Friday, around 3:30 p.m., a young farmer in Glenville, N.Y. named Joshua Rockwood wrote a new chapter in the debate over the future of animals in our world. In less than a week he shocked the animal world; he achieved his goal to raise $50,000 online for legal and bond fees to defend himself against charges that he failed to give his cows and pigs and dogs and horses adequate food, water and shelter on a bitter day in one of the coldest winters in American history.
Rockwood's lightning crowdsourcing campaign – it drew support from every part of the country – has enormous implications for the movement to keep animals in our world, from the New York Carriage horses to the circuses and for almost everyone who lives or works with an animal. It could be a wake-up call for feckless politicians, and may set a new precedent for farmers. It could inspire them and others seeking to curb the runaway and increasingly abusive tactics of the movement that claims to represent the rights of animals.
Should government have this much power to invade and disrupt our lives and authorize surveillance of our homes and work and seize property just because people have animals?
This victory could also offer a new path to raise funds for the growing number of legal conflicts over animals in every part of the country. Farmers and other people fighting for their way of life and animals are often at a disadvantage financially. Joshua Rockwood evened the odds considerably this week.
I am not a political person. But what happened to Rockwood was, to me, an outrage. Social media has provided many frustrated people with a long-sought way to respond. Almost every farmer in the country has a similar tale to tell. Now, they may muster the strength and means to share their stories and help each other.
The tragedy of the modern animal rights movement – for animals and people both – is that it has pitted itself against the very people who live with and love animals – farmers, the agricultural world, animal lovers, carriage horse drivers, pony ride operators, researchers, people with working dogs, horses they ride, even the owners of circuses and farmers markets. Animals in need of protection have been left squarely in the middle of a deepening conflict between people who have pets and people who have animals, and the animals of the world have not been made safer as a result of this often cruel and disturbing conflict. Animals are disappearing at an unprecedented rate.
Animal rights and human rights go hand in hand, one cannot survive without the other. Rockwood's victory is about making sure that people have rights as well as their animals. He cares for his animals, and he cares for people. He is immensely popular and respected.
No animal rights or welfare movement can possibly succeed in such an extreme and hostile a way as the animal rights movement has come to adopt. For farmers and animal lovers, social media has created a new paradigm, a new social awakening. It has been clear for some time that we need a new movement to speak on behalf of the animal world, one that will fight to keep the carriage horses in New York, not to take them away; a movement that will help farmers like Joshua Rockwood keep his farm, not force him out of it.
It is wrong and almost tragically short-sighted to criminalize the life of the farm.
It is, in fact, time for a wiser and more mystical understanding of animals, and Joshua Rockwood may just have helped advance this idea, and he is not alone. So has the Blue-Star Equiculture farm in Palmer, Mass. There is a new movement emerging to speak on behalf of animals and people, to support both, it is very different.
Rockwood's arrest has enraged small family farmers and animal lovers all over the country. They have rallied around him in both emotional and material ways. The number of his supporters seems to grow by the minute. Tuesday, nearly 300 farmers from as far away as Maine and Ohio and Vermont gathered at the Glenville Town Court to stand silently with Rockwood and support him.
Joshua Rockwood is a 36-year-old CSA farmer who left his work in construction after changes in his nutrition may have saved him from a devastating illness. He leased a 90-acre farm and resolved to sell healthy food to people who bought shares in his new farm. A new and inexperienced farmer, Rockwood was not prepared for the brutal winter that descended on the Northeast. Neither was anyone else.
He was almost overwhelmed, as were so many older farmers. His water tanks froze, his streams iced over, and he struggled – successfully – to keep his animals alive and healthy. Despite the testimony of two veterinarians that his animals were well cared for, Rockwood was arrested, charged with 13 counts of animal abuse and neglect and his three horses and dog were seized and taken away.
At first, he despaired, he thought he would lose his farm and his dream. He faced many thousands of dollars in legal fees and even more in bond fees required to get his horses back from a rescue farm where they had been taken against his will. He decided to fight for his farm and his way of life. And for his horses. Now, he will have the money to defend himself, and hopefully, get back the animals he loves.
Many of the thousands of farmers whose water systems froze this winter – mine did – and many horse and dog and other animal lovers recognized that the police could just as easily come for them one day. Notions of secret informers, of abuse and the appropriation of property have been arbitrarily expanded beyond any rationale or reason – or justice. This conflict has been heightened by the campaign to ban the New York Carriage Horses, who are also drawing enormous support from around the country, and have faced cruel and continuous harassment from people who call themselves animal rights activists in New York.
At stake is the very future of animals like horses and other domesticated animals – ponies, elephants – who face extinction of they lose their purpose and place among people. Rockwood's dilemma – and that of the carriage horses – is that the legal and political system has lost any understanding of the difference between animals and pets. The people who speak for animals seem to know nothing about them. In New York, they have also tried to demonize the work of animals. They claim the carriage drivers are abusers as well, and the charges have been proven to be just as unfounded.
Rockwood is challenging the process that treated him in this way and has driven many farmers from their farms and frightened away and discouraged others. I think farmers are learning – they surely got a lesson this week – what a powerful tool social media can be to address their fears and support one another. I believe they have found a way to make their voices heard. I used to joke that no farmer ever goes on Facebook. That is no longer true.
It is a sad thing thatt the rights of animals have in recent years been advanced over the rights of people. We demand that animals be given perfect lives, even though that is beyond the reach of human beings. Animals are our partners, not our wards. One cannot have rights without the other, you cannot love animals and hate people. Joshua Rockwood is standing in his truth.
The farmers who came to support Rockwood were soft-spoken, they stood silently in the courtroom and listened. Afterwards, they spoke, and their motto seemed to be, expressed again and again to Joshua and online and to me and others; stand strong, it could have been me.
In America, small farmers have long been embattled, I think they will rejoice tonight. They say they want a revolution, it might well have begun in Glenville, N.Y.
To those many people reading this who rushed to support Joshua, I thank you, I know he is grateful as well.