The many lessons of Orange Crush 2k12

Almost 100 Facebook friends of mine have already shared the YouTube video shot Sunday morning by citizens who wanted to spotlight the trash left on Tybee beach after Saturday night’s Orange Crush party.

Of course, I have about 2,400 Facebook contacts, so that’s only 4% of them sharing the short, cringe-inducing video. It’s pretty easy to get upset about such blatant disrespect for the beach and about such irresponsibility in leaving a mess for others to clean up.

But it isn’t making the rounds just among my limited group of friends. There are already over 30,000 views of Tony Abruzzio’s YouTube video:

That video also has over 700 comments as I write this late Sunday night.

And there’s a Facebook group with over 800 members: STOP Orange Crush 2013. Plus there’s at least one petition circulating online.

And this is a case where the general public is driving the news — it’s a stunning local example of the power of social media. As soon as the issue came alive online on Sunday morning, individual citizens began posting the video and questions on the Facebook pages of the Savannah Morning News and local TV stations.

By early evening, the Savannah Morning News had a great piece posted by Dash Coleman (a former student of mine at Armstrong, btw): Orange Crush aftermath upsets Tybee residents, visitors

According to that article, it took about two hours for various volunteers (including some from Savannah State University) to clean the beach. And trash is nothing new on Tybee, as Dash’s piece notes:

Of course, an influx of beach visitors on a Saturday isn’t really anything new for Tybee.

“We deal with large numbers every weekend,” [Tybee Police Chief Bob] Bryson said. “This is no different than anything we have to deal with on a regular basis.”

Early morning beach cleanups, too, are business as usual on the island, though they’re not normally as intense as Sunday’s.

“This particular instance, it was really, really bad, but we’ll do what we have to do to make sure the beach is clean like always,” Mayor Buelterman said.

Regrettably, the video of the beach on Sunday morning reminded me of all-too-frequent experiences in Forsyth Park after big concerts. The key difference, of course, is that clean-up crews are generally put in place ahead of time to deal with the aftermath in Forsyth. It’s disgusting what people leave behind, but the park is generally pretty well cleaned up by sunrise. (I’ve lived close to Forsyth for almost 17 years now.)

And that brings me to two questions: Doesn’t Orange Crush require some sort of event permit that would mandate clean up crews? And should the City of Tybee Island have been more proactive in either cleanup or code enforcement?

Google's cached copy of a deleted Facebook event page for Orange Crush

An event invite on Facebook for Orange Crush was deleted sometime on Sunday, but I was able to find Google’s cache of it. The listed times and places aren’t at Tybee (from what I can tell), so the beach portion of the gathering could be seen as simply a big group of people deciding to go to Tybee simultaneously.

I suppose one could read the situation more narrowly, however: with for-profit companies promoting the whole weekend, surely we should count the beach gathering as part of a larger, sponsored event and therefore subject it to standard event permitting?

On the other hand, Americans have broad freedoms of movement and assembly that we should not abridge. I’m a little distressed that so many people would be rushing to sign a petition to shut an event down before even questioning the Constitutional implications.

In the public comments so far, Tybee officials seem to suggest that they didn’t have time to prepare and that they didn’t know where the gathering would take place. But thousands of people were invited via Facebook, and the party took place between 14th and 16th streets — right where one would expect.

Regrettably, the debate about Orange Crush and this morning’s video is getting mired in issues of race. Orange Crush was formerly described for the most part as a spring break event for black college students, but it seems that in recent years the crowd has largely not been affiliated with any colleges. Georgia universities had spring break weeks ago. For some of the issues of recent years involving Orange Crush and its tricky relationship with Tybee, check out Eric Curl’s 2010 piece Police prepare for Orange Crush on Tybee

And if your first impulse is to downplay the issue of race here, good for you. But just take a look at the YouTube comments and other online responses — it’s impossible to ignore the racial dimensions.

For those who are legitimately upset about this, here’s my advice: stick to the simple facts and to solid lines of argument. Argue that this degree of littering is unacceptable and that Orange Crush’s party at Tybee should be a permitted event subject to strict conditions.

But all this moral outrage? All this utter shock?

As I said above, I’m disgusted by all that trash, especially since we’d like to hold onto our illusions of pristine beaches. But most readers know how unsightly that portion of Tybee around the pier gets routinely. Some folks in online comments want to downplay comparisons to other festivals — after all, they argue, on St. Patrick’s day in Savannah the tons of trash end up on the streets not on the beach.

So all that trash going into the storm sewers, that’s not a problem? All that irresponsibility of people leaving trash all over the city for others to clean up, that’s not worthy of similar outrage? It’s OK because the city is prepared to clean it up?

Or how about the ton of trash recently collected from the wildlife refuge? That article and video got one comment on SavannahNow.

Tybee's main streets were filled with trash after Eddie Money's show at PirateFest in 2010

I remember a couple of years ago at Tybee for PirateFest. After Eddie Money had long finished and the crowds had largely dispersed, I walked along the main drag, which was strewn with trash. I was so impressed by the filth, I took a picture of it. Trust me, that picture doesn’t even begin to show how bad it was.

Yes, that was on the road, not the beach, but I don’t really see why today’s video should produce the kind of outrage that it has when we routinely accept trashings of our public spaces.

So let’s go out with cameras after all sorts of public events — and let’s use all the tools at our disposal — municipal codes, permitting requirements, and shame — to reduce littering as much as possible.

[By the way, this post appears to be getting a lot of hits from browsers who don’t routinely visit my blog. I’d invite you to hang around for a moment and see what else I’m doing here, or to come back another time. Cheers, Bill Dawers]

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