|CREDIT: Jenelle Schneider, Calgary Herald
|Robert Kennedy Jr., ex-skier Karen Percy-Lowe, and celebrity Alec Baldwin arrive at the Waterkeeper’s Conference
|CREDIT: Canwest News Archive, Reuters
|Vanity Fair’s first “green issue,” featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr., hit shelves in April 2006.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Sports Invitational runs until tonight
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On a crisp Friday at Sunshine Village, celebrities are showing just how dedicated they are to the environment.
With little more to offer than their name, such famous faces as Kelsey Grammer, Alec Baldwin and Justin Trudeau awkwardly slip on snowshoes and cross-country skis to fly through an obstacle course for the benefit of the international press.
It’s not the most glamourous work. Actor-director Jason Priestley had a terribly unflattering wipeout on a toboggan and Margaret Trudeau smashed into crash pads at the bottom of the toboggan hill.
Still, these stars are risking humiliation to raise awareness of the environment and they’re willing to take that risk largely because of the work of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
This is the eighth straight year Kennedy has brought his star friends to Banff to raise money for the environment, but things are a little different this year. After years of work in environmental activism, Kennedy suddenly finds himself in the middle of a pop-culture phenomenon.
As the environmental movement has taken over Hollywood the past 18 months, Kennedy has been front and centre. He graced the cover of Vanity Fair’s first green edition with Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Al Gore; written about politics and the environment for Rolling Stone magazine and educated countless crowds of students, community leaders and celebrities. All this in addition to being president of Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization that fights to stop polluters.
“Bob has the deepest level of respect from everybody who works in the environmental movement in my country,” says actor Alec Baldwin, who has been coming to Kennedy’s three-day Waterkeeper fundraising event in Banff for six years. Baldwin compares Kennedy to his famous father.
“It’s tough to say this, but Bobby Kennedy is his father. That’s a very serious thing to say. In Bobby Jr. we have someone who has the greatest collision of tremendous ability and tremendous will.”
A celebrity by name, and lawyer by trade, Kennedy has spent a lifetime in the spotlight as one of 11 children of Ethel Skakel and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated while running for the U.S. presidency in 1968, when his son was just 14 years old.
Being the namesake to an icon of American culture means Kennedy’s name has preceded him his entire life. Some of his biggest successes have been due to his ability to translate that recognition into clout for environmental issues, which is fundamental to the success of his event in Banff every year.
“His family is so important to American politics,” says Priestley, who has supported Kennedy’s Waterkeeper effort in Banff for five years.
“He understands the power behind the Kennedy name and he uses that for the betterment of the American people. I respect him for that.”
Although he comes from America’s royal family, there’s a “man of the people” quality to Kennedy. With brothers, sisters and cousins in public office, he wasn’t elected or appointed to this place of responsibility.
Rather, he rose to the occasion through adversity. In 1983, at the age of 30, Kennedy was charged with heroin possession and sentenced to two years probation and nearly 1,000 hours of community service, which he chose to serve with Riverkeepers, an organization cleaning up the New York’s Hudson River.
The organization was so impressed with Kennedy’s work it hired him as the chief prosecuting attorney and an environmentalist was born. He went on to become the president of the Waterkeeper Alliance.
“He has a life-long commitment to environmental issues and I really admire that,” says actor-director Chad Lowe.
“As soon as you stand for something there’s going to be another side that’s going to take shots at you. I happen to be on his side and agree with him. I also respect the fact that he has the courage of his convictions. That’s something that’s rare these days.”
As more celebrities get behind the issues of global warming and pollution, it becomes increasingly clear that a leader like Kennedy, who can articulate the problem based on 20 years of work, can help harness the strength of celebrity for the environmental cause. Named one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Planet more than 10 years ago, his dedication to the cause offers credibility that no amount of celebrity can buy.
“Winston Churchill said if you keep hitting on the issue, talking about it and telling the truth, that ultimately the public will come around and we’re seeing that now,” says Kennedy.
“People are understanding that this is the most critical issue for our children. We’re really trying to build communities that provide our children with the same opportunities for dignity and enrichment and good health that our parents gave us.”