Way back in the 20th Century, I was hired to be the front desk receptionist for a small, newly minted environmental non-profit called Heal the Bay. I got this gig because someone I knew socially was on the board, and he gave the leader of the organization his recommendation. Working for Dorothy Green was an education, and there are a few things I learned at Heal the Bay that have stayed with me.
In the first months of having an office and a staff – the organization had previously been run out of a spare bedroom at the Green house by volunteers – we received an offer of a very substantial donation from Chevron. Heal the Bay needed money. Chevron wanted to be our friend, our benefactor.
“Absolutely not,” said Dorothy. “No way in the world are we taking their money.”
Our offices were in a strange little space above a carpet cleaning business near Olympic and 11th, a not very lovely or accessible street near the 10 freeway. Every time they turned on too many machines downstairs, our power would black out, and the office computers would all go dark. Data was lost, notes were obliterated, and speeches were cut in mid sentence. People occasionally screamed in frustration.
There are problems that money can solve. But it matters where money comes from.
Some board members pressed her on the issue. We could take their dirty money and use it for clean work. We could use this cash to set up a bigger fundraising operation. We could take it and somehow get them on the side of right.
“Oil companies are not interested in healing the bay. They are interested in letting people think they are healing the bay, so they can drill more wells and do more harm.” As with so many other issues, Dorothy prevailed.
Of course, we found other ways to raise money. Corporations are never the only option. And I don’t think there would be such a huge, healthy and accomplished non-profit organization today if we had cashed Chevon’s check.
There is a park in Santa Monica, just at the edge of the beach, named for Dorothy Green. It’s a modest little bit of a park, but I’m sure she would be pleased.
Sometimes doing the right thing is just about not doing the thing you know isn’t right.