On Friday, April 25th, 2014, I witnessed the inappropriate political use of several elementary school age children.
As a father of two little girls, I'm embarrassed to say, I stood by and did nothing to protect the kids. However, in my defense, I was there to report on what their parents were doing. Plus, I was wearing a ridiculous disguise.
I'm going to tell you precisely what I saw -- without embellishment -- and then reveal the reactions of police, demonstrators and various on-lookers. Plus, I'll tell you why I was wearing a ridiculous disguise.
But first --
It was 11am, people in red shirts began to gather. By 11:30am, their number reached approximately 75 or so. The red shirts are being worn by animal right's activists who followed the instructions on the Facebook invitation they had received. The group is gathered on the corner of Westwood Blvd and Le Conte -- on the campus of UCLA -- in Westwood, CA.
INTIMIDATION: This group is gathering to protest scientific research that involves experimentation on animals. They protest at UCLA quite frequently. I saw several of the demonstrators chatting with the dozen or so police who are on-hand to guarantee their first amendment rights to:
• lie about science
• lie about disease
• lie about doctors and researchers
• lie about the motives of doctors and researchers
• deny today's children the cures to future diseases
• to intimidate the scientists whose work they disagree with
• and lie about how nearly every disease science and medicine has eradicated or cured has been due, in part, to experiments on animals.
OXYMORON: This group goes by the name "Progress For Science." The name, however, is an oxymoron.
Now, right from the outset, I'm going to let you in on a few facts:
- I support the work being done by the scientists at UCLA.
- I love animals. In fact, I have two dogs. I also know that medical testing on animals saves human lives. And animal lives, as well.
- Unlike the protestors, I can keep two conflicting ideas in my head simultaneously. My love for animals. And my love for the eradication of diseases.
- I have now been to several of Progress for Science's recent demonstrations. Why? Because someone I know is a UCLA scientist who has been terrorized by this group for many years.
- This group demonstrates outside the guy's home regularly.
- The guy has had a 24-hour security guard stationed outside his home for the last 5 years... because 5 years ago, someone blew up his car while it was in his driveway.
- Police do not have a suspect in the car bombing.
- Below, a video featuring a member of "Progress for Science" at one of their recent events. The woman speaking is referring to a female scientist at UCLA who is a colleague of the guy I know. WARNING: VERY INAPPROPRIATE LANGUAGE!
- The guy I know is a scientist working on what would be the world's first treatment for Meth addiction. It's a problem he says he is 90% of the way towards solving.
- I am gathering footage for a potential documentary.
- The members of Progress for Science don't seem to like me taking video of them -- although I am well within my right to do so.
- The Progress For Science member who put her hand up to my camera attempted to intimidate me by calling me "pathetic", "fat" and "ugly." I am none of these.
- At a February event, at least one member of Progress for Science took my photo and posted it on Facebook -- then, the group's members posted comments calling me "fat", "asshole" and "evil." Again, I am none of those. However, I do have high blood pressure. And I take a medication to control my triglycerides.
- I reluctantly admit that if I have the right to film Progress for Science... they have the right to take my photo. Although, I concede that I'm surprised that their level of discourse is on par with that of a common 2nd grade school yard bully.
- In an effort to prevent my photo from being taken and put on the web with the hash tag "asshole," "evil", and "fat", I wore a ridiculous disguise to conceal my identity at Friday's UCLA demonstration. Plus, my preference is to NOT become part of the story.
- Unfortunately -- while the disguise did, in fact, conceal my physical appearance, the group suspected it was me. So, yet again, many called me "fat" and "asshole." And one woman in particular, repeatedly called me "pathetic" "disgusting" and a "coward." It's the same woman who called me "the face of evil" on Facebook. I suspect she'd like me to tell you her name and show her photo -- because even bad publicity is still publicity. But, I won't be giving her that satisfaction. Sorry.
Anyway, back to the story.
SCHOOL DAY?: Among the 75 or so demonstrators were a few parents who brought their elementary school age children along to participate in their publicity stunt. On a school day. There were 5 or 6 children. And just to be clear, when I say "elementary," I mean that the children who participated were -- based on my estimation -- give or take 10 years old. Maybe 11. I suppose one might have been 12. Or not.
By way of comparison, many Americans were outraged when they discovered that some Chinese companies may or may not have been using children ages 12 to 14 to make some of the popular electronics we all enjoy.
Note: I have intentionally obscured the faces of the children in the photos that accompany this story. Why? Because I'm a dad. A responsible dad.
Here now, what I consider, the gross mistreatment of children:
A) These kids were sent off on their own -- without a parent or chaperone -- to give out leaflets to passers-by on the corner of a very busy intersection.
B) The children were posed for cameras holding signs with grizzly and gruesome images and messages, including:
- "Man's Best Friend Betrayed By Greed & Madness. Abolish Vivisection."
- "Stop The Torture UCLA"
- "Tax Sponsored Animal Cruelty. Flawed. Wasteful. Unethical. Fraudulent."
- "Watch Out. Kids Are Here to Make a Change."
- "Archaic. Incompatible. Fraudulent. Deceitful. Wasteful. Barbaric."
- "Vivisection Actually Poses a Threat To Human Health."
- "Torturing and Killing 150,000 Animals A Year at UCLA Is Not Science, It's Greed."
C) The children stood on the curb of a busy road and waved their signs and shouted at passing cars. By way of clarity, the distance between the kids and the cars was mere inches.
D) The children were put in front of media and cameras to answer questions and provide opinions.
E) The children took part in the graphic call-and response that accompanied the group's protest march through the UCLA campus where they chanted:
- "UCLA what do you say? How many animals died today?"
- "Vivisection is a lie. How many animals have to die."
- "Vivisection is a trick. They get money while we get sick."
- "Stop the Suffering. Stop the Pain. UCLA is to blame."
- "Stop the Murder. Stop the pain. UCLA is to blame."
- "UCLA has blood on their hands. UCLA has blood on their hands."
RECKLESS OR WORSE? Now, you might quibble with me about the harm any of these might cause a child. And that's your right. Let's agree to disagree. I recognize that some parents consciously choose to make choices for their children that I think are reckless and could result in a child getting lost, becoming traumatized or dying. However, what follows are actions that will almost certainly haunt a child for the rest of their life. It will follow them wherever they go. They will not be able to escape it. And it will forever represent who they are, even if they turn out to be or believe something entirely different. Because thanks to the internet, it's now 100% impossible to hide from your past. Even if it's a past you had no hand in creating.
Members of Progress for Science posed the half dozen or so children for numerous photos, handing them any number of the grizzly and gruesome protest signs to hold. And just as they had done previously, the photos taken at this event, were uploaded to Facebook for the world to see.
NO INFORMED CONSENT: These are photos of elementary school age children who in all likelihood have virtually no comprehension or clear understanding of vivisection, science, illness and death. These are children who certainly can not give informed consent to have their photos taken to be used for publicity purposes in the name of animal rights activism. These are children who -- like all children -- rely on their parents to make good choices for them and to keep them safe.
I'm reminded of the kid's whose parents are in the Westboro Baptist Church who at a similar age are holding signs that say: "God Hates Fags." And, I'm reminded of the now dozens of kids across America who are suffering with the measles because their parents foolishly and perhaps criminally chose not vaccinate them.
All of which leads me back to Progress for Science's Facebook page. Specifically, I would like to make you aware of their tolerance policy:
Hopefully someone at Progress for Science will bring these details to the attention of someone in charge at Progress For Science.
Oh, remember I told you I'd tell you the reactions from the police, demonstrators and passers-by? Well... as best as I can tell, no one seemed to care. You see, the problem with the inappropriate use of children is that, sometimes, it looks a lot like a Facebook update.
Jon Hotchkiss is the creator of the new 6-hour science series, This vs That, which has been featured on NBC News with Brian Williams and hailed as "hilarious" and "revolutionary." You're invited to see the 1-hour premiere episode, FREE.