SYCAMORE – In a race between a tortoise and a hare, everyone knows the tortoise wins – at least according to the fable.
But when the race is a political campaign, all bets are off.
The Midwest Museum of Natural History and TAILS Humane Society have partnered to present an educational program for elementary schoolchildren patterned after the presidential election. Each organization put up a live animal “candidate” – Hercules the sulcata tortoise from the museum and Athena the rabbit from TAILS – who will campaign at local schools.
“Politics get so nasty sometimes. It’s nice to have an upbeat, light, whimsical, fun thing to do around an election, and to remind people the freedom we have to choose is an incredible gift,” said Beth Drake, executive director of TAILS.
The race began as a private joke at the museum, Executive Director Molly Trickey said. Staff members put a poster in the window promoting Hercules, a popular museum resident, for president. People began asking about the poster, and Trickey realized it could become a fun project.
“For Hercules to run, he needed an opponent. The natural opponent for a tortoise is a hare,” she said.
So she called Drake, who said she was only mad that she hadn’t thought of the idea first.
The two reached out to Sycamore schools, and classes at North, North Grove, West and Southeast elementary schools and the International Montessori Academy of Sycamore volunteered to participate.
Participating teachers have an age-appropriate classroom curriculum to teach children about the election process, using Hercules and Athena to illustrate concepts. As Election Day nears, the candidates will visit participating classes to meet students and “answer” questions with the help of their handlers. On Nov. 6, the schools will have rallies in which the candidates will present “closing remarks” and the winner will be announced.
The two candidates are not meant to represent Republicans and Democrats, Trickey and Drake said. Their campaign platforms are developed based on characteristics of their species, not on any political party.
Athena, Drake said, cares about empowering females, especially mothers, because rabbits are famed for their propensity to procreate. She also wants to make all creatures feel safe from predators at all times.
Ten-year-old Hercules, who may have 100 years or more left in his life, is running on a health care platform, Trickey said.
Both handlers said the campaign will be a clean one, with no smear tactics or personal attacks, although they did joke about Hercules’ birthplace (sulcata tortoises are native to Africa, but Trickey said Hercules has proof he was born in the United States) and the potential for skeletons in Athena’s closet (“Between a rabbit and a tortoise, if one of them has a sordid past, it’s going to be the rabbit,” Drake joked).
The handlers are also brushing up on their knowledge of the electoral system, to be better prepared to answer children’s questions. Trickey said she learned a lot just researching the teacher curriculum, while Drake joked that if kids ask a question she can’t answer, she can distract them with an offer to pet the bunny.