Yesterday’s Empty the Tanks protest at $eaWorld San Diego was a resounding success. Since 1989, I’ve attended demonstrations ranging from anti-vivisection rallies to marches through Beverly Hills on Fur-Free-Friday, I have never seen so many “normal” families turning out to support animals. I’m not saying that demonstrations are usually populated only by frothing, paint-throwing extremists—far from it. But yesterday’s crowd, though enthusiastic were quite well-behaved, so much so that the event organizers had to exort them through bullhorns with a COME ON! to sustain chants of “Boycott Seaworld!”
The crowd of over 700 held signs reading THANKS, BUT NO TANKS (a personal favorite of mine) included many children who sat on the grass with large black markers drawing whales inside goldfish bowls with awkwardly incisive declarations like: SEA WORLD? MORE LIKE POOL WORLD! Kids, of course, are all over youtube speaking out against orca captivity and getting busted for protesting the SeaWorld float at the Rose Parade, so I wasn’t completely surprised. It just felt good to know see that despite all of SeaWorld’s toothless arguments to the contrary, this is no fringe movement of “Blackfish”brainwashed weirdos, but evidence of a major shift in consciousness about animals in captivity and animal rights in general.
As I stood with my friends Connie and Gail on the side of the road, I chatted with Cassidy who’d driven all the way from Phoenix to attend the protest. A middle school speech teacher, Cassidy talked about finding ways to integrate Blackfish into her class discussions, and how she’s educated some kids about the reality of SeaWorld. Across the street, Sea Shepherd volunteers handed leaflets to families entering SeaWorld and I thought of late summer when the circus would return to Anaheim with its chained and swaying elephants and the tigers pacing in their cages. Beyond the road, I could see the tall turquoise tower of the SeaWorld roller coaster.
“Isn’t it weird,” Connie said, “to think that beyond that ugly parking lot beyond the roller coaster, there are actually whales?”
How surreal and nauseating to know that beneath the shrieks of delight from the park rides, beneath the surface of the water, killer whales were swimming in pools. Maybe they were blessed out or hallucinating on the valium dispensed to them to deal with the stress of captivity or the grief of having their children sold. Maybe they were on antibiotics to heal the infections they suffered when other whales attacked them. Maybe they were just floating, waiting for the same stupid show to begin again.
And I thought for the millionth time, of the words of the activist who’d gone undercover at the circus, where the elephants spent 23 hours a day in chains who traveled from town to town in box cars, who suffered cigarette burns and hooks and baseball bats: “I still don’t know how they conceive of time.”
Things don’t change fast enough for me. I want revolutions, epiphanies, coups. I don’t want incremental shifts in human consciousness or one step forward and three back. But then there’s the persistent miracle of Blackfish, the children with their signs, the crowds of activists that keep growing. It feels good to be a small part of that change, to feel it actually happening.