Little Rock Outside of Alaska the people who immediately know where Bristol Bay is located are preparing to compete on the “Jeopardy” television show or a National Geographic Society geo-quiz thing, but thanks to a building campaign we might all need to start learning the location. And, no, it’s not in England or just a current obsession I have with ACORN Bristol, our newest ACORN International affiliate.
When you look at Alaska on the map, you see the long whiskers coming out of the land mass that make up the Aleutian chain. Bristol Bay is the huge water mass on the northern side of that twist. If you’ve ever tried to make sure you are eating wild salmon, the odds are good that one out of every three or four times you have done so, you’re eating a sockeye pulled in on a fishing boat in Bristol Bay, along with a lot of other seafood. All of which is good news, but since this is the 21st Century where corporate exploitation dominates every area of life and the environment, of course Bristol Bay is critically threatened, and in this case it’s a billion dollar proposed copper and gold mine at Pebble Creek which could catastrophically pollute the Bay and destroy the fishery and thereby the jobs and way of life that Native Alaskans and many others have lived for generations. A lot of groups have jumped to defend Bristol Bay, and though the fight is not over, the signs are starting to look good, as some of the mine’s partners, including the giant Anglo-American and Rio Tinto mining companies, have pulled out. The EPA and courts are also starting to side with opponents.
I know a lot of this though due to an unusual piece of this campaign being spearheaded by Si Kahn, a well know former union and community organizer and activist and folk singer based in Charlotte, North Carolina, whom I interviewed on KABF’s Wade’s World recently. Si got an out-of-nowhere invitation from a local Bristol Bay fisherman and picker several years ago to come up on some frequent flyer miles and write some songs to publicize the Bristol Bay fight. Out of his visits there came not only a CD and some excellent songs for the campaign, but a group called Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay.
Of course I asked Si, what is it that musicians add to the mix here? Of course Si, as a veteran organizer, was realistic that they weren’t the main item but were an important piece of the extra sizzle helping elevate the campaign and therefore leverage attention, publicity, and even political heft to the fight. Four hundred musicians have united for Bristol Bay and giving a shout out for people to support the fight, wearing t-shirts, and heightening the attention and providing invaluable support.
Sitting at KABF with 100,000 watts of people power and seeing our sister station, KNON, also “The Voice of the People” with a couple of giant billboards on the expressways when I was driving through Dallas the other day, had me thinking about Si’s idea of Musicians United. With the radio stations we’ve always focused our attention on the listeners on the other end of the radio waves, and have just been thankful to the musicians who played on the station, did benefits for us, and represented, but perhaps we need to take up Si’s mission as well, and start talking to them about how they can be Musicians United for Remittance Justice or Bridging the Digital Divide or support other grassroots campaigns. To the degree that networks and connections are all important strategically and tactically these days, person-to-person is still the best but performer-to-person is still better than a Facebook post or a Twitter tweet as well. Si is right to tap this deep reservoir, and we need to start thinking about how to do that as well.