The legacy of a North Country environmental activist lives on


CLAYTON, N.Y. (WWTI) — A legacy started over 40 years ago lives on, both on screen and through stories.

The streaming service Netflix recently released a movie titled “The Trial of the Chicago Seven,” featuring seven activists in the 1970s.

One of which made a name for himself here in the North Country.

Social and environmental activist Abbie Hoffman, went by Barry Freed during his time in the North Country. And one of his colleagues, who helped him start the organization Save the River, spoke to his legacy.

The story started back in 1978 when a group of local environmental activists were working to fight the shipping industry along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River to ban shipping during the winter months.

This is when founding member of Save the River Richard Spencer met Hoffman.

“I got started because of this place, Save the River,” shared Spencer. “Along with Abbie Hoffman, at the time he was called Barry Freed.”

Spencer explained that he, Hoffman and many others joined together to fight the shipping industry, and gained support from not only hundreds of community members, but also large-scale politicians and gained media exposure.

From there, the group formed the nonprofit Save the River, but mainly used the organization as a platform to speak out on environmental issues in the area.

However, Abbie Hoffman at the time was a fugitive, which is why he held the name Barry Freed.

“I always thought that it was pretty remarkable. People will always say ‘Barry Freed, or Abbie, was a fugitive, yet he still did this.’ And I just say ‘you know, he saw a problem, and he knew how to solve it,” shared Spencer.

Spencer added, “all those guys in the Chicago Seven, even though they had different way of going about it, that’s what they were trying to do; make the world a better place.”

Spencer himself also dedicated his career to activism, working almost 16 years for the National Wildlife Federation in Washington D.C. He said he was always connected to where he started, right here in Clayton.

Spencer shared that he believes that through his work with Abbie Hoffman and additional founders of Save the River, that they changed the area and how the community approached environmental issues. He said he admired Abbie for his ability to organize movements like he did. He said Abbie would be extremely proud of young environmentalists today.

Watch the full interview with Save the River Founding Member Richard Spencer in the video above.


Stay up-to-date by liking ABC50 on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.