Not My American Dream
By Eileen Weintraub
Satya March 02
It was another call to arms for Seattle animal rights groups. On January 23, 2002 we were asked to greet the Olympic torch’s Seattle arrival with our protests of the Olympic Command Performance Rodeo. Little-known to the general public this “all-star cultural event” was held in conjunction with the 2002 Winter Olympics. Months of letter writing and common sense negotiations with the Olympic Committee could not override the political pull of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Even former Olympic athletes like Scott Hamilton, Phoebe Mills, Nathaniel Mills, coaching legend Marv Levy, and skating champ Matt Lindy urged the winter games to “Buck the Rodeo.” As Scott Hamilton writes to the Olympic Committee:
“Rodeos are violent and manipulative displays of human domination over animals, very thinly and not very convincingly disguised as entertainment. While frightened and in a state of heightened panic, the animals are physically provoked into displays of ‘wild’ behavior through the use of electric prods, sharp sticks and spurs. While running at full speed, the animals are lassoed as quickly as they are slammed to the ground, tendons torn and necks snapped. This is not true sport. The Olympics is about competition amongst athletes. Although cowboys voluntarily participate in rodeo events, the animals have no such choice. Please do not let the Olympic image be tarnished by the distressing spectacle of a rodeo.”
The star appearance at our protest was scheduled to be former avid hunter and ace animal rights activist Steve Hindi. Steve was relentlessly following the Olympic torch for its 31-stop itinerary in his magnificent SHARK (SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness) Tiger Video truck with large screens on each side showing graphic video footage of an actual rodeo. About the Tiger truck from the SHARK Web site: “There isn’t anything subtle about this monster. The images and sounds of the SHARK’s Tiger Video truck are hitting people on the streets of North American cities like a compassionate sledgehammer! This is an aggressive way to nonviolently push animal issues. Best of all, the Tiger is generating support for animals because people see the evidence for themselves, and make their own decision!”
According to Animal People News (December, 2001), Steve Hindi pledged, “If the rodeo plans continue, the Olympics are in for a very rough run. The Tiger will not be at the rodeo, but will instead patrol legitimate Olympic events, where it will be seen by far more people from around the world.”
Waiting for the Torch
I arrived early and met several fellow protestors under the clearing evening sky. This would be as close as I have ever come to the Olympics. But why did this gathering seem like a political rally? Huge American flags were flying and everyone else seemed to be wearing little flag pins. The live music was enough to make you have to shout to have a conversation. Crowds arrived eager to experience a taste of the American dream; to get another dollop of whipped cream healing since the nightmare of September 11th.
As I looked around I was shocked (okay, so I am naïve) to see how commercial the celebration was. A shiny new monster SUV was on display, amongst booth after corporate booth. Coca-Cola was omnipresent. Loudspeakers informed us that the Coca-Cola Company was providing special recycling services. We saw people dressed in “green” plastic suits who walked around picking up discarded Coke cans while ignoring all other trash. Is this the best that American business can offer 40 years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was written? Am I supposed to be happy about this illusion of progress? It was nothing short of comical.
Our ragtag group gathered with our homemade signs. It was the usual assortment of pierced and idealistic younger people mixed in with us older, “trying-not-to-be-burned-out,” veterans. I was heartened to see a young Hispanic man join in, a reminder that the tide seems to be turning as more and more people learn about the suffering of animals and take to the streets to voice their concern.
As the wind stirred up I was getting discouraged as the crowds ignored us. Just then three adorable ten-year old girls ran up. “What is this about?” they asked me. I handed them a brochure and told them we were trying to stop the Olympics from having a rodeo. Rodeos are cruel to cows and young calves, I told them. “Oh!” they exclaimed “We love cows! We don’t want anyone to hurt them!” I felt kind of bad sharing this news that most people didn’t know or care about. I told them not to worry, we would try and stop it and help the cows. They thanked me and skipped away with brochures in hand. At that moment, I felt it was the highlight of my animal advocacy career. It was the only time during the whole evening that anyone actually came up to me to find out what we were saying. You know how it is, people just want to get to their destination and don’t want to know about any spoiler.
The news crews arrived and interviewed our chosen spokesperson. I told them to be sure and get footage of the SHARK truck, due to arrive behind the torch.
The crowd was working up to a fevered pitch as we saw an enormous video screen showing that the torch was getting closer. I was still harboring the hope that I might feel a little emotional when the torch came by. After all, this was part of the Olympic spirit, a call to the better part of the human condition. My cynical activist friend thought I was nuts.
Down the street some large flashing lights were coming into sight. Would this herald the torch? It turned out to be another vulgar Coca-Cola truck! This one had a mountain of plastic with girls in patriotic costumes waving from the mounds of Coca-Cola cans. It was surreal. Finally the torch was carried by. I held my breath for a moment. Would I feel my eyes tear up as I was prone to? Au contraire; I felt nothing, zip, blankness.
Following the spectacle was a stressed-out Steve Hindi driving the SHARK Tiger Video truck. The media and crowds had already moved on and it was mostly our own group who witnessed him. The anti-rodeo verbal message was circling the top of the truck like the ticker tape in Times Square. Large screens with a horrendous calf-roping scene filled all four sides of the truck. No matter what I’ve read about rodeos, to see such actual footage made my jaw drop. The truck was silent and all seemed in slow motion. This nonpartial view of a rodeo felt somehow like witnessing God’s view of how animals are treated. I was in awe.
The press was nowhere to be seen. I ran home to turn the television on. We usually get at least a short slot when we have media covered protests. At the beginning of the newscast it was clear to me we wouldn’t get any coverage tonight. The grinning idiot patriotic tone was overwhelming. In addition, the other top story was the arrival in town of a navy ship that had been out at sea since before September 11th. So, there was no chance these stations would air our conflicting protest.
Now more than ever mainstream media presents a precarious state for dissenting emotions or opinions. I knew the reporting was biased but hadn’t recently seen it in so blatant a fashion. Network executives seem convinced that viewers—especially in these times—need upbeat reporting by attractive newscasters. I watched the specials all week about the torch in our area. Not one shot of our fabulous truck. Even though the Seattle media didn’t record this phenomenon, for what it’s worth we bore silent witness. While the torch blew by in a whirl of commercial hype, the protestors, the truck and many others who were not with us that day were trying to get people to see the truth: the voicelessness of the cows that are assaulted in the rodeos, whose suffering was drowned out by a crowd of mindless spectators, was watched by all of us—animal lovers, an ex-hunter, former Olympic athletes with a conscience and, perhaps, a witness from above.