Taking on animal exploitation industries with interconnected campaigning and a vegan approach to activism.
It has been just a few short months since Montevideo Horse Save (MHS) formed, and despite navigating their way through the challenges of a global pandemic they have been a tour de force by launching two thought-provoking campaigns and a fallen horse rescue initiative. After successfully attracting mass media coverage they are now gearing towards phase two of their dynamic campaign strategy - to engage in civil disobedience to spark and enrage public debate.
Tell us about Montevideo Horse save?
Montevideo Horse Save is the only organization dedicated exclusively to defending the rights of horses and mares with a vegan approach. Our demands range from the end of blood traction to the closure of horse slaughterhouses in Uruguay. There are so many people who have no idea that these slaughterhouses exist or how they are linked to exploitation, and we are bringing this to their attention.
What is your “No More Equine Slavery Campaign” about, and how is this linked to your campaign to close all slaughterhouses in Uruguay?
We launched this campaign to complement our Close All Slaughterhouses Campaign, our aim is to make people think about where the animals inside the horse slaughterhouses come from.
Here in Uruguay there are no horse farms for slaughter, they come from blood traction, racing, polo and other exploitative practices. So the concept is “you cannot be against the slaughterhouse without being against exploitation because they are connected”. In South America, horses are loved but exploited. We want people to understand that love and exploitation are not compatible. We also use the debate to draw the comparison between slaughtering horses and all animals.
What tactics and actions have you used to communicate your message, and what is coming next?
The first stage of our campaigns has been to use street activism such as Save Squares, talks, meetings with authorities, chalktivism, and stickering etc.
Along the way, we have adapted and also incorporated horse rescues stories. where people can see the victims of these industries through their eyes and get to know their stories.
In the next few months we will begin the second stage of our campaign where we hope to carry out large actions of civil disobedience if the pandemic will allow us.
How do you plan to use civil disobedience to further your campaigning?
Civil disobedience will be gradual and will help expose the dirty activities that surround the horse slaughterhouse business. The origin of the horses and traceability are the focus and Achilles heel of the campaign. There are some examples of countries like Mexico where slaughterhouses have been closed, by stopping the European export demand.
We are in contact with organizations that have been working on undercover investigations for years and there is the possibility of a new documentary that will help us in the dissemination stage.
This stage (diffusion) is the seed that will sprout thanks to the actions of civil disobedience. Hence the need for gradual actions and the introduction of rallies, raids, public demonstrations, marches, and blockades. We think that in early 2021 we will be moving to this stage, depending on the pandemic.
We believe it is important to address specific issues (horse slaughterhouses) from an anti-speciesist approach. That creates an important opportunity - people who approach horses out of sympathy then find themselves faced with a paradigm shift. The debate takes place on a small scale in a Save Square but it occurs on a large scale through the mass media as a consequence of civil disobedience.
What else have you been up to since launch?
For the last few months we have been taking courses and training ourselves in the care of fallen horses as part of our Fallen Horse Rescue.
Horses are strong and sensitive animals, but when they can't take anymore they fall. When the horse collapses, it is generally from exhaustion and as a result of colic or poor diet. Their physiology does not allow them to spend prolonged periods lying down and their organs collapse. For this reason any fallen horse needs to be helped with extreme urgency.
This aspect of our work also interconnects with our wider campaigns. Some of our rescues have reached mass media which has allowed us to put the exploitation of horses to public scrutiny, such as the case of Esperanza, a mare who was discarded by the horse racing industry for not winning their races.
Our most recent case is that of Princess. She was hit by a car when she was only a few months old, having a fracture without veterinary attention for 5 months. Their "owner" wanted to sell her to the slaughterhouse but a neighbor prevented it and they contacted us to help.
How accessible is veganism in your community, and how are you breaking down barriers?
Uruguay has the highest cost of living in our region, and some of the highest costs in the world. Most of our community is struggling to survive; more than half have employment problems, and those with jobs have low salaries. The number of people whose basic needs aren’t being met are rapidly increasing, generating insecurity, fear, and uncertainty. It presents a huge barrier to veganism as food, products, clothing and footwear are not accessible.
Despite these problems there are many new vegan startups addressing these issues and trying to provide accessible food. We are also working with social movements who are addressing human rights issues. Day to day we are making donations of vegan food to soup kitchens in poor neighborhoods, so that veganism is directly part of the solution, and isn’t only promoted within privileged sectors of society.
Any final thoughts on how to stay focused on the end goal?
It is important to accept that this is a struggle of years and that to move forward we must hold on to gradual achievements, medium and long-term objectives. It is a path that can be deviated many times by different factors but the objective is never lost.