Secret Service View Teddy Mather As Protestor, Not Presidential Material
By Laine Hendricks, National Parks Conservation Association
In an effort to encourage the presidential candidates to pay attention to national park issues, the National Parks Conservation Association has launched its own candidate, Teddy Mather, a bear named for national parks champion President Teddy Roosevelt, and Stephen Mather, first director of the National Park Service.
Clearly, the campaign is tongue-in-cheek, but the issues are real, so over the next year, Teddy’s campaign managers (NPCA staff) plan to take the candidate to national parks and presidential campaign events. And we hope to blog about some of our experiences along the campaign trail.
To start, this is the story of Teddy Mather’s first campaign stop, which almost landed his handlers in jail, but also landed our candidate his first national media interview!
After receiving an invitation from the League of Conservation Voters to attend its Global Warming Forum, five members of Teddy’s campaign (me, three volunteers, and an intern) packed up the bear suit and drove four hours from NPCA’s office in Fresno to Los Angeles to try and catch the attention of the participating candidates: Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. John Edwards, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
The event was saturated with security—and more than 500 people. Guards in the parking lot were shouting, “No cameras, no bags, no purses… don’t think about bringing ANYTHING inside.”
We put an intern in the Teddy suit, and decided to wear our 2016 National Park Centennial pins, and carry in only a few global warming fact sheets and a sheet of “teddy stickers”—knowing that if we had to, we could “recycle” them at a moment’s notice. The plan was for some staff to go inside the event to try and speak with the presidential candidates or their staff about park issues, and have Teddy outside, talking to the gathered crowd about the national parks.
But once we made it to the front, we could see about a dozen guards: a combination of Secret Service and building security guards. Simultaneously, their radios started buzzing, “Bear in front! Bear in front! We have a bear in front!”
We were immediately approached by a Secret Service agent and told to leave. “There’s no protesting allowed here,” he said.
“We’re not protesting anything,” I replied.
“No, you are protesting if you’re wearing propaganda like that,” the agent said, pointing to my “2016” button and an “Elect Teddy” sticker worn by one of our volunteers.
“We’re here in support of the conference and to share a message about global warming,” I said.
“If you’re here with a bear, then you’re protesting and if you don’t leave immediately, you will be ARRESTED,” the Secret Service agent said forcibly.
The agent followed us back to our car, where we unloaded the items of “propaganda,” carefully packed the bear into the trunk, and returned to event. All eyes were on me as we walked past the security guards to the Will Call ticket table to get our tickets. But as I was entering the event, I heard “WAIT!” hollered behind me. I turned around to see the same Secret Service agent who had threatened me with arrest just minutes earlier.
“I just want to let you know that we’re going to let you in, but we’re watching you. We know who you are. We know you’re with the bear. Any funny stuff and you’re going to be arrested. This is federal property and it won’t be pretty,” he said.
Once inside the Global Warming Forum, we split up to find seats. Each of us quickly had our own Secret Service agent stationed nearby. Ironically, during Sen. Clinton’s talk a man at the event, dressed in a t-shirt emblazoned with political messages (and to think the Secret Service had a problem with NPCA’s green 2016 buttons!), started screaming and creating a scene. It took Secret Service TWO MINUTES to react (we counted!) and silence the man; all the while, agents kept watch on NPCA’s staff.
Despite having received briefing papers from NPCA about global warming and other park issues a few months ago, and extensive media coverage of global warming’s effect on parks, none of the candidates ever muttered “national parks.” And needless to say, we didn’t get very close to the candidates at the post-event reception. So we left, and decided to stroll the Santa Monica pier to meet the voters.
A FOX News producer fortuitously overhead us talking about our campaign for the national parks. After learning that Teddy was a presidential candidate, producer and blogger Serafin Daniel Gomez was shocked that the bear hadn’t participated in the forum. Serafin immediately put his camera on Teddy and his campaign staff, and we talked about the needs of the national parks and the opportunity, created by the parks’ upcoming centennial in 2016, for the next administration to help restore these beloved places.
And that’s the story of how Teddy landed his first national media interview.
We recognize that national parks are not at the top of our presidential candidates’ lists, but we also know that whoever is elected to the White House next fall could have a profound effect on the future of our nation’s significant lands and landmarks. So Teddy will keep at it—visiting parks and presidential candidate events and making every effort to ensure national parks are a national priority.