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A bucket of dead squirrels – hilarious or not?

Posted by tinako on February 17, 2013

In Holley, NY, it’s a scream.

I went with a group of about forty protesters yesterday to stand up against violence on a freezing street corner in Holley, NY.  While I support animal rights, I was really there to say no to violence of all kinds.  I wrote my sign, “Violence Hurts Everyone,” to express that when we engage in violent acts or even thoughts, we have made the world a more violent place, and have added to the violence in our own hearts.  You don’t have to care about squirrels to feel that a contest encouraging children as young as twelve to kill small animals by giving cash prizes for the number and weight of dead animals, and raffling guns, including a semi-automatic rifle, to participants, is a terrible way for a fire department to raise money.  In so many ways.

Opponents asked the fire department to reconsider in light of recent events, and even raised more money than they normally get from this event, if only they would cancel it.  But the fire department refused.  Even the United Supporters of Fire Departments refused to support this event, trying to speak to the fire chief and offering them cash to cancel it.  But the Holley Fire Department refused to even speak to them.

So off we went to do the last thing we could do, stand testament to this folly.  I would have vastly preferred to spend a Saturday afternoon in February with my family instead of on a frigid street corner being snowed on and yelled at, but when I heard about this event, I felt I could not be the person I think I am, especially with a post-Newtown and –Webster awareness of the very real and widespread effect of violence on the innocent, if I didn’t go there and say, “this is unwise.”

I was so glad we carpooled to this event.  Beyond saving gas, it helped us support each other immeasurably in what was a very difficult day.  Despite death threats and the guns present, I personally felt safe at every moment, partly because of supportive friends, but also from the 40 or so police officers there.  I learned later that a SWAT team was on standby.  A drunk guy was hauled off to the police station for harassing us, but mostly it was just loud-mouths.  …On both sides, I have to say, though all the protester’s heckling was done from within our group, while the counter-protesters would come over and shout at us at point blank.  Several of us felt that a silent vigil would have been more effective (and less headache-inducing), and I wasn’t happy with some of the comments on our side regarding the intelligence of Holley residents, but that is what happens when a diverse group comes together.

I knew a lot of people in Holley would be angry we were butting into their business, as though that street corner weren’t a part of New York and the U.S.  I knew they would belittle us as squirrel lovers and miss the point that violence is violence; their number one argument was (drum roll): “Squirrels taste good.”  It was all over their signboards and what they shouted in unison.  What a deep moral argument.  Everyone knows our taste-buds are excellent indicators of what is right.  I have to relate one of the few amusing anecdotes of the day – several of the counter-protesters held signs that said, “Ignore These Idiots,” which might have been clever, but unfortunately for them they were not standing among us.   So…

Also expected was the assumption that we were hypocrites because we eat meat.  Unfortunately for that argument, most if not all of us were vegan (at which point one heckler went on to ask if our parents ever ate meat).  But is it true that a person needs to be 100% sin-free to stand up to violence?  I’m vegan but I must admit I’m not perfect in every way – am I disqualified from speaking out against anything?  If it’s true that those who eat meat can’t denounce a killing contest, then perhaps that is another reason for going vegan.

What I didn’t expect yesterday was the carnival atmosphere, the glee.  There were about 100 counter-protesters by the time I left, I estimate, and for a while, on one corner they had music playing and a guy in a skunk costume (?) was dancing in the back of a parked truck (??).  I saw a car go past a few times waving the same dead squirrel out the window, and the counter-protesters went wild.  Several more cars followed suit, with the same result.  About 4:30, despite the Sheriff’s dept request that hunters bring the squirrels to the back of the fire department, which we couldn’t even see, smirking hunters began walking across the street and through our crowd waving bloody squirrels, or toting bodies in bloody plastic grocery bags.  One came through with them in a bucket.  The result was always the same – deafening cheers and hoots of laughter from the crowd across the street.  At one point, a father and son came through.  Keep in mind, they were supposed to go around, but the father decided that taking his son, who looked to be about twelve, through a crowd of animal rights protesters, against the advice of the Sheriff, would be a great experience.  Some of the kids across the street had been gloating and sneering, but this poor kid didn’t look into it as he followed along (and his dad was carrying the squirrels).  I felt terrible for him.  None of us said anything to him – we never did – though someone suggested to the dad’s back that bringing his son through wasn’t such a hot idea.  Just before my carpool left, I heard that the police told a hunter he had to go around, so that was probably the end of that.

But I’m left absolutely perplexed; why is a dead squirrel so funny to the people of Holley?  Why do they cheer someone who shot a three pound animal while it sat there minding his or her own business, eating a nut or something; why do they cheer as though this was a heroic act?  Hooray!  You did it!  And boy, is it funny!

I suppose they were laughing at us, at how futile our shivering had been.  I was reminded of what Ghandi said:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

So we’re on step two I guess, as far as Holley goes.  How about you, America?  Where do you stand on fire departments raising money with killing contests?  Did we stand there for nothing?  We didn’t save any squirrels this time, but did we bring a spotlight to a sordid little bit of American “culture”?

As an afterward, I want to say two things.  First, I’m very happy to report that I was true to myself and to my values of non-violence and love and compassion.  I never hated anyone who was against us, and I was never angry.  Though I have to admit I was wishing the counter protester screaming next to us for two hours would lose her voice; don’t judge me – you weren’t there with my headache.  She did begin to go hoarse, but it didn’t stop her.  Hopefully her throat is not too sore today.

The other thing is that for at least the next few hours, about as long as it took to thaw my toes, I found I had lost the sense that people are basically kind.  All the way home in the carpool, I was convinced that other drivers were angry at us – I’m so thankful I wasn’t alone with those thoughts, but talking with like-minded people.  When we de-carpooled in a church parking lot 30 minutes away, I found myself assuming that the few people straggling after hours out of the Unitarian Church, for goodness sake, were hostile and aggressive, about to shout something mean.  I stopped for Chinese takeout on the way home and found myself assuming that they would be angry.

I hope this isn’t permanent.


7 Responses to “A bucket of dead squirrels – hilarious or not?”

  1. I commend you for what you did! To be honest, I can’t believe that more people wern’t protesting that event. What would really get people talking about something like that is if a child refused to participate in it. I was a sensitive little girl, and if my parents took me to that event I’d probably have cried. Anyway, thanks for standing up against violence. Celeste (honkifyourvegan,

  2. Daryl Denning said

    I did not know about this horrible event – 7 years now! I emailed the Holley Fire Dept. today to express myviews. Not as diplomatically as you would! God bless you and thank you for your good spirit and soul and for what you did and endured.

  3. I applaud your respectful protest, and share your feeling that the disrespect shown by other protesters is more likely to lead to further problems rather than solutions.

    The Holley Fire Department very likely has no official position either for or against squirrel hunting. This fundraiser was simply a reflection of the people they serve. For example, if the people in that community were overwhelmingly tattooed, perhaps they might have had a body art expo instead. The fire department knew that by appealing to a known interest of the people they serve that they were likely to raise a fair amount of money. It’s unfortunate that people in the Holley area happen have a known interest in squirrel hunting.

    Their interest may not be a current one. Despite their claims otherwise, it’s possible that very few of the people there have ever actually eaten a squirrel. What they more likely felt defensive about was a sense of tradition, a history and sense of place. It’s possible that in the minds of the townspeople, those outsiders protesting the squirrel hunt were indirectly protesting the lifestyles lead by their parents and grandparents. Who were those outsiders to say that Mom and Dad were bad people?

    Does that sound far-fetched? It’s the same defensiveness we run up against almost every day when discussing the moral catalysts of veganism with an omnivore. We’re implying that the omnivores are wrong, that they are immoral, even though every single person is free to define their own ethics and morals in their own way – just as we did. By protesting other people’s ethics, by shouting accusations of immorality at them, there is little to separate us from those crazy religious zealots making headlines around the world.

    We might accomplish more not by angrily decrying the horrors of abuse, but rather by peacefully celebrating the benefits of compassion. Like you I enjoy Gandhi, and am reminded here of the classic “be the change you wish to see in the world.” I feel sure that those traveling with you did not wish to see more anger in the world, yet their anger brought a reaction in kind from the opposing side.

    While we work to champion the cause of compassion for all animals, it is always important to remember that people are animals too, and our compassion must extend even to those we consider the opposing side. We ourselves once ate meat, we ourselves were once the opposing side, and we ourselves proved capable of change.

  4. Al said

    i suffer similar oppression at the hands of vegans – all the time. You see: I’m allergic to ingestion of plants. Eating a plant makes me quite ill. I am an obligate carnivore.

    Did it ever occur to you that the locals see squirrels as “pests” that steal from their vegetable gardens? That you are taking away food from the mouth of their children?

    Your preaching might be more believable to those locals, if they had reason to believe that you opposed violence so much, that you’d refuse to let your child receive anti-biotics; lest some bacteria perish. But they have no reason to believe that; all the animal-wa-wa websites are only adorned with pictures of ==cute== juvenile mammals. That policy is not an anti-violence strategy; that’s a solicit-donations-from-middle-class-white-cityfolk-females strategy. Ya know, a farmer around here told me he heard a rumor at the feed store: the city people pick up their dog’s poop with plastic glove-baggies, and carry the poop to another location! I told him to stop pulling my leg.

  5. Kim Santos said

    Wow this sounds like some event. You said that there were people on both sides that were saying things that you wish they wouldn’t. This brings up a point that one of the biggest reasons I hate protesting things is that I feel quite stupid being on either side because sometimes people can act so dang childish and it would be better to just be silent.

  6. […] Friends of Animals from NYC came to Holley again for an all-out protest, but we attended last year and some of us felt it didn’t reflect our values.  We’re on the same side when it […]

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