On more than one occasion, everyone associated with trying to bring about change in the showing of big lick and heavy shod walking, racking, and spotted saddle horses, has asked, with frustration, the question, “ Why is it taking so long?” .
There are many reasons, including:
Ø money in politics and general dysfunction in the Congress, making it easier to block legislation than it is to pass it;
Ø general recalcitrance by national and community leaders based in unwillingness to interfere with community traditions;
Ø a failure to understand exactly how much cruelty is involved with producing aberrant gaits for the show ring;
Ø a well-oiled spin machine, closely connected with a few powerful senators and representatives, able to block legislation as a favor to a few constituents over the interests of other constituents;
Ø and, the old-standby , “no one or no government has the right to tell us what to do with our property”.
How determined can people be in supporting the philosophy behind that last reason? Let’s go back to 1865.
If you watched Spielberg’s award winning movie, Lincoln, you may remember the president was determined to get a constitutional amendment to ban slavery throughout the United States passed in the Congress. Even after years of devastating war, he faced an uphill battle. He sent aides to arm twist for the amendment, using this admonition that Spielberg used in the film’s dialogue. “Remember that I am the President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those votes.”
On January 31, 1865, after more than a considerable amount of arm-twisting and back channel deal making, the House voted 119 to 56 to pass the amendment that would end the “right” to own people as property within the United States of America. Lincoln signed it the next day. His home state of Illinois was the first to ratify it. It wasn’t until December 6, 1865, however, long after Lincoln had been assassinated, that enough states ratified the amendment to make it a permanent part of the Constitution of the United States.
Within some states rejection or outright tabling of the issue took place instead of ratification. Mississippi showed how far a state was willing to go to ignore the mandate of the federal government.
Mississippi, which was heavily dependent on slave labor for plantation work and suffered vast losses in the Civil War, did not add its approval of the amendment to end slavery in the United States until 1995.
Having agreed to ratify the amendment, the government of the state of Mississippi failed to notify the federal government of its 130- year late decision until 2013, just two years ago.
That’s what resistance to change looks like when it is spelled with a capital R. Today pieces of social legislation like the PAST Act are subject to the same personal and legislative pressures that other pieces of worthy social legislation throughout the history of the United States have faced. Resistance to change is the common link.
Patty Beaty of Loudon, Tennessee, decided that she wasn't going to wait for change, she was going to try to make change happen. She exercised her right as a citizen and directly approached her congressman, John. J. Duncan, (R-TN) now serving his 15th term in the House, regarding the PAST Act.
Congressman Duncan of Knoxville, before he was a congressman, was an attorney and a judge. He represents a district that includes Maryville, Tennessee. Maryville is the home of the infamous Larry Wheelon, the big lick trainer indicted for cruelty to horses, who evaded a trial by his peers as a result of a judge’s decision regarding a search warrant she deemed to be faulty. Maryville is also the home to Senator Lamar Alexander, a powerful politician in the pocket of the walking horse performance industry. Controversy surrounding the walking horse business should not be new to Congressman Duncan.
In response to her letter asking for his support of PAST, Congressman Duncan sent the following e-mail:
Ms. Beaty was glad to receive an answer, even though she disagreed with Representative Duncan’s characterization of the PAST Act and the motivation behind it. She decided that a citizen had not only a right but also an obligation to counter when she felt that her representative was both misinformed and ill advised on an issue. She sent him back a thoughtful letter that made it clear that PAST was not about the simple act of showing horses but about ending blatant cruelty. Here's what she said:
Congressman Duncan may continue not to take action on Ms. Beaty’s behalf or support his other constituents who are asking him to co-sponsor PAST but one thing is certain: he will never be able to say, again, that he is unaware of the perspective that his constituents who support PAST have regarding this issue. He may, however, choose to ignore them.
Only the ignorant can be forgiven. Because Patty Beaty took the time to make a request, have it politely denied, and then, respectfully, had her say, Congressman Duncan is ignorant no longer.
Defeating ignorance (even if it takes a 130 years, as it did in Mississippi) is a noble goal. The average citizens of this country are clothed in “immense power” when they mobilize to use it.
If your congressman or senator is unresponsive, continue, as Ms. Beaty did, to exercise your right to have a dialogue with him or her about your opinions on public policy that benefits the social contract. Animal welfare is part of that social contract.
Understand that resistance to change is a powerful force, especially when it is well-financed by campaign contributions, but when the cause is worthy, never give up, until the objective is achieved.
We do want change and we want it now. The reality is that sometimes 'now' takes a little longer. Meanwhile, the number of co-sponsors in both the House and the Senate for the PAST Act continues to grow, while legislation favored by the opposition remains stagnant. That's the good news. People like Patty Beaty are making the difference.