Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Race Is On

This has not been the best of summers for the Canadian professional chuckwagon racing community. The action at the sport’s signature event, the 2010 GMC Rangeland Derby with prize money of 1.15 million dollars, resulted in four dead horses.
The death toll triggered a furious wave of public condemnation reflecting a huge change in public opinion in favor of animal welfare. People who had been ambivalent about the sport, and even some former supporters, are now calling for its’ abolition.
Chuckwagon racers see the four horse’s deaths as unfortunate but unpreventable, and refuse to consider the possibility that the sport could be banned. Yet how they ultimately respond to the Calgary deaths will determine the sport’s future.
Denial is not an option. The chuckwagon honchos can bluster and blow until their tarps fly off, but their CBC television coverage and major sponsorships are toast unless they get ahead of the onrushing change.
People have learned to vote with their wallets. It is no accident that McDonalds- yes Ronnie Mac and the burger folks-is among the most powerful forces for farm animal welfare reform. They don’t want to face well-organized consumer boycotts. Is GMC prepared to face a buyer boycott if it continues Rangeland Derby sponsorship?
Adaptation to change threatens all communities, not just folks racing chuckwagons. All of us must accept some hard realities pertaining to change. Change is inevitable, and in today’s world, hits at warp speed. Social networking technology makes it possible for people all over the world to create megalinks overnight supporting causes that “stick” with people. The picture of four beautiful horses dying to satisfy their owners interests is easy to draw, and resonates deeply.
The only way to outrace change is through creative thinking. It’s time for innovative thinking on the part of the chuckwagon community. Ideas that may seem flat-out goofy, such as reducing the prize money, should be on the table. After all, like Corb Lund says in his great “Trouble in the Country”, cowboy song, “ When the money gets big, people get hurt”.
What if all competitors had a direct stake in horse welfare? Why not put a chunk of the prize money into a special pool paid out to all competitors if no horses die? If horses die, the money goes to the S.P.C.A.
The chuckwagon racer’s fight for survival is not unique. They are not the only community under siege. Rural communities wither as the social infrastructure disappears; young people leave, and local businesses close. Inner-city communities watch as homelessness and drug addiction strangle their neighborhoods.
How do we adapt to high-speed change? We won’t adapt by enlisting the help of the usual suspects- governments of all stripes. Dramatic change happens from the inside out.
It takes courage for a community to accept the reality of change, and to find the adaptability to meet change head-on. While that sounds like a tall order, that’s exactly how our forebears built western Canada. Are Alberta’s communities up to the same kind of challenge? All we know for sure is that the race with change is underway, and right now the outcome is in doubt.