My professor gave the assignment of capturing various events over the next few weeks for our Photojournalism class. An opportunity was already brewing with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Downtown Jacksonville, FL. Protests were being held throughout the week with a few more scheduled for Sunday.
I had not walked into this part of town before, so I was hoping I wouldn’t get lost along the way. As I walked by a fenced area, I took in the most horrible smell. Yes, I stumbled upon were all the animals in the circus were being kept while not on stage. I could not have a job working around that smell.
Suddenly, my work-like approach became more personal and intimate. I began to care about what was going on and wondered about the potential for wild animals being mistreated in an environment like this. I had no proof. It was the protesters’ words against those who worked for the Circus.
An hour or more went by before the next wave of protests began. It was peaceful, quiet. They barely said a word. I began conversation with a few of them. The temperature continued to drop as the sun set. I was already losing feeling in my fingers. By Florida standards, it was cold with the occasional brisk wind. But they continued to stand, holding their signs and iPads that played videos of the treatment workers gave these animals. My role was simpler: take photographs.
I’m not used to invading the space of others, strangers. I’m not used to starting conversations with people I don’t know. I am rather shy. Still, they seemed to warm up to me as I replied, “Hopefully, enough people will care.” At that, I was welcomed by all.
Unfortunately, I saw crowds of people walk by as if the protesters were not there. They were too busy enjoying themselves with a night at the circus. Very few seemed to think deeper into the potential problem. Worse yet, some gave crude hand gestures, others mocked the protesters as they passed by. Is this who we have become as people? Even if these accusations are not true, at the very least, the heart of the protesters should be understood and respected.
Although I’m new to this type of public arena, I feel moved by compassion to say something, make others aware. Someone needs to get to the bottom of this so the truth can be revealed. Because, too often, too many see money (profit) as more important than the well-being of others, including animals. So, if the situation warrants, let justice be done.