Monday, June 23, 2014

Unexpected Happy Place -- by Lauren Campbell Kong

(This post is dedicated to Mandy, Missy, Sheila, Steven, James, Bill, Rich and the rest of the crew that came out and busted their asses to clean the Ohio River on Saturday, June 21st 2014.)

I haven’t been too inspired to write for a while and have been in my own head busy adjusting to life here in Cincinnati. One would think moving only 2 hours away from home meant that the people, culture, and the environment wouldn’t be so different. But things are very different here and it has required some serious adjusting on my part. It’s been hard to make new friends and to meet people who have passion about the environment.
Thank You Mandy from KCB for the photo
This past Saturday was finally a moment when all things I love converged, creating a trifecta of acceptance, passion, and activism for me in this city.

I was active in the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Indianapolis. Since I moved to Cincinnati, I was a little disappointed in the Sierra Club here. Both the Northern Kentucky group and the Miami Valley group don’t have much of a ‘politicking’ presence. The members here enjoy hiking together or walking on trails. Once a month they will invite a speaker into town to put on a presentation about a crusade. Otherwise, there was no way for me to get directly involved and be active in the way that I am accustomed.

I got involved in Environment Ohio when we first moved here, but their campaign disbanded in January of 2014 and finding something else has been difficult. I did eventually discover the River Sweep 2014 through the Sierra Club’s Northern Kentucky chapter's monthly e-newsletters.

River Sweep is an annual event organized by the Ohio RiverValley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO). It took place this year on Saturday June 21st.

The River Sweep began in 1989 and it spans the entire Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Cairo, IL. During the event, thousands of volunteers descend onto the Ohio River to pick up trash and debris. It is a multi-organizational effort to help clean the Ohio River and to create awareness about how polluted and dirty the river is.

In addition to the Sierra Club being in attendance, there was also Keep Covington Beautiful (KCB), and volunteers from the City of Covington municipality. It was rejuvenating to see all the wonderful, friendly people coming together to help keep this beautiful river clean.
Thank you Mandy from KCB for the photo
I was the most surprised by KCB. This group truly does what it can for the city of Covington, keeping trash and pollution from entering the water ways. They have a good relationship with the municipality and they work diligently together to address many environmental issues here. Anytime I see a government agency and a non-profit working together productively and holistically to address environmental issues, I get inspired.

It was a hot day and there were some seriously gross stuff down by the river bank that needed picked up: doors, buried tires, a broken kitchen sink, an old fence, nasty insulation that had been there for months if not longer, deteriorating and probably contaminated with asbestos, more Milwaukee’s Best beer cans than I ever knew existed, shoes, clothes, a pair of old underwear, and so, SO much more.

That’s just the stuff I saw in the quarter of a mile I traversed through. When you think about the entire river spanning the border of 6 states, I can't begin to imagine what else was found.

Thankfully we had a decent turnout at our location. We managed to clean a good chunk of the river bank. I have faith that other parts of the Ohio River were cleaned too by equally passionate people. At times it was overwhelming, disgusting, and depressing to see so much trash, to think there are still so many people who don’t think twice about throwing their garbage out of their cars, boats, and homes.

But that's not important now. What is important, is the truly inspiring people I met, people who care about this city and about our environment. These people volunteered their time to come out and make a difference; people of all different colors, sexual orientation, social economic status, and backgrounds, converging on the river as one to make it a better place for everyone. It is a selfless act that made me forget how difficult it is to adjust to a new city and new people I don't know; it made me forget just how many people don't care about this river and their city. 

Thank you Mandy from KCB for the photo
At the end of the day, I realized how much is left to do. Not just the trash, but how much educating, motivating, and inspiring that must be done for others to see the importance of our waterways and the value they add to our eco-system. My back pain proves it and the irony rings loud and clear.

So to leave you with something to ponder, there are multiple river clean up events that happen along the Ohio River and I for one hope to participate regularly as my schedule permits. If something is stopping you from coming to support us, you are underestimating the possibility of these good people, people that you would want to get to know.

After all, we will make a bit of difference and together, I've found my new happy place, I found it down by the river, I found it in the people I met there and in the hard work we did together. I hope you find yours as well, on this planet, in this place we all call home.  

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