About 12 years ago, my first son and I began to take walks along the beaches in Los Angeles, and some days he couldn't swim because the water was too polluted. By the time my second son was born, I'd joined the California environmental organizations Heal the Bay and Heal the Ocean.
Several years later, some "green" friends invited me, my husband, and a few other people to dinner at their house. The activist Bobby Kennedy Jr., another friend of theirs, would be joining us.
On the way to dinner, I nearly turned around and went home. I mean, wasn't I already a big-time enviro-activist? Was it really worth it to leave the kids on a school night? Hadn't I already sacrificed enough? My husband and I had been to many a rubber chicken evening of do-gooders and dull-ass conversation. And The Sopranos was on! But we had committed, so there we were, smug in our eco-superiority.
After we'd mingled for a while, we settled in the living room to listen as Bobby spoke for an hour, in beautiful, precise sentences, without pause, without notes. He was revelatory, funny, spiritual, profound. He connected all the causes I've most cared about since I was a child: poverty, civil rights, racism, education, and conservation. "The greatest assets the average American has, regardless of her race or class, are clean air and clean water and safe food and enriching places to bring her children," he said. "If we want to give our children the same opportunities for dignity and enrichment that our parents gave us, we have to start protecting the public lands, the wildlife, the water." Listening to Bobby made me see an essential irony: Fighting for the planet is fighting for the little guy.
When he stopped talking, I lifted my jaw from the floor. All my holier-than-thou eco-green feelings were replaced with the realization that I had done nothing. I knew that I had to do so much more. We all do. Since that night, I've redoubled my efforts. I've tried to spread the message that we all must get involved with spectacular organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the countless local organizations whose brilliant, underpaid, overworked, wildly dedicated staffs work day in and day out to save our planet from ourselves. Working with these people is a great privilege and it keeps you very, very humble, believe me. And while I know I don't do nearly enough, I sure am glad that I didn't turn around and go home the night I met Bobby Kennedy, because now at least I know where to start.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in the CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine.