13 June 2013

(I’m in New York on a last-minute trip.  Today’s  guest post is by my friend Thom Duffy, with whom I worked at Billboard. He is the magazine’s special features editor.) 

This is how I first learned that we only move forward when we all pull together.

We stood in a line, our feet braced against the gentle rocking of the boat, our young fingers grasping the thick, braided halyard. Then, at the directions of the crew, we tugged that line hard, hand-over-hand, and the beautiful white mainsail rose above our heads, catching the wind coming down the Hudson River. The majestic sloop Clearwater surged forward away from the shores of Manhattan.

My father took me for a sail on the Clearwater when I was young, only a few years after the boat’s maiden voyage in 1969. Decades later, I’ve taken my own children aboard, seeking to share the lessons that went far deeper than raising a sail, with messages of collective empowerment and environmental responsibility.

A replica of the mid-19th century sloops that once commanded the waters of the Hudson, the Clearwater was created through the vision of musician and activist Pete Seeger, unquestionably one of the most important social and cultural figures of the 20th century. 

Proving you can change the world with a five-string banjo and a sing-along, Seeger, who is now 94, has crusaded throughout his life for peace, social justice and the environment, while giving us songs including “"If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," and "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season).”

In the mid-1960s, when the Hudson was so polluted that fish had disappeared over miles of its length, Seeger proposed “to build a boat to save the river.” 

In the decades since, more than a half-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.

On June 15 and 16, the annual Clearwater festival, the Great Hudson River Revival  will draw thousands to the shores of the river in Croton Point Park in New York’s Westchester County. They’ll celebrate, in song, the spirit and accomplishments of the Clearwater, but also its promising future.

“We have a saying that resonates in everything Clearwater does: `Creating the next generation of environmental leaders,’” says Jeff Rumpf, executive director of the sloop’s parent organization. “And we’re focusing on making sure that next generation of environmental leaders has the tools that they need to lead.”

-Thom Duffy

June 13: Clearwater

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