When Protests Become Bullying
By now I suspect most people in the area have heard about the questions surrounding the horse-drawn carriage rides in downtown Frederick. I first heard about a "Vegan Army" protesting the carriage rides offered by the Lambert family in a Facebook post on December 23, 2018, and then in a follow-up Letter to the Editor in the FNP on December 28, 2018.
Full disclosure, I do not know the Lambert family personally, and until this year; I did not even know that there were carriage rides in Frederick. So, naturally this peaked my interest.
The Facebook post and the letter-to-the-editor described a situation where a family was harassed when they tried to take their two young children on a carriage ride. The harassment included adults yelling and threatening the whole family, even the children as they ran alongside the carriage.
According to the letter’s author, the words that were screamed at the family consisted of extremely foul language and that the family would surely "burn in hell!"
The first thought that struck me was how could adults think that this type behavior was rational? In the United States we have freedom of speech that is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, It is one of the liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights.
Freedom of speech doesn’t give license to harass or threaten anyone, especially children. The protestors had the right to speak out against something they thought was wrong, but that means patrons have the right to support a business they believe in without fear of assault. Freedom of speech works both ways. In his book On Liberty, John Stuart Mill famously wrote: "The free expression of all opinions should be permitted on condition that the manner be temperate and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion."
That is a little background to how I found myself at my first ever protest. I went partly out of curiosity. I wanted to see what a protest was like, and I wanted to see the carriage rides for myself.
As a person who appreciates horses for the beautiful animal they are, I wanted to get a firsthand look. What I saw were four large beautiful draft horses that were bred for what they were doing. The horses looked well fed and did not appear in any distress. I love animals, and I would speak out if I thought an animal was being abused. I did not witness any indication of mistreatment.
Words and actions have meaning. We are free to say what we want, but we are not free from the outcomes those words bring. There is a fine line between bullying and protesting.
When protestors started attacking patrons of the carriage rides, when they reportedly planned to use their dogs along the carriage route to scare the horses that is when citizens of Frederick County stood up and said we will not tolerate that kind of bullying behavior masquerading as protest.
I am glad that I went out and supported a local business. I have gained a new appreciation for others who do the same. The United States is a country where you can stand up for what you believe in and speak your mind.
Here’s the thing we all forget. When you want to stand up and speak your mind, you have to be ready for others to stand up and speak theirs.
I think we would find we all have a lot more in common if we all remembered to listen to each other in between the shouting. Any cause would be better served if proactive protest was the goal rather than a display of public punishment against children and families.