An Open Letter to Mayor Ed Murray by Lisa Decker,
Parent Co-Founder of Children Helping Elephants
April 13, 2015
Edward B. Murray, Mayor of the City of Seattle
Dear Mayor Murray,
My name is Lisa Decker and I am the parent co-founder of the child-generated movement Children Helping Elephants.  On 4/6/2015 the children and I came to speak at City Council and delivered a document to your office. I hope you have had a chance to look at it and see the powerful way that the children are advocating for Chai and Bamboo through their words and their art. Every child who has created art for our movement is now connected to this issue in a deep and lasting way. These kids are motivated and I believe they will all become lifelong advocates for one of the most intelligent, most empathetic and most endangered species on our planet. If you haven’t listened to the words of brave, 8-year old Autumn Miller speaking at council on 4/6, I strongly urge you to do so.
I am writing to you today because I believe that you are our most important partner in this effort. It is clear that the Zoo leadership isn’t going to make the right decision. You will have to make it for them. I deeply appreciate the respectful letter of January 26, 2015, addressed to Woodland Park Zoo director Deborah Jensen and signed by yourself and Council Members Bagshaw, Harrell, O’Brien, Licata and Sawant. This letter makes it clear that you believe the elephants’ welfare should be the deciding factor here and that you understand that elephants’ needs are not being adequately met in zoos. I am especially impressed that the letter addresses the elephants’ need for space and their rights as individuals to “choose to socialize or not with other elephants.” Zoo culture has lost sight of the rights of the individual elephants, using them both as revenue generators and as tools to further the stated conservation mission. That mission is an empty shell, hollowed out by the failure to give the species ambassadors what they need for their physical and psychological health. It isn’t effective teaching. Real conservation requires more than just caring. It requires education, increasing understanding, and protective, restorative action emerging out of new knowledge. My daughter says it this way:
“The zoo is teaching us to like elephants, but they aren’t teaching us to understand them. If we don’t understand elephants, we don’t really know how to help them. Kids learn from what they see. And if what we see is that elephants are in zoos, then we learn it’s ok for elephants to be in a small space being stared at by humans. Kids are learning that elephants don’t need the wild to exist.”
–Stella, Age 8. Co-Founder of Children Helping Elephants.
I believe that we are experiencing an earth-shift in how we think about elephants. I entered this effort only a month ago. I was awakened to the issue by my daughter’s deep empathy and her belief that a decision this wrong couldn’t happen in our city. As I supported her budding activism, I launched myself on a learning journey that is deepening by the day. When we began this effort, I was a zoo supporter with doubts about whether elephants should be in zoos. I am now completely convinced that no elephants should be held in captivity, and have deep moral questions about the role of zoos more generally. I am so profoundly disturbed by what we are doing to elephants in captivity that I will dedicate my life towards working to end this injustice. I will make it as easy as possible for other parents to find the information that has been the most moving and informative to me and I will help my daughter to give other kids a platform for the expression of their ideas. This mission is spreading rapidly among the children of our city. We will be protesting at the Zoo on Saturday 4/18 and will be leading a children’s boycott of the zoo if the OKC move goes forward. We have launched a petition, in the words of kids for adults to sign; it has gathered more than 16,000 signatures in just one week. The more momentum this movement gains, the larger the negative impact on the health of the zoo as an institution.
Mr. Mayor, I have been consistently impressed with your political skill, your ability to bridge gaps and build effective compromise, and your moral courage. The letter of Jan. 26 reveals that you stand with us on moral grounds. I can only guess that you hesitate to act out of concern for the effect on the Zoo’s reputation. The Zoo is damaging it’s own reputation by being so out of step with the ethics of our region. If it does not bring itself into sync with the morals of this community, it will go the way of SeaWorld. The kids will make sure of it. You have the opportunity here to take a leadership role in re-defining and protecting the rights of one of the most amazing species on this planet. Please embrace that. Celebrate the activism of these children. Teach them that when we speak up for what we believe in with conviction, creativity and intelligence, people in power will listen.
Yours in partnership and respect,
Co-founder, Children Helping Elephants