EVERETT — A nearly naked woman painted bright orange with black tiger stripes crawled into a small cage at lunchtime in downtown Everett on Wednesday.
Virginia Fort, a 23-year-old animal-rights activist, wanted to upstage Ringling Bros. and Barnum &Bailey circus, which is coming to town next week.
“Wild Animals Don’t Belong Behind Bars,” read a sign held by the woman who works for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She wore only panties, pasties and body paint.
Passersby honked, others gawked and some downtown office workers on their lunch breaks did double and triple takes before moving on.
When you’re trying to steal the show from The Greatest Show on Earth, you need a good publicity stunt.
“We live in a society where we have to do interesting things to get people’s attention,” said Kristie Phelps, a PETA activist who joined Fort in Everett. “Unfortunately, sex sells. So Virginia will be sitting in a cage for an hour.”
Fort and Phelps traveled from the organization’s Virginia headquarters and joined with PETA members from this area to hand out pamphlets documenting some cases of animal abuse at various circuses.
In an effort to manage the message, Ringling Bros. hired a marketing firm from Seattle to attend the protest to counter those claims.
Employees with Everett’s Comcast Arena — where the circus plans seven shows next week — also showed support for the circus at the protest by handing out posters with photos of baby elephants frolicking at Ringling Bros.’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Central Florida.
Frances Louie, 28, who works for an engineering firm in downtown Everett, snapped a picture of Fort with her iPhone.
Attending the circus was a tradition when she was growing up, Louie said. She considered it entertainment and not animal cruelty.
“I guess seeing something like this would make me think about it more,” she said.
Terry Fieck, owner of Terry L. Fieck Furs in downtown Everett, stood on an opposite corner of the street and kept a watchful eye on the animal-rights activists.
He said he agreed with their right to protest, but he wants to make sure they don’t interfere with his right to run a business.
He said Schumacher Furs &Outerwear, in Portland, Ore., closed its doors because of aggressive anti-fur protesters, who yelled at customers and defecated and urinated on the storefront.
Everett Police officers, accustomed to keeping the peace at a weekly Iraq War protest and counter-protest in downtown Everett, stood quietly during Wednesday’s protest.
PETA had called the city ahead of time to see if it needed a permit to stage the afternoon protest.
John Blake, 43, was doing his banking downtown when he stumbled on the protest.
While he said the protesters were extreme in their claims, Blake said he has seen poor treatment of elephants.
“Everyone can take things a little too far and out of context,” he said. “But I have gone to smaller circuses and left with a sour taste in my mouth.”
Ringling Bros. has more than 50 Asian elephants, the largest herd in the Western hemisphere, and claims to be a world leader in elephant conservation.
Since opening in 1995, its Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County, Fla., has seen the birth of 20 Asian elephants.
It is required by the government to keep accurate records of veterinary care and to comply with humane standards for housing, ventilation, lighting, feeding, watering and transporting the animals.
Even so, the circus is coming under increasing scrutiny by animal-rights groups that say they have evidence that proves Ringling Bros. engages in abuse of its animals.
This isn’t the first time PETA supporters have taken off their clothes to get attention.
During the Beijing Olympic Games, U.S. swimmer Amanda Beard unveiled a naked photo of herself in a PETA campaign against the international fur trade.
Actress Pamela Anderson and former porn star Jenna Jameson have also bared all for PETA projects.
After Wednesday’s protest, the Cheetos-colored Fort wrapped herself in a black robe and said the discomfort of public nudity is a small price to pay to do something she believes in.
“Compared with what the animals go through, it’s nothing,” she said.
Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Circus in town
Ringling Bros. and Barnum &Bailey Circus is scheduled to hold seven shows at Comcast Arena, 2000 Hewitt Avenue, in Everett Sept 4-7.
More info: www.comcastarenaeverett.com
PETA’s claims about circus animal abuse: www.circuses.com
Ringling Bros. and Barnum &Bailey elephant conservation center: www.elephantcenter.com