Co-authored by Charlie Plybon, Oregon Policy Manager
& Bri Goodwin, Oregon Field Manager for Surfrider Foundation
For more than three decades our organization has had a strong, powerful voice for our ocean, waves and beaches in Oregon. We have had the privilege of building a community of passionate volunteers and activists to engage in this protection and the organizational strategy to build grassroots movements with the power and influence to enact change. And as we stand stunned by the recent events and saddened by the systemic racism in our society, it’s critical we take some time to examine, through the lens of our Surfrider mission in Oregon, who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going. In this post we seek to acknowledge some of the inequity we’ve been all too complicit with, reflect on why that is and most importantly, start to lay out some of the actions and accountability we seek to chart a path for a stronger organization and a more equitable future.
Acknowledgement: At the core of who we are – ocean and beach recreational users – we come from an extremely divided history of exclusion and racism. You don’t have to peek too far into the history of surfers and the beach scene to discover the horrid and twisted surf nazi culture. And anyone who’s experienced the “locals only” vibe understands that exclusion isn’t historical in the surfing and beach community. – it is very much alive today. As we deepen this acknowledgement with that of Oregon’s very white history, it’s easy to understand how we as a community do not feel welcoming to people of color.
As Oregon transplants in the last two decades, we both come from places with much greater diversity. Arriving in what we both believed to be a very progressive state, we were both underwhelmed at, to be frank, its “whiteness”. An ethics professor of Charlie’s used to say on identifying the many faces of systemic racism, “in the south people of color can move close but not up, in the north they can move up but not close” – however in Oregon the radical racism has historically completely excluded people of color from our state. As a state that lacks much diversity, it’s important we acknowledge why and understand Oregon’s disturbing history of exclusion and white supremacy if we are to commit to change. It’s easy to shrug this off as the historical past, but the reality is much of our success has been built off of the influence and participation in a system designed for the privilege and power of white people and the oppression of people of color. Benefiting from and complacency with such a system is a form of racism in itself that we must confront.
Reflection: Why have we been complicit and not acted on this inequity? It’s not our mission, we don’t do social justice, heck Oregon’s lack of diversity makes it that much harder..right? Not exactly. The reality is that these are all just excuses that only further exclusion and systemic racism. We are really just beginning to truly wrestle with our own answers to these questions as individuals. Organizationally, we can become stronger by addressing the intersectionality of racism, diversity, equity and inclusion with our core initiatives. If we seek to protect the environment, we must protect people. We’ve been “too busy” with our heads down for the environmental win that we’ve really not been intentional enough about inclusivity. We have operated as if racism does not exist and that has made us weaker. We understand diversity drives resiliency and ecological success, so why have we not furthered the diversity of our organizational and social systems?
Acknowledging the violence: We must also acknowledge the violence and the fear and terror that comes with living in a society where murderous acts of racism continue to occur. As community organizers and activists, we are regularly on the front lines of environmental rallies, protests and even civil disobedience at times. We regularly put groups of volunteers on the street at night for cleanups, outreach and other events. As an organization we generally do all of these activities without the fear of acts of racism or police violence and escalation impacting our volunteers. That’s a privilege we enjoy and may be a security we assume for our volunteers.
Commitments to Action: We are currently working with our Surfrider Oregon network to develop measurable steps to address racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion in our work. We have just started this process, but here are some of the initial steps we will be taking.
Educating Ourselves and Network
- Understand who we are and want to be. This week we’re launching a survey with our Oregon chapters to start digging in. What’s our current leadership demographics and what is their awareness of institutional racism, equity and inclusion? How can we be more welcome and open to others, how do we create safe and welcoming spaces. From meetings to programs and events, we’re accessing our knowledge base, who and how we want to be.
- Learning more about racial and social injustice. As individuals, many of us are reading, listening to podcasts, and watching films to better educate ourselves. As a network we are coming together in discussion groups and book clubs to share what we are learning and discuss how to apply that to our Surfrider work. Read along with our book club, this month: So You Want to Talk about Race? Buy from a black-owned bookstore (store list here and another here)
- Program Exploration: We have talented and creative minds in our network and programming that we can put to work immediately. We will begin accessing program opportunities with our chapters that align with our mission, educate the public and support greater inclusivity and financial support to people and organizations of color – Access 4 All, Clean Beaches 4 Black Lives/Voices, Scholarship programs, etc.
Elevating and Empowering People of Color
- Elevating melanated voices. As a network we will be more intentional about amplifying black, indigenous, and people of color voices. We are exploring more ways to do this, for example through social media and public presentations.
- Broaden Partnerships. Supporting organizations through intentional partnerships and fundraising with organizations that serve communities of color.
- Empowerment and Representation in Ocean Issues. Ensuring POC and under-represented communities have a voice in coastal and ocean issues and decision-making processes. We will activate opportunities for representation, beginning with an assessment of our own chapter leadership and that of critical ocean and coastal management advisory bodies.
Timeline and Accountability: We’re committed to holding ourselves accountable for this work and we will be providing monthly updates on each of these core action areas. We’re going to stumble and make mistakes. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but that’s the only way we can make change. It’s a messy process and we invite you to join us. We look forward to working with our existing network and new partners to bring meaningful and intentional change to our work. Stay tuned, we’ll be reporting back regularly!
Color of Change running list of campaign actions / petitions
Stop the Drilling! Industrial oil drilling in low income communities of color