Ostrich Festival Protest Report, March 2017

“The fact that they attempted to silence us and marginalize us only served to fire us up and make us even more determined.” - Robert Franklin, Festival Protest Organizer

This year, United Poultry Concerns campaigned with Arizona Vegan Animal Liberation Activists to protest the Chandler Ostrich Festival ostrich races March 10-12, sponsored by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce. Links posted on www.upc-online.org/ostriches document our 2017 campaign, and we thank Robert Franklin and his group for their fantastic festival protest! Here’s how it went.

Man riding on the back of an ostrich

Ostrich race protester holding a sign
(Kimberly Carrillo/Tribune Staff Photographer)
Willow Wind shows her support for the ostriches in her Freedom of Speech area of the Chandler Ostrich Festival

From “Rough Start” to “Fired Up and Determined!”

By Robert Franklin

Protest Friday March 10, 2017. 6:00-8:00pm

Protesters holding signs Friday night

Friday’s Protest got off to a rough start. Despite long talks with the Chandler Police Department days before the festival, Friday night I was told we could only protest on a specific corner where I assumed lots of people would see us. Wrong. They placed us in a “freedom of speech area.” Their words, not ours.

The area was behind the VIP tent. Even though we were right next to the fair, no one came by and the large VIP tent blocked our view of the only entrance in sight. We found this very unsatisfactory. We were not only pushed off and hidden in a corner, but with the ropes they had put up to “corral” us into, we felt like part of an exhibit set up by the organizers. They even had silly signs marking the area as the “freedom of speech area.”

I decided to speak with my Chandler PD contact and ask for a change. He told me they would have a better situation for us on Saturday and Sunday. We agreed to protest in the same area Friday night, reluctantly, but I felt it better not to create a lot of trouble on day 1. Once we got started, it went really well. Many activists got to meet each other and discuss activism and inspire others to become more involved. The fact that they attempted to silence us and marginalize us only served to fire us up and make us even more determined.

A highlight of the evening was when a reporter from the East Valley Tribune came by and took pictures and interviewed us to get our opinions. The activists felt empowered to have their voices heard in defense of the animals exploited by the Chandler Ostrich Festival. “Protesters claim victory in picketing Ostrich Festival” was published in the East Valley Tribune, Chandler, Arizona, March 19, 2017.

Protest Saturday March 11, 2017. 2:00-6:00pm

Protesters holding signs on Saturday

Saturday was a much better day. This time I found our police contact right away and asked what changes were made for where we could protest. They’d enlarged our area slightly, but we were still behind a massive tent and roped in. I told the officer (politely) this simply won’t do. He said the festival promoters were not willing to move us to any other place. So I began to question our right to freedom of speech and assembly on public space. Knowing that the entire park had been rented out for this “private” event, we didn’t have much to go on. So I asked, “What about the sidewalk? Surely this is public space.” He was reluctant to admit it, but I pushed on saying that the event promoters could not ban people from a public sidewalk. So we got our space!

We now had a major street corner where the majority of attendees would be coming into the park. I quickly updated the Facebook page and contacted as many activists as I could to let them know the new location, and posted someone at the old location to direct people where we would be. Saturday was a hot day with no shade. We brought 10 gallons of ice water for people to fill their bottles, and lots of sunscreen. Saturday saw 25 protesters, from 5 different animal rights organizations.

Easily over 1000 cars passed us on their way to the park, and many had to slow to a stop on the corner giving them plenty of time to read every sign. We even had 3 separate families pull over and tell us “thank you for being here,” saying they had no idea that the festival abused animals and decided to go somewhere else that was “more ethical.” Countless others said they would not go to the ostrich races, stating “there are a lot of fun things to do at the festival that don’t involve animals.”

Protest Sunday March 12, 2017. 11:00am-1:00pm

Protesters holding signs on Sunday morning

Sunday’s protest was just as great in terms of outreach. There seemed to be a lot of public support for our cause. Maybe this is why the event promoters started to get pushy. They harassed several protesters and even tried to rip a protester’s sign from his hands. This incident sparked a yelling match between activists and parking staff. However, I reminded the activists that our fight was with the animal abusers and the organization that promotes the abuse, not the parking staff. The police did come and speak with the parking staff and never with us about the incident. Another activist who was also harassed did go and talk with the parking staff after things had cooled off, to smooth things over. The rest of the protest went well. Sixteen people showed up and six traveled from Tucson to be with us.

Protest Sunday March 12, 2017. 4:00-6:00pm

Protesters holding signs on Sunday evening

Sunday afternoon, 12 people came, and for some, this was their first protest. We made good connections and friends over the long weekend. People left feeling accomplished that we had stood up against violence and exploitation. We got word that these same animals (the ostriches, zebras and camels) were to race at another venue here in Phoenix on March 25th. We re-purposed our signs to take a stand there as well.

To learn more about our campaign and what you can do, visit www.upc-online.org/ostriches.