A few weeks ago, a young woman who once worked with me at a newspaper in Philadelphia, and who is now working with NYClass, the animal rights group spearheading the ban against the carriage horses, messaged me and said she was working on something "very big, a game-changer. When you see it, you will not believe it, you will stop writing that the carriage drivers are good people and you will stop writing all that garbage about the animal rights movement in New York. It's big, very big, it will upend the City Council and touch off an uproar against the carriage trade, you'll see."
I kept this to myself, I wasn't sure what to make of it, and I didn't have any details about it. I was concerned, I suppose, my mind considered some possibilities. Maybe somebody was poisoning the horses in the stables, or hauling horse bodies off in the night and replacing them with fresh victims, maybe some maniac was beating them in their stables or feeding them rat-infested food.
Yesterday, I saw what she and NYClass had been working on, and I was shocked for sure, but not in the way she imagined. I was shocked in a different way, and disgusted. I felt as if the Three Stooges had entered the carriage horse controversy and taken over their massive and spectacularly unsuccessful campaign against the horses. NYClass, – "We Love Animals, And Hate People" – it turned out, was earmarking a half-million dollars to distribute shocking fliers to hundreds of thousands of city residents to get them to demand their City Council members vote to ban the horses. A four year investigation had uncovered three drivers who had, in turn, used the world "nigger," "faggot" and "whore" against people shouting at them and their horses.
Within minutes, one gay council member announcing he was switching his vote to support the horses, three others said they were thinking of doing the same thing. All over the city, startled residents and gays and lesbians and African-Americans and others said they found the pamphlets outrageous and offensive. The council members were flooded with protests, but not against the horses, against the fliers.
Larry, Moe and Curly had seized control of the carriage horse debate, they have struck again.
Last week, it occurred to me that the awful left-right struggles aside, an outbreak of rationality seemed to have occurred in the world. There was a Pope, of all people, addressing a message to me and all of the other people in the world pleading for something every single person reading this has known to be true for some time – climate change is threatening all of us. And then the Supreme Court reaffirmed the notion that in a free society, people can marry who they wish to marry. And then in the same week, that same court decided not to take health care away from seven million frightened people because of some technicality in the writing of the law.
Irrationality is not the province of one political philosophy or the other, it seems to be much more dangerous to Americans than the Ebola outbreak ever was. Maybe the wheel is finally turning and there is an outbreak of rationality. I see the New Yorker Magazine thinks so too. In New York City, the long and bitter campaign to ban the horses always seemed profoundly irrational to me, part of the fever of blindness and rage that seemed to hit our political system around the same time as the Internet and cable news.
Let's kill the horses in order to save them. Let's claim the horses are abused when they are not. Let's replace horses with big and ugly electric cars and claim we are helping the environment. Let's put hundreds of people out of work but never speak with them and visit them or hear their side. Let's leave truck and bicycles in the park but not the horses for whom the park was designed. Let's say the horses are unsafe when they are the safest transportation in the city's history.
I realized sometime last year that certain – not all – elements of the animal rights movement in New York have become hate groups, not a group promoting the welfare or rights of animals.
According to Wickipedia, a hate group is an organization or movement that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other designated sector of society.
Does it fit? For me, almost perfectly. It is the story of the campaign against the carriage trade, which has been marked by hostility and hatred, the dehumanization of human beings, and increasing acts of intimidation, harassment and violence.
Hate has become a political currency in America, it seems in this case to have little to do with the welfare of the horses and much to do with the disease of control, power, rage and victimization promoted and nourished online and in what sociologists call "bubbles of hate." These exist on blogs, and all over the country, on the "left" and on the "right." They are disconnecting people in the country from one another and making rational debate or dialogue impossible.
Sadly for animals, many elements in the animal rights spectrum have deteriorated.Disturbing, for the rest of us, because a powerful mayor has signed up.
This has been known to the carriage trade for some time, but since they have been portrayed as drunks, abuses, thieves and monsters, no one much has to pay much attention to them. The evolution of these groups in New York has escaped the attention of the city's news media, content mostly to transmit accusations about the carriage trade without doing much fact-checking or reporting. Very few journalists ever set foot in a carriage stable until Liam Neeson showed up to call the mayor a wussy.
Imagine if journalists were being harassed and attacked and marginalized in this way, or museum directors, or investment bankers or real estate developers?
The harassment, cruelty and persecution of the people in the carriage trade is a stain on the animal rights movement, the mayor, and the coalition of organizations seeking to banish the horses – the U.S. Humane Society and A.S.P.C.A in particular – who seem to have been taken over by the most extreme and enraged elements of the movement that says it is supporting the rights of animals.
Historians know that any campaign of real or cultural genocide begins with the dehumanization of it's victims. Jews, African-Americans, gays, lesbians, many women, and yes, carriage drivers are all too familiar with this awful practice. The targets are portrayed as immoral, less than human, they are dishonest, depraved, something other than decent and law abiding systems. Thus, no one need care what is happening to them or what will happen to them.
This kind of elitism is a hallmark of the campaign against the people in the carriage trade.
The mayor says their work is immoral, NYClass, the millionaire-real estate developer founded group working to destroy the carriage trade by showering politicians with money, has called the drivers "random people," thieves, abusers and torturers, alcoholics and drifters. It was only a matter of time before they got to accusing them of bigotrry. This week, the lowest yet, the lunatic and shockingly costly (for a non-profit animal rescue organization) advertising ($500,000 worth) campaign that claims carriage horse drivers utter racist, sexist and homophobic remarks freely and continuously.
But here, the strategists of NYClass have erred, and grievously. Exploiting bigotry and insensitivity to people who are experiencing so much of it, and so graphically and recently, is a huge blunder. In comparing the carriage horse controversy to Ferguson and Charleston, to the decades-old struggle for gay rights and same-sex marriage, to the epic struggles of women for equality is not only hateful, it is just plain stupid. And it has instantly backfired.
“It is a deeply offensive flier,” Central Bronx councilman Ritchie Torres, who is gay and a person of color, told the Capital News Service.
“Whatever your opinion on the horse carriage ban, it has nothing to do with homophobia or racism or sexism,” he said in a phone interview with Capital.
“The notion that NYCLASS exists to eradicate racism is absurd on its face. I resent the treatment of the serious problem of racism as a political prop."
Torres also said that the mailer was so offensive that it may move him to oppose the carriage ban.
The mailer shows pictures of injured horses lying prone in city streets and features block text that reads, “Horse carriage drivers are notorious for using hate speech against anyone who shows concern for horses. They make anti-gay, sexist and racist remarks freely. If this is how Horse carriage drivers treat people, just imagine how they treat horses.” Over the course of four years, animal rights activists secretly videotaped and recorded three drivers that they insulted and taunted and who allegedly made offensive remarks to them.
To accept this idea, you need to embrace several other ideas.
– The carriage drivers are committing suicide by insulting gays, lesbians, women and blacks in New York City at a time when the mayor is seeking to ban them.
– The carriage drivers are notorious and shout "nigger" and "faggot" and "whore" to innocent people walking past them across from the Plaza Hotel and all along Central Park, and no one has ever complained or protested. If they are notorious for this behavior, how is it that no one but the people working for NYClass have heard a word about it? And if this is how NYClass treats people, how well could they possibly be entrusted to decide the fate of the horses?
– Racists and homophobes cannot love animals and treat them well. Really?
– The horses should be banned and put in peril because some of the people who drive their carriages say offensive things to people who are saying offensive things to them (I have more than once heard the protesters claim that the drivers are murderers, torturers, thieves and vermin.) Check out this video of demonstrators who drove a child wanting a carriage ride to tears. I'm amazed the drivers have been as restrained as they are.
– NYClass, which has been insulting and harassing the carriage drivers for years now in the cruelest and crudest way, will help us fight insensitivity and discrimination about blacks, gays and women.
I wonder how many people contributed their hard-earned dollars to NYClass believing their money would go to help save animals rather than to hateful fliers and political contributions. I wonder how many people knew where their money would be going, and how it would be used?
We are at a crossroads, as the Native Peoples say. They say the message of the horses – and now the spiritual leader of much of the world says it too – is that we shall either learn to live in harmony or we shall perish together. It would be a travesty, for humanity, decency, animal rights and Mother Earth for the horses to be driven from New York City to make room for electric cars that would further clog Central Park's busy roads and cost $160,000 apiece.
Believe it or not, the campaign against the carriage horses points to rationality as well as hatred and abuse. Nobody is buying it. Two years ago, 64 per cent of all New Yorkers said they wanted the horses to stay in the city, as have all three newspapers and the city's business and labor communities. Two weeks ago, the figure was just about the same. No age, racial, ethnic or gender group favors a ban on the carriage horses, even after all the millions of dollars spent to drive them away and turn their stables over to developers.
This ugly flier is a death rattle, the effort to ban the carriage horses is failing, there are not even enough votes in the City Council to get it out of committee and bring it to a vote. In desperation, these trapped-in-their-own-hate- bubble people think gays, women and people of color are so ignorant they'll go for something that blatantly transparent. They might do better if they started speaking to other people than one another. But hate bubbles don't work that way.
In fact, in this long and loud campaign, there is no evidence that Curly, Mo, and Larry have changed one single mind. I guess rationality does live. And truth and facts still matter. As the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan said on the U.S. Senate floor, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.
So this then, becomes the test of a rational democratic government. Do we listen to the people, or do we ignore them?
Feel free, if you are so inclined, to write a letter to the mayor of New York and let him know what you think about the carriage ban, and his claim to be a leader of progressive politics in America: Mayor Bill deBlasio, New York City Hall, City Hall Park, N.Y., N.Y., 10007.
Related: The Most Offensive Ad In The History Of Animal Rights.