The first of December was covered with snow
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Though the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go...
--Sweet Baby James by James Taylor
That song is an anthem in the State of Massachusetts. If you want to go east or west in the state, you take the Turnpike. It really does go from Stockbridge in the west to Boston in the east. For horsemen, it's the road to the horse shows at the Eastern States Exposition grounds, the Northampton Fair races or, for the golden month of August, Saratoga.
And travelers of all ages hum Sweet Baby James to themselves as they zoom along.
But something happened this winter along the Turnpike. A new billboard rose in the sky at the intersectioni of I-291 near Springfield. It calls for an end to horse slaughter. STOP SLAUGHTERING US the billboard demands. Ironically, the rural countryside along the Turnpike is periodically bordered with paddocks. Horses graze peacefully on both sides of the arrow-straight highway.
The billboard doesn't say, "Help us stop horse slaughter." It doesn't even say "Stop horse slaughter." Its three-word message is as if voiced by the horses themselves. "Stop slaughtering us." And they're talking to you. Yes, you, the lonely commuter in your Honda stuck in traffic on the way to work. You might see it again on the way home.
Massachusetts isn't the first place to wake and find an anti-slaughter billboard in its backyard, and if the sponsors have their way, it will be far from the last. Jupiter, Florida has had an anti-slaughter billboard on the Florida Turnpike for the past month, and it's been making the news there.
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Other billboards are or were up in locations such as: Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (two locations); Dover, Delaware (two locations); Branson, Missouri; Hartford, Connecticut; Jacksonville, Florida (two locations); Cheyenne, Wyoming; The Dalles, Oregon; Indianapolis, Indiana; Augusta, Georgia; Aiken, South Carolina; Ft. Benning, Georgia; Louisville, Kentucky; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia.
In most cities where the billboards go up, the media reports on them as if they have landed from some other planet. "What's this billboard doing along our highway?" they ask, in not so many words. Newscasters admit they had no idea that horses were slaughtered for meat as they ask: "Who's behind this? What's going on?"
As the Florida news video illustrates, the media gets turned around as soon as they start to report on the billboards. The story, in the end, is never about the billboard. The billboard is a catalyst. The story ends up being on horse slaughter. And that's exactly where the sponsors want the story to go.
The two mysterious women working to get the billboards up just keep smiling...and buying more space in more cities. Their mission is uncompromising: to make Americans aware that horses are slaughtered. And to fuel a surge of support to end the practice.
If you haven't seen one these billboards yet,
you will soon, they predict.
How many people see the billboards? And how many people act or donate to the cause?
It's impossible to say. There is a saying in business when it comes to advertising: "Half your ad money is wasted, but you never know which half." And so it is with billboards. You know roughly how many people may drive by it. But you don't know if they read it.
One thing the billboards are doing is stimulating the national conversation about horse slaughter and making many more people aware of the practice. An anti-slaughter billboard fills the sky on the side of a highway in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby.
And an hour down the road in Lexington, pockets of activity indicate that some Thoroughbred breeders, such as the prestigious Three Chimneys Farm, may be happy to talk about their pro-active "taking care of our own" steps to keep horses bred in their programs out of slaughter-bound trucks.
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But let's go back to Massachusetts for a minute. This might not be the last story that you read here connecting that state with horse slaughter. Another billboard is about to rise at the end of this month, this time on the Southeast Expressway in urban Boston. Commuters on the most clogged access road in and out of Boston are about to get the Stop Slaughtering Us message.
Is it a coincidence or not that the Massachusetts State Legislature has a bill sitting in committee this winter that might put the slaughter issue front and center in the Bay State? If passed,? Senate Bill 655 would?ban "equine slaughter for human consumption and the sale, purchase, transport, possession, delivery, receipt?or? export of equines for slaughter for human consumption".
Both the billboards and the bill remind us that people pick their battles. They rise to the call of the causes that empassion them. There is no big organization at work behind these billboards. There is big passion, however, and the big bucks that are paid to rent the billboards are made up of many little bucks.
It's not a "SuperPac" at work here. If anything, it's a MiniPac. And, you have to admit, they're having an impact.
TO LEARN MORE:
To learn more about Massachusetts Senate Bill 655, please contact Kathryn Webers, state coordinator for Massachusetts Against Horse Slaughter via her Facebook page.
To learn more about the anti-slaughter billboards, visit www.stopslaughteringus.com.