Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Moving Planet OK

September 24, 2011 - Cyclists, skaters and walkers gathered at the new Womb art space in preparation for a people-powered caravan to Oklahoma City Hall on September 24, the international day of action called Moving Planet. Students, families and health and environmental advocates from all across the metro area checked in and lined up, ready for the journey to support the goal of becoming a top-10 state in health and sustainability.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma City, you see, rank at the very bottom of all national lists of health and sustainability, classing us as one of the most unhealthy and most unsustainable places in America - with more and earlier deaths, more hospitalizations, more health expenditures, and in several respects, a lower quality of life. We wanted to call attention to the key links between health and sustainability and the positive efforts of our community partners to improve our rankings.

Despite the serious goal, the atmosphere was festive. How could it not be, in a neon-colored building with an art installation by artist BigFoot and pink and green balloons floating around the space? Excitement built as more and more students, families, and teams arrived at the Womb and then set out on bike, on foot, and on skates for City Hall.

As participants arrived at the Municipal building, they had the opportunity to sign a "leaf" with their hopes for health and sustainability and place it on our sign, which then became a photo magnet for our community partner teams and the whole group.

When the caravan arrived back at the Womb, they were treated to sandwiches, local watermelon and apples from the Urban Agrarian, and local beer from COOP, along with live music, a seed giveaway, and art activities. Unique fused glass ornaments were available for sale as a fundraiser and as a way to create art by placing them on the "Bike Dance" metal sculpture. Participants also had the opportunity to learn about our community partners - non-profits and businesses working in our city and state to promote local healthy food, energy efficiency, fitness and health, and environmental protection.

The event was topped by remarks from Dr. Ed Shadid, Oklahoma City councilman and physician, who discussed the connections between our health crisis and sustainability. His remarks introduced the auction of the "Bike Dance" metal sculpture by local artist Bill Byrd, to benefit Closer to Earth, a non-profit group that empowers youth through urban organic gardening.

An event of this size and complexity takes some effort and resources to implement. Sierra Club, Transition OKC, Sustainable OKC, and the University of Central Oklahoma worked with community partners to create buzz and support for the effort, and designed the action-art-festival to accomplish many goals at once: connecting the health and sustainability communities, participating in's international day of action, promoting the need for a top-10 state, and providing a fun way for citizens to exercise their democratic right to expression - all while raising money for a cause.

Moving Planet OK also offered a model for more sustainable events. We used local food, local beer, local artists and artisans and promoted their involvement. To minimize waste, we employed re-usable cups and recycled and composted. We offered vegetarian options (a rarity in Oklahoma City). Our T-shirts used organic cotton, our printed materials used recycled paper, and our artists used scrap and found pieces for our art auction.

The energy of the participants and dedication of the volunteers made all the planning and preparation - and chaos and heartache - worth it. Organizers from four different organizations met weekly over an 8-week period and almost daily through the final two weeks as we pulled together Facebook, website and media, community partners and sponsors, metal sculpture and glass art, signage and educational displays, activities, location, food and beer.

We encountered numerous complications along the way, resulting in many interesting conversations, compromises, and the need to move on to plans B, C, and D. Beer, that most important of celebratory ingredients, proved to be incredibly tough to get approved. Fortunately, after sixteen phone calls and four personal visits, tenacious organizer Whitney P. finally wrestled the ABLE commission into granting a permit.

Thank goodness for teammates like Whitney, who keep going through the weird, twisting tunnel until we finally reach the light. Many thanks to Vicki, Whitney, Marcy, Susie, Debbie, Amy, Randy, Lindsey, Tricia, Doug, Bud, and Tim, who hung in there with me until the fun-filled end. Cheers!

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