A relatively quiet but highly visible protest of the annual pig scramble at the July Fourth Junior Rodeo in Woodside drew reactions that seemed to have little to do with the protesters' longtime concern: that encouraging children to chase small pigs in an enclosed arena is a lesson in bullying for the children and terrifying for the pigs.
"Trump, Trump, Trump!" one man shouted from a pickup truck as he drove by a group holding a protest banner at the corner of Kings Mountain Road and Woodside Road. "I love bacon!" shouted others. Also heard from passing traffic: "Booo!" and pig-like squeals.
"Get a life," was yelled out to a group of children holding signs and chanting "Pig-gy jus-tice, pig-gy jus-tice," and "Chase dreams, not pigs. Chase dreams, not pigs."
"We've got a life," a girl said to a now-empty road. "We're here, we're now. We're exercising our First Amendment rights."
The Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County hosts the rodeo and continues to put on the pig scramble, frustrating an effort of at least a year by the local residents who make up the Committee for a Humane Woodside to deny the Patrol the right to hold the event. Pig scrambles are not illegal, but Committee members consider them cruel.
Patrol spokesmen -- the group does not accept women as members -- say the event is popular with children and so memorable that participants treasure the token awards they're given for capturing a pig. The Patrol also argued that ending the pig scramble would be the first step in a campaign to undermine Western cultural values in Woodside -- an assertion that Humane Committee members regularly go to some lengths to refute.
Asked about this year's July Fourth rodeo and the protest, Mounted Patrol Captain Victor Aenlle said via email that he had no comment.
Lorien French of the Humane Committee described the protest as having gone smoothly. About 25 people participated, all from Woodside or nearby, she said. "There was no menacing or threatening behavior toward us," she said in an email. "We appreciated the Sheriff's presence and the cooperation of the Town in making it a success."
The protest banners were new this year. They are "really sturdy vinyl," Ms. French said. "We can re-use them. We might be needing them."
The weeks leading up to the 2017 rodeo had acquired a threatening tinge. On June 6, an attorney representing the Patrol warned would-be protesters in a letter that they could be subject to criminal trespass charges were they to protest on Patrol grounds this year. (Pig scramble protesters in 2016 may have been standing on Patrol grounds.)
Town Manager Kevin Bryant worked with the Humane Committee, Sheriff's Office deputies and the Patrol to determine a safe protest spot along the road at 521 Kings Mountain Road.
The public right-of-way turned out to be a 15 foot-by-22-foot wooded area just east of the Patrol gate, Ms. French told the Almanac. Protesters also gathered at the intersections of Woodside and Canada roads, and Woodside and Kings Mountain Road.
During the 2016 protest, rodeo officials came and talked with the protesters and brought them water to drink. Not so in 2017. This reporter noticed just one Patrol member conversing quietly for a few minutes with the protesters, saying that they're being "extra sweet" to the pigs this year.
"I think he was trying to bond," one woman said after the Patrol member left.
Video of this year's event by KPIX CBS 5 News did not show children being rough with the pigs.
Pig scramble organizers said they instructed children to be gentle for the 2016 event, but a video showed the pigs being physically tossed from their trailer as they tried to get back in at the start of the third round of being chased.
At the main gate, a group of boys came out and hung around for several minutes, playing with sticks in the dust and eventually engaging in a conversation about the pig scramble.
One boy who said he was from Oakdale (in Stanilaus County) told this reporter that he would be chasing pigs. When asked what he would do, he said: "Tackle the pig."
His companion immediately recalled instructions to treat the pigs gently. "When we get one," he said, "we have to hold it by it's back legs ... so we don't hurt the pig."
Some back and forth ensued about what was to be done next, including walking the pig back to its trailer on its front legs, like a wheelbarrow. The boy who spoke about not hurting the pigs said he recalled being told to just hold the pig until an adult came by.
The boys were asked where they were from. "Nevada," one said. It was around that time that their consensus changed to one of pushing back at the questions.
A protesting girl advanced forthrightly and told the boys that the pig scramble was "a cruel and inhumane event that hurts the pigs."
"We don't hurt the pigs," the Oakdale boy said. "All we do is grab them."
"They're babies," the girl said.
"No, they're not," the boys said.
"They're supposed to be eaten," the Oakdale boy said. "The pigs are just going to go to the butchers."