by Stephen Capra
After more than two years of preparation, the past few days have been the celebration of 50 years of wilderness held here in Albuquerque. From all reports it has been a tremendous conference one that highlighted the Secretary of Interior, Terry Tempest Williams and a long list of Senators and elected officials. What it also revealed was the gray hairs of a movement that has gone from powerful and grassroots, to one of politics, suits and stubbornly remains a holdout of real integration of its workforce and those who care about its relevance. Wilderness, like modern day Republicans is slow to change, fearful of what it may bring and isolated from the reality of a changing world.
I mention this as the person that wrote the proposal two years ago to bring the conference here to New Mexico. My goal was to really rock the foundation of what this movement stands for and my reasoning was to make it broader and more relevant for the next 50 years. Our hope and goal was to bring new voices to the table, to listen to communities of color and understand not only what wilderness means to them, but to make them part of the fabric of a new movement to protect lands in perpetuity.
Now because of such efforts, there were some new voices, but they palled to the more conventional. We got to hear elected officials and agencies talk about why this wilderness ideal was so important. Looking across the room, one could imagine the crowd as no different as the segregated south of 40 years ago. You see real change requires taking risk, allowing new voices to be the focal point, not window dressing.
In the two years I worked on this event, what I saw were efforts to remain connected to our past, one which I have loved and revered. This past has been celebrated in many ways for the past fifty years. I was at the 25th, 35th and 40th conferences and we celebrated the past and gave awards and speaking time to every living member of the extended families of our heroes.
This time it made sense that we take a day or a part of one to remember the past, but focus with energy and will to a new and frankly even more exciting future. I left the planning committee some time ago because the pushback was far too strong to use such a moment to grow.
Many would say wilderness is far too great an ideal to need change and that sometimes a simple idea is enough. Having spent much of my youth in the wilds across this country and Canada, I can say with conviction that I agree. However, we see so much of our country and its basic foundations and freedoms eroding before our eyes. It is not that far-fetched to imagine a Republican administration coming in and declaring changes to the Wilderness Act or its elimination, and if they control both houses, anything is possible. Sure we can pressure and raise voices, but we remain a small and in some eyes, bourgeoisie segment of society; which is ironic, considering the lifestyles of some of our founders-Sigurd Olsen, the Muries or for that matter Edward Abbey?
Our goal must be to desegregate this movement, to ask tough questions of how we move forward, to begin to listen to new voices and allow ourselves to grow, not stagnate. Change is coming, but our principle is solid, we love land for the sake of its wildness, so too our waters. That principle will likely remain, but it’s who we are that must evolve. There may be changes at some point, even the constitution has grown.
Part of being ready, is to be open to change which is inevitable. The past four days have been tremendous for all involved, but we missed an opportunity. One that must be integrated into the long-term vision of a movement, that has gone from a handful of people with a passion and a vision, to a corporate entity, that thus far is not reflective of the times. The first 50 was pure magic, the next may be part of not only preserving lands, but the sanity of a world consumed in its love of the material.
To fight such a loss of the soul and disconnect we must invite the world to once again love wildness and allow them to speak of wildness with their own voice and meaning.
Bold Visions Conservation