Did I mention there is alcohol involved? Yeah....pubs give away free drinks to riders (shouldn't that be illegal? You can't drive a car intoxicated, but apparently you can ride a horse) and they strut about like toffs and every year we are there with signs to register our protest.
I went last year on my own and found the whole experience unsettling. You can read about it here if you need to refresh your memory or if you need more factual information about the laws governing hunting in the UK:
Last year it seemed so frightening. There seemed so few of us compared to the riders and the dogs were running everywhere and it was chaos. Someone serving drinks dropped the tray and broken glass went everywhere and there was lots of tension.
But this year was different.
Now that the Carmarthen Vegans have a page on facebook we gets lots more people turning up to things. Ah....the power of social media. we advertised and lo and behold! 15 vegan came out to the demo (I was the only one last year) from as far away as Pembrokeshire. Just the vegans this year was nearly the total of protesters last year. There were others there from the League Against Cruel Sports and West Wales Animal Aid. In total were we nearly 40.
Which may be how the troubles began.
Last year as there were few of us we stayed on the steps of the courthouse and the riders took up most of the space up front. This year as our numbers were greater we moved into the big space and forced the riders to move to a less prominent position. The terrier men (in charge of the hounds during a hunt--strangely often really looked down on by the riders as lower class, uneducated buffoons only as good as the dogs they work with) were allowed to stand right in front of us between us and the horses.
This was definitely how the troubles began.
There *was* a police presence, but they were weak in handling several (but not all) things.
The terrier men kept jabbing their elbows sharply back as they backed into the protesters standing behind them. It knocked a couple of our people off balance. They were spoiling for a fight. One punched our friend Peter in the face. Luckily, it was a glancing blow (Peter later said, "my granny could hit harder than that") Unluckily, the police did not see it. They were dealing with other aggressive terrier men at the time.
This is where I feel the police failed. They just said as they didn't see it, there could be nothing done, but gave a half-hearted warning to to the terrier men. Something like, "careful now. Mind how you go." which was not helpful at all.
It may have actually made things worse as the terrier men were feeling powerful like they could get away with things so they then were pushing the horses backwards and the riders were spurring them to make them kick in our direction.
All the while we were chanting Shame on you! Shame on you! and Keep the ban! Keep the ban! (currently the worst of blood sports is illegal, but there are hundreds of ways to get round it and still kill for sport.) Our current government has been very vocal about lifting the ban and allowing full blood sports to resume.
Then one of the bystanders in support of the hunt hit our friend Elizabeth upside the head with her handbag. The blow was quite hard (we suspect her bag was weighted) and Elizabeth had to go to A&E and was diagnosed with concussion. The police *did* deal with this better. Took statements from several people both protester (our friend Arwen) and bystanders. A police and medical report will be filed but i do not know what will happen.
Most likely nothing. Which saddens me and angers Spiderman. He said, "how are the police allowed to get away with that?" You wouldn't say "we didn't see it so we can't do anything about it" about a murder or a burglary. They would investigate it. it is dereliction of duty to not pursue it (or pursue it in a half-ass manner) but as it was back in the good ole boy culture of Louisiana--your law enforcement are often part of the very problem you are fighting against.
|can you see the nativity scene over our heads?|
Strangely, despite the escalation in violence from last year i felt we were a better voice and presence than last year. Last year, we seemed small and outnumbered by the hunters that I felt our cries were weak and ineffectual. This year, we were powerful. We were strong. We were vocal but focused on the cause not personally insulting each other like last year. We took up their space and made them be scrunched up not the other way round.
I think they felt it too. This may be why the terrier men were so aggressive. They could feel we were powerful.
The only real deep sadness I felt was that there were so many more young children riders on ponies this year. Many off no doubt to their first hunt where they will be blooded (the animal's blood marked on the forehead as a sign of their first kill) and that is where I feel powerless. How can reach the natural compassion of these children before they are trained to shut their eyes to the violence they do?
Afterwards we all went out of a coffee (it was freezing and raining--which was good. Rain will spoil the hunt) and talked about what has happened. Peter used to be a hunt sab (someone who puts their life in peril laying false trails and protecting animals during the hunt) so he said that a punch in the jaw was nothing compared to how it used to be before the ban where people got their teeth knocked out or legs trampled by horses while police literally turned away saying,, "I didn't see nothing"
We talked about ways to try to get the crowds to see what they were supporting. Did i mention the crowds? Hundreds of people lining the streets with their children to watch the spectacle of horses and fancy dress. But if they really thought about it--where they were going afterwards--how they would laugh and rejoice as their dogs tore terrified animals limb from limb--they might see the parade differently.
I had a very vivid dream about a symbolic drama that was choreographed to seem like a fox torn apart by hounds with red ribbons whipping through the air to represent blood. We are seriously considered doing it as a bit of street theatre next year while the crowds wait impatiently for the riders to arrive.
I was scared, but i felt brave.
I was there, speaking up for the voiceless.
I was there doing my best.
Do not sit and do nothing because you cannot do everything. Do something. Do anything. But do it.
Edited to add: all photos from the Carmarthen Journal.