How I Became a Political Activist

My membership button from the
organization Annie created to
watch for violations of the laws
created to protect the wild horses:
Wild Horse Organized Assistance

I was what was commonly called 'horse crazy' when I was a little girl.  I loved all things horses.  I loved how they looked, and how they made me feel, and when I could see a real one, I would pet it and smell it and hug it.  I wanted one so bad I could feel it to my core.  One year, after a lot of focus, determination, and hard work, that came true.

But first, I read about them.  Boy, did I.  I was so obsessed for the first several years of my reading life, I would not read about anything else.  When I was around 10 years old, I read a book that was about more than just horses; it was about some very special horses, and they needed help.  Marguerite Henry's prize-winning children's book, Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West.  Through that book, a woman named Velma Johnston became a popular heroine to millions of American children. With clear, innocent vision, we young readers of her book quickly grasped the heart of the issue.  One young reader's letter to Ms. Henry shared:
"It makes me angry and I think that the horses should be allowed to run free. They will soon be like the Buffalo that used to roam the plains of America. Extinct."
I had the same reaction.  I wanted to do something about it!  But what could I do, just a kid?  I didn't know it then, but there would be a way.

Determined to make a difference, Velma Johnston began a grassroots campaign, that involved mostly school children. Young people from all across America sent letters to newspapers and legislators and attracted enormous attention that outraged the public and made them aware of the issue. And, as public attention grew, some of Johnston's critics began to make fun of her and call her Wild Horse Annie. But no matter what her critics did, she continued her fight — and newspapers continued to publish articles about the exploitation of wild horses and burros. Starting back back in January 1959, Nevada Congressman Walter Baring introduced a bill prohibiting the use of motorized vehicles to hunt wild horses and burros on all public lands. The House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill which became known as the Wild Horse Annie Act. The bill became Public Law 86-234 on Sept. 8, 1959. However, this law did not include Annie's recommendation that Congress begin a program to protect wild horses and burros. Public interest and concern continued to increase, and with it came the realization that federal management was needed. In response to public outcry - including the letters from kids like myself, written to President Nixon - the Senate unanimously passed a law on June 19, 1971. It became known as The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Wild Horse Annie knew that young people can make a difference, and through this experience, I learned, too.