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Article Published April 7, 2021

A Small First Step

By Hugh Birdsall

As a member of the Clinton Sustainability Committee, where equity is one of our primary concerns, I am writing with a proposal to my fellow shoreline citizens.

As I was thinking about how, as a privileged White person living in a privileged, mostly White community, I might reach out to my brothers and sisters of color, my human family, it occurred to me that one small step toward making our communities more inclusive, more equitable, and more diverse would be to open our beaches to the public.

The way we have managed our shoreline beaches up until now is essentially racist. We have used parking bans, private beach signs, restricted hours of access, and exorbitant entrance fees to insulate ourselves from an urban population that routinely fills our state parks to capacity during the summer months, while being denied the opportunity to enjoy the many other beaches that call to them behind barriers, both bureaucratic and physical.

If we relinquished a tiny portion of our privilege and opened our beaches to the public, we would have many more chances to meet and have conversations with people different from ourselves. This might allow us to overcome the fear that fuels systemic racism, and even over time, make our communities more representative of the true diversity of our country. It is quite possible that communities of color will not be that interested in having access to our beaches, given our history of exclusion and oppression of “the other.”

And obviously, this is not the single solution to a complex problem, but it feels like a small first step in the right direction. In fact there is a bill pending in the general assembly right now: HB 6351: An Act Concerning Access to Public Beaches. Check it out.

Hugh Birdsall