Guest Post | Our Wild and Civil Rights

Rue Mapp is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, an award-winning national network that supports connections between African Americans and the natural world. This blog was originally posted on Outdoor Afro’s website. Save The Bay, Outdoor Afro, and Golden Gate Audubon will be hosting volunteer events at the MLK Jr. Shoreline in Oakland to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday January 19, 2015. 

Frank and Audrey Peterman
Frank Peterman, conservationist and civil rights activist, with his wife Audrey.

Frank Peterman, a conservationist and civil rights activist, was in his twenties during the 1960s. He recalls a great and daily sense of urgency about civil rights issues versus that of environmental concerns. For him, the March on Washington, alongside the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, was a galvanizing event that called for equitable access to jobs and quality of life for blacks in America and an end to institutionally protected physical brutality. “As a part of the NAACP to advance the Civil Rights Act, we did not discuss the Wilderness Act,” Peterman says, “and we were not invited to participate in their caucus.” He goes on to share that even though the momentum of each act was politically symbiotic, those driving the wilderness protection agenda may not have included African Americans deliberately as a key impetus of the Wilderness Act was about protecting the wild from the spoilage of human impact versus creating equitable access to it. From his perspective, “the Wilderness Act was about the protecting the wild, not people.”

While it does not appear that the Wilderness Act and Civil Rights Act shared a public platform back then, some believe an opportunity was missed to bring the acts more pointedly together that might have altered the course and progression of these respective movements today. Dr. Carolyn Finney, Assistant Professor at the University of California was a young child during the civil rights era, and while she personally remembers few specific events of the era, like most African American children of her generation, she grew up with the movement’s tales and heroes evergreen on the family tongue. “Civil rights? Yes, I always knew what that was about!”

In her book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, she plots out the interwoven chronology of social and political events that lead up to the civil rights and wilderness act. Even though linked by a common timeline, Dr. Finney believes that the wilderness preservation movement—and the environmental movement, more broadly—missed a golden opportunity to address race that might have helped put conservation on a path toward greater harmony between people and nature, and especially between African Americans and the natural wild. “The conservation movement has traditionally prided itself on a concept of nature as pure,” she says, “which for some, can also be translated to mean whiteness.” She contends that had the Wilderness Act considered the human experience in nature, the traditional conservation movement might not struggle with understanding the connection between its work and that of civil rights—making it better equipped to engage with issues related to diversity and inclusion.

In the collaborative efforts around the country to re-invent African American connections to the environment—my organization, Outdoor Afro, is one of them—it is often essential to address fears that linger about the wild. These fears are not only about potential contact with wildlife: there are still perceptions among black folks that one might be susceptible to violence in the cover of the wild. Because of this pervasive thinking, some of the sturdiest urban brothers and sisters are less likely to warm to the idea of wandering alone in the woods to this day. Within the memory of a living generation, many recall the world in which the plaintive refrain of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit rang true:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

While Jim Crow-style terror in nature is no longer a common occurrence, the legacy of institutionalized exclusion of black people from recreational areas persists. The result of years of discrimination is that, for many people, the experience of being outdoors can feel more like an effort to conquer a fear than enjoyment for its own sake. And, still too often, many black and brown folks face unwelcoming (or over-welcoming) stares, questions, and attitudes while recreating in wild spaces that spell discomfort in places that should be a safe respite from the pace of urban life. This is why we find that so many African Americans from urban areas choose backyard wilderness close to home, surrounded by a reflection of familiar faces and defensible cityscapes versus venturing alone into a remote wilderness area far from home.

Shelton Johnson has been a park ranger with the National Park Service in Yellowstone National Park for nearly two decades. His work has flourished on the topic of making the parks more relevant and welcoming for everyone, especially for African Americans. Illustrating both real and composite narratives of the Buffalo Soldier in his guest interpretation talks and in his book Gloryland, Johnson maintains that access to parks in our wild places is ultimately about freedom and provides a platform today to continue the work of civil rights. “The Buffalo Soldiers were sons of slaves, who were compelled to join the military to earn respect and find purpose within the close memory of slavery,” he says. While these soldiers were charged with stewarding land distant from their African roots, Johnson suggests that it proved to be a gateway for belonging and a sense of “owning” in America.

This is the same possibility available to African Americans today in our National Parks. “We are not truly home here in America, unless we engage with the earth to re-connect with the Africans we once were – the hunters, gatherers, horticulturalists – earth bound people,” says Johnson. “So visiting the biome of Yellowstone might also mean a chance to reclaim what it means to be Yoruba, Mandingo – or African American. Whatever you call yourself, it matters little, because it is all the same people, the same earth.”

While the sixties may have been tumultuous, what emerged was a country that dreamed big, had every reason to hope, and found agreement to protect and envision a future for people and resources seen as most vulnerable. In today’s divisive political climate these same actions seem unfathomable, yet remind us of what is possible when we pull together.

We know the work is far from done, but we can pause to celebrate wild lands and the movement to protect them while also respecting the still-sharp memories and historic tensions between people in the wild. With a vision of healing, Outdoor Afro and many other organizations are helping people re-invent connections to natural places both near and far through a variety of peer led activities. One experience at a time, we can replace old fears and reservations about the wilderness with joy, curiosity, and wonder for all ages in our lands.

While the Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act may not have been originally conceived out of a common network, we have a chance now to make their real connections come alive today, recognizing the delicate and essential links between people and the wild all around for the betterment of everyone.

Where shall we go together in nature from here?

— Rue Mapp, Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro

Guest Blog | Rediscovering the Beauty and Fragility of the SF Bay from Above

Bay Area San Francisco Bay Flight Lighthawk
An aerial view of Arrowhead Marsh during the Lighthawk flight, by Janine Kraus

The diversity of the San Francisco Bay is most visible from an aerial view – from the South Bay salt ponds to the East Bay’s Arrowhead Marsh to the Sonoma Baylands. The Bay is so many things – wildlife preserve, transportation route, tranquil setting for millions of residents. Yet it is also a place threatened by pollution, rising sea levels, and development. Many do not know that one third of the San Francisco Bay had been filled in by the time Save The Bay was founded in 1961. Currently, only five percent of the Bay’s original wetlands remain.

Recently, I took flight in a small four-seater plane with Save The Bay’s CEO David Lewis and Janine Kraus to see first-hand the progress they have made in protecting our region’s most valuable asset. This flight was made possible by LightHawk, an organization that donates plane flights to nonprofits. Circling the bay from above gave me a new perspective on the beauty of our bay and the issues that continue to threaten it.

In the past 15 years, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation’s donors have provided more than $1 million in funding to Save The Bay to create a healthier bay. Their relentless conservation efforts have ensured that more than 44,000 acres of wetlands have been restored or are planning to be restored through a three-pronged approach that includes preventing development, improving water quality, and re-establishing tidal marsh.

It is our right as Bay Area residents to have a clean and healthy bay that can be enjoyed by all, and we are indebted to Save The Bay for its work over the years to fight for that right.

This was originally posted by Ashley Murphy on Philanthropic Ventures Foundation‘s blog. Read it here.  Aerial support provided by Lighthawk.

Guest Post | Share the Local Love for the South Bay

Carlsen Subaru Todd Parksinson San Francisco Bay
A vintage photo of Carlsen Subaru’s Todd Parkinson on the SF Bay

The “Share the Love” promotion is Subaru’s 7th annual holiday charity event where Subaru of America will donate $250 per new vehicle sold during the promotional period (November 20, 2014 to January 2, 2015) to one of the customer selected national or local charities. This year, individual dealerships, depending on their sales volume, had the option of also partnering with a local “hometown” organization that would then be added to the list. Carlsen Subaru in Redwood City chose Save The Bay as their local charity. General Manager Todd Parkinson talks about his connection to San Francisco Bay.

I approached Save The Bay to be Carlsen Subaru’s hometown charity for several reasons. First of all, Subaru owners in general tend to be environmentally conscious people who enjoy wildlife and the outdoors. I think that most of our local Subaru customers would agree that San Francisco Bay, its estuaries and the Delta, are all treasures that should be safeguarded and protected. Therefore, I felt confident that Save the Bay’s mission would resonate well with our present and future customers. In addition, I have a very personal connection with the bay as I have spent quite a bit of time exploring the waterways, marshes, and levees surrounding San Francisco Bay and the delta.

Forty years ago, I was introduced to the wonders of the South San Francisco Bay by my father George. Alviso, the ghost town known as Drawbridge, the miles of Leslie Salt levees, and the sloughs and marshlands of the surrounding south bay area was my playground growing up. Almost every weekend, I would accompany my father exploring these areas. In the early years, we would ride motorcycles out the salt pond levees to the end of Alviso slough and fish for sharks, sturgeon, striped bass and sting-rays.   Later we would launch our various trailer-able boats from Alviso, Redwood City, and San Mateo to fish and explore the bay. During my teenage years, my family had a large boat berthed in Alameda. Several weekends a month were spent motoring around San Francisco, Angel Island, Sausalito, and occasionally making the long trip to the fresh water of the Delta.

As far as my favorite memories or San Francisco Bay experiences, there are many. My father and I used to ride our motorcycles from Alviso down the railroad tracks (yes down the middle of the railroad tracks as it’s the smoothest place to ride) to the remnants of the town of Drawbridge. As a youngster, exploring the old abandoned buildings perched on the marshes made a lasting impression. This trip also made for many exciting close encounters with the trains, especially at high tide when there was very little room on either side of the tracks to escape the approaching train. More than once, we were forced to crouch just off the tracks while the train whizzed by at 50mph plus. Thankfully, my mother did not get the full details of these adventures until years later. Throughout the years, there were also countless successful fishing trips with my family and friends from the South Bay to outside the Golden Gate. Fleet Week on the water was always a special treat. Being able to get close to the war ships and watching the Blue Angels fly over the bay were true highlights that I will never forget.

As a father, I have retraced some of the same south bay levees with my children. Instead of motorcycles and fishing poles, we now set out with mountain bikes and energy bars. I am happy to say that the geography remains much the same as I remember it from years ago. The trail systems that now border the bay have increased public access. However, I don’t take this fact for granted. Without the efforts of multiple governmental and private partners who have worked together to safeguard this local treasure, the current state of the bay could have been a very sad story. Thankfully, this is not the case. It is my hope that the Carlsen Subaru/Save the Bay partnership will result in increased funding and local awareness for Save the Bay so the organization can continue to preserve and protect this wonderful local resource.

— Todd Parkinson, General Manager of Carlsen Subaru in Redwood City

Guest Blog: Bay Blend from CAN CAN Cleanse

Bay Blend
Make this Bay Blend juice and toast to a healthier Bay.

CAN CAN Cleanse is a nutritional liquid cleanse program that is designed to give the body a break from the stress and toxins of the on-the-go lifestyle. The beverages are made from whole, organic fruits and vegetables, herbal teas, raw nuts, fresh herbs and spices. CAN CAN believes in a holistic approach of nourishing the body with plant-based ingredients to let the digestive system rest and relax. The seasonal practice is very much a mental exercise in willpower, self-control and time of reflection on current eating habits. The purpose behind cleansing is to help people jump-start goals – be it to curb cravings, break bad habits, discover mental clarity, and awaken energy or to ignite weight loss. CAN CAN Cleanse is all about boosting self-esteem and reminding people what it feels like to feel good!  

Founded in San Francisco by Teresa Piro in late 2010, CAN CAN Cleanse is committed to glass mason jar packaging. Discouraged by the amount of waste created by plastic,throw-away bottles and the effects plastic bottles have on the Bay (and our planet), we encourage our clients to keep the glass jars for home use after their cleanse to be used as drinking glasses, DIY crafts, storage containers,gifts for friends, etc. We have also started a recycling program and donate used CAN CAN jars to local children’s schools and art programs for use in the classrooms.   

CAN CAN Cleanse joined Save the Bay earlier this year in an effort to further our involvement to keep the Bay beautiful! We created this special Bay Blend recipe in honor of San Francisco Bay. Enjoy!

Bay Blend Recipe
makes approx 2 cups

 
Ingredients:

  1. 2 lemons, peeled
  2. 3 small cucumbers, peeled
  3. 1 medium fennel, fronds removed
  4. pinch of fine gray sea salt

Directions:

Using a juicer, begin by juicing lemons. Then, juice cucumbers and fennel. Add the pinch of sea salts, stir well and enjoy!

Guest Post | Warning Warning

Warning Warning
1970, San Francisco Bay. Photo by Harvey Richards.

Over the past decades, many local heroes have stood up for San Francisco Bay. Sometimes, we come across a bit of Bay history that truly illustrates how far we’ve come since 1961. Paul Richards reflects on his father’s 1970 documentary film about the threats to the Bay.

Harvey Richards made Warning Warning in 1970 when corporate and government filling and polluting of the San Francisco Bay were accelerating, threatening to reduce the bay to a river outlet to the sea.  The Save the Bay movement was ramping up to fight for protective legislation to hold back and reverse these trends.  At that point, my father, Harvey Richards, produced this film to help conservationists by documenting who was filling and polluting the bay and what impact it was having.

Harvey Richards‘ first encounters with the San Francisco Bay occurred in the 1930’s when, as an able bodied seaman, he steered merchant ships into the bay before the Golden Gate Bridge was built. A native of Oregon, he went to sea in 1930 at age 18 leaving on his first voyage from Portland, Oregon. He crossed the Pacific many times and eventually sailed the Atlantic Ocean as well. With an eighth grade education, he went from the merchant marine fleet directly into union organizing during the late 1930’s on the east coast where he had landed after his last voyage. He settled in San Francisco in the 1940’s and found work in the shipyards as a machinist. In 1946, he participated in the west coast strike wave as the chief shop steward for the Machinist Union at Bethlehem Steel. He was expelled from the union as a communist after the strike as part of a deal the unions made with employers in order to win contract gains.

In the 1950’s he picked up a camera and began making films to support causes that the anti-communist mainstream press refused to cover. He remained a radical foe of corporations and capitalism all his life. He made 22 films from 1959 to 1978 and shot thousands of photographs. His photography centered on farm worker organizing, civil rights, peace, and the environment.  All his films were made at his own expense and were offered free, or at cost, to organizations involved in the struggles for change. The Sierra Club used Warning Warning to help build support for Save the Bay.

In 1970, I was a graduate student in Madison, Wisconsin (PhD,1978). I was not involved in the movement to save the bay then. But gradually over the years since my return to the bay area in 1972, I have come to appreciate the importance of the victories that have made possible the preservation and restoration of the bay. Harvey’s films on the environment include three other films on logging that exposed the destructive nature of clear cutting and the wasteful practices of corporate logging up and down the west coast. He also made two films on mining in Butte, Montana. Together with Warning Warning, his environmental films give expression to conservationist ideas that were uncommon, but on the rise in the 1970’s, and are still gaining momentum today.

In 1987, he turned his photographic work over to me when demands for his images from other film makers started to mount. I created Estuary Press and the Harvey Richards Media Archive to handle these requests. I converted his works from film to video and then to digital formats to accommodate demands in a world of rapidly changing media. Harvey passed away in 2001.

Paul Richards was born in San Francisco in 1944 and is a life long resident of the Bay Area. He is a retired carpenter, grandfather of five and lives in Oakland with his wife, Nina Serrano. Since retiring in 2011, he is a publisher and web site developer at Estuary Press.