Masked, standing six feet apart, and rolling their road cases in protest around City Hall, about 60 workers from the live events industry rallied Friday as part of a national effort to influence how COVID-19-relief funds are apportioned — and how and when events like concerts, conventions, and wedding galas can safely resume.
The rally was organized by Philadelphia’s three-week-old chapter of the Live Events Coalition, a new national organization lobbying on behalf of businesses, contractors, and workers in the industry, including stagehands, sound technicians, lighting designers, caterers, florists, musicians, photographers, ushers, and tour managers.
The coalition has just over 20 chapters to date, many of which have also held protests this week, according to the local branch.
Ronnie Anderson, a local events planner who was one of the rally’s organizers, said more than half of Pennsylvania’s 584,000 events employees have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 shutdowns, with many businesses facing bankruptcy or closure.
“We needed our people to have a voice,” Anderson said just before the rally. “We’re one of the biggest contributors to the Philadelphia economy, and we’re all hurting.”
The national coalition is lobbying to influence federal relief policy, including extensions for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits, and forgiveness and updates to Paycheck Protection Programs and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Anderson said. They are also seeking the relaxation of some Small Business Administration loan provisions.
In addition, “we’re looking to really work with the officials to make sure the guidelines they gave us for reopening are actually viable,” Anderson said. “We know how to put on safe events. We know what needs to be done and how we can do it right. And we just want to sit at the table and get our voices heard.”
Another goal, Anderson said, is to depoliticize mask-wearing.
The Friday rally featured several speakers from the industry, including Michael Barnes, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 8. “The live event industry was hit first, it was hit hardest, and will be the last to return,” Barnes said. “We are an integral part of the economy and deserve to be supported like every other sector.”
The event concluded with a parade around City Hall, with masked workers rolling their road cases and cheering.
Barnes said he was proud of the coalition’s diversity and sense of unity. “We’re made up of women, of men, of every ethnicity, of every religion, of every sexual orientation. We are separate fingers on the same hand,” he said during the rally. “What we are going to do today is bring those fingers together into a tight fist, and fight for what we need to get us to the other side of this COVID-19 crisis.”
Cory Smalls, a union stagehand, DJ, and owner of an audio-visual production company, said the financial toll of the pandemic on the industry has been devastating. “I can’t even comprehend the numbers that we didn’t make this year,” he said. “I want to make sure this gets back to normal.”