We all love a good bullshit session. Some of the
best I can recall were in the cool shade of the harbor at Havasu on hot July days, the
drag bag tied out in the cold river water off the outside boat. Pick a target, any target.
The Dam was always a favorite, and our outfitters, sure. And we didn't forget the Park.
Even our passengers took a lick or two. It was a social thing. But when we boarded our
boats to leave we still loved the river, the Canyon, and our jobs.
Five years ago that same love of job and place was the glue that brought
together Grand Canyon River Guides. Right away we were faced with the formidable task of
transforming some of the material from those summer sessions into action. We had to learn
how to do that. We needed to be respected, we needed to be listened to, and we needed to
survive. Sitting around griping wasn't going to get us there. Since that time we have had
a hundred board meetings, we've put in thousands of hours in thought and debate, sat in at
dozens of meetings with everyone from Earth Firsters to U.S. Senators. We now have over
1000 members. What developed has become GCRG.
A few months ago my good friend and long time boatman, Terry Brian, sent us a
letter. In it he encouraged us to take stronger stands, especially on issues with the Park
and outfitters, to use the power of the organization to directly better the pay and
benefits of guides. To become more of a union, to get more radical, apply more pressure.
After all, we've developed quite a bit of muscle over the years. And we come from the
tradition of the monkeywrench gang. His views are not unique. I know many out there share
them. But I don't and I'll tell you why.
GCRG has tended to take the high road, to work more for quiet solutions, to
join in constructive alliances. There are notable exceptions. The Park's proposed alcohol
policy and decision to ban a guide for minor regulation infractions are two. But at the
same time we have worked hard with the Park and Outfitters to develop a working
relationship that pays off in a thousand different ways. The GTS, Courtesy Flyer,
recycling program, and new resource monitoring trips are examples of that. So are efforts
to get medical insurance and profit-sharing introduced in the different companies. We have
encouraged high quality within the guide community and encouraged Park and outfitters to
recognize and reward our worth. All of the targets of those Havasu bitch sessions- Park,
Dam, outfitters, and others- have at one time or another wished we'd just go away. But
just as often they are happy to sit down and listen to what we have to say.
We haven't taken this road just because we're nice guys and gals, but because we
felt it was in our best interest. The biggest difference between our old bitch sessions
and a GCRG board meeting is that now we're expected to be part of the solution. To come up
with what works not just what doesn't. Issues today are complex and it's not easy to keep
black and white clear. All too often we find that our adversaries on one issue become
allies on another. When our goals overlap, antagonism only serves to hurt us. I don't
doubt that we could force considerable concessions from both Park and outfitters on a
variety of issues if we chose to do so. But I am convinced that to do so would entail a
cost far greater than the gain. For everything won, twice would be lost. The truth is our
fate as an industry is intertwined: guides, Park, and outfitters. We may not always be in
harmony, but the shape of our future depends more on our agreements than our conflicts.
The sooner we recognize that, the better for all.
Without a doubt Grand Canyon River Guides has come of age. We are part of the
solution. In doing so we also become fodder for those sessions in Havasu, or Kanab, or
Joe's Place in Flag, or anywhere guides get together. And that's just fine. The Board
asked Terry to rewrite his letter as an editorial for the newsletter and I hope he does.
He has a lot of good points to make and his differing views are evidence of the health of
this organization. If ever a time comes when we don't hear from others out there who think
things could be done better, we're in trouble. Just because nobody cares.