By Dustin Rhodes
“It’s just a part of the culture,” they’d say, “and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Edita Birnkrant and I did it anyway: At the urging of Texas-based activist and Friends of Animals member Shannon Morgan, we flew to Fort Worth to lend support to the protest against the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association’s Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo held at the Will Rogers Coliseum on January 18th and 19th.
We protested alongside 20 other Friends of Animals activists and supporters, from college students to retirees. At the entrance to the rodeo, people saw our signs — “Sports Require Willing Participants”-and accepted our flyers-“Rodeo, Bull Riding, and Other Macho Stories of Domination and Control”-written to prompt a new view of the violent rodeo spectacle. While we expected to be met by hostility and anger, for the most part we found most of the rodeo goers to be polite and intrigued by our message.
Many people read the flyers, examined the posters, paid attention to the message. As our flyers explained, and as the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s website itself says, the “cowboys” wear thick, metal spurs and use bucking straps to provoke the action needed to present this image of domination and control. The PRCA’s website lists electric prods as allowable rodeo equipment. These things would be called instruments of sadistic torture if cowboys themselves were roped up and tormented with them. People went into the rodeo thinking about this.
In roping events, calves are forced to run out of the chute, reaching speeds of 30 mph, only to have their necks snapped back by a lasso. The faster they run, the harder they hit the ground. As Tom Regan writes in Empty Cages, “So here we have today’s brave cowboy, bending over and tying up a frightened, dazed, disoriented baby (the animals are all of four to five months old), with neck or back injuries, bruises, broken bones, and internal hemorrhages.” Some calves, Regan explains, “do not do encores. It’s one performance and out. They either die in the dust or soon after.”
One local resident approached us and said, “I didn’t know these methods were used to rouse the bulls.” A few people told us that they agreed that the rodeo was wrong and unnecessary.
We were told that no one had ever protested the rodeo before-for fear of safety and of the unknown. For many of the rodeo spectators, this was likely the first time they had considered exactly what the rodeo is: a violent spectacle that speaks to the larger cultural issue of domination. Do human beings need to entertain themselves at the expense of other living, feeling beings? Can human beings not do and be better than this?
We do not know how many minds we helped to change. But we do know how many of us became animal activists and vegans in the first place: Someone came along and challenged our beliefs, our eating habits, the way we entertain ourselves. Someone might have come to an event with a poster, or handed us a flyer, and later, we took the time to read it, research, reconsider, and have a change of heart.