This is Part II of my thoughts on the #FindYourPark movement. You can find Part I here.
The NPS has a loooong history of employing non-governmental persons and entities to assist with park administration, services, and publicity. I say this as preface to my examples so that they are not seen as strange and unusual, yet we might also be able to think maybe more critically about them.
First, is the sponsors banner at the bottom of the #FindYourPark homepage that follows you as you scroll through. The NPS on its own would not exhibit such a sponsor list (although political cartoons have joked about congressmen sporting NASCAR like suits showcasing their corporate sponsors). However, #FindYourPark is not solely an NPS endeavor, but a partnership with the National Park Foundation. As an organization that is not a government agency, they have more latitude with how they may operate, most significantly in relation to finances.
This page banner displays the redesigned logos of the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, to showcase a closer relationship between them. It also features the company logos of American Express, Budweiser, Subaru, REI, Humana, and Disney. While Subaru and REI feel like more “natural” choices as they are often associated with outdoor recreation (I mean, Secretary Sally Jewell was the former CEO for REI), there are questions about the presence of a company based on debt, another that promotes the consumption of alcohol, a health care company, and an entertainment company. Many of these companies sponsor a variety of different activities and events in the US and around the world, yet the question remains, why partner for #FindYourPark?
Second, are the ways that #FindYourPark has deployed celebrities and public figures as talking heads promoting the #FindYourPark movement. The #FindYourPark website hosts a series of videos from these individuals profiling their role in the movement, ranging from Michelle Obama, to Bill Nye, to official NPS employees. The National Park Foundation has also been active on Tumblr, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been somewhat of a featured celebrity in his interactions with #FindYourPark and his work in promoting the movement and parks in general. His Tumblr (hitrecord) and his other tumblr (hitrecordjoe) have been partially devoted to promoting the cause.
Back at the NPS Narratives Symposium, people lamented at how the NPS has been really bad at publicity, expecting the NPS to sort of speak for themselves. Through #FindYourPark and working with the National Park Foundation, they seem to have taken that self-criticism and gone way into an almost corproate-style approach of publicity and outreach. I don’t want to call this a “neoliberal” move because I recognize the NPS has been using partnerships for almost as long as the agency has existed, but there does seem to be a shift toward a more corporate partner approach in addition to its longer legacy of private non-profit partnerships.
Recently, the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation have partnered together to launch #FindYourPark. This is in preparation of the 100th anniversary of the NPS (1916-2016). The “movement,” if you like, is largely based on social media and digital platforms (if the # didn’t already give that away). Part of the goal is to get people OUT to FIND and experience their parks, and then share that experience digital through sharing and tagging images and memories (mostly images).
[On a side note, in trying to learn more about #FindYourPark I learned that the National Park Foundation is the "official charity of the National Park Service," as established by an act of Congress in 1967.]
Much can be said about #FindYourPark, and I may revisit this topic. But right now, there are two aspects I want to focus on:
With the upcoming centennial of the founding the National Park Service, the NPS and its partners have been engaging in campaigns, studies, and dialogue surrounding the future of the next century of the NPS. At the NPS Narratives symposium in September 2014, issues of Diversity, Relevance, and Inclusion were a hot topic amidst these conversations about the NPS centennial.
The NPS recognizes that is a very white organization, and that it needs to do more work towards creating and managing sites that speak to a diverse American experience. Some moves towards this inclusion of diversity include the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California, an LGBT special resource study announced by Secretary Jewell, and other identity group specific resource studies to identify culturally and historical significant resources. This comes amidst nation wide conversations about the shifting demographics of the United States toward a “majority-minority” country.
While I recognize the good work that the NPS is doing in thinking seriously about the issues it has around the whiteness of its workforce and the low retention levels of its employees of color, merely hiring more people of color or establishing more parks that speak to diverse historical experiences does not erase the fact that the agency’s (and nation’s) existence relies upon the territorial dispossession of native communities. I know that may sound a bit harsh, but conversations about contemporary inclusion can’t ignore historical exclusion.
Despite these aims, the promo video for #FindYourPark still is mostly natural/scenic sites and wonders, with some people thrown in, and a fairly diverse set of people at that. Again though, this does not erase the system’s roots as a playground for the monied elite whose industrial, political, and economic policies were responsible for some of the realities of economic inequality and low quality of life that a diverse array of communities experience today.
Scholars in Ethnic Studies and other related fields have used a framework of a “politics of recognition” to explore relations of inclusion and exclusion of oppressed and marginalized communities within the state or other powerful institutions. I want to consider though, what does a politics of recognition foreclose? What are its limits? And how does it reinforce ideas of the nation and/or state?
The thoughts continue in Part II.
Rusty Bartels, PhD teaches in Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition.