That Day I Changed My Mind

So I did a thing yesterday, peeps. I’d been wanting to do it for a while, but even as a vegan, I was kind of in two minds about it. I have to admit, I had to figure it out for myself.

I attended an action to protest the use of horses pulling carriages for tourists in Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario. The reason I was in two minds is because I love horses and horse-back riding. I always have, even as a child. I always wanted to own a horse so I could leap nimbly onto his back, lean into his strength and ride, swiftly and smoothly, across fields and meadows. I wanted to fly over country fences, turn corners perfectly on the inside leg, feel the majesty beneath me, and bond with a beautiful animal spirit in the process.

Yeah I watched a lot of Disney.

I was in two minds because I watched a family member battle a grievous disease by taking horseback riding lessons, which helped strengthen her, calm her, and heal her simply by being able to connect with the lovely soul of a training horse; by learning how to care for it as well as ride it, she grew stronger and more capable to handle tasks elsewhere.

Obviously, I had a deep respect as well as love for these amazing creatures. So why would I want to abolish horse-carriage rides, remove the opportunity for others to enjoy and benefit from horses too?

I needed to find out what all the hullabaloo was about.

(NB: I’m now vegan for 3 years, but admittedly at 59, it obviously took most of my life to get there, despite the fact that I am and always have been an animal lover. I don’t really know why it took so long, but all this means is that I do not have the right to judge someone else for being slow to awaken, even though I often do. #sorrynotsorry see that post here.)

We did some marching, made a lot of noise on a quiet, Sunday afternoon, waved our signs, signaled our thrill when passers-by supported us, and generally took the small, quaint town by storm. Not gonna lie, it was fun.

not sure who took the pic, but this is the group of activists I marched with in NOTL on Sunday, with Adam Stirr in the lead with the megaphone.

People were pissed, man! And I kinda understood why: here they were for a holiday stop after a harrowing spring with covid19 dogging everyone’s heels. All they wanted to do was eat over-priced, overrated meals, shop in over-full stores with over-inflated rents, flash over-used credit cards around, and just generally enjoy a long over-due break from every day life, letting over-worked horses drive their over-weight asses around in over-the-top record heat….wait….what was that?

You heard me.

Ok, so why exactly were they pissed we were there? Because we interrupted their day. We had the unmitigated gaul to bring an injustice into the forefront of their day out. We ripped the air of peace and serenity like a tornado through a spider’s web, and it was not well received by many.

I was able to hear some of the comments, some of them I can actually print here because they are PG rated. Oh who the hell am I kidding? We were told to fuck off; suck a dick; go home; get a job (how does protesting indicate we are unemployed?); get out of THEIR town (who owns NOTL?); and other remarks stated under breath as they snuck by us.

I don’t think they understood, or maybe they’d forgotten, civil disobedience is one of our Charter Rights. Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows all citizens to gather in public and protest peacefully (yes even vociferously) in an effort to educate the public about issues which some feel need to be addressed and even changed. It is our right – not a privilege – a right to do so on any given day of the week. And it is how women got the vote in 1918 in Canada; it is how desegregation came about in 1954 in the U.S.; it is how changes were made by Martin Luther King, Jr.s March on Washington in 1963 in support of racial equality; it is how the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

Sorry, NOTL, but we the citizens are allowed to go anywhere in Canada and make noise for issues we feel need to be changed. In this case, it was for the injustices perpetrated on animals in our society: specifically horses.

The horse drawn carriage rides are a commercial nod towards the old days of horse labour in our society and are publicized to reflect the old-fashioned, quaint aura of Old Town in NOTL. Many cities use these types of enterprises for tours, complete with period clothing and vernacular. It’s charming and appealing to be driven around in style, gandering at the architecture and local sights, and makes one feel a little bit better than the mere peons on foot. It’s an ego boost.

But it comes at what cost to the horse? Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is animals, and horses specifically to this situation, are considered property. A commodity to be used by its owner as needed. They are just another tool to making money: like a computer, a car, or a pen – and as such can be disposed of by its owner as they see fit once they are no longer profitable. Most cities have minimal animal protection guidelines, especially for carriage horses, which are often not enforced due to lack of knowledge. Care for the horses is reliant upon the owner of the company, and with the Ag Gag Bill 156 looming, that will soon be something we can’t monitor. In the case of NOTL, the animals home treatment is not in question. The Sentineal family is well known in the community for their care of horses, but that’s not the issue here, which from the comments I heard Sunday, is what people don’t understand.

How this particular business cares for their horses in not in question. It’s the fact that they are put to work pulling carriages in 30 plus degree heat and below zero temps for up to 9 hours at a time; they pull carriages between erratic and dangerous traffic, breathing in car and truck exhaust, hearing motorcycles gunning their engines, people honking horns, dodging pedestrians blindly crowding cross walks. They have little respite in summer from the broiling Ontario sun and heated tarmac. Many of the horses are slaughter house rescues, which means they were already dumped by some previous owner after their use had finished and may suffer from other health concerns related to that previous industry. This is how the business justifies their actions. They “saved” these horses from the slaughterhouse and gave them a great life pulling fat-assed tourists around in heat and humidity so powerful we put weather warnings out for the general public because it’s so dangerous!

Other cities have, in the last few years, banned horse-drawn carriages and many incidents have been publicized about horses collapsing and dying due to mistreatment, ill health or weather. These cities have switched to electric carriages: a clean, green version of the horse-drawn carriage, not governed by any vague and unenforced welfare guidelines, not affecting any living being negatively, yet just as productive and effective.

So now that I have attended one of these actions, I shall be going back. I mean, my blog is all well and good, but with only a few followers, it’s not going to make any big dent in public education about animal rights. Attending a protest will cause disruption, will cause agitation (that’s why they used to call protesters ‘agitators’ back in Susan B. Anthony’s day). Disruption and agitation is how we catch people’s attention. It’s how we can get people to think, even just a little, about the situation. Just like I did. And maybe, we can help a few others see the truth about horse-drawn carriage rides, animal entertainment exhibits, wild animal incarceration, and factory farming. Maybe we can help them change.

Just like I did.




Society Needs Real Change

Once upon a time, there was a princess. She didn’t know she was a princess, she didn’t feel like a princess, she didn’t live in a castle like a princess, she didn’t have a crown like a princess, but she was a princess, all because she was white.

It’s a sad truth in our world: the lighter the skin, the more accepted you are. The darker the skin, the more apt you will be to be judged and discriminated against. 

I watched a video last night: Human Zoos: America’s Forgotten Scientific History of Racism  which you can watch here  

It was a fascinating exploration of the American interpretation of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, using Indigenous peoples of North America, South America, Africa, Asia – basically anyone of colour – as side show and zoo exhibits, usually displayed in their “natural habitat” and expounding on the suggestion they may be the missing link between humans and apes.

I recommend you watch it. It’s an eye opener. 

Indigenous people were literally taken from their homes across the sea, and placed in zoos within enclosures designed to mimic their natural homes, and were observed by day trippers while living and functioning day to day so white people could study and be entertained by their primitive “antics”. I kid you not. They were expected to live as if they were in their normal environment, ignoring the white people gawking at them.

All the while, segregation and slavery was still a thing all over the U.S., indeed the world, where slaves were treated like livestock, sometimes worse than livestock, and worked to build the country we recognize as the United States of America today, for no compensation and a whole lot of pain and terror.

Original Artwork by Nicholas Kersteman, copyright 2020

All over the world, beauty is considered skindeep. The fairer the skin, the more beautiful and acceptable you are. In India, advertisements are posted everywhere for the latest cream or procedure to lighten the skin. Here, the darker skin you have, the lower you are on the ruler of hierarchy, and the less standing you have. 

Here in North America, to be white is to be protected from most inequalities within our system. Simply a glance can determine whether you are judged decent or criminal; educated or unlearned; gainfully employed or loafing around; legitimate revolutionary or mindless thug. Those of us who are white don’t realize this because we live in our little bubble of respectability and never experience anything else. Many of us “feel” for our black brothers and sisters and denounce the racist behaviours we see and hear every day but we don’t really get it because we have never lived it.  

Since desegregation, protests and demonstrations have dotted our cities, led by such peace-mongering greats as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and other notable group efforts, such as the Woolworth Sit-ins and the Freedom Riders  and the March on Washington (MLK Jr), making enough noise to trigger changes to the constitution and laws of the country, and signalling small victories to people of colour everywhere. It didn’t happen without fatalities either – although MLK Jr was against any form of violence – others were not, and sadly, resultant riots and deaths made headlines too.

Not to dismiss the struggles of our black brethren, or our Indigenous citizens, or belabour the history – you can read about it all over the internet – here I wanted to expound on my personal feelings and the desperate need for change in our world. I was going to say “in our society” but it’s really a worldwide issue.

I started this post off about a white princess – and in light of recent events and in my research and reading, I have discovered that is how I have lived. As a white princess, safe in my ivory tower from all the negative connotations a darker skin tone would have affixed on me. Notwithstanding my own struggles as a woman, as a domestic abuse survivor, as a mental health sufferer, I have still lived better than the other half of our society. How much harder would my personal struggles have been if I had been black or brown? Likely 1000 times harder – if not insurmountable.

These are the things I am realizing now, in the wake of George Floyd  in Minneapolis. I was raised to be non-racist, and I can proudly say I do not judge on skin colour or ethnicity, nor do my children, and I thought most of the people I have known through my lifetime were the same. But now I realize this is not the case. Those subtle and sometimes not so subtle racist jokes (a white guy, a black guy, and a Hispanic guy walk into a bar…) They’re out there; you’ve heard them; you’ve chuckled – maybe uncomfortably – at them too, I bet. I know I have. Well guess what peeps, THAT’S RACISM. That’s the impetus that keeps racism alive and well even within communities that think themselves inclusive. And when we giggle uncertainly at those jokes we are perpetuating the very thing that allows authorities to put a knee to a black man’s neck for a non-violent infraction of the law, but allows a white woman to only do community service for bribing universities for acceptance into an elite position for her child. 

Yes, all lives matter: all people of colour, all whites, all women, all disabled, all animals, all police, all doctors, nurses, all children, yes we all matter. No one is saying with #blacklivesmatter that other lives don’t matter. It’s just that black and coloured lives are the ones targeted as less-than, potential troublemakers, thiefs, rapists, baby abandoners, layabouts. Black lives are being snuffed out with no thought to consequences by police in takedowns; they are being disrespected in stores; they are not being hired when a white person is available; we are more frightened seeing a black man walk down a dark street than a white man; we assume the black woman with six kids is on welfare; we assume the black youth with baggy pants is selling drugs. We ask ethnic people “where they are from” and some rude people tell them “go back to where you came from”. It happens all the time. But not to me, because I’m a white princess. Technically, I have less right to be here in this country than any Indigenous person, because my parents were first generation immigrants – but guess what? No one can tell because I’M WHITE!  That doesn’t even make sense because if the Indigenous were the First People’s, then it stands to reason all white people are interlopers! Even our racism is illogical!

It’s ASSUMED that I am law abiding, educated, responsible, loving, and financially . stable because I have the right skin colour.

And THIS is what I wanted to say.

Racism is alive and well, and we need to change it – now and forever. No more small steps, no more gradual adjustments. We need to jump in feet first and blow the naysayers out of the water. We need to speak up – loudly – when we witness an injustice. Splash that shit all over social media and call out the fuckers who insist on making this world a nasty, evil place to live. We need to call out those racist jokes, stop laughing, and help move the right attitude forward.

Because quite frankly, this princess has a lot of room in her ivory tower for all people of all colours and ethnicities and abilities and no room at all for those who insist on keeping society in the dark ages, gawking in fear and wonderment at our differences and putting up fencing which keeps us all apart. We are all living precariously right now on this earth. We are all in danger of eliminating ourselves and our world, and the only way we can save ourselves is to pull together as one team, one race, one family.

Erase Racism. Forever.