People sometimes ask us, "Why do you march? You should be making direct contact with people in power, with people who can ‘make a difference.' Every day 96 elephants are killed. That's one every 15 minutes. A march does not stop this. You need to raise money and lobby politicians. And you should be writing ... writing legislation."
Other people have told us, "You can do nothing. Those with the power to make a difference, in China, overseeing the 37 ivory carving factories and 145 licensed shops, will do nothing because you march. Elephants will continue to die. No elephant will be saved because of the protest actions in the United States." Regarding rhino horn, they say "you cannot lessen its fashion influence amongst those in Vietnam who buy it."
The people who question us say that marches seem "nice" and make those who march "feel good," but are ultimately useless, a futile gesture good for nothing other than the egos of those who take part, far away from the halls of power, far away from the carving factories, far away from the scenes of injustice, death, and wholesale destruction of the elephant, rhinoceros, and lion populations that have been under relentless attack by poaching, wildlife trade, corruption, and consumption. They say we are too far away and our activities are merely a waste of time and resources.
They are wrong to say this.
Why do we march? Because we can. Because we must. Because marching does make a difference. Because marching has been a force for positive change.
A march demonstrates numbers. A march brings people together, from all walks of life, for a common cause. A march in the streets cannot be easily overlooked. A march is a physical manifestation alerting everyone on its route that there is not only a problem but that those marching are mobilized to address that problem. How can the public at large know that 100,000 elephants would have been killed in the last three years alone if not for the determination of conservationists, scientists, and activists to make certain that we are made aware? Would the editors of our news organizations have covered the recent stories about elephants reaching a tipping point, with more dying than being born, if not for these researchers and the allied activists preparing for the march making certain that they were ready to hear such stories? Will our newspapers soon be carrying stories of how a rhino dies every nine hours, each and every day, because status-conscious Vietnamese businessmen believe the detoxification properties of horn allows massive indulgence in food and alcohol? Will we hear stories on the radio and see reports on television about "canned" lion hunts so that trophy hunting tourists can face down the king of the beasts in a pre-paid and pre-ordained victory?
We have so many who have marched before us: for peace, for civil rights, for freedom, for the right to vote, for action on behalf of the disappeared, for political prisoners, for working peoples' rights, for human rights, for so many things. Now, we march for the rights of elephants and rhinos to exist safe from slaughter. For their rights to live as they have lived for eons, and not to be subject to be killed so that their ivory might be carved into an object that might just as easily been carved from something else, or their horns ground into powder so that superstitious people consume them in the hopes of improved health, or to be hunted for "trophies."
We march for the voiceless. We march for those who cannot advocate for themselves and face horrifically cruel deaths and extinction due to superstition and taste which fuels and is fueled by greed, pride, corruption, sadism, indifference, ignorance, fear, hatred, terrorism.
We march to stop the power of White Gold, the ivory trade. We march to stop the trade in rhino horn held to have magical healing properties. We march to stop the hunting of lions, bred and tamed and released into a closed range only to be shot and killed and displayed.
We march for them.
On the way to marching, however, we have been building networked organizations, a web of grass-roots activists working to educate ourselves and the world at large about the interlocking issues and intricate systems creating conditions currently imperiling the very existence of elephants, of rhinos, and of lions. There are those in our number who understand wildlife biology and are expert in their biomes and ecology, while others are at home in fields such as sociology, political science, and law. Some of us come to elephant and rhino activism with no other training than a firm conviction of the right thing to do, to bend ourselves to do all that we can to contribute in any way to prevent the extinction of elephants in the wild in less than 10 years. Rhinos and lions could have even less time.
While organizing this march we have been busy. We have been organizing groups across countries and continents. We have been writing, tabling, leafleting, and having one-on-one conversations about the plight of elephants and rhinos. We have been lobbying politicians, legislators, diplomats, wildlife regulatory agencies, and the governments of African and of Asian nations. We have good allies among those who lend their celebrity, and their attendantly louder voices, to the issues around canned hunting and the ivory and horn trade.
We have written blogs, essays, op-ed pieces and letters to the editor of newspapers, given interviews, and responded to the claims of people defending both trophy hunting and the trade in ivory. We have utilized social media to create awareness on many occasions. Without the goal of this march, and the other 115 marches all over the globe on October 4, it would be much harder, if not impossible, to create the necessary public awareness of this crisis situation.
We march for them. Elephants march hundreds of miles in their range when left undisturbed. For them, we can march a mile or two.
A march is a mark. It is a mark made by people and all of their other advocacy activities coming together with the singular unified purpose of bringing the looming extinction of elephants, rhinos, and lions directly into the public's sight. A march is an embodiment. By physically occupying the alleys, streets, avenues, boulevards and plazas, we embody our cause: for the rights of elephants and rhinos to continue to exist. Outside of zoos. Apart from a "conservation" breeding program. To exist as they have existed since before our own species has. We are the problem. We can be the only solution.
By Christine Kiessling, for the San Francisco team of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, marching in more than 100 cities on October 4, 2014.
March for Elephants (San Francisco)
March For Elephants and Rhinos (Global)