Five decades after the late folk music icon Pete Seeger sailed to the nation’s capital to call for passage of federal Clean Water Act, his Hudson River sloop Clearwater has again cast off for Washington, D.C. to challenge President Trump’s rollback of environmental protections.
Musicians and activists gathered June 17 during Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, a two-day folk-rock festival on the river’s edge in New York’s Westchester County, and loaded the sloop with a “cargo of concern” — petitions, municipal resolutions, and testimonials from individuals, citizen groups and elected officials.
The sloop and its crew will dock in D.C. in late June and deliver the documents to a forum June 29 on clean water issues on Capitol Hill. “Rivers and our waters are precious things that need to be protected, and they need federal protection,” said Dave Conover, interim executive director of the Clearwater, who was joined during the dockside event by Betsy Garthwaite, Clearwater board president, and Aaron Mair, former president of the Sierra Club.
“Our slogan for this trip is, all our waters are connected, so all our waters must be protected,” said Garthwaithe. “Federal protection of the environment is absolutely necessary.”
The petitions, which circulated throughout crowds at the festival, were an all-hands-on-deck effort inspired by the festival’s music. Although Trump was never mentioned during the dockside event, the petitions were addressed to Trump appointee Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. “Because pollution doesn’t stop at state borders,” the petition states, “the federal government has an essential role to protect these vital resources and must not abdicate its responsibility to do so.”
Pruitt has stated that he wants to reduce the federal authority of the EPA and return the work of environmental regulation to the States.
“The Hudson Valley,” noted Conover, “really is the modern birthplace of environmentalism.”
In the mid-’60s, when the Hudson River was so polluted that fish had disappeared over miles of its length, Seeger (who died in 2014) proposed “to build a boat to save the river.”? ?The Clearwater is a replica of the mid 19th century sloops that once commanded the waters of the Hudson.
“Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary, says, `What are you building a boat for? There’s a war on! This is a distraction,'” Seeger once recalled. “All I could say was, well, we’re not aiming just to sail it. We’re going to clean up the river.”? ?
In the decades since, more than half a million children (and their teachers and parents) have sailed aboard the Clearwater, learning to love and care for the river. The result has been a political and social force which has not only cleaned up the Hudson, but sent ripples of influence throughout the environmental movement worldwide, as the Clearwater inspires and educates future activists.
The Great Hudson River Revival — a.k.a. the Clearwater Festival, which returned June 17-18 to Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson, NY after a one-year hiatus — is a fund-raiser for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization.
With regional, national and international artists from multiple generations and genres of American music, performing for two days across eight stages on the banks of the Hudson River, the Clearwater Festival is one of the nation’s pre-eminent folk-rock festivals. This year’s headliners included Lake Street Dive, the reunion of Cry Cry Cry (Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell and Dar Williams), Arlo Guthrie, Richard Thompson, Joan Osborne (previewing her forthcoming album of Bob Dylan songs), Josh Ritter, Alejandro Escovedo, Joe Purdy and more.
The lineup, booked by Music Without Borders, included first-time Clearwater performers Nick Lowe, Tommy Emmanuel, the Barr Brothers and Valerie June. Multiple workshop sessions featured tributes to songwriters including Woody Guthrie, Oscar Brand, Harry Chapin, and Leonard Cohen with performances by musicians including Tom Paxton, David Amram, Tom Chapin, Holly Near, the Kennedys, Josh White Jr., Guy Davis and others.
In one exquisite moment, among many, Pete and Maura Kennedy led a gentle crowd singalong of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as sunlight broke through an overcast sky. Said Pete Kennedy: “Thank you, Leonard!”