Admirers have called her "a force of nature." For more than three decades, Dorothy Green has prodded and urged southern California toward a sensible way of living within the natural limits of its geography. Much as water wears away stone, she has worked to shift water agencies from near-exclusive reliance on concrete channels to control floodwaters to an approach that includes groundwater recharge, water reuse, spreading basins, and native plants. Her creative spirit, graciousness, intelligence, down-to-earth warmth, and relentless energy have earned admiration from both allies and opponents. You can track her footprints along the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, and Santa Monica Bay, to Sacramento and Washington, D.C. She founded Heal the Bay, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council and, about three years ago, launched the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), whose goal is to move the state toward a sustainable water future.
Coast & Ocean talked with Dorothy Green in her home of 40 years in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles.
C&O: How did you become an activist? What set you on that path?
DG: One of my kids is retarded, and I joined the Exceptional Children Foundation and ran their Christmas card program from 1962 to '79. We manufactured our own cards, designed by children in the program and printed by parents who had a print shop. I built it up to a pretty good business, taking in over $25,000 a year by just selling cards designed by retarded kids, till I finally just got bored with it.
But also, there was the Vietnam War, and my oldest son was going to have to register for the draft. That happened at about the same time the first Earth Day was happening, and the civil rights movement was coming to a conclusion. I went into a kind of depression. And when I realized what was happening to me--I just didn't want to get out of bed in the morning--I began to look around for an organization where I could learn how to become an activist.
I joined Women For:, an organization that worked for all the good things--better education, civil liberties, environment, peace. It had been formed by some frustrated League of Women Voters members who wanted to be more directly involved in the electoral process. The first thing I worked on was the Coastal Initiative (1972). I volunteered for the speakers' bureau and did make a couple of speeches, but I was terrible, I was so scared. But I learned.
The second thing I did was to work for a bill that Assemblyman Ed Z'berg (D-Sacramento) was carrying, which would have established a super agency to set environmental policy for all other agencies. To push this bill, advocates had formed a single-purpose organization and I was the representative of Women For: I volunteered to be treasurer because I know how to keep a simple set of books. The two women who really ran that organization took me lobbying in Sacramento--which was an eye-opening experience.