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Enough of the Maddening Crowd

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Buzz Publications
April 23, 2007


This year, like most years, I spent Earth Day participating with hundreds of other volunteers at The San Diego Earth Fair. Undeniably the largest environmental street fair in North America, the event is challenging on a myriad of levels. From the smell of burning flesh, rantings of Christian zealots, and the mind numbing traffic, it's clear Earth Fair 2007 was a study in over population.

The environmental ethics of Conservation, preservation and restoration were well represented by Earth Fair exhibitors. The weather was beautiful. The park was beautiful. As usual, the event organizers, San Diego Earthworks, managed the yearly ritual with a smooth hand, and should be pleased with their effort.

Personally, I'm over it.

A success, the Earth Fair attracts a lot of people, from earnest environmentalists, NIMBY neighbors, and trendy hipsters to concerned citizens, confused contrarians and the “God hates fags” people. There just seemed to be too much of everything. It was hard to focus.

Earth Day originally intended as a “Teach in” lacks the edge that established it. Watching the crowd, a mixed bag of “Yikes!” and “Cool,” it was clear something was missing. Amongst all the people parading through the park, the synergy of connection was lacking. Nothing clicked.

As a journalist I found myself asking, 'At a time of environmental awareness, and at an environmental event, why are people still not connecting?' All the parts were there, but they were overshadowed by the sheer number of people in attendance. People with kids, people with dogs, people with kids and dogs, but mostly just people.

Accessing lunch or literature becomes a near Herculean task when more than 50,000 gather in one place. As always, with more people you get more mess. Traffic in the morning, trash at the end of the day, and a chaos of people trying to navigate the maddening crowd in between.

There to manage a stage, and talk about global warming and accelerated climate change with the Iris Forum, my critical eye refused to take the day off. Frustrated by the lack of urgency, and an inability to see earth day as more than a lark in the park, observing fair goers began to annoy me. I mean really, what do men in naughty nun drag hope to add to the environmental conversation?

By mid afternoon the glamor of Earth Day had been worn away by the river of humanity meandering down the Prado. Tired, sun baked, and fresh off my global warming soapbox, I wondered if any of it really mattered. Where was the edge? Did any of this make a difference? Was I just too jaded to enjoy the day? Why wasn't this the inspirational challenge it used to be.?

Well, as if on cue, inspiration showed up in the form of Sophia Beeson and Spencer Sampson; two Encinitas residents who walked to the San Diego Earth Fair from Encinitas. Leaving at 4 in the morning and arriving at 3:30 PM these young twenty-somethings walked the 30 miles with an Earth Day or Bust sign on Sophia's back. Spencer carried their day pack.

Finally a connection.

Both were beaming with accomplishment. I was humbled by their example, as were my colleagues, and anyone else who has heard of their epic undertaking. The ultimate in environmental role models, Sophia and Spencer impressed the fine folk of Mission Playground, proving no good deed goes unrewarded, gifted the weary travelers with some stylish organic apparel.

Henry David Thoreau would be so proud.


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