Tired of the political gridlock in Washington and elections that don’t get us anything but unlimited corporate campaign spending and attack ads? Go take a dip in the ocean and get over yourself. We don’t have time for cynicism or despair. We’ve got a job to do if we’re going to save the crucible of life on our water planet and restore the blue in our red, white and blue.
While the Tea Party has proven a powerfully divisive force in U.S. politics, a Sea Party of ocean activists, businesses and communities committed to bringing the health of our public seas into public life and politics could prove a constructive and viable force for good between now and the 2016 Presidential elections.
I know we can turn the tide because I grew up in a time when through brave dissent and citizen action we stopped a war that killed millions of people and helped open U.S. society to greater equality for all. Oh, and in our free time we launched the modern environmental movement. I’m also old enough to remember the character in the movie “Network” who stuck his head out the window and shouted: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”
Three days after the November 4 elections I moderated a panel on ocean politics at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida. Panelists included local Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor, Dave Wilmot of Ocean Champions that endorses and contributes to conservation oriented candidates and Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans Judy Garber. Looking at the state of local, national and global politics just after the 2014 elections it was agreed that ocean health remains an area that still generates unique coalitions and non-partisan engagement, though it helps to have strong advocates such as Rep. Castor, who was a major critic of BP during their 2010 oil blowout and is a fierce defender of her constituents’ beaches and offshore waters. Ocean Champions, even in an election that saw pro-oil drilling republicans take back the Senate, managed to see 54 of 59 “ocean champions” it endorsed elected. While some were incumbents not at great risk of losing their seats, other winners like Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, could prove vital allies in the fight for marine protection.
As for the State Department, under John Kerry the U.S. has now emerged as a champion in the fight against illegal pirate fishing, for marine wilderness parks (with Kerry’s encouragement President Obama expanded three marine monuments in the Pacific by hundreds of thousands of square miles) and for addressing environmental concerns at both poles, even as Kerry prepares to take the chairmanship of the 8-nation Arctic Council. Of course, in a case of one fin not knowing where the other fin is flapping, the Obama administration is also opening the eastern seaboard and Arctic to acoustic surveys for oil drilling. The last time anything on this scale was attempted (under the Reagan administration back in the 1980s) broad based public opposition not only stopped new drilling but led to the creation of some of the nation’s largest and most popular marine sanctuaries off California and Florida. The first President Bush supported creation of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary in California in the hope it might help him win the state in the 1992 election. Presidential election years are actually a great opportunity for environmental organizing.
In some parts of the country potential Sea Party activists are already sharpening their tridents. Expect to see costumed fish, jellyfish, polar bears with picket signs, militant mermaids and oiled surfers (don’t worry, it’s really chocolate syrup) at public forums and raising questions at town hall meetings for the candidates, and yes, in inland primary states like Iowa and Colorado – because every state is a coastal state.
Next steps in the formation of a Sea Party will include:
• Expanding our outreach to youth and students around oil drilling and offshore fracking, plastic pollution, climate change impacts and other threats to our seas
• Bringing the largest and most diverse group of seaweed (marine grassroots) activists to the 5th Blue Vision Summit in Washington DC May 11-14 2015. This is where, local, regional and national blue groups gather every two years to build a more powerful movement
• Holding our largest Healthy Ocean Capitol Hill Day May 13, 2015. This is when delegations of concerned citizens from key states let our elected leaders know the ocean, coast and communities that depend on them matter, and will in the next election.
• Following up with demonstrations (Hands Across the Sand, Wear Blue for the Ocean) Fieldwork and groundwork leading into the 2016 elections
• Holding rallies, town hall meetings, direct action campaigns and door to door outreach on ocean and coastal issues in key primary states.
• Reaching out to the Presidential Candidates to commit to specific programs to restore the blue in our red, white and blue
• Bringing our Sea Party leadership back together post-election to make sure our nation’s new leaders become active ocean champs for the U.S. and our blue world
If this sounds like the kind of bold blue action plan you’re looking to engage in contact me and my fellow Seaweed Rebels at firstname.lastname@example.org. National Geographic Explorer in Residence Sylvia Earle says that what we do in the next 10 years will determine the fate of our blue ocean planet for the next 10,000. Let’s not waste the next two. Sea Party 2016!