Commentary: Activists against activism

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The splashy story in The Daily News focused on a plan by newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to outlaw the operation of horse-drawn carriages in the city’s famed Central Park.

But the headline in the newspaper wasn’t about the controversial proposal. Instead it was about the pushback from the drivers about to lose their jobs: “NYC horse carriage drivers seek help from anti-animal rights consulting group.”

According to the story, The Cavalry Group, a lobbying and advocacy organization, launched a social media campaign targeting De Blasio for supporting legislation that would outlaw the carriage rides.

As if that’s the controversy, not the attempt to ban a practice that has been going on for more than a century.

Even the New York Post, which loves controversy, only ran a tame story noting that, “When it comes to banning horse carriages, New Yorkers say nay” (get it?) — by a margin of 2 to 1, according to a survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

So the mayor proposes a controversial ban on horse-drawn carriages, (and replacing them with electric cars, by the way — how romantic), a move that’s opposed by the majority of city residents, yet the “news” is that the drivers hired a “radical group” to support their cause?

Granted, the Cavalry campaign hasn’t pulled any punches. “They used to hang horse thieves. Now they elect them mayor!” a recent tweet from the group stated.

But why is it wrong for a group to launch an aggressive campaign to save people’s jobs?

Collateral damage

As The Cavalry Groups’ website noted, “Horse-drawn carriages have long served as an iconic attraction for many residents and visitors to the Big Apple.”

(Slight correction, guys: Having lived in Manhattan once upon a time, I can assure you that residents there do not ride in the carriages; it’s strictly a tourist attraction. Other than that, right on.)

The messaging tried to portray Hizzoner’s proposal as “another example of animal rights activists run wild.” The group’s statement noted that “the pending ban will destroy several, generations-old, family carriage businesses. To radical animal rights advocates and leftists like De Blasio, these businesses are necessary collateral damage in their quest to re-order our lives.”

Over the top? Sure. Highly inappropriate? Not at all.

Truth is, the horses that are trained to pull carriages don’t have it all that bad. Other than sucking on traffic fumes — which all New York City pedestrians, human or equestrian, have to endure — they live a pretty comfy existence for a work animal. They certainly aren’t exposed to the hazards and potential danger that police horses have to confront, and nobody’s demanding that those animals be put out to pasture.

But animal rights groups aren’t dissuaded.

Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president, said that, “It’s a very bad selection by the carriage horse drivers to associate with a group of zealots that oppose the most basic animal welfare standards.”

Hey, when it comes to zealots, it takes one to know one.

Granted, the Calvary Group messaging goes on and on about the horses’ “pampered existence” and how they work “no more than 9 hours per day under the care from trained equestrian experts.”

Yeah, the guys who dress up in second-hand top hats and tails are real experts — in hustling everyone wandering by their stations in the park.

The real activists in this scenario aren’t a bunch of PR people from the Midwest, who obviously are working from the standard-issue media relations playbook, but the animal activists, who have been making longstanding demands to stop the carriage business, based on the deaths of two horses in 2006 and 2007, which occurred in traffic accidents.

Of course, hundreds of people get killed in traffic accidents in New York City every year, but the taxis and trucks and cars responsible for all that carnage can’t be banned, so that statistic gets ignored.

As usual, the really radical part of this story is the utter lack of concern by the activist community for the people who would be affected by the proposed ban. They’re too busy pursuing their extremist agenda to care about anyone else.

Especially someone who might be earning a living working with and caring for animals.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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NYC  |  January, 23, 2014 at 07:05 PM

"It's a very bad selection for the carriage horse drivers to associate with a group of zealots that oppose the most basic animal welfare standards." Yes, Wayne. Your choice of associations has always been exemplary. Michael Vick, J.P. Goodwin, Arthur E. Benjamin, Matt Prescott, Paul Irwin, David Wills, and many more. Pacelle is still miffed that the Cavalry Group opposed Missouri's Prop B. So did most of the animal welfare community in Missouri. Same with the North Dakota law he whines about. He really loathes the Cavalry Group because they have documented HSUS's violations of the lobbying regulations for tax-exempt charities.

Illinois  |  January, 25, 2014 at 02:13 PM

Yes I would say that "...the guys who dress up in second-hand top hats and tails are real experts — in hustling everyone wandering by their stations in the park." are real experts in the care of their animals and in managing their free enterprise businesses. I certainly don't see why you think that your superior attitude should allow you to look down your nose at these hard working honest people. As for 2 horses dieing in accidents, that is tragic, but if you are going to stop all activities where an animal has an accident then you will have to stop racing, horse shows, trail-riding and just plain living. Two horse deaths in how many years and how many horses? Perhaps Mr. Murphy should start writing for HSUS.

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