The late Peter Seeger was famous for his sloop, the Clearwater. Because life is full of strange and mysterious turns, it seems I’ve become famous for our bus. His ship was a 106-foot wooden sailing ship designed after 18th- and 19th-century Dutch sloops. Our buses — there were actually more than one — were modern vehicles “wrapped” with our name and brightly colored images. The Clearwater sails up and down the Hudson River. Clearly, our buses stick to the streets.
The Clearwater still sails to draw attention to the necessity of preserving life’s most fundamental resource: water.
There is very little water doesn’t touch; without it, there is no life. It’s no coincidence that water is a symbol shared by major world religions. It purifies, it sanctifies, it cleanses. It covers the earth.
In 1969, the Clearwater made her maiden voyage with Seeger at the helm, down the Atlantic coast from the Harvey Gamage Shipyard in Maine to the South Street Seaport in New York City. Seeger and the Clearwater achieved worldwide recognition for helping lead the way in passing important state and federal environmental laws, including the landmark Clean Water Act. This work still helps ensure that virtually all Americans have safe water in their homes. We can be thankful for that, but on this World Water Day, we can’t forget that almost a billion people around the globe still don’t have clean water and 2.5 billion don’t have access to basic sanitation.
Seeger knew, from boat to banjo, that people needed to join together, be it in song, advocacy, or action. Some say it was almost a religion with him. “The world will be saved when people realize we all have to pitch in,” Seeger once said. Bruce Springsteen hailed Seeger’s undying optimism as “stubborn, nasty, defiant optimism.”
I share that defiant optimism and the belief that we all must be engaged in justice activism. NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus” first set sail in 2012. We traveled across America’s roads, listening to and standing with people at the margins. We also had our hearts broken. No person should have to choose between food and medicine; no hardworking parent’s salary should be too little to care for his or her family; and no child should feel what it’s like to be ripped from a parent’s arms by inhumane immigration policies. This is not what America is meant to be.
For those not threatened by such injustices, it can be too easy to take for granted this right to live life safely and fully. Just like most Americans take for granted that our faucets will always flow with clean water, our rights will only continue to flow with their expansion to all communities, the 100 percent.
In 2012, at age 92, Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt recorded and shot the above music video God’s Counting on Me, God’s Counting on You aboard the Clearwater. It was in response to BP’s catastrophic Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The extent of the damage won’t be known for years. Similarly, I believe the deep damage to individuals, families, and communities caused by budget cuts that take food from families in need, the absence of a living wage, and immigration policies that tear apart families may not be fully recognized for years.
But that damage is real, which is why it is so urgent that we all now stand together for justice. And on this World Water Day, let us also resolve to individually conserve and protect our water supplies as we call on Congress to pass legislation that helps ensure worldwide access to clean water in the future.
God really is counting on us.
Image courtesy of waywuwei.