Two-dollar bills are a rarity in today's marketplace, but around Santa Barbara County, these pieces of paper are becoming a little more prevalent. The Southern California Naturist Association is urging members and supporters of the nudist community to use $2 bills when purchasing anything in the Santa Barbara area.
"We want to demonstrate to the local merchants that there is a lot of public support and spending power that comes with the touring nudist community," said Gary Messell, president of the Southern California Naturist Association.
The movement centers on Bates Beach, a secluded strip of sand located at the north end of Rincon Beach, just north of the Ventura County line. For more than 30 years, weekends on this beach meant hundreds of nudists basking in the sun. Tourists would come as far north as Santa Maria and as far south as the San Fernando Valley just to sunbathe in a birthday suit. But complaints from neighbors led to a police crackdown and the eventual exodus of the nudist community.
The $2 campaign is an attempt to show the community Santa Barbara and the surrounding area that there are a large number of people who wish to reinstate this clothing-optional institution.
"The nudist movement has been around for 75 years, it's not going away," Messell said. "We have a right to practice our way of life in a certain space."
The $2 bill was chosen because it's rarely used in daily transactions, so when it is exchanged, the merchant will hopefully take notice. Strong proponents of the campaign will announce to merchants what the $2 bill stands at the point of sale. The campaign began in May and will stretch throughout the entirety of the summer. According to Messell, the success has been phenomenal.
"We have found very few people who have any negativity. Eighty percent of people we talk to support it," Messell said.
The plan is to use the rare bills at restaurants and souvenir shops. If an item were more expensive, the campaign proponents would urge people to pay at least a portion with a $2 bill.
"It's like dropping a comment card saying, 'We're nudists, we're here, and we're spending money,'" Messell said.
Messell and his organization recognize the stigma that comes along with their way of life. He says that people who receive the $2 bills are not forced to support their lifestyle but they are forced to think about it.
"The stereotype is that it's a handful of crazy people who never left the '60s when, in reality, there are thousands of us," Messell said. "We are all community people, we all have jobs, and we're not crazy - we just enjoy nudity. We're doctors, lawyers, and plumbers, Democrats and Republicans, and we're not going away."
Messell continues, "I think people that oppose us think nudity means sex but this is not the case. Nude is not lewd."
Understanding the controversy that surrounds making Bates Beach clothing optional, Messell and his associates are asking for a one-year test period to prove their proposal can work. The plan involves proper signage all around so people who don't want to see a crowd of naked bodies don't have to. It also involves "cleaning up the beach," so to speak.
"Bates, as it is today, has a reputation as an unsafe beach. No one really uses it except drug dealers and perverts," Messell said. He feels that large crowds at the beach could help deter the "riff raff."
Along with the two-dollar bill campaign, the Southern California Naturist Association is forming a petition to go along with the Summer Solstice parade this weekend and hopes to gather at least 1,000 signatures.
So whether you support the naturist lifestyle or not, just know nudists aren't as rare as their $2 bill counterparts.
For more info on the movement, see nudebeachalliance.com.