Animal Rights Collective Blog

Rethinking Ringling Brothers and GMU: Five Myths by christine
March 29, 2010, 10:08 am
Filed under: AR Event, ARC Events, Campaign, Local Events, Protest, Use Your Voice!

An Injustice Anywhere is an Injustice Everywhere

Myth 1: “The Patriot Center cares about the circus”

The Patriot Center, owned by George Mason University and operated by Washington Sports and Entertainment LP, is interested in profit. Unlike several other GMU venues, such as the Center for the Arts and the Black Box theater, the Patriot Center has few obligations to GMU. Its primary obligation to the university is maximized return on investment.

The Patriot Center embraces Ringling Brothers because it generates millions of dollars in revenue and nearly as much in profit. The Patriot Center cares almost as much for Bob Dylan, who played at the Patriot Center in November 2009, as it does for Ringling Brothers. If the circus did not generate a lot of profit for both Washington Sports and Entertainment and GMU, its contract would not be renewed.

Myth 2: “Circus demonstrations are only about the animals”

This is an example of seeing the trees and missing the forest. While the primary concern and focus of circus protesters is, and should be, the use of non-human animals in the circus, protesters should also challenge corporate power.

George Mason University, Washington Sports and Entertainment, and Ringling Brothers, are all influential entities in the Washington Metropolitan area.

George Mason University is located in Fairfax, Virginia. Washington Sports and Entertainment is based in Washington, DC. Ringling Brothers is owned by Feld Entertainment, which is headquartered in nearby Vienna, Virginia. Their preferences, more often than not, supersede the preferences of individuals.

Unfortunately, all three entities hinder the rights of individuals and instead, embrace an exclusionary corporate model. If protesters are able to push particular boundaries, such as moving closer to the Patriot Center, challenging unjust police orders, and escalating protest tactics, they will set precedent for future demonstrations as well as for individuals who seek to challenge corporate power on campus.

Universities should be progressive. There is nothing progressive about animal abuse and ignoring concerns of both students and community members. Money talks and Ringling Brothers contributes more to the general revenue fund at GMU than protesters and their supporters.

Myth 3: “In 2009, the GMU Police were fair”

Relative to prior demonstrations, the GMU Police in 2009 were less intrusive and more cautious in their treatment of circus protesters. However, several GMU Police officers, including Lt. Kevin Barrett, were seen throughout the first three days of the 2009 demonstrations coordinating with Patriot Center employees and alleviating concerns of the Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC) staff members. The CSC is the company hired for crowd control. It appeared that GMU Lt. Barrett did not want to offend the CSC staff. He also comforted a CSC staff member who was visibly upset.

Everyday of the protests, John F. Besanko, the Assistant General Manager of the Patriot Center, spent much of his time with Lt. Barrett. While this is not an indication of wrongdoing, Lt. Barrett followed Besanko around the Patriot Center and appeared to take orders from him. In contrast, this is misconduct.

On April 11, 2009, a protester was assaulted by a circus patron. The patron hit the protester with her purse without provocation and the protester did not respond. Lt. Barrett did a cursory investigation of the female patron yet threatened to arrest the protester on bogus charges.

Myth 4: “Minimizing contact with the police is rude”

Asserting individual rights is not rude as it upholds Constitutionally protected rights. Ignoring police officers, even when they are asking questions that may seem harmless, is not rude. For example, if an officer asks when you will return to protest, it is okay to ignore the officer and not acknowledge he or she spoke. The officer is attempting to obtain intelligence on your actions and/or your group’s actions.

The only situation when speaking with an officer may be beneficial is when it is unclear if you are being detained. If you suspect you are being detained, ask the officer, “am I being detained?” If the answer is no, then leave. If you are being detained, you are legally obligated to stay with the officer (although you do not have to speak).

Myth 5: “Distributing leaflets and holding signs will stop the circus”

Although animal rights activists moved closer to the Patriot Center in recent years, distributing literature and holding signs will not stop the circus. Ringling Brothers will stop using the Patriot Center, and other facilities, when the social cost of patrons is raised to uncomfortable levels. In turn, their profit will shrink.

Anti-war demonstrators are often effective when they publicly display graphic images of mutilated bodies blown apart by weapons. Supporters of war and occupation, as well as individuals who are indifferent, often find it difficult to view these images. The net effect is often beneficial to the protester and his or her cause.

Broadcasting videos of animals being abused, using loud bullhorns, and publicly displaying graphic pictures of injured or dead circus animals, can be effective.

This should be targeted at rational individuals. For example, children should be shown intense images but not harassed or followed. If a parent or patron is receptive, try something mild. If a parent or patron is indifferent, drastically raise the social cost of attending the circus to the point where it becomes extremely uncomfortable to be present.

Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: