This has been a tumultuous few months. We’ve seen the inequities of our society laid bare with the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, a severe economic recession, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and the repressive response to predominantly peaceful protests that followed. We condemn racism and police brutality, but merely saying that isn’t enough.
The white people whom our country’s institutions have traditionally served often believe that these institutions work for everyone equally. The events of these months have removed that façade for anyone who couldn’t see that before. The reality is that our institutional failings have fallen overwhelmingly on black and other communities of color, as they always do. The raw nature of these events should make it clear to all of us just how unequal and racist our society continues to be.
The conservation community often touts the small “d” democratic nature of public lands. These are areas that ostensibly belong to everyone. They have been set aside for the “public” and our work to protect them is for the benefit of all residents.
However, public lands do not sit in some special place separate and apart from the rest of society. They are not walled off from the institutions that built them and continue to oversee them. The same institutions that are attacking protesters, causing economic hardship, permitting enormous health disparities, and killing civilians in the streets, are the ones that manage our public lands.
The fact is, the ideal of public lands will remain unfulfilled, as will the democratic ideals of the United States, as long as these realities and injustices persist.
Since these ills know no boundaries, it is the responsibility of each of us, in the areas that we work, to confront head-on the unequal and unjust nature of our institutions and culture.
At CalWild, we recognized this a few years ago and have worked to integrate equity and inclusion into our work. In November, after much discussion and work, we adopted our first equity and inclusion statement. Then in February, CalWild launched our Public Lands Equity and Resilience Program, hiring our first staff in the Central Valley who is committed to reaching out and partnering with more communities of color. In doing so, we seek to expand access to public lands for those communities as well as empower them to voice their opinions about, and desires for, our shared public lands.
However, it is clear that we were late to recognize this reality and our response has not been sufficient to meet the challenge. It is our responsibility to do better, to deepen our commitment to making public lands accessible, safe, and welcoming to all people.
Public lands may not be in the forefront of today’s protests, but it is clear that racism and inequity infects every part of our society. It is CalWild’s responsibility to tackle these issues directly when it comes to our work.
As members of our individual communities across California, our board and staff live alongside the inequities that the black community has faced in particular.
So let us say with our collective voice: We hear you. We see you. And we will do better.
-CalWild Staff and Board