Sunday June 12 dawned dreary and gray. The seemingly endless deluge that was spring 2011 in the Northeast lingered yet again, debating whether it was time to let the sunshine through. Stray droplets splattered the ground as the wind occasionally gusted, forcing the loitering weather pattern on its way.
The Syracuse Big Splash was planned as a day of protest, education and music, promoted through the local networks of activists and the bands themselves who had volunteered their time to draw attention to a worthy cause. The Finger Lakes Clean Water Initiative coordinated the event with the help of a number of local organizations dedicated to the environment. The week before the same event (with a different musical lineup) had been held in Binghamton, an epicenter of gas drilling protest, with several thousand attending to show their support and enjoy the music.
In Syracuse the festivities were opened with a prayer by Tadodaho (a title for a chief meaning entangled) Sid Hill, a member of the Onondaga Nation, thanking the spirits, the earth and water and everything around us that supports our existence in his native tongue. Those that had arrived stood respectfully listening as Hill finished speaking in his language, explaining what he had just said before going on to talk about the threat hydraulic fracturing poses to the water that provides all life on this planet. He spoke for several minutes, thanking everyone afterward.
A number of activist groups from around Central New York began arriving and setting up shop as the music got under way. Groups from Syracuse such as the Peace Council and Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation along with NYRAD (New York Residents Against Drilling), a group of concerned petitioners from Coventry and others. Everyone was there for the same reason, concern over the potential threat to ground water and the possible ramifications from drinking water contamination to questions about the effect toxic chemicals will have on New York farming and recreation.
GDACC, a group from Cortland County made the drive north to be there as well. A representative of Gas Drilling Awareness for Cortland County spoke in between sets as instruments and equipment were hustled on and off the stage behind her. Her passion was evident as she held aloft a t-shirt with a map of her home entitled “Cortland County Gas Leases.” Below the words the rectangular shape of the county was a maze of property lines, each irregular shape filled in with green, white, or yellow. The yellow sections covered the majority of the map, littering the map with splotches that were reminders of a sickness.
She continued to speak, talking about the fact that over 60% of the county had already been leased to gas companies. They owned the rights and were eager to extract their profits, whatever the cost may be. These were the words that needed to be heard. People leaving their homes, feeling the need to be heard, to speak about their fears of what may come.
The rest of the day continued much the same. Music rotated between a pair of stages, one in the tent, the second a short walk away on the canal that had helped feed the city of Syracuse that fed into the lake that stands as a constant reminder of the dangers of unbridled industry. Hee Haw Nightmare brought the space to life as their lead singer shared songs about growing up along the Finger Lakes, water that many had come here looking to protect.
The crowd grew as the day progressed. Sunshine made a cameo for a few hours before being swallowed back up by another wall of clouds. Speakers took their turns and information was shared. Many people had attended looking to learn more about the process, the possible ramifications and what they can do to help protect their water, land and children. There were a large number of families as well, bringing their children out to enjoy an affordable day of entertainment. A few vendors were there along with people with alternative solutions to our energy crisis. With all the money being spent overseas, in aid, subsidizing corporations and giving tax breaks to whoever Congress decides is worthy couldn’t there be some put toward efforts such as solar?
The crowd continued to grow as locals showed up, waiting to see Sophistafunk. One of the top local bands and fracktivists, the trio has seen their stock steadily rise over the last few years. Mixing the funky sounds of the ’70s with their own interpretation of classics and original pieces Sophistafunk is built on the keyboard of Adam Gold and the drums of E. Washington. Their front man, providing the vocals, is Jack Brown. The trio has been bringing attention to the frack for some time and Brown wrote an article that appeared in Upstate Live. Their performance was excellent, the crowd finally getting into it.
The music continued into the twilight and darkness, finally being halted as Driftwood played near the water because the time on the permit had expired. The audience had continued to grow as Donna The Buffalo took the main stage, another local favorite from Ithaca. I watched proudly as my chair held a speaker.
All in all it was an excellent day. While the turnout was smaller than the Binghamton event the previous Sunday it was still a success. New Yorkers were educated and many came together to talk about what needs to be done to safeguard the water we depend on. The urgency of these events has only been driven home further with Governor Cuomo’s recent attempts to push forward drilling. Take the time to care or you might not like what you turn around to a few years from now.
Below is a map of the current leases around the Syracuse area: