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Protest burnout is real. Sasha Zemmel wants St. Louisans to stay engaged

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Sasha Zemmel, 32, of St. Louis, skips up Kingshighway in St. Louis while beating a drum on June 24 during a demonstration in favor of abortion access. Thousands marched throughout the country after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

After more than 80 years, the St. Louis-based Moolah Shrine Circus is ending its use of elephants. The decision was framed as a retirement, but the announcement followed months of sustained protests by the St. Louis chapter of Direct Action Everywhere.

Among those activists is Sasha Zemmel, who has been organizing for both human and animal rights since 2016.

On Dec. 21, 2022, Zemmel was arrested and charged with trespassing at one of the circus’ meetings as part of the ongoing protests. Moolah Shriners spokesperson Dennis Burkholder told St. Louis on the Air that Zemmel and other protesters had been asked multiple times not to trespass at their building, and that the disruption on Dec. 21 was the third time they had done so.

Avery Lea Rogers
St. Louis Public Radio
Sasha Zemmel is an organizer for We Are The People STL and the St. Louis chapter of Direct Action Everywhere.

Moolah Shriners potentate Robby Dirkers insisted that the decision to retire the elephants had nothing to do with the protests — the change, he said, was made five years ago as part of a conversation during a Moolah Shriners meeting, one that they didn’t feel the need to share externally. Dirkers declined to comment on assertions from protesters that they were assaulted by Shriners at an earlier demonstration.

Zemmel said that what the Moolah Shriners now claim is a coincidence is actually the product of sustained activism. The outcome is the same: The elephants are out of the circus. Zemmel calls that a win.

The pressure campaign started with “letters and emails,” Zemmel said, in hopes of resolving the issue with communication.

Despite the potential arrests protesters face, Zemmel thinks it is important to keep organizing disruptive demonstrations — because they create a conversation, and “that is how change begins.”

“I think [it] says a lot to people in power when we are willing to risk our freedom, risk our safety, get beat up and get arrested for an issue. That's when you know something's wrong.”

Related Event
What: We Are the People STL — March for the People
When: Noon Jan. 22
Where: Downtown St. Louis. Meeting point: Aloe Plaza (across from Union Station)

Hear the entire conversation by listening to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Protest burnout is real. Sasha Zemmel wants St. Louisans to stay engaged

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Avery is the Production Assistant for "St. Louis On The Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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