“F—k meat!” hollers a man riding a bicycle as he turns into the parking lot, near the Children's Museum of Richmond. Ashley Byrne appreciates the support, pausing during an interview on the sidewalk.
“We've gotten some response like that, which is nice,” she says.
Cars roll up to the stoplight in front of the McDonald's on West Broad Street, a block from the Boulevard, and inquire about the protest. Byrne, a senior campaigner with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), promptly explains the “Unhappy Meals” — “McCruelty: I'm hatin' it!” She alleges that chickens used for McNuggets often are scalded to death or mangled while alive when the throat-cutting machine misfires.
Mostly there's support, honking and waving to the PETA worker donning a chicken suit in the noonday sun. Byrne, an attractive blonde who's donned a bikini in other protests (from one chick to another,) says the protest is scheduled for an hour.
By protest standards it's a mild one. Stationed in front of the museum during a 30-year celebration of the Happy Meal — an official Ronald is inside, where there's air-conditioning — parents mostly avoid the small table featuring faux McNugget boxes. PETA's McCruelty campaign has been going for about a year, and as usual it's generated criticism that the animal rights group is going too far. Targeting a more impressionable set, Unhappy Meal boxes feature a knife-wielding Ronald, blood dripping from his fangs, and a gorged chicken on the side. Inside there are no McNuggets, but fake blood splatters and a ketchup packet filled with fake blood.
Almost no one approaches. Low turnout is the norm for protests in Richmond, says Byrne, who works out of PETA's Washington, D.C., office. A solitary teenager approaches unsolicited. A little red-headed girl who bears a striking resemblance to Ronald is ushered away quickly by her parents. Three police officers stand watch from the museum parking lot. A man who moments earlier was being chased by another man from the Boulevard bus stop approaches the table, apparently thinking that Byrne is handing out real McNuggets. No, Byrne explains.
There's a rooster call emanating from the street. Two teenagers look back, stretching their necks to see if the farm noises from their speakers (a special horn, perhaps?) is getting a response. Byrne seems pleased.
“Now there's someone who loves chickens,” she says.