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Social Justice and Soft Drinks

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The Parachute Festival, the southern hemisphere's largest four day music festival was held at Mystery Creek over Auckland Anniversary weekend. Two Indymedia journalists were in attendance, to bring you this exclusive expose on the happenings there-within.

The festival has a stated commitment to social justice and care for the earth which caught our attention. Equally attention-grabbing is the fact that they continue to accept the community destroying Coca-Cola company as their major sponsor.

This report looks at the event's recycling project, festival fashion, sponsorship, police involvement and even the music. Enjoy.

Links: Killer Coke | India Resource | Coca-Cola: The alternative report



You may have heard of the Parachute Music Festival. It is the southern hemisphere's largest four day music festival and a Christian one at that. Parachute is held at Mystery Creek every year, with an attendance of around 25,000 people and a surprisingly well adhered to no alcohol policy. Realising that the general Indymedia readership would never dream of attending a festival like this, two selfless Indymedia journalists took it upon themselves to attend and report back on what they found.

To begin with, let me say that it has become increasingly fashionable for mainstream organisations to promote peace, social justice and especially environmentalism, and that Parachute is no exception. The Parachute website claims to be committed to looking after 'God's green earth' and 'the least of these' (as the bible calls the poor and oppressed of our world.) They do this by supporting World Vision and Women's Refuge, and having a few seminars on relevant topics. The trouble is, in order for this festival to run it needs the sponsorship of Coca-Cola, a company infamous for its abuses of people and the environment where ever it operates around the world.

So with our media passes in hand, we attempted to see just how authentic Parachute's concern for the world really is.

Recycling
This year Parachute festival decided to adopt the kind of 'green' rhetoric which is becoming so popular with companies and organisations everywhere who face increasing pressure to move towards more environmentally friendly practices, acknowledgement of climate change and ultimately, sustainability.

The problem for Parachute, as with other festivals, is that their occurrence in it self is largely unsustainable. A truly sustainable music festival would look so drastically different from any current music festival, and be so impossible to make any profit from that it is laughable for these festivals to even claim to be trying. The Big Day Out seems to think it has the problem more or less solved by planting a few Eucalyptus trees to offset their carbon emissions, but carbon emissions aren't half the problem and offsetting is a dubious practice at the best of times.

The first step in Parachute's 'journey' towards sustainability was having a recycling program this year. Recycling is something that people have been doing in their own homes for years and it is ridiculous that most festivals have only just recently started.

The recycling program consisted of six recycling stations set up around the festival site where there were separate bins for paper, plastic and cans. At three of these stations there were volunteers who would punch a hole in a card for each punter, for each time they recycled something. Once five things were recycled punters got a free ride on the water slide, or they could save up their cards and the people with the most items recycled at the end of the weekend won free tickets to next year's festival. Since each card had only five holes to punch, thousands and thousands of cards were used. Ironically, these cards were made from plastic coated paper which could not be recycled.

In my opinion, Parachute's initial attempt at environmentalism was small and of limited success. A handful of kids got really excited about the water slide and free tickets, but if recycling is to happen, it makes sense for it to be as convenient for people as it is to dispose of other items. In the main village there was a rubbish bin every twenty meters, but people had to walk several hundred meters, all the way outside the village, to get to a recycling station.

However, there were some potential positives to the set up. Since recycling was too inconvenient for the majority of the festival-goers, they threw their recyclables in the regular bins. That's not positive, but the fact that there were gangs of kids running around the festival tipping over rubbish bins to fish out not only cans and bottles, but also unopened food and drinks, hats, clothes, and even money was very positive. Hopefully that experience has awakened a few members of the next generation to the lucrative and rewarding business of searching through other people's trash. Perhaps they will even continue the practice in their home towns.

As regards recycling in general, obviously paper, plastic and cans are only a small part of the problem. Of much more benefit to the planet would be the recycling of the enormous amounts of food scraps and human waste that these festivals generate. If a large festival was going to attempt that, I would not only write about it, I would even volunteer to help.

Fashion


One of the biggest money earners at festivals is the selling of merchandise, not just for the pedlars, but for the organisers of the festival. At Parachute those wishing to sell their wares had to pay not only a fixed price of $900 for renting a 5x3 meter stall, but also a compulsory 15% of everything they sold. That's even more that the 10% churches ask for!

A long standing tradition at Parachute festivals is for there to be two or three T-shirts that for some reason become incredibly popular and every other person seems to be wearing them. This year 'Free Hugs' shirts were in high demand, as were the official Parachute shirts sporting slogans like, 'Love your neighbour', 'Change the world', and 'Love, peace, justice, music'. After some covert investigative journalism I was able to uncover (by checking the tags) that these shirts were in fact made in Mexico with US fabric. That means that the injustice which went into making these justice-proclaiming shirts is probably a small portion less than the injustice which goes into a regular sweatshop shirt, but not much. They will have been made by the infamous maquiladoras of northern Mexico by way of the (debatably) mutually beneficial relationship known as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

As for the other clothing vendors on hand, a quick survey showed the following results:

Christian fair-trade clothing vendors - 1
Regular fair-trade clothing vendors - 1
Christian sweat-shop vendors - 7
Regular sweat-shop vendors - 3

Social Justice and Coca-Cola
It might seem weird to learn that a 'Christian' music festival which claims to focus on social justice, care for the poor and the environment has Coca-Cola as its major sponsor. But apparently it isn't. Coke has been the sponsor of Parachute for several years now and the festival organisers don't seem to see the contradiction in attempting to promote social justice with money from a company engaged in human rights and environmental abuses worldwide.

The two most publicised crimes of the Coca-Cola company are; using excessive amounts of water at their bottling plants in India, which causes local wells to dry up and whole regions to suffer; and colluding with right-wing paramilitaries in Columbia known as 'Death Squads' to threaten, kidnap, torture and even assassinate union members at their Columbian bottling plants.

In addition they have been involved in many other crimes around the world such as child labour in El Salvadoran sugar cane fields, pesticides such as DDT in drinks sold in India, carcinogens in drinks sold in Europe, child labour in the manufacture of soccer balls in Pakistan, as well as water over-use and pollution in India, Mexico, Ghana, El Salvador and elsewhere. On top of all of these crimes, the Coca-Cola company gives executives hundreds of millions of dollars in stock options and bonuses while laying off thousands of employees. Then of course there is the fact the their main product is a nutritionally worthless drink which is marketed aggressively to children, promoting objectification and unhealthy stereotypes of beauty.

See the links at the end of this article for more information on Coca-Cola's crimes.

The regular punters who we talked to about this contradiction seemed genuinely concerned, but unfortunately not as concerned as they were about making it to see the next band. The Parachute staff who we talked to assured us that they 'take all concerns seriously' and would look into the issues we raised.

Police Recruitment Raves
The New Zealand Police Force was out and about at Parachute, enjoying themselves in the heat, where they even felt safe enough to remove their usual protective vests. They were impressed at the positive and friendly atmosphere of the festival, with one officer remarking that he would feel totally safe dropping his kid at the gate and letting him run around there for the whole weekend. Whatever you think of the rest of the festival, this aspect of it is to be admired.

There were two vans set up in the village staffed by several officers during the day to promote the benefits of signing up to be a police officer. In light of the behaviour and actions of various police departments over the last few years, months and even weeks, hopefully there should be very little desire for anyone to sign up to the police force, but unfortunately that probably wasn't the case. In fact, when darkness descended upon the festival the police vans were the place to be. Not for people who wanted to debate their friend's detainment, but for the dance raves which carried on well past midnight. Seriously.

There were speakers on one of the vans which the officers used to hold incredibly popular dance competitions and hot, sweaty dance raves. The best proof of the better work stories campaign I've yet seen.

Music

Parachute's headline act, Family Force Five.


Parachute is after all a music festival, and there were bands performing there who are worthwhile seeing even for those who wouldn't ever want to spend a whole weekend with 25,000 Christians. So for future reference, the following bands might be worth looking out for, The Glory Sea, Arms Reach, Ruby Frost, and especially Little Fire and the Funeral Pyre. Oh, and if you get the chance, see the hardcore band Dance Party although apparently their performances are few and far between.

One band you should definitely avoid is this years headlining act whose name is, in all seriousness, Family Force Five. Luckily they're from the mid-west of the US, so they won't be coming down here too often.

Conclusions
Parachute's commitment to people and the environment is only skin deep. The main focus of the festival is music. If the 'values' of the festival need to be compromised to allow the festival to continue to function at the large, professional and expensive scale that it does, then they will be compromised. As with every other aspect of our current society, the consumer and their consumption comes first and all other things are secondary.

Having said all this, it is not my intention to portray the Parachute festival as being more hypocritical than any of the many other summer music festivals. The Parachute festival was simply on a convenient weekend and easy to get media passes for. Contradictions between rhetoric and reality are frequent and easy to come by amongst not only music festivals, but also many other corporate, political and civil organisations. Be wary of them all and hold them to account. And see you at Parachute next year!

Links: Killer Coke | India Resource | Coca-Cola: The alternative report

Related

http://websites.parachutemusic.com/festival/2009/

http://www.killercoke.org/

Parachute's headline act, Family Force Five.

Comments

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

I don't know why anyone would bother to go...
Parashite is about one thing - money.
Everything else they do is simply geared to extracting said item from the largely wealthy younger people who attend things like this.
Recycling? Earth friendly? only because they are popular at the moment.
Some of the stalls in the tent are worth a laugh though - anti smacking bills and family first.. Yay.

Re: Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

i second that...

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

"Whatever you think of the rest of the festival, this aspect of it is to be admired."

By the time someone has been a christian for several years they usually have developed the skills to hide the parts of their lives that are not acceptable in christian circles. This is why these type festivals seems so clean and mellowpuffed.

"I don't know why anyone would bother to go..."

A good place for christian kids to hang out and get layed wihtout the prying eyes of church elders and youth group leaders on them.

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

Nice article, really good to see this kind of proactive / investigative reporting by Indymedia journalists :) onyas!

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

"A good place for christian kids to hang out and get layed wihtout the prying eyes of church elders and youth group leaders on them."
This is wishful thinking - most attend as part of church groups, with parents, elders, youth leaders and even pastors, ministers etc. among them providing the transport to the festival.
Nice, well-balanced article. Can you forward it to the organisers?

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

Actually, I met a nursing student a few years ago who was doing research into sexual health. She reported that Parachute has the highest usage of the 'morning after pill' out of all other music festivals in New Zealand.

It's no small secret that large amounts of Christian kids lost their virginity at this event.

Re: Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

Yea I know that when it was held at its last location (name slipped my mind) the local town sold out of morning after pills during the festival.

Re: Re: Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

Interesting comments about morning after pills, i'm yet to actually confirm them though. I heard rumors about "Hundreds of condoms" floating around after the festival but when i actually helped clean up saw nothing of the sort.

I think someone has written an article like this on the festival for the last ten plus years, the best one was in the herald several years ago and actually investigated some of these claims.

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

Wow. This is an amazing article! Good work Tyler and Chris in braving the corporate commercialism and covert evangelicalism to bring this story out. Keep up the good work. Cant wait to hear stories about more festivals and events unmasking corporate propaganda and greenwash. Dunk

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

Great article Chris and Tyler!

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

""Cant wait to hear stories about more festivals and events unmasking corporate propaganda and greenwash."""

well except for any Dow Chemical New Plymouth news,, that even indymedia keeps under wraps

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

Ace article guys!

Re: Social Justice and Soft Drinks

I've always wanted to go to parachute so I could take drugs and have nasty sex with an umnarried partner. In the arse.

How do they police such things anyway.

His magnificence General Mutante