When we first arrived at the site of the Anacostia Watershed Association we did not immediately start learning about the environmental issues associated with the Anacostia River. Instead, Jim Foster, the President of the group, gave us a brief history of the river and town we were in and what role they played in the American Revolution. Right from the get-go you could feel Mr Foster’s strong connection to the river and the people who lived around it. He discussed the many issues that the river faced and how the goal of the Anacostia Watershed Association is to make the Anacostia River fishable and swimmable. The river used to serve as a major fishery and fresh water port for southern Maryland. Yet now the river is highly polluted as a result of the urbanization of communities along the rivers. Mr. Foster was very critical of the regulations in place to protect the river because of their vagueness and the use of ineffective TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) to monitor pollutant discharge.
After hearing Fred Tutman speak the previous night, many of us had the issue of environmental justice on our minds. Mr. Foster was very keen on this issue and discussed the importance of engaging communities who do not always care about environmental issues. He said that the group’s strategy was to change hearts and minds by getting on the ground in communities that are being negatively affected and making personal connections to these disenfranchised groups. This reminded me a lot of the Reader’s Digest article written by Dwight D. Eisenhower entitled “What is Leadership”. In it the ex-President says that “power of persuasion” is a key tenet of a leader, something that Jim Foster truly embodies.