Activists from as far as California and Nevada traveled to New York to say “Good Riddance” to “The Cruelest Show of Earth” during Ringling’s last-ever performance.
Organized by PETA, LION and CompassionWorks International, the final protest, which took place at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, was not only a celebration but also an opportunity to encourage Ringling fans to abstain from patronizing other traveling circuses that beat wild animals into submission.
PETA began protesting Ringling when the organization was formed in the early 1980s. Since then, the animal rights group has staged protests at thousands of performances around the country, at times following the circus from city to city in a “Ringling Beats Elephants” van.
As undercover videos of circus trainers terrorizing animals emerged, many local animal rights groups around the country began to protest the circus and lobby their lawmakers in support of restrictions on the use of animals in performances.
In recent years, several municipalities in the U.S. banned the use of bull hooks, the weapons used by “trainers” to beat elephants into submission. Without bull hooks, Ringling could not use elephants in their shows. These bans, coupled with increasing public discomfort about the use of elephants, triggered Ringling to remove them from the show starting in 2016. This victory, celebrated by activists worldwide, was overshadowed by an even bigger victory – Ringling’s announcement in 2017 that it was shutting down the circus altogether. A representative from the Circus Fans Association of America told TheirTurn that the Ringling decided to end its 146 year run because of a substantial drop in revenues following the removal of elephants. Animal rights groups say that ticket sales declined because of the public’s increasing discomfort with the use of any animals in circuses.
The 100+ activists at Ringling’s final performance were greeted with hostility by some patrons, as expected. Parents were the angriest, as they don’t want their children’s circus experience to be tainted by the presence of activists wielding “Ringling Beats Animals” posters. While some patrons gave protesters the middle finger or shouted “Snowflake” or “Go Trump” while driving past the protesters, most just laughed nervously.