LAYTONVILLE, Calif. — Running a nonprofit organization with a global mission of promoting peace activities and sustainability might seem noble but naive to the skeptical, but Chris Deckker takes his role seriously as the founder of Earthdance.
Over the past eight years, Australian-born Deckker has shepherded Earthdance from its London club-scene origins and established it as an annual worldwide musical and artistic event that aims to harness idealism toward realizing concrete and tangible objectives.
Held this year over the weekend ahead of the United Nations International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, Earthdance 2004 encompassed 150 cities in 50 countries — including many people who joined in through a live Internet Webcast — to raise awareness and funds for a range of charitable causes.
Imbued with a focus and intensity befitting his background as a drummer (his band, Medicine Drum, though currently on hold, has toured Japan many times), Deckker was this year overseeing proceedings at Earthdance’s Northern California “hub.” That 6,000-person sellout three-day festival was held at the Black Oak Ranch in bucolic Mendocino County, perhaps best known for its wineries and generally laid-back lifestyle.
It was there, with love and peace wafting like a warm breeze through this sylvan setting, that The Japan Times caught up with Deckker to discuss his vision and philosophy.
“This year, Earthdance ranges from very small parties in people’s homes to big festivals like this one here,” he says.
“For example, in Melbourne, Australia, there’s a 10,000-person event; we heard news that Sydney has about 30,000 people at a free event in a city park sponsored by a radio station that did a lot of promotion, which was amazing.
“But the beauty of Earthdance is that the size doesn’t matter: It’s just the fact that you’re participating; it’s just being that one more person in the chain that creates the strength of the chain. So people can actually participate from their living rooms and commit with their friends together, and still be recognized as official promoters — a sort of ‘micro-to-the-macro,’ and we’re all part of it.”
Though cynics would have a field day deriding all this as “hippy” thinking, there’s nothing airy-fairy about Deckker’s mushrooming enterprise. Earthdance promoters worldwide must satisfy a number of conditions, including a commitment to invest their own money to develop and market their local Earthdance event. They also have to donate at least 50 percent of the profits to local charities approved by the Earthdance Foundation — NPOs that must operate in one of five areas: environmental protection; peace; children’s rights; urban youth; or indigenous peoples. Those groups must also be given space at the event to display information, and time to address festivalgoers.
In Earthdance’s first three years after it was founded in 1997, it focused on supporting an orphanage in Tibet. “But then,” Deckker explains, “we got some calls from people in Brazil who want to support the Amazon, and from South Africans who want to support children with AIDS. So then we thought, as Earthdance expanded in subsequent years in organic fashion, ‘Why don’t we expand the charity concept to include our five major categories?’ “
According to Deckker, notable results have included efforts by homeless people in Australia to build domes to live in rather than the cardboard boxes they had been calling home. Earthdance promoters have also been supporting the Aldeia Morro da Saudade indigenous group in Brazil; the City Farm Permaculture in Australia; East Bali Poverty Group in Indonesia; the Ljubanci Children’s Orphanage in Macedonia; the Child Welfare Program-Nepal in the Netherlands; and the National Autistic Society in Malaysia.
In Japan, several Earthdance events were held last month, ranging from a drum circle in Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, to large, weekend-spanning dance-oriented events in Nagoya, on Oonuki Beach in Ooarai, Ibaraki Prefecture and at Hakodateyama ski resort in Shiga Prefecture. As well as bidding to raise awareness, those events were in the business of raising money for beneficiaries that included Rainforest Foundation Japan (Nettai Shinrin Hogo Dantai) and Tibet-Aid Japan (Tibetan Snowlion Society and Nihon Kham Kikin).
In a further Japan connection, this year Earthdance’s first-ever Artist of Peace Award was bestowed on the celebrated, U.S.-resident Japanese composer and musician Kitaro, in recognition of his pioneering efforts in the electronic-ambient music realm to foster a spirit of harmony and peace.
While Deckker is the higher-profile one, Earthdance cofounder and CEO Reavis Daniel Moore — a veteran entertainment executive, artist manager and event producer — operates more behind the scenes. Not so far behind the scenes, though, that he was about to miss the Black Oak Ranch festivities, where he is upfront when he explains that “the Earthdance Foundation raises money via ticket sales and other initiatives specifically to do granting. But rather than the [common U.S. 'concerned business'] idea of donating ’5 percent for peace,’ when Earthdance promoters make money, they’ll donate at least 50 percent of the profits to the cause of peace or to an approved charitable organization.
“Our philosophy is at the core of our business practice, and that’s there in the ‘Prayer for Peace,’ the global Day of Peace. Earthdance represents not only something good we’re doing, but actually the heart of our business.”
Moore models his business concept on the International Business Leaders’ Forum, part of the Prince’s Trust charity in Britain. “They did a report whose title is also the slogan of our company, and that is: ‘The Business of Peace,’ ” Moore continues. “And the idea was that businesses needed to have more involvement in the prevention and the resolution of conflict — among people, among nations, among tribes, among sects — and that they should also be advocates for social justice and a source of social investment and philanthropy.”
Both Deckker and Moore see Earthdance only getting bigger, noting ongoing discussions to grow the festival as part of an international eco-peace tour, with partners in Japan, England, the United States and Australia.
The highlight and spiritual core of the Earthdance event, Deckker remarks, is “a simultaneous dance-floor linkup, when every event across the world plays the ‘Prayer for Peace.’
“Morning in the Australian rain forest, midnight in London, sunrise over the Himalayas — the ‘Prayer for Peace’ is a profound and powerful moment that unifies our intentions for world peace and healing.”
After attending this year’s Northern California Earthdance hub event, it’s hard to disagree — or to be skeptical of the good intentions invested in Earthdance’s “Prayer for Peace”:
We are one global family All colors, all races One world united. We dance for peace and the healing of our planet Earth Peace for all nations. Peace for our communities. And peace within ourselves. As we join all dance floors across the world, Let us connect heart to heart. Through our diversity we recognize unity. Through our compassion we recognize peace. Our love is the power to transform our world Let us send it out Now
At the Black Oak Ranch, a reading of the “Prayer for Peace” by Deckker was followed by the exhilarating music of “Drums for Peace,” featuring Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and his Planet Drum cohorts, including Brazilian veteran Airto Moriera, Indian tabla master Zakir Hussein and Santana percussionist Karl Perazzo. Together, they led a Guinness World Record-setting 4,504 drummers regaling a large swath of Mendocino County in the world’s largest drum circle.
In addition to a massive variety of small retail booths, there were also speakers’ workshops in which groups working for peace and planetary health could meet and discuss common goals; an “Activist Alley” to learn about nonprofit organizations and eco-sustainable initiatives; theatrical stilt-walkers; programs for kids; VJ-video jocks putting moving images to music; other visual effects and animation film screenings; and “Paintings for Peace,” in which artists captured the energy of live music performances by creating spontaneous paintings as bands played.
A little surprisingly, despite its large scale in a relatively rural area, Earthdance gets along swimmingly with Mendocino County Sheriff Tony Craver, who says law-enforcement problems are not an issue at Black Oak Ranch, also known as the Hog Farm, a collective whose most prominent member is counterculture court jester Wavy Gravy.
“Well, the people are very hospitable,” he says. “When I was campaigning, they invited me up there and they put on a really nice dinner, and the house was just packed full of people,” he recalls. “And you know, they grilled me on this, that and something else, and I told them about my political views, how I felt about various issues — in particular, police intervention in private lives, ‘victimless’ crimes, those kinds of things we talked about at great length — and I had their support.”
In an implicit nod to the diversity of his constituents vis-a-vis the California state law permitting marijuana use with a physician’s OK, Craver says everybody in the county is entitled to a fair shake.
“It’s a matter of being aware of the fact that there are these diversities, that each perspective, from each segment of the county, whether it has to do with grapes vs. timber, whether it has to do with fishing vs. farming, whether it has to do with tourism vs. everything else; each one of those is very important to somebody. We have to be sensitive to those needs.”