A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Jun 28, 2016

Let's Leave the "Life" in "Wildlife"

courtesy google images
An Amazon jaguar was shot and killed at an Olympic torch ceremony in Brazil when he/she attempted to escape from the organized photo shoot. I fail to see any credible, logical or humane reason to have a live jaguar at such an event and their justification that the Brazilian teams' mascot is a cartoon jaguar should both be rejected and shock the conscience of the universe.

The co-mingling of wildlife with people often results in great tragedy. Planting Walt Disney World in the natural habitat of Florida's alligator and crocodile populations resulted in the most horrific situation imaginable - the death of a toddler by alligator. Yet, the truth is that both the alligator and the child were behaving naturally. The child's family will never be the same again and Walt Disney World is busy killing alligators to ascertain the actual culprit. Was that the best place for a family theme park?

Transplanting wild animals to zoos and circuses results in all kinds of hurt. Neither the people nor the animals can behave naturally in those environments and the result is, again, harm to both. A gorilla was killed because a child entered the exhibit, and people have been hurt because animals have exited their exhibits, notwithstanding the already enormous stressors inherent to being a wild animal in captivity.

Add to the mix those like the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, who travel around the world just to invade the sanctuary spaces of our wildlife to kill them for trophies, and those who would bring a jaguar to a heavily populated press ceremony and you have one hot mess.

You should also know that under the United States Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife services can issue permits to zoos, circuses, amusement parks and researchers to possess endangered wildlife if the importer or exporter can show that doing so will enhance the survival of the species. It has been recently reported that a charitable contribution to a conservation agency mysteriously seems to grease the wheels in successfully obtaining such a permit. This is so disturbing that U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle has asked the agency to halt this practice. It is also a practice that is clearly not helping the survival of the species.

Look- this is not ok. Whether we destroy animal habitats and displace them for our convenience, hunt them in the habitats we left for them, or force them into people spaces where they can't behave naturally, we cause them physical and emotional harm. To do this is not living up to our potential nor commensurate with a humane and empathetic society. We must rethink this for the future of our planet and for any chance at raising compassionate and empathetic children.

Otherwise, there will be no more "life" in "wildlife".

Jun 23, 2016

The Rage Against The Majority

courtesy google images
I was positively transfixed watching the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives stage a
sit-in and then actually teared up when they burst into "We Shall Overcome". Why? I am no stranger to activism and civil disobedience. What made this different is that the protestors and the "protestees" are on the same team i.e. not us versus them but rather them versus them - a body rising up against itself. Also, the method of protest was old school despite the aid of Periscope and Facebook. What is going on?

It is what happens when a majority pushes a minority too far, leaving no dignified method of recourse, and becoming, in effect, the ultimate bully.

Our constitution, drafted in response to a revolution against a British king, imposes and defends minority rights, freedom of religions, and the right to equal protection under the law. In essence, a system designed to protect the vulnerable, and ensure fairness without having to wait for the majority to voluntary relinquish some of their power. (After all, why would they?) It is an anti-bullying document designed to protect the minority against abuse by the reigning clique by allowing a civil road to redress and justice. It, and the system of laws derived from this are crafted to act as an equalizer between the oppressed and the bully so there is no need to devolve into blind rage and violence.

In this case, both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans, are the ones responsible for making sure laws are enacted commensurate with the constitution and that in doing so they behave with the recognition that their status changes from majority to the minority frequently enough. Currently, the Democrats are at a disadvantage as the minority party in both the Senate and the House. They have been unable to introduce bills, call for votes or even confirm presidential nominees. In the House, there is not even the possibility of a filibuster - the relief valve for the minority party. In adult discourse, these advantages are played fairly and graciously so that when positions reverse and the advantage changes, they still can get along and accomplish their work.

In this instance, the minority party acted and appeared to feel that this majority, like a bully, kept pressing the advantage and ceding nothing, until there was no recourse but to rise up.

The second interesting thing that happened here is the form of the protest was old school. In a world where we click, tweet, like, snap, and electronically sign petitions to express ourselves and effectuate change, our lawmakers resorted to civil disobedience. The House Democrats occupied the room, obstructed the business of the House, and broke rules by using social media to ensure that they were seen and heard. This behavior does not come without risk and requires a higher temperature and commitment than sitting safely in a lounge chair and retweeting something using a pseudonym.

In October of 2010, Malcolm Gladwell published an article for The New Yorker entitled “Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted”. Comparing the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and other social  revolutions. Gladwell describes the scene where 4 black college students sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina and stayed in their seats when they were refused service. More protesters gathered on their behalf, sit-ins began and eventually 70,000 students were actively involved in the protest. He argues that this type of   “high risk strong-tie” commitment is not created through social media platforms which are built upon “weak-tie connections” and don't involve sacrifice.

It is therefore interesting that a veteran of said civil rights movement, John Lewis, the choreographer of the House sit-in, and his colleagues, felt strongly enough to replicate this type of "high risk strong-tie" action against this majority's oppression with its attendant risks. Normally they would issue press releases, send letters and tweet. It was truly amazing to watch.

It's a tale as old as time. A story of abuse of power in one form or another. People will only stand for so much, even against their own "families". The choice is to either lay there and take it, or fight back.

Here, they sat up and sang.