About two million years ago in what is now New York State, glaciers carved out eleven linear lakes called the Finger Lakes. The Native Americans who lived in this area believed that these lakes were the fingerprints of the Great Spirit, who reached down and, in touching the earth, transformed this land into sacred ground, blessed by Nature.
One of the Six Nations, known to us as the Iroquois, was the Senaca and one of the Finger Lakes is named after it. James Fennimore Cooper, author of the Last of the Mohicans, wrote about the lake: “The ‘Lake Gun’ is a mystery. It is a sound resembling the explosion of a heavy piece of artillery, that can be accounted for by none of the known laws of nature. The report is deep, hollow, distant and imposing. The lake seems to be speaking to the surrounding hills, which send back the echoes of its voice in accurate reply.” Seneca Indians believed that the booming sounds came from the Great Spirit.
Surrounded by spectacular scenery at the end of the longest Finger Lake – Lake Cayuga, is the town of Ithaca, home to Ithaca College. This college has 6000 students and also has had a study centre in an elegant, restored Victorian house in the heart of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea since 1972.
An Assistant Professor of Journalism at Ithaca College, named James Rada, had an idea to create a TV programme to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Entitled ‘With Infinite Hope: MLK and the Civil Rights Movement’. It was shown 300 times across 75 channels in the United States last year.
So this is a long introduction to a quote that is attributed to James Rada while he was trying to interview some of the original activists from 50 years ago. He found it difficult to get people to speak as ‘That was an era where you're not supposed to call attention to yourself, you're not supposed to take credit.’
In contrast, Martin Luther King Jr. was an eloquent speaker. He said, “I came to the conclusion that there is an existential moment in your life when you must decide to speak for yourself; nobody else can speak for you.”
In a male dominated age, he also said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
So it’s refreshing to find two current stories that resonate with this quote, but you will have to add a young woman and a child to those who measure up.
Birmingham born Saffiyah Khan hit the headlines on the 8th April 2017 when she was passing an English Defence League march in the city and felt compelled to intervene to stop the harassment of a Muslim lady wearing a headscarf. Her quote is 'It's more important to smile than shout'.
You can see an interview with her at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-39555406/saffiyah-khan-it-s-more-important-to-smile-than-shout.
Also listen to this young girl from Sweden, a millennial who like young people across Europe, has been demanding that politicians take action on the climate warming crisis. Since 20th August 2018 she has been sitting outside the Swedish Parliament every Friday – but her teachers do help her catch up with her missed schooling. In the interview link there is a clip of her addressing world leaders when on 23rd January 2019, she arrived in Davos after her 32-hour train journey, in contrast to the many delegates who arrived by up to 1,500 individual private jet flights: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/tv/2019/02/01/amanpour-greta-thunberg.cnn and see her page on https://www.instagram.com/gretathunberg/
I guess Freedom of Expression, the right to be yourself and body freedom are not inspiring issues for potential activists, but perhaps we should be inspired by great activists like Martin Luther King Jr. who also said “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
Here is a little bit about the small things we have been doing in East Sussex. I joined the Eastbourne Naturist Swim Club in 2014 and found a club in serious decline. I made a couple of good friends and suggested that if we were to turn things around we needed to do more than just swim once a week. This year we have planned a whole year’s events, at least in outline, and have many that will be easy to repeat this year from last. However, we always need that spark from something new and from meeting new people, naturist or not. Organising a naturist event turns out not to be so difficult as you might think. Many people are keen to get new business and are quite tolerant and we have not yet met any of that very small part of the population that is vehemently against naturism.
In 2015 we contacted Charleston Farmhouse near Lewes about a visit. Two of us went to see the relevant assistant manager who was a young lady in her twenties. We chatted with her about a group visit using careful words like naturist and we got to to working out a date and time for the visit when it became apparent to me that she did not know what a naturist was. I said ‘You realise that we will need an exclusive visit?’. She disappeared to see someone else. Oh well, at least we tried we said between ourselves. She came back with a slightly older lady who was her boss. ‘Oh yes, that will be fine; it can be on such and such a day and it costs just £250 and we can serve tea’, she said. In the event we got 35 people to visit, many not even members of the swim club. The only problem was the weather.
Since then we have approached many organisations and often the answer we get is ‘yes we’d love to have you visit, now let’s work out how we can do it’. When we went to the Towner gallery in Eastbourne, they did not cover up all the glass windows and arranged for us to use the staff exit in the event of an emergency. A few weeks later we went to the Jerwood in Hastings where they had a sauna as an exhibit and terms and conditions that included wearing a bathing suit and sandals. However they let us use the sauna without the bathing suit, allowed us to view both floors of the gallery, let us make our own tea and serve our own cake. No one said we’ll have to cover up all the windows - but sandals in the sauna were non-negotiable!
Occasionally we get a polite decline. One sculpture garden had an old lady with dementia living in the house and we agreed that it wouldn’t be fair in case she did get stressed about naked people in her garden. Sometimes we just get no reply, but I always persist and in one case the lack of reply was because the owner of the garden centre was at the Chelsea Flower Show winning a gold medal! We went twice for a wild swim there after I went to meet one of the owners.
We have met an owner who told us that she had been skinny dipping at a local (non-naturist) beach for many years and another who said ‘Oh that’s no problem, we have done about 6 naked charity calendars in the last 12 years’ - and brought them out to shiow us when we visited.
So what’s the biggest problem? Well, I’m afraid it’s getting people to commit to come. Luckily we have never had to cancel an event and we have only lost money on one so far (not counting the beach clean where we needed to buy equipment and for which I have a ‘Beach Guardian’ badge from the Marine Conservation Society and the hire of the professional photographer for the Jerwood visit).
Two landed naturist clubs that were within a reasonable driving distance, closed recently in Sussex. We felt a great sadness and loss, but I wouldn’t have called them vibrant communities. I was talking to someone a few days ago and he said ‘Of course yours is a non-landed club, but that’s good, because I always feel fenced in at a landed club’. And its true that we would never have had the impetus to go out and find places for naturist activities if we had a club house and we are all the richer for the diverse environments and people that we visit. Perhaps a bonus is that for the healthy, active naturists among us – walking is free (in more than one sense!).
If you still feel that you cannot organise a small naturist event, then I hope you would consider participating at a naturist event, but failing that then the smallest thing is not to hide your love of naturism. Oh and maybe take a leaf out of Greta’s book when you go on holiday - go by train, not by plane. It’s often said that the journey is the experience, not the destination.