The Hudson River is considered the largest Superfund site in the United States, with over 200 miles of water scheduled for cleanup after the river was contaminated with PCBs from General Electric and various other industrial manufacturing companies over many years of dumping in the river. In the 1960’s, when there were virtually no environmental laws yet passed to protect our natural resources, an organization named the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. was launched by folk singer Pete Seeger and other advocates.
In the PBS short film (approximately 30 minutes) ‘Til the River Runs Clear, the community organizing effort put together by Pete Seeger & others is chronicled. The film begins by telling the story of how Pete Seeger and other activists got the idea of cleaning up the Hudson River. From there, the decision was made to build a traditional wooden sloop which was a replica of 18th and 19th century sailing vessels. The hope in building this particular type of ship was to encourage people to preserve the rivers beauty. Once the ship was launched in 1969, people began to take notice of just how powerful environmental advocacy could be. Today, Clearwater focuses on education and advocacy, bringing people on board to sail and experience the beauty of the river. The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. is one of the pioneering organizations that drew attention to this river that was once dying.
While so many activist movements have great intentions and promote something that I believe in, I was particularly moved by this documentary for a few reasons. The first reason is because it is close to my heart; I grew up in New Jersey, very close to Manhattan, and remember going for walks with my family down by the rivers edge. I remember thinking that such a grand, beautiful place should be able to be enjoyed by its citizens, instead of simply saddening them. Also, as a famous folk singer, Pete Seeger was (and still is) in the public eye for his popular music. I do think that there is something to be said for an individual that is a potential role model to millions of individuals to be part of such an important, environmental project.
In addition to the Hudson River Sloop educating and advocating for environmental awareness and change, each year the organization holds the Clearwater Festival in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. This year, the River Revival takes place on June 19 & 20. While the lineup of performers has yet to be announced for 2010, past years have brought some famous names to the stage. A few of these artists have been Arlo Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, Taj Mahal, Tom Paxton and Toshi Reagon. For more information about this year’s lineup, check out their website.