Tue. Jan 21st, 2020

From Woodstock to sustainability — a journey

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I’m having a Woodstock second this summer season. And no, I wasn’t in Max Yasgur’s alfalfa discipline in the summertime of 1969. Not less than, I don’t keep in mind being there.

However I’ve my very own particular connection to the Woodstock Music & Artwork Honest, as it’s formally identified. In 1988, within the run-up to the occasion’s 20th anniversary, I carried out an oral historical past of the competition, interviewing dozens of the individuals who made Woodstock occur: producers; performers; docs; cops; neighbors; shopkeepers; carpenters; electricians; legal professionals; journalists; filmmakers; and an assortment of simply plain people who, by design or circumstance, turned a part of the occasion.

The interviews had been the premise of a ebook and audio documentary, printed in 1989 for the 20th anniversary. Each had been re-released in 2009 for the 40th. And this yr, they had been key components of a PBS documentary, airing this month. The unique audio interviews reside within the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame Library and Archives in Cleveland.

This week marks Woodstock’s 50th anniversary, and it’s filled with reflections on the occasion, what it meant to the younger era of the time and its implications for at present. I simply needed to weigh in, so I hope you may indulge me.

Furthermore, I’m typically requested how my curiosity in Woodstock pertains to the work I do now. In spite of everything, Woodstock occurred simply eight months earlier than the primary Earth Day, in 1970, marking the daybreak of the fashionable environmental motion. There should be some connection.

The Woodstock story is a outstanding one, and far of it has little to do with the music, and a few of it certainly connects with sustainability and the hunt for a greater world throughout difficult instances. Extra on that in a minute.

A catastrophe?

By all measures, Woodstock ought to have been a catastrophe. Legally barred from its deliberate location only a month earlier than its scheduled date, the promoters needed to shortly regroup and relocate — to Max and Miriam Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate New York. In haste to construct the competition web site, there was little time for planning sure amenities and facilities, a few of which fell by the wayside. Among the many lacking objects had been fences and gates, which by no means materialized satisfactorily, and tens of thosuands who confirmed up had been admitted without cost.

The crowds prompted traffic jams that paralyzed miles of highways, rendering them ineffective and requiring different measures to usher in meals,  medication and provides, and to evacuate the injured and in poor health. The Nationwide Guard and the U.S. Military received concerned, as did a variety of neighborhood, enterprise and spiritual organizations, from church teams to the close by Catskill resorts. The unconventional left tried to show the entire shebang right into a political protest in opposition to the Vietnam Conflict, one thing the competition promoters had been hellbent to thwart. It was, in spite of everything, 1969.

After which it rained. The grounds, already muddy from weeks of summer season showers, turned to muck because the skies opened repeatedly, typically violently, throughout the competition weekend. Few who got here to Woodstock had been adequately ready to camp out for 3 days even in comfy climes, not to mention within the scorching, humid, intensely overcrowded and soggy circumstances of that East Coast summer season. The fierce storms additionally put the infrastructure — electrical energy, water, sewerage, the stage, the sound system, mild towers — in jeopardy, together with 1000’s in hurt’s method.

Evidently, none of this aided the well-being of the numerous people who had drunk, smoked or ingested ungodly quantities of licit and illicit substances, a lot of whom needed to be ministered to, one in all whom died. (However, opposite to the Woodstock fantasy, no infants had been born there, as I’ve beforehand famous.)

It’s ironic, albeit not stunning, that many liken being at Woodstock to having been by way of a warfare.

Consider it as a dry run for a dystopian climate-change future, however with a rousing soundtrack.

And but Woodstock was not a catastrophe. Removed from it. There was a lot pleasure and humanity, and heroics galore. Beginning with a rag-tag crew of idealistic and energetic youth — Woodstock primarily was financed and produced by these of their mid- to late 20s — the competition’s staff mushroomed into lots of of hippies, hucksters, handymen and hangers-on. Because the competition unfolded, these folks met the troubles they encountered — the climate, medicine, radical politicos, demanding musicians, irate neighbors, even pretend information — with excessive ranges of ingenuity and integrity.

Resilience and self-reliance

Certainly, Woodstock was a main train in resilience and self-reliance, and within the capacity to adapt in actual time to a broad vary of difficult circumstances, together with excessive climate, meals and water shortages, overcrowding and the potential for social and political unrest. Consider it as a dry run for a dystopian climate-change future, however with a rousing soundtrack.

As I mentioned, the 400,000 or so members got here by way of it comparatively unscathed. Why? It was undoubtedly a mirrored image of the instances, notably the peace-and-love hippie tradition of the period. However it was additionally the start of a era’s sense of self-reliance — that we may survive, even thrive, on our personal phrases, rooted in collaboration, sharing, adaptation and innovation.

So, what did we study? I’m hardly the primary to supply classes from Woodstock, however listed here are seven which have direct implications for sustainability:  

1. There’s unbelievable energy in neighborhood. When like-minded folks come collectively to share and resolve issues, the sky’s the restrict. And when the issues are large and sophisticated — suppose local weather change — collaboration is the one viable path ahead.

2. Mirror the habits you wish to propagate. The Woodstock producers wanted to calm large crowds that had been at instances anxious, impatient and excited (to not point out stoned). Creating and modeling the suitable vibe would make sure the viewers’s cooperation throughout difficult moments, of which there have been a number of.

three. Essential moments want out-of-the-box concepts. As I mentioned, ingenuity was rampant. One small instance, of many I may share: When Woodstock’s safety chief discovered that the Hell’s Angels had been coming en masse to the competition, an ominous signal with huge potential for hassle, he employed them individually as messengers, sending them off in a number of instructions, to be swallowed up and successfully neutralized by the gang.

four. Create a constructive echo chamber. Because the information media reported that Woodstock was a catastrophe — that tens of 1000’s of hungry hippies had been stranded and ravenous — the organizers fed the viewers these headlines and tales from the stage, making it clear to the attendees that the world was watching. That helped carry folks collectively to show the media, and the world, improper.   

5. Shortage can engender generosity. The shortage of meals helped create a spirit of sharing — once more, inspired from the competition stage. What may have been a mad stampede to seize accessible burgers and sandwiches turned out to be a communal expertise wherein attendees shared what they’d with others. No person starved.

6. Adaptivity and resilience are crucial. The scenario on the competition web site stored altering, as hordes poured in, provides ran low, legal professionals filed lawsuits and the climate stored shifting. It was one lengthy hearth drill, a collection of rolling disasters within the making. It required fixed pivoting and triage, but in addition the flexibility to roll with the second.

7. You possibly can survive adversity with humor and humanity. At Woodstock, a lot credit score goes to the Hog Farm, a New Mexico commune employed to assist in a lot of methods. They created a free kitchen that fed tens of 1000’s, assisted metropolis dwellers unaccustomed to sleeping below the celebs, ministered to drug-addled attendees and customarily engendered a spirit of humor and light-heartedness that was crucial in getting by way of difficult moments.

(See additionally the reflections of my good friend Bob Langert, former sustainability chief at McDonald’s, about his learnings from Woodstock.)

In fact, Woodstock was a mirrored image of the instances, which, suffice to say, have modified. However these had been turbulent instances, too — civil rights, the Vietnam Conflict, divisive politics, rampant drug abuse, generational clashes and extra. Nineteen sixty-nine was, amongst different issues, the height yr for troops deployed in Southeast Asia, a lot of them conscripted involuntarily. It was a society in battle. And but.

Woodstock reminds us that as we lean into a number of the crucial environmental and social challenges in at present’s divisive instances, that there’s a spirit that claims, “We will get by way of something if we pull along with humanity, generosity and charm.”

We’ve finished it earlier than.

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