(Photo Credit: Joseph A. Horne, via the Library of Congress/Public Domain)
We lost a great American earlier this week, but in the larger scheme of things we really should be thankful and celebrate the life of Pete Seeger.
Sing while doing yard work, around the campfire, sing on the way to work, whether an annoying fast food jingle hummed softly or Wee-Ma-Way belted out in the relative privacy of your vehicle. Pete liked it that way.
From the NY Times in Tuesday’s edition, “Seeger…spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change…” Pete Seeger, it should be no mystery, actually was a major inspiration to LandPaths in its work of connecting people to land as a change agent to live richer lives right here in Sonoma County, towards a more whole community, a better world.
Pete Seeger has remained one of my primary heroes for as long as I can remember. In 1978 I picked up a five-string banjo for the first time and learned a Bob Dylan song. In 2010, at a national conference on the East Coast, I was tasked with leading 1,200 of my colleagues in land and community conservation from around the world in a song about farming and relationship with land. I asked this 1,200-voice chorus, before the downbeat, to sing out with passion in honor of Pete Seeger and his action of speaking up, singing out and standing firm for how we want to shape our world for good.
Apparently Pete was chopping wood just 10 days before he passed, according to his grandson, and had been seen in recent years in small towns in the Catskill Mountains of upstate NY – according to my eldest brother who lives there - playing his banjo on street corners with friends to passers by in order to promote peace. May the grandmothers and grandfathers of our farms and wild places, the keepers of our stories and those who would speak out, even sing out, for what is good in this world, live long and be known for the good that they have sewn. Just like the hero to many of us, Pete Seeger.
Even though LandPaths has been working this past ten years to reach out in an authentic and heartfelt way to the diversity that is Sonoma County - to those historically left out of the benefits that come from conservation work and with having parklands near where they live.
Even though we have envisioned, built and run the Bayer Farm and Gardens in Roseland this past six years – as a place of hope in partnership with the City of Santa Rosa and the people of Roseland,
Even though we have provided for the past 14 years a place-based, multi-visit environmental education program for nearly 1000 students per year – many of them from Latino families,
Even though this is all true we have realized there is so much more work to do. In fact, in the face of the gun violence that took so many innocent lives at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December of last year I penned a letter stating on our website, in effect,
“LandPaths must and will do more for our youth, that they have the chance to be touched by the power of land and connection to it and both the opportunity to be young and outdoors but the responsibility to help care for it, and we will do this as an Community-based Organization that uses the connection of people to land as a means for bettering both land and people.
Even though this challenge was made and LandPaths staff responded this year by piloting a program entitled Inspired Forward connecting teens from urban and challenged backgrounds to the outdoors through leadership development, healthy food and service to the land, there is still more to do.
If we as a conservation organization have learned anything from working more closely with the Latino Community this past six years it is the following four things:
1. We are most likely to succeed when we arrive with a PURPOSE but not a fully-formed PLAN. The development of programs and infrastructure to provide people access to land must be done in partnership, and with the input of those being ‘served.’
2. Consistency, expressed in just showing up and then continuing to show up over the long-term in order to be in relationship
3. Volunteers and community members being served respond positively to the dignity of responsibility. Everyone needs a role, to be entrusted with adding value to a thing larger than themselves.
4. LandPaths can’t change anyone or anything unless IT is willing to change from within. This has included having 3 staff of our 15 staff members who are bilingual and bicultural. It has also included the LandPaths board of directors to include people from an increasing diversity of cultural backgrounds, points of view and age.
Ultimately, we ALL can do this – attempt to address a tragedy with both hope and gritty determination to help our community heal. We have so much going for us; Luther Burbank referred to our county as the chosen place. With one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, the highest volunteerism rate in California, farms stands and farmers markets, a tax dollar-funded mechanism for protecting lands wild and working, greenbelt and as parks, with people spanning the continuum of the human situation from gay to straight, conservative to liberal, young and old and speaking a minimum of 14 languages and a beautiful spectrum of color of skin, we can do this.
It will take work, and it will take love. Above all it will take listening and rolling up our sleeves and being willing to get down to work, together.
Contents (c) 2008 by Land Partners Through Stewardship (Landpaths) Site Credits