I just read the Durham Fair Association’s open letter to our community in the August 23 Town Times, an explanation and something of a defense of its decision to bring Cora and Shannon to our Fair next month.
I was struck first by its length, roughly 2-3 times the normal allowable letter-to-the-editor size. But that’s OK, because it’s really more an op-ed than a letter; and this is an issue that’s tearing our little community apart bit by bit.
About two-thirds of the letter goes on about how long the Fair has been in operation, its time-honored animal and agricultural heritage, how it binds the community together by being all-volunteer and how much good its earnings do for the community. I couldn’t agree more, although those threads binding the community are stretching a mite thin these days.
In the “defense” portion, the letter states that it expects Elephant Encounters “to foster greater public understanding of, and appreciation for, elephants.” Appreciation? I should think the Association has already gotten all the appreciation of elephants it can handle in the form of countless comments and opinions from the loyal opposition, appreciation of them as social, self-aware, empathetic animals hauled around in close confinement as fair props and brutally trained to do unnatural tricks for our amusement. Understanding? What do they think little Timmy and Tammy will learn from their encounter with Cora and Shannon? That these are just dumb beasts, a lower order, and they don’t really feel things the way we do? That they like doing headstands and tail grabs and twirling about, that they’re having as much fun as we are? That their relentless rhythmic swaying at the ends of their chains is just normal elephant dance? That even if they are being exploited a little, it’s OK because they’re just animals, it goes on all the time all over, and it may make us more money. My fear is that too many adults already believe this, and now we’re passing it on to the next generations.
I also was struck by the fact that it’s unsigned. Mark Dione noted this too in his insightful article in the same issue of the Times about the redoubtable Rachel Mann’s presentation of her 3,000-signature petition at a meeting of the Association and that group’s subsequent brush off. (“No DFA members wanted to be quoted, but several expressed skepticism about the significance of the petition…questioning if all the names were accurate.”)
So I’m wondering who actually sent this letter. Is it from just the Association’s 18-member Executive Board or from the full membership? If it’s from the full membership, how do those 12 souls good and true who cast a nay vote feel about having their (unsigned) names pinned to it? Lots of people, friends, family and so forth, know they’re in the Association. If they don’t mind, why did they vote no? If they do mind, can we expect a Minority Response soon, the way politicians do, a Dissenting Opinion like from the Supremes? Now that’s something I’d like to read!