I've wanted to check out St. Louis Earth Day for years now. Somehow, in years past, the timing never worked out for me. This year, though, when I heard that the theme was "Heroes for the Planet", I knew that I had to be there! My friend Aur "Da Energy Mon" put me in touch with one of the organizers so that we could discuss how to bring a Real Life Superhero presence to the festival. Before I knew it, I found myself waking up at 5:30 a.m. on Earth Day so that I could get ready and head to St. Louis!
It was a cold and rainy morning. When I woke up for my daily jog, it was still dark outside. After jogging a little less than usual and gathering my supplies, I was ready to head to St. Louis.
I had originally hoped to find other ecologically-themed RLSH to join me for St. Louis Earth Day. However, there aren't many of us out there, and the few I've met online don't live very close to St. Louis. Therefore, I was unable to find any RLSH from outside of the region to join us in St. Louis this year. On the bright side, avoiding cross-country flights is a good way of shrinking our ecological footprint by reducing our carbon emissions!
The trip to and from St. Louis was fun. I traveled with Advanced Energy Solutions, a renewable energy company based in Southern Illinois that serves Illinois and several neighboring states. I used to work for AES, so I know the people who work there and was glad to have an opportunity to spend some time with them as we traveled to and from St. Louis. They were going to the festival to talk about renewable energy and use their Solar Trailer to power a large energy efficiency display.
When we arrived at Forest Park in St. Louis, traffic was slow, and there was a rainy chill in the air. Eventually, though, we made it to AES's booth, and my Real Life Superhero booth was just a few yards away.
Since I was the only one operating the RLSH booth, I decided to keep it simple. The main visual display featured a few RLSH profiles from the Real Life Super Hero Project. I also had copies of my quarter-sheet flyer and a new handout titled "You Can Be A Superhero!" This handout describes a basic process for developing a coherent and compelling superhero identity by considering your Costume, Qualities, and Quest.
At first, I'll admit that I was a little concerned about how the day would go. Since I had few materials with me, my booth was ready over an hour before 11 a.m., the official start of the day's main festivities. It was cold and rainy, and the few people who were in the park at 10 a.m. didn't have any interest in my booth. But right at 11 a.m., the sun peeked out from behind the clouds for a moment, and the day started to brighten.
The booth went well! I spent almost every moment from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. standing at that booth and saying hi to people as they walked by. Since I wasn't selling anything, I didn't feel obligated to do aggressive outreach and pull in every person who came within ten feet of me. But I said hi to hundreds of people, and if my booth caught their eye, I would start talking to them about Real Life Superheroes.
Over the course of the day, I must have talked to at least a hundred people, maybe more. The depth of the conversation varied. Some people simply noticed the costume and wanted the one or two sentence explanation of who I was and what I was doing. Others wanted the full story and spoke with me at length about the work of RLSH and costumed activists. I gave two or three mini-workshops about how to become an RLSH, and I refered people to two of my favorite RLSH website: reallifesuperheroes.org and reallifesuperheroes.com. I also talked with people about various projects and activities that I and other RLSH are involved in such as neighborhood watch patrols, homeless outreach, food drives, charity fundraisers, responding to domestic violence, and of course, ecological issues. There were maybe one or two people who seemed incredulous about the idea, but everyone else seemed either mildly supportive or genuinely excited about Real Life Superheroes. Especially given the context of an Earth Day festival, they really seemed to get the idea that costumed activism can bring a positive new angle to community involvement.
One of the highlights of the day involved my opportunity to speak on the main stage. At any given point, there were usually a couple hundred people in the large open area near the main stage, and the audio can be heard throughout much of the festival grounds. This makes it a fairly big deal to be given the opportunity to speak on stage. I'm used to public speaking, so aside from a twinge of anxiety right before showtime, I was mostly just excited to have the opportunity to speak. It's good I was calm, though, because when it was time for me to speak, we had technical difficulties! The MC did a personalized introduction, but my mic wasn't working at first. The sound people eventually turned it on, but it stopped working again halfway through my talk, so I had to walk across the stage to use the other microphone. In spite of all the technical difficulties, though, it was a good opportunity to speak about what an RLSH is and how everyone in the audience can become a Hero for the Planet, regardless of whether or not they wear a costume.
After a long and fruitful day at the festival, it was time to go home. I packed up my booth and met up with the AES crew. After eating dinner together, we headed back to Southern Illinois.
Thank you to everyone at St. Louis Earth Day for putting this awesome event together! Thank you also to Aur "Da Energy Mon" Beck and the entire crew at Advanced Energy Solutions for giving me a ride to and from the festival and for doing their part to bring renewable energy to the people of our region. St. Louis Earth Day was a very positive and productive experience, and I plan on returning next year. In the meantime, there's plenty of work to do here in Southern Illinois and beyond! I encourage you to be an everyday hero for your community and planet, regardless of whether or not you wear a costume. If you want to talk about the details, you know where to find me.