By Mariko Toyoji (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On Sunday despite a rainstorm and flooded streets concert goers tuned out for the Gulf Aid Benefit Concert put on by the Gulf Relief Foundation to aid “organizations focused on supporting wetlands/coastal environmental issues & the well-being of fishermen, and the regional seafood industry.” At the request of our friends at WWOZ, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade recruited and organized 30 volunteers to help out at the Gulf Aid Benefit concert. With the time and energy of our staff and volunteers we provided services that helped make the event a success. Unfortunately, our efforts were not met with appreciation and we were almost kicked out of the event and threatened with police force.
Prior to Sunday we asked and were granted permission from WWOZ and Rehage Entertainment the production company putting on the show, to table at the benefit. We distributed fliers and talked to people about the Oil Spill Crisis Map, a new mapping tool to track the oil spill, and encouraged them to report in if they were being affected by the BP spill. We were excited to get the word out to a large number of people that are concerned with the situation in the Gulf, or at the very least a bunch of Lenny Kravitz fans.
At around 4:30pm, nearly six hours after we had set up our table we were ordered by a man, describing himself as a facility representative, to pack up in five minutes and leave the premises immediately or he was going to call the police. Completely baffled, as to what prompted this order we asked why we had to leave. Apparently the problem arose from donations we received from concertgoers that wanted to support our efforts in the Oil Spill. All proceeds from the event were supposed to go to the beneficiaries of the Gulf Aid Foundation, (who have yet to be named). Our offer to stop taking donations did not settle the dispute and we were told to shut down our table immediately or the cops would be called in. Reminders that the we had received permission to table and were coordinating event volunteers were dismissed. He said they wanted to keep the volunteers, but that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade could not “spread its agenda” at the benefit. He said that orders had come from “The Board,” which is strange, because he said that it was an issue with the facility originally. Apparently this Board is fine with using a local grassroots organization for its volunteer base, but will silence its efforts to raise public awareness for a mapping tool.
Several other people involved in the event, including Geoff from WWOZ defended our presence at Gulf Aid. Finally, after far more arguing than necessary, we were allowed to keep our table under one condition; we took down our sign that reads, “Concerned about the BP Spill? Come over here.” We were told that the problem with our sign was that it specifically mentions BP. Excuse me, but its not going to be news to anyone at the event that BP is responsible for this oil spill. It wasn’t clear why exactly we were being asked to leave in such a hostile manner and among the confusion an inconsistencies something definitely seemed strange at Gulf Aid.
Our table: Before and After
The order to shut down our table was not the only attempt to silence LABB. Ani Difranco invited us on stage with her to talk about the Oil Spill Crisis Map for a couple minutes during her set, but that was shot down by managment because, “The day is supposed to be about the music.” Although, Ani pulled through and still gave us a shout out. Thanks Ani! 🙂
This concern with the mention of BP, the silencing of LABB, the exclusion of local environmental groups from tabling (LABB was the only local environmental advocacy group allowed to table at Gulf Aid) and the lack of named benefactors should raise some red flags around the agenda of the Gulf Relief Foundation. There is very little available information about the foundation. My attempts to contact them have been futile. Their website lists no contact phone number or email address, just a P.O. Box. The “Recent News” section features a lone article on BP’s last attempt to stop the oil gusher, with no mention of news regarding their constituency, fishermen and wetlands. Something seemed fishy at Gulf Aid, and it wasn’t the seafood gumbo.
Benefit attendees: For the sake of local fishermen, keep your eyes on the Gulf Relief Foundation, find out where your ticket money is going and demand accountability for your donation!