DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Every so often, a politician stands before the world and takes up a matter so important that it is filed in the archives of history. Abraham Lincoln took on the Civil War in the Gettysburg Address. In his inauguration speech John F. Kennedy explored national pride when he urged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Then there’s Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas. On Tuesday, June 19, the Sixth District rep and likely future Congressman stood before his colleagues and offered his resolution that Aug. 3 be declared… wait for it… Elephant Awareness Day in the city of Los Angeles.
No, you’re not reading that wrong. And as far as I know, Cardenas did not come up with the resolution while on an acid trip at Burning Man. Instead, he used the third Tuesday in June to declare that the first Friday in August be the day that Angelenos think about, and good gravy, recognize the important contributions of pachyderms around the world. The full council approved the resolution at 10:32 a.m. And so it is written.
At a time of annual budget deficits north of $200 million, the fact that even a dime of city resources is going to make Angelenos aware of elephants is mindboggling. I’m not sure if the price will ultimately rise as high as an elephant’s eye, but the council spent nearly 20 minutes on the matter, including a) recognizing a young animal rights activist, and b) Councilman Mitch Englander reading part of a poem about elephants (sample: “they don’t take more than they can eat/and always watch where they put their feet”). Someone already earned taxpayer money for writing the resolution. Then there are the unknown costs of raising all this awareness.
The matter is, well, bizarre. Does Cardenas think that 18% of Angelenos are unaware of the great animal known as “elephant.” One co-worker and I debated whether Cardenas could have lost a bet with another council member, and that as a result he had to try to pass the most perplexing resolution possible. Another colleague asked which elephant we should be aware of? Horton, perhaps? Or is it the one who Bill Murray inherits from his circus clown father in the 1996 film Larger Than Life?
I also briefly wondered if Cardenas had been kidnapped and replaced by Sasha Baron Cohen and this is all a crazy Borat-type stunt.
Consider, the resolution begins with the lines, “Whereas, Throughout history, the elephant has played an important role in human economies, religion, and culture; Whereas, The immense size, strength and stature of this largest living land animal has fascinated people of many cultures for hundreds of thousands of years.”
That’s a city document! It concludes with, “The Los Angeles City Council distinguishes August 3rd as Elephant Awareness Day to increase awareness of the inherent self-worth and important contributions of elephants worldwide.”
Wait, did that just refer to an elephant’s self-worth? Will someone inform elephants worldwide that the council passed a resolution in their honor? Does Cardenas think that will make African and Asian pachyderms so happy and full of self-worth that they’ll all celebrate by eating peanuts and opening cans of Schlitz?
OK, that’s ridiculous. Everyone knows elephants like Newcastle.
The Zoo Debate
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been aware of and have done stupid things with elephants for decades. When in an Italian punk rock band I used to tell elephant jokes between songs (sad but true). As a teenager in Washington, D.C., I figured out that, if I held out a handful of grass, one of the National Zoo elephants would extend its trunk over a pit and eat from my hand. I didn’t realize till years later that this was also a great way for an elephant to eat me.
My elephant awareness remains strong to this day. On a recent Saturday I took my kids to the L.A. Zoo and, while walking by the awesome $42 million pachyderm display, we were made aware of Jewel, the 48-year-old female, and Billy, the 27-year-old bull with the thrilling tusks. Later we were also made aware of the zoo’s ice cream stand, and for a moment I was sad that it too didn’t get a city council resolution.
Elephant affinity is a good thing, and I get what Cardenas is trying to do. The resolution goes on to mention that elephants are endangered species and on Tuesday he and other speakers railed against the mistreatment of the animals in places like zoos and circuses — he hopes Elephant Awareness Day will curb any such injustice.
Animal rights play big in Los Angeles, and pachyderm protection is a noble cause, but is Cardenas’ resolution, which was seconded by Fifth District rep Paul Koretz, really what most Angelenos want from their leaders? When unemployment hovers around 12%, should elephants really be a priority? I hate to go all gadfly, but considering our melting city, shouldn’t elected officials focus instead on jobs, neighborhood planning, public safety, transportation and other core matters? Would Cardenas be better off authoring a resolution for L.A. City Council Salary Awareness Day? After all, council members earn nearly $180,000 a year.
Cardenas isn’t the first council rep to come up with a motion that seemingly has nothing to do with the city, and he certainly won’t be the last. Nor is this the only time the local legislature has taken up the topic of elephants — a few years back the council rumbled like a pack of fighting beta fish over whether the L.A. Zoo should even hold the animals.
The concept of Elephant Awareness Day raises other issues: Why just elephants? Why didn’t Cardenas sponsor Muskrat Awareness Day? What does he have against koala bears? Should he reject sloths just because they’re slow and their name sounds icky? What does the Narwhal Defense League have to say about being passed over?
Then there are the really curious questions: Why is Elephant Awareness Day right for Los Angeles? Why is this happening in August?
Cardenas’ resolution mentions that the Animal Rights National Conference is taking place that month, though the convention is in Washington, D.C., which I’m pretty sure is really far from L.A. It says that the event is organized by the Farm Animal Rights Movement. The resolution describes the organization as “working to end the use of animals for food.” But unless area McDonald’s are selling elephant burgers, I’m flummoxed by the lack of a local tie to Cardenas’ cause. I’m also proud of myself for getting “flummoxed” in a story.
Cardenas has a track record of dedication to animal causes — the Valley rep created the city’s Animal Cruelty Task Force and helped write L.A.’s mandatory spay-neuter ordinance. Again, those are admirable accomplishments, and it’s also nice that part of Tuesday’s event involved his recognizing young animal rights activist Juliette West.
However, another question is, does Cardenas’ elephant move actually have more to do with Washington, D.C. than Los Angeles? He’s pretty much assured of winning a new Valley Congressional seat created by the state redistricting process. Maybe he has a friend or relative who asked him to do them an elephant-sized favor. Maybe a lobbyist or another connected individual convinced him that creating Elephant Awareness Day would translate to positive relations in his new home and equally positive campaign contributions?
Or maybe Cardenas just likes the movie Dumbo.
Contact Jon Regardie at email@example.com.
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