Guest Column: Violence and hatred won’t stop the pigeon shoot by Marjorie Spiegel

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1992:

The string is pulled. The lid of the box opens,
and a bird flutters a few feet up into the air and is imme-
diately shot once, twice. If it is a clean shot, the bird
lies motionless. The crowd cheers. “That one’s dust,”
says a spectator. If the shooter is less accurate, we see
one wing, perhaps, twitching in the air, or a bird strug-
gling on the field. Boys in yellow shirts run to the birds,
throw a body in the bag, twist a neck, then into the same
bag. Sometimes a commotion: someone has made it
onto the field. She is pursued, yet reaches the string
lines or the boxes. The lids open, and eight or so pigeons
fly off to freedom, the most beautiful sight on a day
filled with much to be sorry for.
That is the essence of the Labor Day pigeon
shoot in Hegins, Pennsylvania: some people wish to use
these pigeons for target practice, and others wish to see
this ended and to let the pigeons go free.

Yet those of us in Hegins this year witnessed
much more, and many found it as disturbing as the shoot
itself. To enter the park where the shooting took place,
hunters and hunt supporters had to pass through a dou-
ble-sided aisle three deep with protesters. Many of the
protesters shouted anti-hunt and other slogans as the peo-
ple entered. I myself was confronted by a woman who
repeatedly screamed “Murderer!” at me, a few inches
from my face, as I waited in line to see the shoot first
hand. On this day, I heard people say things to people
they presumed were hunters or shoot supporters that I
had never before heard one human being say to another.
People were ridiculed for their style of dress,
their presumed education levels, and their physical
appearance. It didn’t stop there. Men were accused of
beating their wives, mothers and fathers of abusing their
children, and comments were made about incest and
inbreeding. People were told they should be ashamed of
themselves. One protester was overheard telling a child
who was holding his parent’s hand that he should have
been an abortion. By the time many entered the park,
they were in tears. And the animosity raged, so that the
only discourse that took place over the fences that literal-
ly and symbolically divided us were further venomous
shouts of hatred.
A simple explanation for sport hunting is that
people experience some sort of psychological pleasure
from exercising dominance and releasing aggression and
frustration through violence to other beings. Yet this is
precisely what some of the protesters did on Labor Day
to the supporters of the shoot. Instead of conveying our
beliefs to other people, instead of endeavoring to per-
haps instill compassion or respect for other living beings,
we vented our anger and frustration about the situation
toward the people whose actions we hoped to change.
This Labor Day many pigeons were freed by
protesters and escaped their planned death. Others who
were against the shoot crossed the fence lines, spent the
day talking with people about the issues, and found them
to be interested and receptive to discussion. Yet the
overwhelming accomplishment that day was waging an
emotional and psychological war against people who still
have very little idea of the issues involved.
If we are ever to be successful in creating
change, we must realize that the people on the other side
of the fence are just like ourselves. Positive and lasting
change will not occur through becoming enemies with
the very people whose opinions we hope to sway. Hatred
and intolerance are part of the problem in our society,
and it is hard to imagine that they could also be part of
the solution. And as for using them to effect change, it’s
never worked before. It won’t work now.
Marjorie Spiegel is the founding director of the
Institute for the Development of Earth Awareness, and
the author of The Dreaded Comparison: Human and
Animal Slavery. IDEA is located at P.O. Box 124,
Prince St. Stn., New York, NY 10012.
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