Animal protection activists end annual pigeon shoots in Hegins, Pennsylvania, 1989 - 1998

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Timing
Time Period:  
1989
to
1998
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Hegins, Pennsylvania
Goals: 
To save pigeons by discontinuing the annual Hegins Shoot.
 

In 1989 The Fund for Animals, an organization of activists committed to protecting animals, focused their attention on the Hegins Shoot held annually in Hegins, Pennsylvania. The Hegins Shoot, also known as The Fred Coleman Memorial Shoot, was a Labour Day tradition that dated back to the 1930s. During the event, participants tried to shoot as many pigeons as possible; who ever could shoot the most won the event. Instead of naturally hunting for pigeons, the birds were held in cages and released in front of a firing squad. The event killed roughly 5,000 pigeons per year.

Members of the Fund for Animals were appalled by the Hegins Shoot and began protesting the event in 1989 with the simple goal of saving pigeons. Fund leaders Heidi Prescott and Mike Markarian believed that they could use the media to raise awareness of the Shoot and lead the general public to oppose it. They began by publishing articles in the “Fund Press Release” and other animal activists magazines to inform fellow animal activists of the Hegins Shoot. As awareness grew among activists, Prescott and Markarian planned to take action nonviolently.

During the Hegins Shoot of 1992 the leaders of the Fund and a force of 114 protestors arrived at the event with a shared goal of saving pigeons. The leaders of the Fund were hoping that the activists would be arrested in front of the media covering the protest. They believed this would gain public support for the discontinuation of the event the general public would see how cruel the event was to the pigeons and to the activist trying to save them. Unfortunately, there was little communication between the leaders and the protestors. The protestors were mostly committed to saving pigeons at that specific point, with little regard for future plans. They were looking for an instant solution instead of addressing the underlying structure of the conflict. Even though the leaders tried to communicate their plans with the protestors, the meetings that taught nonviolent action, such as civil disobedience, were optional and many of the protestors were too angry to commit to the more passive plan. The result was a disaster for the Fund leaders. Many protestors aggressively tried to steal and release pigeons while others began to argue and shout with the event shooters. Once shooters opened fire on pigeons some protestors resorted to violence by threateningly pushing and shoving with shooters. The media coverage did the opposite of what the leaders were hoping because the animal activists were portrayed as cruel while the event and its participants were the victim.

The Fund’s protest of 1992 was a failure. The Leaders decided to avoid the event for a few years to allow their public image to heal. In 1996 a second nonviolent action was planned; one that was thoroughly controlled and committed to nonviolence. To ensure control and to appear nonthreatening, the Fund leaders allowed only a small group of activists to participate in the protest. The activists “were told that their job was to assure that public attention - including media attention - is not distracted from the cruelty of the event by loud and potentially violent confrontations between activists and shoot supporters” (Dillard 2002). Before the 1996 protest, the Fund released a document to the group of twelve activists that telling them not to engage in any actions that could be construed as violent or confrontational by the media (for the specific wording, see additional notes).

Before the 1996 shoot began, the activists entered the shooting area and locked themselves together at the neck with bicycle chains. They were pestered with demands and insults from the shooters who were expecting an aggressive response. But unlike the 1992 protest, the activists did not retaliate. Without showing any signs of aggression, their chains were eventually cut and they were arrested. The shoot took place as scheduled and thousands of pigeons were killed.

The media responded to the 1996 protest much differently than the protest in 1992. One of the Fund leaders, Prescott, was interviewed by three different newscasts about the activist’s protest while the shooter’s aggression towards a small defenseless group of people was captured.

After 1996 the Fund did not protest the event, but instead lobbied for bills that would demolish it. Because of the increased public support, the Hegins Shoot lasted for two more years until it was discontinued after the 1998 shoot.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Bronner, Simon. (2005). "Contesting Tradition: The Deep Play and Protest of Pigeon Shoots." Journal of American Folklore 118(470):409-452. American Folklore Society. University of Illinois Press.

Dillard, Courtney. (2002). Civil Disobedience: A Case Study in Factors of Effectiveness. Society & Animals; Feb2002, Vol. 10 Issue 1, p47-62, 16p

Additional Notes: 
This is perhaps an uncommon example of how nonviolent action could be more powerful with lesser participants as oppose to a large group. The first protest in 1992 failed because the large group was threatening while the 12 participants in 1996 successfully protested the event.

Before the 1996 protest, leaders gave the protestors a document that read:

“It is essential that our behavior today win us allies in the legislature and among the general public. Our golden rule must be do unto shoot supporters as you would want to be seen doing unto them on television. This year’s shoot will be intensively covered by the media, who will be looking for anger, drama and confrontation. We, on the other hand, represent caring and compassion. Our speech and behavior should always demonstrate those qualities to the press and the public. Please! for the sake of the pigeons:

-Do not engage in name calling, taunting, or trading insults or obscenities with shoot supporters.

-Do not make obscene or insulting gestures.

-Do not make any statement or any movement that could reasonably be interpreted as threatening, even if you are provoked.

-If you are insulted or taunted, ignore it. Do not respond unless you are confident that you can keep your cool and speak without hostility or anger.

-If you are assaulted, or believe that you may be, leave the area immediately. Report any assaults to the police.

-Do not threaten retaliation.

-Do not engage in shoving matches or initiate any physical contact with shoot supporters. In summation, be dignified, courteous, and nonviolent at all times, even under provocation. You are here to save pigeons, directly by rescue or indirectly by documenting. This is too important to let yourself be distracted by people who want us to fail.”

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Matthew Burns, 29/02/12