Clearing the air

Indigo Girls headline a solar-powered concert/rally in the park

Local environmental activists say Atlanta's growing air-quality problem is nothing to sneeze at, and they've decided to do something about it. This Saturday, Oct. 28, Earth Challenge, a two-year old Decatur-based nonprofit, will host the Indigo Girls, Speech of Arrested Development, Michelle Malone and a host of other Atlanta artists in Centennial Olympic Park for a day-long rally/concert to promote awareness of the city's increasingly unhealthy air and to educate citizens about the need for renewable energy sources.
Earth Challenge Co-Founder Leigh Lytle says she hopes the event, dubbed the "Georgia Clean Energy, Clean Air Concert," will inspire Atlantans to tune in to the problems in their communities. "I think there are so many [environmental issues in Atlanta]. I think our air and water are mostly in the foreground right now. To me, energy issues are at the heart of all of it. They are at the heart of what needs to change for the health of our community and our children. The legacy that we are leaving them at this point is abominable."
Lytle said community leaders and organizations participating in Saturday's event will offer ways for citizens to address environmental issues in their communities. "The whole reason why I wanted to do this event was because I wanted to get people in our community involved in finding solutions to this problem," says Lytle, a native Atlantan. "Not only does it have a central focus in joining people but also hopefully helping them see the holistic value in trying to work toward a solution, how that spreads out across the nation. It's not just a local problem, it's that whole 'act locally, think globally' concept."
The mostly solar-powered concert will also feature performances by the Jennifer Nettles Band, Janet McLaughlin, Tom Nielson and T.H.E. Percussion Choir and the Emerson Drummers. WSB meteorologist Glenn Burns will emcee along with Emily Saliers and Amy Ray of Indigo Girls.
"I'm especially excited to be there for the show to make a stance so that the community can get together and just make some changes," Saliers says. "Personally I've been so disturbed at the progressive deterioration of Atlanta's air to the point where when I get home from the road, I don't feel good when I'm outside, especially in the summer. ... For the first time in my life I even thought about not living in Atlanta."
Saliers says all Atlantans should be equally distressed. "I just think anybody who's ever walked outside and felt sick or drove up 400 and saw those pollution warnings where you can't fuel your car until after six or is devastated by the cutting down of all the trees in the area [should get involved]. These are just simple things that you notice that are devastating."
Acknowledging that people tend to view activism as a "daunting task," Saliers points to the actions everyone can take to effect change. "First of all it takes your presence at the event; it takes making phone calls, writing letters, voting; it takes community organizing and protesting — just a lot of grassroots activist work in order to enforce change, and it takes momentum. ... So it's not just showing up to a rally and singing some songs and going away feeling good. The good thing about this rally is that so many groups will be represented and we'll have information there, so there's a great opportunity for networking and becoming involved."
While Lytle hopes for a big turnout Saturday, she said she's more interested in community follow-up after the concert. "If 10 more people got involved in this work, I'd be happy because that's 10 more than we had before. ... I'd like to see Atlanta be the city that has come up with some solutions to their energy problems versus the city known for its air pollution surpassing L.A.'s. It's my home, and I'd like to see it prosper in a good way and not at the expense of others."
The Georgia Clean Energy, Clean Air Festival takes place Sat., Oct. 28, in Centennial Olympic Park, from 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. The event is free.