FREEPORT — As Election Day approaches Nov. 6, one environmental organization is encouraging all Mainers to vote – like an ancient species of fish would.
Maine Rivers, the Yarmouth-based nonprofit aimed at protecting and enhancing the state’s rivers, is behind the “Vote like a Sturgeon” campaign.
A window display reflecting the message and featuring a cartoon fish is on display at Patagonia’s new location in Freeport.
Sturgeon are a prehistoric species of fish, according to Maine Rivers’ website. Shortnose sturgeon can be found in several rivers in Maine and pre-dates the dinosaur.
Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, said staff from Patagonia contacted her in August about the custom window display in advance of an opening party Oct. 13.
“(They) said that they were going to have this grand opening and now had space in the window, and wanted to know if Maine Rivers would be interested in getting a message out,” Hudson said.
After accepting the offer, she then brainstormed what her organization could “tell the world” about its mission that would be short, relevant and clear.
The task was somewhat difficult, she added, because of how drawn-out many of the river-related issues that Maine Rivers deals with are.
“They tend to be really slow to work on and hard to make a quick sound bite,” she said. “… The more I thought about it, I thought, midterm elections, they matter.”
That’s when she was struck by the idea of “Vote like a Sturgeon,” a message based on a species she said can live for up to 60 years in the wild.
“That’s kind of what struck me, they’ve been around a lot longer than we have,” she said. “So the idea of voting like a sturgeon to me is to encourage people to learn about these intriguing creatures and to think, what would it mean to have such a long view of our time on the planet?”
Hudson said the fish are endangered, but can still be spotted in areas such as Hallowell, where the “giant leaping dinosaurs,” as she called them, are sometimes seen jumping out of the Kennebec River.
She also said as a nonprofit, Maine Rivers does not aim to tell anyone how to vote, but rather wants to encourage people to do their civic duty, as well as educate themselves on the issues and talk to candidates.
Midterm elections, she added, are “particularly heartbreaking” because of how low voter numbers typically are.
She said seeing companies such as Patagonia giving its employees the day off to vote is encouraging, noting that democracy is “not a spectator sport.”
Before settling on sturgeon as the campaign’s poster child, Hudson said she and others at Maine Rivers also tossed around the idea of “Vote like an Alewife,” after the species of herring often found in New England waters.
Alewives, however, do not live as long as sturgeon do, which knocked the smaller fish out of the running. Maine Rivers staff also considered urging people to “vote for clean water,” but thought taking a more comedic approach with the campaign would be better.
Hudson also said her organization is not focused on getting people to vote on one particular issue this election cycle.
“Local towns make very important decisions about their rivers – all of them do,” she said. “What happens in the headwaters impacts what happens in the tidal areas, which impacts the oceans.”
She also noted that important political decisions are being made at every level.
“It ranges from the Endangered Species Act and big federal questions like the Clean Water Act, down to local decisions about how to manage rivers and water for small towns,” she said. “So any level that people can be engaged is good.”
Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, stands beneath a window display at Patagonia in Freeport in honor of her organization’s “Vote like a Sturgeon” campaign.
A window display at Patagonia’s new Freeport store urges passersby to take the long view and “Vote like a Sturgeon” – a slogan created by Maine Rivers.
A window display at Patagonia urges people to vote for candidates who support the mission of Maine Rivers.
The door of Patagonia’s new Freeport store declares it will be closed Nov. 6 to give employees an opportunity to vote in the midterm elections.