Elephant rides at the fair: Another sign of “democracy in our small towns” at play

(credit: Kathryn Wronski)

(credit: Kathryn Wronski)

The Nevada County Fair board reconvenes on July 16 to consider protests against elephant rides at the Fair. It could result in the elephant rides being canceled amid a groundswell of protests.

As the Fair approaches, the issue has not subsided: Last night opponents to elephant rides at the fair (citing concerns of public safety and animal abuse) spoke at the Grass Valley City Council meeting, asking the council to advise the fair to reconsider.

One said she lived in Nevada City, and two said they lived in Grass Valley.

The Council took no action; the issue was not on the agenda. They deferred to the City Administrator, who suggested that the issue was not in their bailiwick.

Last week opponents to the elephant rides held a public meeting at the Holbrooke Hotel in downtown Grass Valley to discuss elephant abuse. It was well attended and reported.

This is another example of a theme we’ve identified here since 2009: How “democracy in small towns” is changing our community — politically, economically and culturally.

Social media is accelerating the process: On Facebook, blogs and other social medium.

As we’ve written before: The traditional economic power centers in our small towns — or the “old order” — is increasingly being challenged by many younger people who are more attuned to a younger generation and who want a greater say for more people in civic processes.

They complain about unresponsive government, groups that value status quo over change and oligarchic decision-making. In short, they worry civic leadership has long been concentrated in too few hands.

“We need to learn how to share power,” is their mantra. They favor a respect for diversity and collective leadership — not “command and control” leadership.

Local election results have pointed to the change: In short we are becoming more “purple” in our county. It is indisputable. Grass Valley elected a progressive to be its supervisor. In Truckee a moderate Democrat replaced a moderate Republican.

Candidates supported by the tea party have been soundly defeated.

Our county’s voters supported Proposition 8 — the same-sex marriage initiative in November 2009 — by just three votes.

Now the elephant rides at the fair are winding up as an issue testing “democracy in our small town.” To be sure, the fair probably figured the elephant rides would be a fun way to celebrate the “Under the Big Top” theme of the fair.

But they underestimated the groundswell of protest — and the “democracy of small towns” theme we regularly write about.

The issue will likely spill into local politics, as it often does. “Elephants never forget,” and neither do people when it comes to positions they are passionate about.

About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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11 Responses to Elephant rides at the fair: Another sign of “democracy in our small towns” at play

  1. What a great piece! I hope this encourages ANY group with a legitimate cause to make their voices heard by organizing. The Elephant protest, the Alta Sierra POA recall, and the ballot measure to replace the cannabis cultivation ordinance are great examples of democracy in action.

    However, I do not plan to boycott the fair. In fact, ASA-NC will have a booth at the fair to promote our agenda to provide safe access to medical marijuana for every patient in need of this miraculous medicine.

    I suggest the Animal Rights activists do the same. Get a booth and distribute literature that explains your cause. You can achieve more by boycotting the Elephant RIDES and educating people about animal rights. There are too many great non-profits that depend on the income from the fair to fund their good works. I would not jeopardize the many to make my point when both can be achieved.

  2. Ben Emery says:

    As a life long activist the only thing that seems to get action at the administrative level is the threat of loss of money. Those non profits who depend on the fair might want to chime in and tell the fair it is not worth threatening the entire fair for a first time single ride that has so much controversy attached to it. The fair board is testing its strength at the moment and most likely will allow the ride to participate in the fair. Honestly, the attendance will not really be affected to much because a vast majority of people don’t follow such issues but might be a bit uncomfortable when having to come through a protest at the entrance. The question then becomes is the Nevada County Fairgrounds public property and will protesters be allowed to stay and redress their grievances in the courts of public opinion since they were shut out at the administrative decision making level from the start.

    As for getting a booth it is way to late to get a booth but maybe for a goodwill gesture the fair will give animal rights activists a booth right next to the ride to inform people before they support Have Trunk Will Travel ride. Even so I would have a protest out front. Head on is the only way to win in movement politics.

    • I would definitely negotiate for a booth from the Fair as a reasonable compromise since you don’t think they will back down. I have a few hours under my belt as an activist as well and I find that you can win the hearts and minds of the public better when you make your point, avoid personal attacks on your opponents, and educate on the issue.

      It will get the Fair Board’s attention if a significant number of people boycott the Elephant Rides. Why bring attractions to the Fair that many don’t want?

      • Ben Emery says:

        Getting the fair booths attention doesn’t help much when the elephant ride still is at the fair and the animals are abused getting ready to amuse Nevada County Fair goers. I can’t speak for others but I don’t want to participate in a fair that supports animal abuse for entertainment purposes. I agree making personal attacks doesn’t help and that is why I generally don’t do it.

  3. Niel Locke says:

    Why do we need an English organization dictate, through a S.F spokesperson, what we want to allow to be seen at our Fair ? The last time England tried to tell us to do we became a Nation. The People of this County is very capable of doing the same thing. I agree with Patricia Smith.

  4. Liz Kellar says:

    … fair board meeting is at 4 p.m. July 16. Not today, for anyone who is thinking of going.

  5. Ben Emery says:

    The Nevada County Fair has gone national on this issue. The petition is over 95,000 signatures.


  6. Judith Lowry says:

    Perhaps we should extend the 13the amendment of the U.S. Constitution to apply to animals.

  7. Judith Lowry says:

    BTW, nice painting Kathy.

  8. Judith Lowry says:

    “Blackfish”, the documentary, last night on CNN.
    Where does the slavery end?

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