May 21 2019 08:45 AM

Fairs can be an awesome opportunity for public engagement, but they can also invite unwanted attention.

Summer is right around the corner, which to many of us in agriculture and rural communities means one thing — fair season. Time to pack up the show box for county and state fairs as well as spring and summer field days. As you bleach your whites and stock up on Clear Magic, I encourage you to add another step to your preparation routine: thinking through the potential for activist activity.

Unfortunately, animal rights activist groups have been aggressively targeting livestock shows and expos as they attempt to spread negative messaging about animal agriculture. Last fall, a group from Direct Action Everywhere disrupted a beef show during the Royal Winter Fair, waving banners and singing chants about animal rights. Earlier this year, activists from the same organization went to a junior livestock show in California. They wandered around for about an hour while livestreaming on Facebook and offering (wildly inaccurate) commentary about what they were seeing. The activists specifically attacked 4-H and FFA, saying that youth livestock programs turn “innocent young children into murderers.”

Would you know how to react if faced with a similar situation at your next show? Anticipating and planning for scenarios like this can help prevent them from becoming larger issues if something does happen. Think through how to handle a protest or disruption now rather than when it is unfolding in front of you. Here’s some things to consider:

  • All events should have a crisis plan outlining who should do what in various scenarios – protests, disruptions, etc. Crisis plans can also address natural disasters, accidents, and other issues that may arise during the event. While planning, local law enforcement should be consulted about how to handle activist activity at fairs.
  • Keep an eye out for suspicious activity such as people carrying signs or other protest materials, someone taking a strange amount of photos/videos or talking into a phone or camera, individuals asking very direct questions, and so forth. Report any concerns immediately to fair management. If your concerns are not addressed, follow up with them.
  • Avoid confrontation. Activists want attention — please avoid giving it to them. Keep your cool and let law enforcement or event staff handle any issues. This is especially important when children are involved (such as at youth shows). Activists will try to get an emotional reaction from a child and an angry one from an adult — don’t give them that satisfaction.

Shows are wonderful opportunities to showcase our hard work, catch up with one another, and engage with curious spectators. By keeping security principles in mind, we can help ensure they remain fun and educational opportunities for us and not attention-getting ones for activists.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman

The author is communications director for Animal Agriculture Alliance.