The trouble with elephants and how I learned to use my voice for change

circus-elephantShortly after my eighth birthday the circus came to town. Being the target demographic I obviously begged (and begged and begged) to go. My grandmother kindly abided and we drove to the forum one Saturday afternoon in April. I ate cotton candy, got a sparkly, yet itchy, wig and was mesmerized by the acrobats. But the show took a turn for me when the elephants came out. It was very clear that the elephants were not having as much fun as I had been. They trotted out at the end of the show. They lumbered about and preformed tired tricks listlessly. To this day, I swear one made eye contact with me and she looked so sad. I was young, but I knew what being sad looked like. Even in another species, I knew what sad looked like.

The car ride home I sat in the back uncharacteristically quiet. I remember my grandmother looking in the review mirror and jokingly asking my older brother “Did Jazzy fall out?” because I was being so quiet. When I got home and my parents asked how it was, I replied with my cotton candy blue stained mouth, “I don’t think they should make the elephants do that, They should get to go home.” I was frustrated, I was confused, I wanted to change reality, and I was also eight. Needless to say, I felt helpless.

My parents handed me a notebook and asked if I wanted to write a letter to the editor. They explained to me that I could write a letter to the person who puts together the newspaper and they might print it for other people to read. This way more people than just my family would hear my thoughts about the elephants treatment. They told me that the newspaper was made up of all kinds of people and all kinds of important thoughts and opinions and that I could share my own there. So, I wrote down my concerns and we mailed it the next day.

My letter was never printed to my knowledge, but the feeling of empowerment and speaking up for what is right, beyond the walls of my little house, has stayed with me. You see, I could have felt upset all week and only my family and friends would have known, I could have cried and felt helpless, but my parents let me use my voice to say what I felt most ardently needed to be said. My parents taught me to use my voice. Today, I am once again frustrated, confused, and I want to change reality. I’m talking about a different circus and an entirely different set of elephants, some of whom still look pretty sad to me.

If you feel like I do and want to express your concern and stand up for what is right there are some people you can talk to. Contact Maine’s Senators Susan Collins and Angus King. Contact your Congresswoman if you are in the 1st district, Chellie Pingree or Congressman Bruce Poliquin if you are in the 2nd district. If you’re not sure what district you are in, or want to learn more about your legislator you can go here to look this information up for free. Get to know where these people stand and tell them where you stand. You can hand write a letter, or email one, but the best way to contact your representatives is to give them a call. The National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition has some fantastic pointers for calling congress. These pointers are for agricultural issues but can be applied to any issue you are calling about:

  • Call congressional offices directly or through the Congressional switchboard. The switchboard can be reached at: 202-224-3121. Ask the operator to connect you to your member’s office. If you do not know the names of your members of Congress or want the direct line to their office, you can look up your members online.
  • Ask to speak to the aide who handles agriculture issues. You generally won’t be able to directly speak to your Member on the phone, and in fact the best person to speak with is the member of their staff who focuses on agriculture issues. However, Congressional aides are very busy and may not be available. It’s 100% fine to leave a message expressing your views with whoever answers the phone!
  • Be succinct – keep your message to your Member short and focused.
  • Be specific about what it is you are asking the legislator to do (tie your message to a piece of legislation – e.g. put the bill number in the subject line of an email message).
  • Back up your ask with data or research summaries (if they are available), and/or illustrate why you care about the issue by including a short personal story or anecdote.
  • Let them know that you are a constituent. Legislators are most interested in hearing from their voters back home.

These calls and emails are tracked by these offices and can really impact the way issues are seen and handled by our elected officials. These folks work for us. Personally, I don’t want them assuming what I want or what I think is important, or that I am not paying attention. I don’t want my voice to remain inside the walls of my home or simply on a Facebook page.

It took decades for the elephants I saw when I was eight to get the justice they deserved. I don’t want the sugary promise and sparkly yet cheap souvenirs of another circus to distract me or you from remembering the voices we have to tell everyone, especially our legislators, when we see something happening that goes against what we know to be right. We are not helpless.

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Jasmine Haines

About Jasmine Haines

Jasmine J. Haines is an Aroostook county native and the 6th generation raised on her family’s farm in Fort Fairfield. Self-proclaimed "Maine's biggest fan". This is her agricultural adventure.