You’ve likely seen the smiling faces behind the Rock the Earth booth at numerous shows and festivals across the nation. An environmental advocacy organization born from and serving the music community, Rock the Earth was founded by environmental attorney Marc Ross in 2002. With a staff of volunteers recruited from the music community, the projects upon which the legal and technical staff work are suggested by artists and their fans. Outreach, education, canvassing and membership solicitation is done in conjunction with the music community — at concerts and festivals throughout North America. Glide recently had a chance to speak with Ross, executive Director of Rock the Earth.
Who are some of the artists you partner with and how does the collaboration work?
Over the past three years, Rock the Earth has worked with over two dozen artists as diverse as Bonnie Raitt, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, Michael Franti and Bon Jovi. The way that we work with those artists varies. Some artists, like ALO, the Barenaked Ladies and Scott Miller, will actually suggest substantive environmental projects on which our legal and technical staffs can then work. In the case of Jack Johnson, he not only suggested a project, but donated funds to the organization to pursue that project. Other artists like Dave Matthews and Bon Jovi, simply give an organization space at their concerts and give our volunteers tickets to educate and activate their fans to pursue a vision of global sustainability and environmental responsibility. Other artists like the String Cheese Incident, Bonnie Raitt, the Disco Biscuits and Gov’t Mule will help us raise money by donating items for auction. Some artists become paid members, like Bela Fleck. Still yet other artists take it a step further, by becoming more intimately involved in the organization itself. Artists like Michael Franti, David Gans and Matt Butler (Everyone Orchestra) have gone so far as to join our Advisory Board to help direct the future of the organization. Meanwhile, String Cheese, Franti, Pete Wernick, Shanti Groove, David Gans, Blue Turtle Seduction, along with members of Garaj Mahal, Jambay, Hot Buttered Rum, Railroad Earth, The Flying Other Brothers, and Ratdog have all put on benefit concerts for us as well. It really depends on how great of involvement the artist desires to have.
Is there one particular artist or artists who have been especially supportive of your mission?
If you had asked me this question a year ago, it would have been a much more narrow field, but over the past year, Rock the Earth has received so much help from so many artists – and their management, it would be difficult to narrow it down to only one or a few. Michael Franti’s decision to join the RtE Advisory Board and then talk about us to publications like Yoga Journal was huge. Bonnie Raitt has been incredibly supportive. Not only was her decision to allow me to interview her on stage at Bonnaroo about “Social Change Through Music” for 45 minutes in front of hundreds of fans a nice nod to our work, but more recently, she donated VIP tickets and backstage passes to meet her for an auction that raised significant funds for our work. Of course, Jack Johnson probably takes the cake by not only donating thousands of dollars to our organization, but suggesting that we apply the funds to our work to protect the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
Talk about one of the advocacy issues you’re working on right now and what kind of success you’re hoping to have.
Although we are currently working on a dozen different environment issues, our flagship issue is our lawsuit against the National Park Service for their mismanagement of Grand Canyon National Park. Specifically, the NPS’s management of the Colorado River within the Park has been contrary to current law and policy. By continuing to allow for motorized transport and inequitable usage by private commercial boaters, the NPS is not only allowing for the degradation of the Park’s wilderness characteristics, but has allowed for a continuation of a system that closes river trips to the do-it-yourself boating public – unless they want, and can afford, to pay concessionaires. With funding from the Rex Foundation, we have challenged the current plan
in federal court in Arizona.
The case has the potential of having a large impact on how ALL public lands and wilderness in this country are treated. If we are successful, motors will be removed from the Colorado River in the Park and the public will have greater access to river permits. If we lose and the management plan for the River stands, it will set bad precedent that could lead to ALL wilderness areas in this country being opened up to motors – from dune buggies in the Great Sand Dunes to ATVs in Shenandoah. The stakes are incredibly high. If we lose, it will be argued that motors are “necessary and proper” in wilderness areas and therefore, there will be no place in this vast country that will be closed to the roaring sounds of motors. I’m incredibly proud that Rock the Earth is truly on the cutting edge of such an important issue.
Rock the Earth is running the Greening program on next month’s Jam Cruise. How do you respond to people who find it hypocritical for an environmental advocacy organization to be working onboard a cruiseship, an industry with a horrific environmental record?
First off, it is true, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the cruise industry has an abysmal record. From unregulated and untreated discharges of waste and air emissions to recorded violations of international and domestic laws. While some cruise lines have taken initiatives to reduce waste, reuse items and recycle – usually forced by lawsuits, the vast majority still engage in practices that would, frankly, be criminal if done on land in the US and most every other industrialized country.
Having said that, the producers of Jam Cruise have long recognized that if they were going to hold a festival on a cruise ship, they had a responsibility to help to reduce its environmental impact. From the very first Jam Cruise, the producers have supported fans wishing to take the extra steps to reduce the ecological footprint of the festival by donating goods and cabin space to those who were willing to become part of the greening effort, and facilitating fundraising to support those fans’ efforts. Prior to our involvement in 2006, Rock the Earth had been approached to get involved and, for the reasons that you mentioned, our Board of Directors was split on the issue of involvement. We did not want to ostracize any of our supporters or potential musical or green corporate partners, but with our tax exempt status and hundreds of dedicated volunteers, we saw Jam Cruise as an opportunity to make a real impact and raise awareness amongst the attendees, the producers and the cruise line itself. On Jam Cruise 4 (2006), Rock the Earth’s Greening Jam Cruise program accomplished much in the way of green product substitution, collaborating with several partner organizations to stop over 10 tons of waste from being dumped in the ocean, plant 41,000 trees in Mexico and Jamaica to offset carbon emissions, educate fans about emissions and eco-friendly products, and provide a unique experience for music fans by organizing a discussion on “Social Change through Music” with artists from Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, String Cheese Incident, New Monsoon and others.
How we respond to those who might find it hypocritical is easy….festivals on cruise ships are going to continue. The fans like them (they get a unique VIP experience), the bands like them (they get a mini-vacation), the producers like them (they make money), and the cruise lines like them (they really make money). Festival cruises are going to be leaving US ports so long as attendees keep paying to get on the boat. If that is the case, Rock the Earth might as well work to reduce their impact on the environment and educate fans along the way. It is my hope that through this new found power that the music industry has amongst the cruise industry and through our efforts, we can set the standard in environmentally responsible cruising. There is no reason why cruise ships can’t recycle, use recycled paper, biodegradable cleaning and personal products, and if not treat their emissions, then at least offset them. It is our number one goal for 2008’s Jam Cruise to have the boat powered by biodiesel. If we are successful, it will be the first passenger cruise ship to leave a US port using alternative fuel. And then the rest of the industry will have to take notice.
What are some specific things we can do to help with some of the issues you’re working on?
There are many things fans can do to help our efforts. First and foremost is to join our growing movement by becoming a member of Rock the Earth. Over the past three years, our message has been resonating really well and our membership has grown to over 1,500 active members in all 50 states and six countries. This has represented a doubling of membership every year, demonstrating tremendous grassroots support. The more members we have, the more credibility we gain amongst the music industry, the environmental community and most importantly, the government and those polluters whose actions we might potentially challenge. At the very least folks can sign up for our monthly e-newsletter at www.RockTheearth.org, where we not only educate about the projects on which we are working, but suggest ways that folks can get involved and change their daily routine to help the planet. It’s brief, educational and entertaining. Another way is to check out the projects on our website. Many of the project pages have fact sheets and/or information as to how you can make a difference with regard to that particular project. The final, and probably most important way people can help is by volunteering their time. Whether the person wants to help out tabling at shows or help with grant-writing or donate time doing legal or technical work, we are always looking for volunteers and to expand our volunteer staff. Interested volunteers can contact us at [email protected].
What tours or events will we be seeing you at next?
Generally, our touring season starts Memorial Day and concludes at the end of September, with another push around Earth Week in April. The rest of the year, our Staff really focuses on projects, education, grant writing and other, more traditional nonprofit activities. Having said that, we do work shows regionally throughout the year where we have volunteers. So, for example, a few weeks ago we were at the String Cheese shows in Atlanta, while another team worked a Barenaked Ladies show in Chicago. Aside from Jamcruise, we’ll be out at a moe. show at the Denver Fillmore and hopefully the Dark Star Orchestra shows in Chicago in late January. Meanwhile, on the Winter Jamfest tour, a bunch of bands (Moonshine Still, Pnuma Trio, the Bridge, U-Melt, Captain Solarcat, and others) are getting together and touring the southeastern US, making Rock the Earth a beneficiary of some of the proceeds. They will be taking educational materials about RtE out on the road with them as well. For more information about this tour go to: http://www.myspace.com/winterjamfest
Do you have any additional thoughts or comments?
The past three years with Rock the Earth has been a heck of a ride. We have had tremendous help along the way from folks in the music community, our Volunteer Staff, and literally over 100 volunteers. These folks have worked tirelessly to firmly establish us both in the music and environmental communities and for that I am personally very grateful. It remains our goal to become THE preeminent environmental advocacy organization that serves the music community, holding polluters and the government accountable for their actions. If the past three years are any indication of our potential, I’d say we are firmly on track for reaching our goals.
For more information, please visit Rock the Earth