On Sunday August 10th, 2014, four activists, Charles Frey, Karen Lesch, Steve Kircher and myself arrived at Stephensville, Wisconsin in Outgamie County around noon to protest St. Patrick's Parish 44th annual Roundup Pig "rassel" church fundraiser. It was a warm, sunny day in Wisconsin and most of the parishioners and townspeople were setting up their places to watch the parade when we arrived. The first thing that struck my attention as we turned the corner to face our adversaries was the fact that there were two bars directly across the street from each other on opposite corners about a quarter block from church property [see Google street images]. I also immediately noticed the pro-hunting bumper stickers in the parking lots. I knew right then and there that this day would be a tumultuous one. This was my first protest, afterall. Okay, I'll admit, I was nervous and shaking in my vegan sandals..
As we walked North on State Rd toward the church, Charles Frey bravely pioneered his approach to stink eyed townsfolk with flyers about compassion and kindness toward all God's creatures and we were immediately met with hostility and anger. Like defiant children throwing a temper tantrum, I watched as grown adults stomped their feet, yelled, ripping up the flyers that were handed to them as they raised their voices using foul language directly in front of the church and in front of their own children. Some of the parents were even encouraging their kids to flip us off and yell obscenities. We had every right to be there, yet we were repeatedly blocked intentionally and confronted by angry parade goers. I started getting the impression that they wanted us to sit down and join them because they wouldn't let us by *sarcasm*.
As we drew closer to church property, it struck me as odd that seemingly all the senior citizens of the community were settled on the front lawn of the church.
|the older generation especially didn't appreciate our presence|
You would've thought it was a senior living facility much more than a church. It reminded me of so many ghost town movies and bizarre horror flicks I've seen through the years. One woman immediately took a very strong dislike toward me, in particular. She was so angry at us, she was positively shaking with ire. I truly thought she was going to slap or punch me as she got in my face. I peacefully removed myself from her and she followed me relentlessly after me telling me that this was her church and her town and her area. The random thought that went through my mind at that moment was, *I wonder if she has any granddaughters*. I'm not sure why that thought popped into my head, but it somehow calmed me down and made her less scary.
As some smiling young men in an old farm vehicle drove South toward the start of the parade route,
they made sure we protesters saw the brutalized pigs in the back of their wagon. Just then, a couple approached us wanting to take our picture. I thought they were parade goers, but it turned out they were undercover activists there to document the abuse. I met them again later in the day in the pig wresting arena.
As peaceful protesters, we had to remain calm and we had to stay on the sidewalk with our signs. We weren't permitted to breach the concrete line onto church property. It seemed like everywhere I walked, I was dodging potentially violent confrontations. I had one intoxicated man scream in my face as I tried to walk by. He was so hostile and got so close to my face, I have to admit I was terrified, again peacefully removing myself from the situation. We four were truly outnumbered and it was only becoming more one sided and dangerous as more and more townspeople showed up. Almost immediately after I was verbally attacked by the drunk guy, Fox 11 showed up and interviewed Charles
and myself. Upon seeing myself later on the news, I was trembling, not because I was being interviewed on camera, but because I was in fear for my safety only half a minute earlier.
At around 12:30 or 1:00, we spotted a group of four women holding signs coming toward us. Jill Wenzel Manny, her mother Michele Polar, her sister, Heather Yenter and her 15 year old daughter, Sophia were absolute godsends at that moment. Our group of four doubled in size. I was genuinely touched that they came out as a family, three generations of strong, compassionate women in solidarity for the 37 innocent pigs.
Sophia was more confident than any of us adults. A dirty old man in front of the church bullied her because of what she was wearing. She just smiled with so much integrity and kept walking and held her "Eden was Vegan" sign even higher. Later on, we laughed as she told us that more than one church folk asked her, "who is Eden?"
The sidewalk on the church side of the street quickly became overwhelmingly crowded, so we were basically pushed off. Soon after Jill and her family arrived, two young women, Carol Glasser, Kim Socha and professor Anthony Nochella from St. Paul, Minnesota arrived holding a giant banner that read, "ANIMAL ABUSE IS EVIL."
That, in my opinion, was a majorly pivotal moment of the day. They brought so much presence and strength to the demo. After they showed up, so did Mike Stone to join Anthony in holding another giant banner with Proverbs 12:10 bible passage which read, "The Godly Care For Their Animals, But The Wicked Are Always Cruel."
Our protest was moved across the street because our numbers were slowly growing and the crowd was growing even more rapidly.
|Jordan Turner from Watertown|
|this guy was very proud of his sign and more than eager to let me take his photo|
As we stood there in solidarity, I literally searched the crowd with my eyes trying to find even one face of kindness or compassion. I saw none, even the women and children were hateful. As I searched on, I did see one lone girl, around the age of nine resting on the curb. She was not bouncing about or celebratory like the other kids. In fact, she looked lost in her own thoughts as she stared in our direction. What I saw was a young girl who wanted to scream and be heard, but was too oppressed by her small town upbringing to even make a peep. I saw myself in that little girl growing up in an Irish/Catholic hunting family in Wisconsin, dreading all the pig roasts, fishing trips and most of all, hunting season. Maybe the kid was just having a bad day or maybe she had just been scolded by her mother, but my wishful thinking told me another story through her somber eyes.
Although outnumbered, I felt rather safe standing there with these people I had never met before, armed only with our
signs and banners and..our voices.
As a kid, parades were exciting and friendly, something to look forward to. We were about as welcome to this parade as Reggie Jackson is at a Klan meeting. Not that I expected a warm welcome, but even the fire fighters whipped objects at protesters faces as they drove the parade route. Everyone Loves firefighters, for crying out loud! But this was defintely not the friendly feeling I remembered as a kid...
After the parade, we decided to move our demonstration to the roadway entrance to the fairgrounds where folks would be entering to observe the crimes against animals. As we walked the remainder of the sidewalk, Karen and I were confronted by a group of angry, drunk people who had been watching the parade in front of a residence directly across the street from the church. They yelled obscenities at us, told us we were interfering with their fun and we were not welcome. One of the most disturbing moments of the day was among this group was an older gentleman around the age of 65 or 70 repeating over and over in mocking, whiny voice, "she's just a little bitch! - she's just a little bitch!" Only it wasn't his words that bothered me. It was the fact that he looked identical to my uncle who had just passed away only months earlier. A drunk, middle aged women holding a cocktail proceeded to put her hands on me while making comments about Karen's weight and trying to grab her stomach. They were all screaming at us to get off their sidewalk, but they wouldn't let us by. I turned to walk away. The drunk woman in the striped top [see photo] then shoved me from behind so hard that I almost fell face first into the street. Trembling, embarrassed, yet feeling bold and angry, I stood in the gutter and held my sign even higher. Later, I discovered that Appleton's Post Crescent newspaper snapped a photo of that moment..
|photo courtesy of Post Crescent newspaper|
As we stood at the corner, there wasn't much room to stand, so we sort of split up and stood across the dirt roadway from each other [see photo].
It was around then that the Hammarlund family from Milwaukee showed up to help us protest. Another wonderful family unit standing strong for the voiceless.
|The Hammarlund family|
As the vehicles pulled into the fairgrounds, a parade of pickup trucks with NRA and hunting bumper stickers and family SUVs full of angry faces spewing hateful obscenities out of their windows and telling us to "get a life!"....as they pulled in the dirt road to watch grown men body slam 3 month old pigs in a mud pit. Only one kind word was spoken from a lone woman in a truck who told us "keep up the good work" and that we had her support. Her vehicle didn't turn right into the fairground. She went straight toward the highway and probably far far away from the grubby little town of Stephensville, Wisconsin.
Political activist, Dr. Anthony Nocella from Minnesota approached me and asked if I would go with him into the scene of the crime to document and bear witness and I agreed.
951.02 clearly states, with no exceptions/exclusions: 951.02 Mistreating animals. No person may treat any animal, whether belonging to the person or another, in a cruel manner. Conviction under this section does not require proof of intent or negligence and Wisconsin Crimes Against Animals Chapter 951.08 - which prohibits animal fighting of any kind.
As we walked the gravel road toward the fairgrounds, we heard the distant screams of terrified pigs echoing through the trees. We had to pay three dollars to get into the makeshift arena. As we waited in line, we watched kids, teens and adult men exiting the arena covered in mud, pig waste and pure jubilation. The spectators who we waited in line with
were so excited to watch pigs being abused, you would have thought we were waiting in line to go to Disneyland. Anthony and I were trying to remain sort of incognito, but I was recognized by the rainbow detail on my dress while waiting in line. We just stayed calm as we entered the bleachers that surrounded the mud pit. We walked all the way around near the pen where the 37 pigs were huddled [see photo]
and took a seat. Again, I was recognized and the bullying started all over again. I just focussed on the pigs. I approached the fence to take photos of a pig who had just been brutalized. She was trembling, wide-eyed and had fresh, bloody scratches all over her body. She made eye contact with me. I crouched down to her level and told her I was so sorry for what they were doing to her. I felt her soul. I felt her fear and confusion. She was so innocent, intelligent and sentient. Just a baby. I wanted to hop over and chain myself to the gate. Our combined helplessness melded at that moment. I couldn't help her and her 36 trembling friends. At that moment of connection, I was then manhandled and screamed at by the big boy who secured the area near the gate [see photo].
|this one thought it was perfectly acceptable to put his filthy hands on me|
that an old man would strike whenever a new round of abuse started. It was truly something out of the Dueling Banjos/Deliverance movie. The riled up, shirtless teen boys anxiously waited in line
for their go at terrorizing the baby animals and were more than happy and proud to pose for this vegan blog. The echoed sounds of the pigs' screams will haunt me for the rest of my life. Several people suggested to us that the pigs actually enjoyed being punched, kicked, body slammed and thrown onto a barrel. I know what happy pigs look like. These babies were not happy or willing to go into the pit at all. They were huddled as far away from the gate as they could possibly be. They had to be fought and kicked and pushed into it. And when they came out, they were shaking, bloody and many were limping and they all had so much fear and anguish in their intelligent little eyes. Every now and then, someone would spray them with a hose briefly. In three months of life, they have received no kindness or respect whatsoever. They were mere objects and playthings to these so-called "Christians" and despite offers to bring them to sanctuary after the St. Patrick Round-Up festival was over, they were then brutally murdered the next day. There were rumors that they were "contaminated" and had to be "destroyed." I personally think someone still profited from their death and body parts. Afteralll, the FDA doesn't care much about waste or contamination of sold animal flesh. Something else that struck me that day was as the adults and teens terrorized the pigs, they screamed in terror, but when the little kids were in the ring, the pigs seemed confused as to their intentions. They did not flee or scream in fear until the kids jumped on them. Absolutely heart shattering to witness their terror, exhaustion and sadness.
"Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity." - George Bernard Shaw
As Anthony and I were about to exit the arena, he wanted to take some photos as we left. I was promptly confronted by the same woman who was bullying me minutes earlier. She seemed really paranoid and hostile about the fact that we had photos and video. She threatened me and told me not to post the photos online. As she was in my face, four testosterone pumped guys started charging toward Anthony and his video camera. Someone stopped them and we left. I have to admit, I was relieved to get out of there, but also extremely sad to have to leave the pigs behind. When we rejoined our fellow protesters, I broke down and cried in total shock and disbelief of what I just witnessed.
|photo courtesy of Milwaukee Farm Animal Advocates|
|Charles Frey flew all the way from Houston, Texas to protest with us|
That's when I met Kelly and Jake Schubel and Ben Collins [see photos] who joined us while we were gone. I am fortunate enough to still be in contact with most of these wonderful people.
These next photos are courtesy of undercover activists, Melissa Pena and Corinne DiLorenzo and E.A.R.T.H. Animal Sactuary in central Illinois [see link at bottom]
|the barrel where 37 pigs were slammed onto for about 8 hours|
|imagine someone doing this to a 3 month old human child or a puppy|
|contestants had to catch the pigs, pick them up and slam them onto the barrel where they would often slide off head first and walk away limping and terrified|
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead
Please contact St. Patrick's Parish and express
your thoughts about their annual illegal activity:http://www.stpatrick-stephensville.org/
UPDATE: St. Patrick's Parish announced yesterday, April 21, 2015, that they will discontinue their cruel, 44 year tradition of pig abuse due to so many compassionate voices being heard. WORD!! Thanks to all who stood against this. Victory is sweet! (-:
Learn more here: http://www.stpatricksabuse.com
Fox interviews: http://fox11online.com/2014/08/10/church-continues-with-pig-wrestling-event-despite-protesters/
E.A.R.T.H. Animal Sanctuary offered to rescue all 37 pigs. Please show them some Love http://www.earthanimalsanctuary.org/
And thank you to the rest of the protesters and groups not yet mentioned in this story:
Jordan Turner (Global Conservation Group)
Steve Hindi (S.H.A.R.K. founder)
And all the undercover activists who took photos, videos, accounts and risks that day. I apologize if I have left anyone out. Please contact me if there is anyone or any stories to add.
|Kim Socha and Carol Glasser in their Sunday best protesting at the church bright and early that morning|