Stella's earliest activism involved elephants. At her 3-year-old birthday party she collected donations to help the elephants. At age 5, she wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to work with other world leaders to put an end to the ivory trade. Hearing that the WP Zoo had decided to move the elephants to Oklahoma City was a huge dissapointment to both of us. How could OUR city be making this decision??? Stella wanted to know what she could do to help. “We have to do something!” She said. “What could I do?” We thought about it and talked about how she could express her feelings and get decision-making adults to pay attention. She decided the best thing to do was to draw a picture on behalf of the elephants. She worked hard on her art and felt very satisfied and happy when it was done. Then she she looked worried. "What if it isn’t enough? What if they don’t even notice?” Then we talked some more and came to the realization that if every kid in the Seattle area who cared made a piece of art for the elephants, then the zoo and city leaders would have to pay attention. And so Children Helping Elephants was born.
So when she says to me, at age 7-amost-8, "I want to have a protest for my birthday," You know I'm in.
This is what I want my daughter, and all of our children, to learn:
The confidence to advocate for herself and others.
Empathetic care for the surrounding community.
Appreciation for the beauty and importance of the natural world and a sense of responsibility to care for it.
The power of her words, actions and creativity to create positive change in the world around her and the ways in which that power is amplified when combined with the voices of others.
Togetherness for powerful expression.
We emailed Stella's art and a letter I wrote to Zoo and City Leadership.
I started a Facebook Page and built this website. Children began sending in art and words for the elephants.
Stella took her idea back to her wonderful school and advocated for the elephants in the school community. Her teachers and peers listened, and many wanted to participate. Stella started bringing home art from school.
We were contacted by a generous local art gallery that offered to give the kids a weekend to hold an art show. Just two weeks into our effort, we hosted an art show at Magnuson Park with more than 100 pieces included. Kids who attended had the opportunity to create their own art and put in on the wall.
I sent this letter to Zoo and City Leaders.
We generated a petition, all in the words of children, for adults to sign.
City Council Member Kshama Sawant decided to take the issue on and begin work on an ordinance.
I wrote this open letter to Mayor Murray.
On April 15, a court injuction preventing the elephants from being moved was lifted. The Zoo immediately rushed the elephants out of the city.
On April 18 we held a protest, in partnership with Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, objecting to the Zoo's actions.
At the Zoo protest, we had so many positive engagements with Zoo members who share our concerns. Parents spoke with intelligence and complexity about the deep moral questions that arise when we take our children to zoos. So many of us are conflicted. We want our kids to learn about animals and the environment. We want our children to be invested in the future of the planet and the survival of endangered species. We want our kids to experience the joy of discovery. But we do not want the animals to suffer. We worry about the dangers of suppressing our empathetic responses and we question whether we are sending our children the right message when we take them to Zoos.
Our movement isn't about condemning the Zoo.
It is about insisting that the Zoo be guided
by the values it claims to be teaching.
Compassion. Respect. Conservation. Education.
These values cannot be effectively taught when the animals are suffering, as elephants unquestionably do in zoos. As parents, it is our responsibility to demand that Zoos be moral actors. Woodland Park Zoo is one of the best Zoos in the country, staffed by good people who care about animals. But our Zoo also has deep problems that are symptoms of a leadership guided by an outdated ideology that doesn't have the welfare of the individual animals at it's core. The decision to send Chai and Bamboo to OKC is the most glaringly obvious of those symptoms. We can do better. We MUST do better. We should be leaders in Zoo reform, creating a new model of conservation education that is centered around animal welfare and deeply engaged learning experiences for our children. If you agree, please take the time to email the leaders and Zoo sponsors. If the elephant situation is making your reconsider your membership, please tell them that. By speaking up together and putting our dollars where our values are, we can create a better future for the animals and for our children.
“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.