IN YET ANOTHER DISPLAY of the power of social media, few things have blown up local Facebook feeds like the YouTube video that went viral this past Sunday morning showing a beach full of litter after the Orange Crush "festival."
I put "festival" in quotes because unlike every other event in the area which also results in huge amounts of trash, Orange Crush is not an organized event, with sponsors who can apply for permits, put up deposits, etc. More on that later.
The nice little bit of citizen journalism showed Tybee resident Tony Abruzzio awash in a sea of trash, pointing out that not only residents but tourists were coming onto the beach to help clean up. Indeed, by noonish most of the trash was gone.
By the way, no City of Tybee staff were visible in the video. More on that later, too.
Orange Crush came and went but the litter remained, along with a sense of profound outrage that anyone would sully a public beach so wantonly -- and on Earth Day weekend at that!
But unlike in years past, this time Orange Crush, itself promoted largely by social media, would be the target of social media rather than a beneficiary.
By 2 p.m. Sunday, my Facebook feed showed about 100 shares of the video. By Sunday evening, a new Facebook page called "Stop Orange Crush 2013" was getting over 100 ‘likes' an hour. An online petition to "ban" Orange Crush (!) has over 1500 signatures as of this writing.
Some backstory: Orange Crush is a roughly 20-year-old gathering of African American college students on Tybee Island each year at spring break. Like college students everywhere and of any color, they not only get trashed, they leave a lot of trash.
In years past there was an attempt to quasi-organize Orange Crush, through the auspices of historically black Savannah State University. (Lost in the hubbub is the fact that some SSU students came to Tybee on Sunday to help clean up the beach).
While Tybee Island never really wanted the event there, things actually went reasonably well for awhile until Tybee -- in response to citizen concerns, perhaps a bit alarmist, about how large and disruptive Orange Crush had become -- got in a kerfuffle over police checkpoints on Highway 80 that were clearly intended to discourage people from attending.
Some serious and entirely valid Constitutional reasons were raised to show that those checkpoints were a horrible idea.
Since then, negotiations between Tybee and whoever was calling themselves an organizer of Orange Crush fell apart, and the event became essentially a massive flash mob -- promoted by social media, with no structure, and no one to hold accountable for the horrifically disrespectful, environmentally irresponsible, and just plain gross behavior of this past weekend.
If I were writing for the New York Times, this is the part where I'd archly muse that a quaint and backward Southern beach town still steeped in the miasma of Jim Crow is pulling out their old Klan hoods and thumbing their nose at federal law in order to refight the Civil War and revive segregation, and this is a direct legacy of the policies of George W. Bush, etc., etc.
But as you've gathered, this ain't the New York Times! And the problem today -- other than the irresponsible behavior of those who trashed the beach -- is exactly opposite: Tybee has come full circle and is now way too lenient on Orange Crush.
I grew up going to Tybee Island when it was still called Savannah Beach (as Abruzzio refers to it on YouTube, did you notice?). And one thing I've learned about Tybee: They love enforcing the law there -- 51 weeks out of the year anyway.
Even when you don't really break any laws, someone on Tybee will say you broke one. Can't bring your dog, can't drive two miles an hour over the speed limit, and apparently you can't look funny outside a bar without getting tased nearly to death.
Years ago a Tybee cop wrote me a fat ticket for bringing a glass bottle onto the beach. In the off-season. When it was only me and one other person on the entire beach.
But at Orange Crush you can leave anything you want on the beach, and I mean anything. Glass, cans, cups, butts, used diapers, used condoms, and all kinds of plastic things that like to wrap around the necks of unsuspecting marine life.
Is this kind of trash left at Tybee on other weekends? Yup. Will a Tybee cop write you up if he catches you? Yup-yup.
But not on Orange Crush weekend. And here's precisely where the classic "the crackers are at it again" argument breaks down.
Tybee is clearly petrified of the media and legal attention it would get by asking a modicum of accountability on the part of Orange Crush attendees. So they essentially void the law for one weekend in order to avoid dealing with the issue at all.
If you think that's racist -- well, let's just say you have a pretty broad definition of the word!
I keep hearing that "no one gets this upset over St. Patrick's Day," and that predominantly white celebration gets a pass for all the trash it generates. But there's no comparison between asphalt and concrete, which can be cleaned with streetsweepers and pushbrooms, and a sensitive beach ecosystem made of sand and shells and sea oats, a place where endangered sea turtles lay their eggs, for gosh sakes.
And with Orange Crush there's not only no one to hold accountable -- unlike the many organizations involved with St. Patrick's Day -- Tybee City Hall is also not being very accountable, unlike the City of Savannah's very engaged involvement with St. Patrick's Day.
So this isn't a racial issue, it's an accountability issue on both sides. Someone needs to step up, claim Orange Crush, and spread the message that if attendees are going to use a public beach they should use it responsibly.
And Tybee City Hall needs to quit playing the victim and demand accountability from Orange Crush -- and also be accountable themselves for good-faith negotiations which respect attendees' rights to assemble on said public beach.
Any solution that doesn't include both those ideas is... just a bunch of garbage. cs