephant rides.

A video of the meeting is available online at http://youtube.com/watch?list=UUwRxyLsWDRVae7F2ZTomk-w&v=_K-bnUUvHTE (search “youtube fair board elephants”). There you will see knowledgeable and compassionate community members testifying against elephant rides at our county fair. Passion and frustration is expressed by both sides. I wonder if any of the editorial authors were present at the meeting.

The inclusion of the quote is frightening because there is already an us-against-them mentality, and The Union is fanning the flames. Before the meeting, the fair board sent out an email asking supporters of the contract to come wearing denim and light blue shirts to show solidarity. If the intention was to intimidate anti-ride elephant advocates, it worked. I didn’t feel scared, but many people have since commented on a clump of (mostly) men dressed in light blue who were standing in the back of the room with a menacing presence.

A mother from my child’s classroom stood silently, holding a photo of a chained elephant. A man walked by and ridiculed her. Wordlessly, I moved next to her to offer moral support. One man in the group spoke to another while looking and pointing directly at me. Such body language is generally perceived as threatening. This was not an environment of “thoughtfulness.”

In the video, notice the first speaker at the podium. Supportive of the contract, he says he’s not there to talk to the board. He turns around, yelling at the crowd, asking questions and demanding answers from us. The board passively allows the breakdown of order. This isn’t respectful.

Those supporting the board’s decision should know that a large contingency of people will continue to speak out against it and peacefully protest. The Union’s quote of unknown origin paints us with a hateful brush and makes violence against us easier. We are the ones who are taking a risk. It takes courage to speak out against the power structure. The fair board is not the victim, despite the attempt to characterize it that way. We are the underdogs. This is America, where we have the right to protest and the responsibility to hold government officials accountable. Democracy isn’t loyalty to leaders. It’s a participatory process.

Controversy exists about the treatment of elephants by HTWT. Many people are speaking out against their involvement in our county fair, and many more are in quiet opposition to the board. It is common to hear that “our family will not be attending the fair because of the elephant issue.” In the past, the fair has been a unifying experience for this community, and the board is failing in its duty to keep it that way.

One board member changed her vote because she saw how this issue is tearing the community apart. She did the right thing. Several Southern California municipalities and venues have severed ties with HTWT amid protests, including the Upland Lemon Festival, the Orange County Fair, Los Angeles County Fair, Santa Ana Zoo and the cities of Fountain Valley and Sierra Madre.

A theme in the pro-ride camp is resistance to change. Change is happening for valid reasons. In the New York Times on Feb. 7, 2006 (“Bronx Zoo Plans to End Elephant Exhibit”), Joseph Berger writes: “It’s a shift occurring around the country. While once every zoo worthy of the title would boast an elephant, facilities in San Francisco, Detroit, Santa Barbara, Calif., and Lincoln Park in Chicago have either closed their elephant exhibits or decided to phase them out … In New York, the Central Park and Prospect Park zoos stopped exhibiting elephants in the 1980s. The reasons behind the shift are complex and involve both the distinctive personality traits of pachyderms and America’s changing standards when it comes to confining animals.”

Tatiana Makovkin lives in Grass Valley.

Editor’s note: The July 20 editorial referenced above, “Agreeing to disagree requires respect,” spoke of the need to debate this issue in a civil manner. The editorial did not state the referenced quotation was made at the fair board meeting. Rather the offending comment, published to provide an example of how dialogue on the debate had deteriorated, was made in an email sent to an involved party, which The Union agrees the editorial should have stated in order to clarify its origin. The name of the author and which side the of the debate the author argues, was withheld to avoid painting either side of the debate with a broad brush and instead focus on the need for a civil discussion of this local issue.

We are the ones who are taking a risk. It takes courage to speak out against the power structure.


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The Union Updated Aug 15, 2013 08:10AM Published Aug 15, 2013 08:12AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.