After an eight-year campaign on the streets, at City Hall and on the big screen, activists in New York City are one giant step closer to achieving their goal of ending horse-drawn carriage rides in the congested streets of midtown Manhattan, writes activist and film producer Donny Moss on Their Turn.
However, as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio prepares to introduce a bill on Monday to prohibit the city from renewing horse-drawn carriage licenses starting in mid-2016, he is also preparing to weather the icy reception by labor unions. His proposed bill also contains a provision to prevent the horses from being slaughtered and offers several job-saving provisions, including free green taxi medallions (value: $6,000) for horse-drawn carriage drivers.
“About 350 workers are employed by the carriage industry, which is represented by the Teamsters Local 553, and the city’s labor leaders have signaled opposition to the ban,” the new Mayor is reminded by the Wall Street Journal.
“We shouldn’t be doing things to hurt an industry,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents some of the city’s largest labor unions
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Mayor de Blasio also faces opposition on the City Council, where most of the 51 members are allied with labor and remain skeptical, though largely undecided, about the bill.
“I don’t want animals being abused,” said Jumaane Williams, a Democrat from Brooklyn. “But most of my opposition comes to making sure the jobs are preserved.”
Former Mayor Bloomberg declared in December 2011, “Carriage horses have traditionally been a part of New York City. The tourists love them, and we’ve used from time immemorial, animals to pull things.”
Does the fact that an abusive activity is called a “tradition,” justify animal cruelty? A New York Times article on December 7, 2011, entitled, "Push to Ban New York Carriage Horses Gains Steam," discusses how animal-rights advocates were growing support for legislation to ban horse-drawn carriages.
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In speaking with Their Turn of the efforts of passionate activists to end a “tradition” that places horses nose-to-tailpipe in hazardous traffic, Moss credits Elizabeth Forel, a veteran animal rights activist in NYC, and the relentless efforts of the group she founded in 2006-- the Coaliton to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages--with leading to a change in the public discourse.
“These slow-moving dangerous and flimsy conveyances do not belong in the heavily congested streets of NYC in 2014,” Elizabeth Forel testified at a public forum in New York City on January 17, held by New York State Senator Tony Avella. “Horses are prey animals and are predictably unpredictable – they spook easily and can bolt into traffic causing mayhem. These sensitive animals become unwitting weapons who can kill or injure themselves or a passersby.
“Since 2006, we have documentation for 34 accidents but we are convinced that many more have occurred. The law does not require that drivers report an accident; does not require the ASPCA to reveal them to the public; and does not require the NYPD to even make a report at the scene of an accident. But the public is not stupid," Forel added. “Since 2006, every online poll taken has revealed that between 75 and 80 percent of respondents want a ban of horse-drawn carriages.”
Moss also hails another animal rights group, NY-CLASS, formed in 2008, for lobbying NYC lawmakers for the past several years in support of a horse-drawn carriage ban, and proposing an alternative to the carriages – electric vintage cars – to address objections by lawmakers that a ban would eliminate jobs. Mayor de Blasio’s bill would allow carriage drivers to pursue this alternative, if they are interested.
And, over the years, PETA has raised awareness of the plight of NYC’s carriage horses through provocative campaigns, celebrity spokespeople and protests, Moss reminds us.
After being educated about the issue during his recent bid for Mayor, Bill de Blasio made a campaign promise to ban “inhumane” and “unsafe” horse-drawn carriages from NYC streets. Since no good deed goes unpunished, the new Mayor is taking a beating from much of the media as it reports the doom and gloom of the loss of an "industry,” and a public deprivation of a “tradition.”
In a December 3 Op-ed on Their Turn, Donny Moss writes, “The three major NYC newspapers (NY Times, Post, Daily News) are not only compromising their journalist integrity by consistently publishing biased news stories in support of the horse-drawn carriage trade, but they are also misrepresenting advocacy groups…to discredit the Mayor; marginalize the activists; and protect the trade.
"The advocacy groups consistently describe the operation of horse-drawn carriages in NYC as 'inhumane',” Moss states, "The papers report that we describe it as “torture,” a strategy used to marginalize us as extremist and shift attention away from our valid arguments about the humane issues…"
Moss's compelling documentary on the inhumane life of horses who work in the horse-carriage industry in New York, asks:
“Has there ever been a greater shame for the nation that boasts its progressive animal-protection laws than the continuation of the carriage-horse industry in New York—long after such cities are London, Beijing, Toronto, Paris and other major cities around the world have taken these horses off the streets and out of harm’s way?”