Saturday, March 24, 2007

Are you an Activist or a 'Slactivist'?

The only horse to defeat two Triple Crown Champions. Slaughtered in Sweden in 1997.

Are we activists or 'slacktivists'? We receive email alerts directing us to a particular web site so we may be informed about a current campaign to help animals or the environment. We click on the link to sign the petition and we feel good. In just a moment, with our computer in the comfort of our home, we have made a difference. Or have we?

When dealing with the United States Congress here are a few things of which most citizen activists are unaware.

1. Petitions

Unless the petition you have clicked (and hopefully added a comment in your own words) is from a large organization such as the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or some other similar organization with a lot of name recognition, the petition may never be sent to the intended target.

Individuals who draft petitions are responsible for generating the signature report and delivering it to the target. This may require a lot of time printing the signatures - which are email addresses - and some petitions do not include the city, state, zip code or country. In this sense, the petitions can be regarded as ineffective. Even if the signature report is sent to the target, it may be regarded as incomplete information; which it is.

It is interesting to note that PeTA never issues alerts with point and click petitions. Rather, they supply the name, street address, the phone number of the targets and encourage citizen activists to write letters. They also emphasize the importance of being courteous.

2. Email

All members of Congress have individual web sites with their email addresses posted. However, many members have programs which send emails to trash, especially if the the email is not from a constituent. This may be determined by the use of filtering applications where contacts whom are not constituents are deleted. In short, they do not count.

3. Faxing

Faxing campaigns are among the most detested mechanisms confronted by Congressional aides. It takes a tremendous amount of time to log the faxes and separate the constituents from the non-constituents. It also interrupts the flow of routine correspondence and prevents other constituents from being able to get through their concerns through.

The most effective and legitimate method of contacting your Senators and Representative is the same as it was before the advent of technology. Letters (hand written letters carry more weight than typed letters), phone calls to the aides in District Offices where the call volume is much lighter than in DC, and a request to meet with the Senators or Representative in their offices in Washington, or in their District Office.

It is important to remember that we - the American taxpayers - pay the salaries of all members of Congress. However, this does not give us license to take advantage of technology to harass members of Congress. This is counter productive and rarely yields a positive result.

People who organize faxing campaigns swear that they have made an enormous difference in getting legislation to pass. This has proved NOT to be the case, especially with the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Activists have been working to get this bill passed since the 107th Congress. The most progress we have had was with the 109th Congress when HR 503 passed in the House of Representatives only to become stalled in the Senate.

One of the targets of the Senate faxing campaign in the 109th Congress was Senator Frist. There was a rumor that Senator Frist had placed a hold on the bill; the result was a furious flurry of faxes and calls to Senator Frist and the only impact that had was to lose any modicum of support we could have gotten from the Majority Leader at the time.

It is now known that Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Senator Saxby Chambliss (R- GA) had placed holds on S. 1915.

The organizers of the faxing campaign did not have the foresight or the understanding of Congressional process to organize a call for a cloture. This complete lack of understanding of how Congress works generally, and the different processes and procedures employed in both chambers led to the AHSPA failing again. Horses are still being brutally slaughtered in the United States, and are being exported to Mexico in greater numbers than ever before. So much for the success of the faxing campaigns and National Call In Days.

We must respect the processes and procedures that both chambers have created for us. If we continue to point and click, and email and fax ad nauseum, then we are slacktivists. More horses will be brutally slaughtered and we will have accomplished nothing - except the false feeling that we have made a contribution to the cause.

Ellen-Cathryn Nash
Founder and President
Manes and Tails Organization

Remember 'Ferdinand' on Derby Day!

2007 is the 21st anniversary of 'Ferdinand's' Kentucky Derby win. Ferdinand also won the Breeders Cup Classic, and was awarded 'Horse of the Year' in 1987. Ferdinand was sent to Japan to stand stud, however, he was not successful as a stallion. It was discovered in 2002, Ferdinand had been slaughtered.

It is appropriate for Ferdinand to be memorialized this year at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. There has never been a truly public mention of this Breeder's Cup Classic winner and 1987 Horse of the Year being slaughtered. Author Bill Heller, the winner of the 1997 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Magazine Writing on Thoroughbred Racing founded the 'Ferdinand Fee' in 2005. In an effort to help end the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the New York Racing Association partnered to launch the 'Ferdinand Fee,' the voluntary fee is $2 or higher ($5, $10, $25 and other are the other categories participating horsemen choose from).

This is appropriate, however, more needs to be done to raise awareness. It is time to not only honor Ferdinand's memory and accomplishments, but to educate horse lovers and racing fans about slaughter and the legislation in Congress. No horse should be a 'poster horse' for something tragic, however, if the collective feeling of goodwill generated by them inspires others to work to ban horse slaughter then their legacies will live on in a most meaningful way. An on air tribute during the pre-race coverage of the Kentucky Derby would be appropriate. The large majority of racing fans either do not remember him, and they surely are not aware of the vile end to his life.
If the Thoroughbred industry is truly supportive of the 'American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act', then they will be sure to let all horse lovers, especially fans of Thoroughbred racing, know that this horse was slaughtered for human consumption, just like hundreds of horses every Monday through Friday in the United States.

Remembering Ferdinand could actually help the legislation.

For Ferdinand to be marketed post mortem as 'Dine on an American Champion' needs to be addressed in a proactive manner.

Ellen-Cathryn Nash
Founder & President
Manes and Tails Organization