In January, former Sierra Club Bay Chapter conservation staffperson David Nesmith, better known as Chicken, suffered a massive stroke.
Two months ago Chicken set a goal that he would testify at the East Bay Municipal Utility District April 24 Board meeting. On the agenda was a vote to reverse the EBMUD plan to raise Pardee Dam, which would have destroyed two miles of the Mokelumne River (see previous article). This was the culmination of years of his work, along with Pete Bell and Katherine Evatt of the Foothill Conservancy and others, to convince the Board that it is good common sense to protect a live river. At this meeting, the Board was going to vote to save a river. Chicken had to be there.
How did he convince them, you ask? He took them on river trips every year on the Mokelumne, introducing them to the wonders and excitement of that living river. He took some of them on other rivers, too. He also attended every local community input meeting, met boardmembers individually for coffee or breakfast, and organized such a large attendance at a hearing that the Board had to find a bigger venue, something which had never happened before. And there was also a successful lawsuit filed by his buddies at Foothill Conservancy, Friends of the River, and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
The Board meeting was the first time since his stroke that he had been back in his working world. It sure was nice to see him out of sweats and into a collared shirt, trousers, and his usual vest! He looked quite fine, indeed!
As soon as we arrived in the lobby of the elegant EBMUD building, he became the center point of a fluttering flock of excited staff and friends. As he rolled along, the flock moved with him.
We entered the boardroom with its gleaming wood-paneled walls, rows of soft chairs for the audience, wall-sized screen behind the elevated dais, and the names of the elected officials featured on signs along the dais.
The meeting began and proceeded through its agenda, and then it was time for testimony on the resolution. It was time for David Nesmith to speak. I rolled him down the aisle to the podium, and he stood up tall. He read the speech he wrote and had practiced in speech therapy, remembering to pause between sentences, to modulate his voice, to slow down, to project his breath from his belly through his vocal chords (half of which don’t work properly).
He said to the Board:
“Good afternoon, Chairman John and members of the Board:
“Due to my stroke, my voice is softer than it used to be. If you have trouble understanding me, please tell me to speak up.
“I want to thank ALL the members of this Board for changing your decision. It is unprecedented for this Board to actually save a river. I have never known any other water Board to save a river. YOU decided to save a river. Thank you so much.
“Think of all the fish and the riparian plants and animals. It’s a beautiful and complex ecosystem. You have saved two miles of a river… its trees, flowers, frogs, insects, birds, snakes, and–rafters.
“There’s nobody that could have done it like you did. You’ve made a great decision.
“The rivers are so damaged in California. We all love rivers. We all fight for rivers.
The boardmembers were riveted. When he had finished, John, the Republican chair of the Board, bounced up, emphatically slapping his palms together to lead a standing ovation for our David Nesmith.
And then they voted 7 – 0 to save the Mokelumne River!
After the meeting, Chicken rolled up to the dais, stood up, and supporting himself on it, made his way along it, speaking to each boardmember. Several said that they were very moved by his speech. Another said, “This vote is a testament to you, David.” Several talked about how wonderful it was that he took them on the river. Meanwhile, Chicken was busy organizing their next river trip.
Staff came up to tell me, “We really love this guy.” Everyone looked at him with such deep respect and affection. I was awed. I mean, he supported an expensive lawsuit against them! He created problems for them! And–he introduced them to the river. Meanwhile, he managed to keep relationships intact. The fight was not personal. Amazing!
I asked him how he kept going through the many setbacks of this fight. “Because it was a common-sense decision. I knew that, eventually, it was going to go the right way.”
May he experience such calm determination and optimism now in his fight for recovery
Friends have organized a fundraiser on Mon., June 11, at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, to help pay for Chicken’s health services. It will feature Maria Muldaur, Laurie Lewis, and the Midnight Ramblers. For more information on this event see http://www.freightandsalvage.org/david-nesmith-benefit-show-laurie-lewis-midnite-ramblers-other-special-guests.