Ban: To prohibit, forbid, or bar. To curse, execrate.
Imagine for a moment what it might mean to you to be banned. I am an author, and I know what it means to writers to be banned, dictators and ignorant school boards ban books all of the time. In our world, most of the people who are banned are banished by dictators and authoritarian governments. In democratic societies it is rare, almost unheard of for people or entire industries to be banned.
Imagine also if you are the son or granddaughter of good and hard-working people who fled wars and oppressive governments to come to America and live in peace and provide good lives for their families, education for their children. Some – especially those whose families had been working with horses for centuries – came to the New York City stables, to work with the big horses that rode people through Central Park. They spent years mucking out stalls, taking people on rides, hauling hay and getting licenses and medallions to pass on to their children and grand-children. They lived this dream for more than 150 years, working hard, earning a good living, sending their children to college, loving their lives and their work.
This changed when a millionaire real estate developer – never elected or appointed to a government position – became obsessed with the idea that it was cruel for horses to work in the city and devoted a large portion of his fortune – well over a million dollars, by most accounts – to setting up blogs and websites, hiring staffers and media experts, and donating so much money to political candidates that he is credited with winning the election for the city's new mayor.
The millionaire, who generally refuses to give interviews or talk to reporters unless he can approve the questions in advance, spent more than a half-million dollars developing a prototype vintage electric car – he calls it a "cruelty-free" car – to replace the horses once they are banished to slaughterhouses or rescue farms in order to be saved from being safe, healthy and well-cared for.
The story is filled with irony. The new mayor, the son of immigrants himself, is considered a great hope for America's political progressives. He speaks often of helping the poor and the downtrodden, not just the wealthy. He has never owned a dog or a cat, let alone a horse.
He promised the millionaire at several fund-raisers that if he were elected, he would ban the horses from New York, he said it would be his most urgent priority.
The millionaire and his followers – the new mayor as well – have accused the drivers of abusing the horses, of starving them, of mistreating them and housing them in filthy and crowded and unsafe conditions. These accusations were found again and again to be false, the horses are inspected regularly by platoons of veterinarians and inspectors – no driver or owner was ever accused of these crimes, but they were repeated so often and so loudly they became widely known, the millionaire raised even more money ever time he made them.
The mayor met with enormous opposition to his proposed horse ban – more than 66 per cent of his constituents opposed it, as did all three of the city's newspaper editorial boards – but he announced that did not matter, he would pursue it until it was enacted. He refuses to see the horses, talk to the carriage trade owners, meet with the drivers. He promised to ban them, he said, he was elected to do that, and he will do that as soon as he can get enough votes in the City Council. He would not, he said, speak to the drivers or visit the stables. There is, he says, no point.
The people in the carriage trade, reeling from years of attacks, accusations, protests and demonstrations, are tired and frightened. They are fighting for their lives now, and for their way of life. The wonderful experiment in American democracy that their grandparents sought and found has become a nightmare for them. The same process that gave their grandparents so much security and opportunity is threatening to destroy them.
They have broken no laws, committed no crimes, yet the government of the city of New York and a number of well-funded organizations that call themselves supporters of animal rights are determined to ban them, to prohibit them, to forbid and bar them from their lives and their work. To curse and execrate them.
For years now, the people in the carriage trade have been reviled and insulted, libeled and slandered, I believe, accused of awful crimes against animals, against people. None of these accusations have been proven, affirmed by the police or legal system or validated by the five separate agencies that regulate the carriage trade. The city's media, the most powerful in the world, repeats these unproven accusations over and over again, never bothering to check if they are true or giving the people in the carriage trade a chance to respond.
To understand this, you need to understand that It is essential to dehumanize someone before they can be banned. How else can it ever be justified?
To be banned is to be dehumanized, to be declared a non-person, to be told that you do not exist, are not worthy of being a citizen, are not worth the dignity of being spoken to or negotiated with, are not worth the consideration of a moral human, or perhaps a human being with a lot of money. You do not even choose your own work – the mayor says the carriage drivers will be given vintage electric cards to drive instead of the horses, whether they like it or not.
To be banned is to be denied even the most basic elements of citizenship: due process, a discussion, a hearing, a trial. You need not do any wrong or commit any crime. You are simply made to disappear from public life. You are no longer worthy of being treated like a human being.
I have a dream, a vision, I think it comes from the horses. In it, the Grand Army Of The Republic entrance to Central Park is filled one morning with the big horses, they have gathered in mass in the early morning to block traffic, to protest the mayor's treatment of them, to speak up against the many false accusations made against them. To affirm their own dignity and right to exist. They have paralyzed much of the Manhattan, the streets are filled with cars, the park is thronged with people coming to see the horses, to hear their message, to listen to the owners and drivers give voice to the injustice being done against them.
In my dream, the beautiful square is suddenly silent as the many thousands of people and reporters strain to hear the song that is being sung by the carriage drivers, linked arm in arm, swaying back and forth as they sing to the rhythms of the famous anthem "We Shall Overcome," sung so often by other people who struggled against injustice, against being banned and dehumanized by political leaders who abused their power. For this story is about rights, is it not? The right to exist in peace. The right to not be banned without cause or process.
The protesters and demonstrators seeking to ban the horses from the city came to the park this morning and chanted their taunts and songs, but the drivers were undeterred and filled the park with their song, it drowned out the protesters, echoed down the concrete canyons of Manhattan, it transfixed the crowds, it touched the hearts and minds of the people who heard it. Many of the people in the crowd joined in. Even the cynical reporters were touched, moved nearly to tears.
It was poignant and powerful, the horses lined up along the entrance to the park seemed mesmerized by it, whinnying softly to one another. This is the song:
1. "We shall not be banned,
we shall not be banned,
We shall not be banned some day
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe,
We shall not be banned some day.
3. We'll walk hand in hand,
we'll walk hand in hand,
we'll walk hand in hand some day.
We shall all be free,
we shall all be free,
we shall all be free some day.
We are not alone,
we are not alone,
we are not alone some day.
6. The whole wide world around,
The whole wide world around,
The whole wide world around some day.
7. We shall not be banned,
we shall not be banned,
We shall not be banned some day.
It is an awful and cruel thing to be banned, especially by one's own government, and without just cause. It is perhaps an even more powerful thing to stand in the light and raises your voices to the light and tell the world that you will not be banned this day or any other. I hope this vision comes true one day.
My new e-book, "Who Speaks For The Carriage Horses: The Future Of Animals In Our World," is now available for $3.99 everywhere e-books are sold. A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the New York Carriage Drivers.