Rachel Binah recruits artists to fight offshore oil drilling
The Pacific Ocean is Rachel Binah's muse, the restless waves, rugged shoreline and vast blue expanse creating endless inspiration for her textile constructions as an artist, a skill she honed long ago at a college in Wales.
It is also the object of her passion as a defender of North Coast waters from what Binah considers the untenable prospect of oil rigs dotting the pristine horizon.
The ocean has been an overarching presence in her life since Binah, 76, an East Coast transplant drawn to California's liberating social climate, arrived on the Mendocino County coast a half-century ago.
An innkeeper for more than 20 years in the Fort Bragg area, Binah has been a Democratic Party stalwart, serving on the party's national committee and attending eight presidential nominating conventions as a superdelegate from 1988 (Michael Dukakis) to 2016 (Hillary Clinton).
Binah, who considers herself a “serious person” not given to seeking fun, is best known - and widely admired in Democratic and environmental circles - for her commitment to protecting the North Coast from a federally authorized onslaught to tap region's relatively meager oil reserves.
“Rachel is smart, tenacious and she comes from a place of deep principle when it comes to protecting our coast,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, the San Rafael Democrat who represents the North Coast. “She's just not going to give an inch - and she shouldn't.”
Binah was one of the first people he contacted when he first decided to run in 2012, Huffman said.
Assemblyman Jim Wood, a Santa Rosa Democrat, called Binah a “Mendocino treasure.”
“Artists are passionate people and we are so fortunate that her passion is not only reflected in her amazing art but also her extremely effective advocacy protecting our oceans and coastline,” he said.
Binah's commitment is a case of familiarity breeding devotion.
“When you live close to the ocean you can't help but be aware of it,” she said.
“The idea that our government would destroy it was beyond me.”
Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, another longtime foe of offshore oil, described Binah as a “dedicated political visionary (who) has managed to convince six consecutive U.S. presidents not to try to put drilling rigs here, and she's now working on the zealots in the Trump administration to convince them of the same thing.”
Binah's protective instincts were rekindled a year ago, when then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the largest plan in history to sell oil and natural gas development rights in the nation's coastal waters as part of President Donald Trump's “America First” energy strategy.
The five-year plan would open 90 percent of the country's 1.7 billion offshore acres to oil exploration and drilling, with 47 potential lease sales in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, with six along California shores.
Zinke's plan sparked nearly unanimous protests from public officials on the East and West coasts, and for Binah and many others on the North Coast it revived memories of the momentous oil drilling protest three decades ago in Fort Bragg.
Binah helped organize the boisterous rally by as many as 5,000 people that overwhelmed a Department of Interior hearing on Lease Sale 91 proposed by President Ronald Reagan's administration in 1988, culminating in a rollback of the plan and ultimately a congressional moratorium on offshore oil development.
The hiatus was broken by the Trump administration last January.
This time around, the two threads of Binah's life - art and political activism - are intertwined in a more sedate event called “Ocean Reflections” with exhibits of a wide range of media this month at six galleries on the Mendocino coast.
The unifying theme of drawings, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, hand-blown glass, light fixtures, vessels, jewelry, photography, furniture and mixed media constructions is oceans, and the intent is to raise awareness of the official release of the Trump drilling plan, initially expected in January.
A news report on Jan. 4 said the release had been delayed indefinitely by the partial government shutdown.
The announcement could be further complicated by Zinke's resignation and his temporary replacement by acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist.
Huffman said he “wouldn't be terribly surprised” if Zinke's plan never emerges as a result of concerns about its legality.