The Divided Circus of America

“The elephant in the room. It can’t be talked about. It can’t be ignored.”
Michael Robotham, author

There’s a practice performed in Thailand called ‘Phajaan’, a technique used to train captive elephants by restricting their feet and beating them until they become “submissive” and give up, in order to bring them to heel. I’ve always wondered why land’s largest mammal – whose weight averages 15,000 lbs., don’t fight back. To put this in perspective, the average human weighs about 1% of their total body mass. They could literally crush us with one giant step, but choose not to.

The difference between and Eco-system, and an Ego-system.

The last step in oppression is to physically, mentally and emotionally break one’s spirit – effectively remove all hope and dignity from within them. When tangible hope no longer exists, the oppressed are forced to waive their proverbial white flags and succumb against their wishes and best interests. These tactics are used to build multi-billion dollar enterprises in the animal exploitation industries, such as circuses and marine amusement parks, drawing questions about the morality of their business.

There’s a popular quote often credited to philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, translated as, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” This theory is tested whenever there are controversial issues – oftentimes, social and/or political views, at the forefront of a national or global conversation.

My dog, Preston (who was the inspiration to my documentary film, “Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent”), saying “Always Believe!”

My public involvement into social issues began during my tenure directing and producing a documentary film, Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent, examining breed specific legislation (BSL) – the laws, characterized as a public safety preventative measurement, which focus resources on targeting certain breeds, namely ‘pit bull’ dogs, as inherently vicious at birth by either banning or heavily restricting their ownership. It became evident, through my research, there was an underlying issue nobody in animal welfare was talking about – the root of the law was founded on social class and racial prejudice during the 1980’s when they peaked in the United States.

The thought was, police and humane departments in the inner-city, can use the dog to benefit law enforcement in rounding up “suspected” criminals. The assumption being, the dogs were not pets, but illegal and dangerous weapons or accomplices to crime. Since legislation cannot violate the civil rights of a protected class (race, gender, religion, etc.), the dogs became the vehicle to fulfill an agenda that would allow them to legally harass lower social class neighborhoods and people of color.

Prior to completion of the film, I was already an advocate of many animal-related causes. It wasn’t intentional, but, I just didn’t spend much time advocating for humanitarian concerns – issues surrounding people. I found a way to compartmentalize, and file those in the “when/if I have time” box instead, or assumed others will tackle those. And, in some ways, I felt it didn’t concern me. I’m not personally discriminated against, and I didn’t want to offend those fighting who are. I discovered I was dead wrong.

House in Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio - the center of the forclosure crisis. Annual Event, "Rooms to Let", allows artists to make themed art before houses are demolished.

House in Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio – the center of the foreclosure crisis. Annual Event, “Rooms to Let”, allows artists to make themed art before houses are demolished.

Something clicked during a discussion a few years ago with a colleague – who was a social worker by trade and operated a pet resource non-profit for the under-served on the side. She didn’t understand my passion for marine wildlife (specifically dolphins) and my hard stance against captivity, and asked for me to tell her why she should care enough to speak out about it. Admittedly, my gut reaction was to get angry, and show my anger – “How dare you question why I give a damn!”, I thought. Thankfully, I stopped for a moment and regained my composure. I wanted to articulate my thoughts in a calm and thorough manner, and speak intelligently about it, to make an undisputed case for not only why she should care, but why it’s critical she does.

“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”
– George Orwell

Most of us do it. We prioritize where our compassion should go, oftentimes serving our own best interests and personal passions. We’ve all seen it on social media – a well-intentioned post bringing attention to a tragedy gets “trumped” by someone who feels another cause is more deserving. Anger rears its ugly head, a pissing match ensues, and effective communication ceases to exist. People hear each other speak (or scream), but no one’s listening. They just fall on deaf ears.

We’re in a critical stage in America – our resilience is being tested, exposing even the most sheltered to the ugliness of our country. This is just the beginning, as they will get tested even more in the next few months due in large part by the upcoming 2016 Presidential election. Just last week, two highly publicized cases of police overstepping boundaries using excessive force left two innocent black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, dead. Followed by five Dallas cops killed by sniper fire into a peaceful protest put on by Black Lives Matter supporters.

Black Lives Matter mural in Cleveland, Ohio's Glenville neighborhood.

Black Lives Matter mural in Cleveland, Ohio’s Glenville neighborhood.

Now, it seems every story of whites and blacks killing each other are passed around social media to prove points. But, the only thing being proven thus far is many of us are finally recognizing we fell in some unresolved, messy shit a long time ago as a nation. It’s hard to be at inner peace, when there is none.

Republican candidate, Donald Trump, poster in Los Angeles, CA.

In a few days (July 18-21), the Republican National Convention (RNC) steamrolls into my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, will stand upon his soapbox and dictate his case for becoming the 45th leader of the free world – A contradiction in contrast to the values he has demonstrated during his campaign, as well as his life’s body of work. Later this month (July 25-28), Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, will do the same in Philadelphia, who recently got the support of Dem challenger, Senator Bernard Sanders, to join in defeating the egomaniac Trump. I can’t recall an election where Americans saw both candidates as unfavorable as the two presented to us. One thing is clear, we will soon be calling one of them, Mr. or Mrs. President.

I am a self-proclaimed left-leaning, Liberal, which is not an insult, who proclaimed my vote belongs to Bernie Sanders for President. Like many in past election years, I chose to just accept the candidate being rammed down my throat. But this year was unlike any other in my lifetime. More and more people were getting involved in the political process for the very first time. If for nothing else, I believe that is crucial for our people, regardless of which side you lean. Yes, that also means more arguments potentially will occur. But, some of those need to happen, as I personally found out.

I acknowledge, it’s easy for me to say this, I benefited greatly from being born white in a middle-class home, raised in a relatively stable and safe environment, where the threat of violence – whether by officer of the law or people from my own community, were slim to none. And, even though when a police cruiser is following me my initial reaction is to perform a quick rundown off my mental checklist to ensure I’m not doing anything illegal: Appropriate speed limit – check; Seatbelt fastened – check; Headlights on – check…Never would I think if pulled over, I’d have to fear being shot. Not once. This is not white guilt. This is reality.

Mural in LA's art district, depicting corruption and legislation for sale.

Mural in LA’s art district, depicting corruption and legislation for sale.

To me, the disappointment in the Sanders campaign coming to a close is not as important as the legacy and courage his campaign leaves behind. A common theme heard from both parties focused on the establishment – the entitled, the corrupt, the powerful, the elite, and the morally bankrupt. Whether the intent was to earn popular votes at the ballot box, or for ethical reasons, we, the people, took notice.

Even amidst the recent innocent blood spilled, the chemistry in the air seems slightly different. For many like me, there’s a sense of feeling caught red-handed, for not speaking up earlier, louder and longer about these injustices. Yes, it’s still disproportionately swayed towards hurt, loss and despair, but there’s also a glimmer of hope…even if it may not be much. We are currently in the 2nd stage of truth, as it seems civil unrest and even violence is part of the natural cycle in seeking undeniable truth.

Native Clevelander, Ricky Smith (left) founder of non-profit organization, RAKE – Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere, downtown, always promoting love and kindness.

Productive conversations are happening. Both, blacks and whites, are forging relationships by together denouncing violence, marching and preaching love and respect, and acknowledging the accurate meaning to the Black Lives Matter movement, simplified by a subtle, “too” at the end. It does not mean their lives only matter, or are more important than white lives. Although, I believe some actually think this, who want to deny this cause. Nor, does it mean they are now legally able to kill police officers; I think most can agree, there are good police officers, and they have, at times, a dirty job to enforce the law against truly dangerous individuals. But it doesn’t mean they have to play dirty while protecting and serving the badge for the career they chose.

I never really paid much attention to the story behind the animals chosen to represent each political party. The GOP chose the elephant after a cartoonist used one to show wisdom and strength to symbolize the Republicans. This coming from a party that in recent years openly come out against the rights of women and the LGBT community, along with hateful rhetoric against Muslims, refugees and/or immigrants of other countries. Lately, in today’s political climate, I’m left wondering if they’re secretly performing the practices of the elephants in Thailand – beaten to submission in order to make us heel.

Annual art event "Rooms To Let" in Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland. Exhibit: The Healing House.

Annual art event “Rooms To Let” in Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland. Exhibit: The Healing House.

But, the only way we, the majority, will heal, is if there is real justice, which comes with unity. If the masses can find a way to realize the importance of togetherness, there’s no stopping a herd of elephants quite like that. In one memorable Bernie Sanders speech, he stated:
“The history of America, and the fight for human dignity, is a history of struggle. They struggle because they said I’m a human being, I have rights, you can’t do that to me. I need dignity. And unions were formed, and people fought, and people died, and people were beaten, and people went to jail…When millions of people stand up and fight back…they win.”

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