Here is Sam's tribute to the legacy of Pick Up America. Sam blogged for us in the early years of the journey and was with us on our Colorado campaign.
On November 11, 2012, Pick Up America and The Harvest Collective will accomplish what no human being has done before: complete a three year coast-to-coast roadside litter pick-up of the continental United States! And you thought breaking the sound barrier was momentous (see Amy Goodman and Felix Baumgartner)! Besides saving state transportation budgets roughly a dollar per pound of trash (adding up to $185,000 nationally), the Pick Up America team has raised awareness about society’s need to change our consumption and waste disposal habits, and sent a message that there are young people in America who devotionally care about our country’s environmental future.
After three years, it is easy to dismiss and even be disenchanted by the sheer magnitude of their accomplishment, even by people who have followed the project from the get-go. That’s why I am writing this friendly reminder; to acknowledge the courage and fortitude first of Jeff and Davey, for dreaming of and actually following through to complete the journey, and second, all the team members and volunteers who walked alongside them and put so much effort and resources into helping the project succeed.
The walk has stayed strictly grassroots, garnering no corporate sponsors or larger umbrella organizations, been in the news media countless times, even national news, and has stuck to their message of transitioning to zero waste and alternative energy sources relentlessly, all for no pay. It takes a lot of determination to work for free these days, let alone start your own nonprofit and fundraise for such a massive undertaking, especially right after college. Thinking about all the movements I’ve been apart of, it is rare to see a self-started protest organization achieving such long-term success and durability.
I was hiking in Boulder County the other day when I stumbled upon a few piles of discarded shotgun shells and aluminum cans used for target practice. I knew by the haunting echoes of nearby rifle shots that I was in an area used by hunters, but right then it hit me how brave and dangerous the Pick-Up Artists’ mission really was. Whether the possibility of unexploded shells detonating or contracting some nefarious disease from handling hazardous waste, getting punctured by a piece of scrap metal or run over by a semi truck along the highway, the potential hazards of the road are a far cry from the comforts of modern American life. Even the selfless act of picking up someone else’s trash is courageous and humbling.
I didn’t have a trash bag with me; all I had was my Gatorade water bottle because I was just doing a short hike, but I learned my lesson, and it is annoying to know that now I have to carry plastic bags with me on hikes through one of the cleanest parts of the country, like I’m cleaning up after a dog. But I guess that’s how this whole durned Pick Up America project started, on what should have been a pristine trail in Yosemite. Jeff identified a problem and mobilized a solution that’s reached thousands of people.
My short stint with PUA was enough to show me that there’s a lot of work still to be done, but it also showed me the sacrifice and determination of people who had the same convictions as me. That we can’t let the planet and future generations down by being idle on these issues. That spirit alone will remain with me my whole life, and I’m sure others’ as well. On November 11, Pick Up America will make history.