Chris Perry Column: Let's Clean It Up

Chris Perry •

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Where is Iron Eyes Cody when you need him?

Right now, Nantucket could use a dose of Iron Eyes because far too many island roads are looking more like the Cross Bronx Expressway instead of a main Nantucket artery prepping for Daffodil Weekend.

Piles of debris, cans, plastic containers, trash, cardboard - you name it, Milestone Road has got it. The only thing separating it from the JFK Blvd. is an abandoned car up on cement blocks.

For us old timers out there, you might remember “Iron Eyes” from 1971. He was an Italian American from Louisiana who claimed Cherokee heritage and was featured in a famous TV ad that coincided with Earth Day. Regularly referred to as one of the most powerful TV ads ever produced, Keep America Beautiful teamed up with the Ad Council in an attempt to change consumer’s behavior. The ad became a symbol of an anti-littering campaign and truly kicked off the modern-day environmental movement. Its powerful message was punctuated by Iron Eyes Cody standing on the side of the road dressed as a Native American with a single tear rolling down his cheek as trash was thrown at his feet by a passing car.

Iron eyes cody psa featured
Iron Eyes Cody

Milestone Road is not alone. Sections of South Shore Road, Cliff Road and Old South Road, just to name a few, are all battling with South Broad Street in Newark, NJ as the East Coast’s leader in roadways littered with trash.

What gives?

The “trash on the side of the road problem” seems to have exploded over the past four or five months. With each passing week, more debris - more trash - more plastic wrapping is appearing along the sides of the roads around Nantucket. But, before we have a conversation about how we can try and fix this, let’s first talk about who we can blame.

Let’s start with the landscapers. Why not? They killed all the fish in the harbor too. If my memory serves me correctly, it was also their fault Covid initially made its way over to the island a few years ago. I’m pretty sure we tarred and feather that section of the island’s workforce back then for that. Plus, anyone who is out mulching planting beds like I witnessed this past weekend with windchill temps hovering around freezing must be guilty of something.

Construction… it must be the construction guys. They tear down houses and rebuild them bigger than before and with swimming pools. They must be dumping trash out along the roads because who wants to drive all the way to Madaket. They are noisy and dirty and drive big pick-up trucks. They are guilty.

It’s the traveling nurses. When they dress in camouflage blue or green, they blend right in with the moors so you can’t see them dumping their trash. They come and go from this island so quickly that we really don’t get to know them very well so let’s blame them.

No, wait… it’s the “summer people.” They ruin everything. Do you know that they travel from all over the world and want to come to Nantucket and have fun? That’s not right. We don’t want them to have fun. We’d rather cancel it - outlaw it - or postpone it. While the trash along the roads has become more noticeable over the past six months, those “summer people” haven’t been here since September so they must be guilty.

It’s time to look in the mirror.

We are guilty. It may take a village to raise a child but this Nantucket village is making a mess along the way. We have become lazy and complacent. Trash blowing around, debris, plastic containers littering our roads - no big deal. We don’t slow down and consider picking it up. We speed up and blow by it. If we compare the trash scattered about Milestone Road to the debris blowing around the Landfill, you’d be hard pressed to find much of a difference.

We are careless. Today, most community members have grown accustomed to navigating a local landfill that looks more like Beirut. With that to fall back on, it doesn’t surprise me that we all turn our heads when we see trashing blowing out of the vehicle in front of us or knotted around a bed of daffodils along the side of Milestone Road.

Heck, it’s not my problem.

But, it is and we need to fix it.

We have about a month before Daffodil Weekend. I’d like to think we can use the next 30 days to act more responsibly and start cleaning up the crap scattered about the roads of Nantucket. This problem should not be dumped on the DPW and Tristian Marks, who can be seen regularly policing the moors. It should be our responsibility - the shop keeper, the real estate agent, the teacher, the retired senior citizen; and yes, the landscapers, construction workers and traveling nurses should all pitch in and make this island’s roadways look like they used to when Jean MacAusland, Flint and Corky Ranney, Melva Chesrown and the Nantucket Garden Club starting parading around the island for Daffodil Weekend some 45 years ago.

We can all start the first weekend of April by signing up for the Nantucket Litter Derby.

Sadly, Iron Eyes Cody won’t be standing out on Milestone Road to send a message. He died in 1999 after spending 25 years making public appearances on behalf of a nationwide anti-littering campaign. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone today who grew up during that era and did not know the “Crying Indian” on TV. Unfortunately for those not familiar with Iron Eyes, Keep America Beautiful announced a few weeks ago that it had transferred the rights to the ad to the National Congress of American Indians Fund. Larry Wright, Jr., N.C.A.I.’s executive director indicated that they plan to “retire the ad for good due to mounting criticism of stereotyping Indigenous cultures” despite acknowledging that the ad “became synonymous with furthering environmental protection and awareness…..”

To me, that was a mistake. In context, Iron Eyes Cody could do a lot of good out here right now. Even though some have questioned Cody’s ancestral background, the ad’s message was powerful, loud and clear. I know it had an impact on me back in the 70s and 80s; and speaking for countless others, there’s nothing wrong a little refresher.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the overwhelming majority of people on Nantucket who have good intensions. While on walks with their families, they do pick up trash in Sanford Farms. The active beach clean up teams, conscientious citizens, random visitors and so many more who respect the island and truly leave it “cleaner than they found it…”

However, too many areas along the sides of our Nantucket roads look rough. There’s no rhyme or reason. It comes in all shapes and sizes - paper, aluminum, plastic, metal, wood and tin. But, we can do something about it.

As Iron Eyes Cody and the ad says, “Some people have a deep abiding respect for natural beauty …. some people don’t”.

I believe this Nantucket village is represented by the former and not the latter. So, let’s pitch in and clean it up.

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