Hudson River Sloop CLEARWATER: The First Five Years - an experiment in social change

by Joseph Janeti

The 100th anniversary of Pete Seeger’s birth (May 3, 1919) lines up almost perfectly with the 50th anniversary of the Hudson River sloop, Clearwater’s launch (May 17, 1969). This is especially significant in that Pete Seeger was one of the principal supporters of both the Clearwater’s early development and then its overall program. Though it did not begin that way, the undertaking turned into the first large scale environmental awareness project in the US, helping set in motion today’s widespread interest in ecology and the environment. This book is a memorial to Pete, and a testament to both.

The Clearwater’s launch was an attempt to encourage both public recognition of problems affecting our environment and participation in solutions to them – in this case, a single group of people worked together to take on a limited problem – a dirty river. To the effort, they invited anyone and everyone – rich, poor, black, white, scientists, students, farmers, fishermen, housewives, musicians, historians, artists, lawyers, sailors. The way the project developed mirrored attitudes around social and  environmental change at the time, and in the process helped move some of that change forward. What the sloop group did or did not accomplish it its early years is what this story is about. Equal to its significance as a trend-setting environmental awareness/activism project was its importance as an exercise in communication, an experiment in social change.