Once again, Coldplaying.com has been lucky enough to obtain an exclusive interview with the Oxfam Tour Co-Ordinator on the 2009 Viva La Vida Tour. We previously interviewed the 2008 Oxfam representative, Pete Lusby during the second North American Viva La Vida tour leg. Whilst the band have been busy at the 2009 European festivals, Soha took some time out of her break to answer some questions for us...
Coldplaying.com would like to start by congratulating Oxfam America on reaching 100,000 sign-ups whilst on tour with Coldplay. It's a fantastic achievement to have reached that many people, especially in the limited time you have to talk with them. What does it feel like to have been involved in that achievement?
Thank you! Simply put, it was awesomely gratifying and validating. Congratulations are certainly due to the several Oxfam affiliates that that trained and deployed teams, especially Oxfam Canada who was the Oxfam affiliate to drive the total number of people who have taken action to 100 thousand.
I am thrilled to have been involved in such an accomplishment, and to have presented it to Coldplay and their management. Exceeding the 100K point not only validated the countless hours of reevaluation and strategic planning that took place in the months leading to North American tour, however. It demonstrated our ability to utilize the enormous potential of this tour to build an international community of activists comprised of Oxfam volunteers and Coldplay fans. The 100 thousand figure does not do justice to that fact, or to the community of Oxfam activists that is united by music and our shared concerns about poverty.
You've been an activist for Oxfam America for a while, how did you become involved with them?
At a Coldplay show! Being a local activist and long-time supporter of Oxfam, I approached the table at the Forum and learned about how I could get involved with the Los Angeles Oxfam Action Corps. The Action Corps participate in a range of things from community events to political lobbying, and I quickly began volunteering as a concert team leader. At that same show I’d also learned about an “Outreach and Organizing” internship opportunity from the man who is my supervisor today, Brian. After being interviewed by phone and being offered the position, I moved to Boston. I would not have moved away from home had the internship been with any one else, but Oxfam is my dream organization. It was when I started working there that I learned that I’d be coordinating the volunteer effort of the Coldplay tour.
So if you volunteered with Oxfam at a Coldplay show last fall, you’ve received many an email from me! Brian never told me the internship had anything to do with Coldplay because he wanted to ensure that my commitment was to ending hunger and poverty first and foremost.
What do you like most about working for Oxfam?
Oxfam does amazing work in the US and in developing countries that literally saves lives. I am so humbled and proud to be one piece in the Oxfam mosaic and to represent Oxfam on the Coldplay tour. Having said that though, I love my team. Brian, our Senior Organizer, Bob, our Music and Media Outreach Coordinator, Flora our new Outreach and Organizing Intern, and myself comprise what we’ve come to lovingly refer to as “Team Rock.” Since the beginning of my time with Oxfam, Brian and Bob have been amazing teachers, mentors, and advocates. Their confidence in me continues to exceed the confidence I have in myself. And Flora, well, she’s my girl. She always has my back.
Coldplay & Oxfam have a long standing relationship of around 7 years. How valuable is this to Oxfam America?
I can’t underestimate how important it is to us as a tool to raise awareness about Oxfam. While Oxfam is a household name in Great Britain, in the United States we are not as well known. The Coldplay tour has given us access to millions of people! I can’t even begin to tell you how many fans, concert volunteers, Action Corps members, CHANGE Leaders, Clubs organizers and interns first learned about Oxfam through Coldplay.
However, the Coldplay tour is also valuable to Oxfam America as a means to build a community of activists. Recently we called upon our volunteers to call their representatives to urge them to vote for the American Clean Energy and Security act. The bill is important because it puts the US on a pathway to reducing carbon emissions and provides funding to help poor communities in the US and abroad survive severe climate induced crises. It passed by one vote.
We later found out that the ratio of lobbying calls from the oil industry versus calls in support of the bill were 3:1! It wasn’t until that mobilization that we began to realize the full potential of concert outreach to cultivate activists.
Which areas is Oxfam America focusing on during the 2009 leg of the Viva La Vida Tour?
Oxfam America is encouraging fans to sign a petition that urges the President to call for a fair global climate change treaty this December when the UN convenes its Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Climate change not only perpetuates global poverty, it contributes to it through an increase in severe floods, droughts, debilitating storms, crop loss, and disease.
Oxfam America approached the US portion of the tour differently than any of the other Coldplay tours that we had done in the past. During the Rush of Blood to the Head and Twisted Logic tours, Oxfam used a pre-existing international petition related to our Make Trade Fair campaign. This petition was signed by hundreds of thousands of people!
This time around, each country is focusing on the campaign of their choice. This gave Oxfam America the freedom to emphasize quality conversations with fans at shows rather than quantity of sign-ups. Not only do fans sign our petition, they talk to us about how they can act locally to end hunger, poverty, and injustice. In terms of the volunteer experience, we are refining how to convert a short-term volunteer gig into a meaningful, empowering beginning of a relationship with Oxfam. We aren’t manufacturing a one-time interaction, but cultivating a real experience for fans, and inviting as many volunteers as possible to have this experience with us.
I believe you were a huge Coldplay fan before joining them on tour? What's it like having your two passions combine in this way, and how did the opportunity arise?
Ah, yes. You’re alluding to the “Soha story” of how I went from Coldplay fan to Coldplay roadie that my colleagues at Oxfam love to share. Whenever I ask my crewmates this same question, the general answer is that they became roadies through a combination of luck, ability, and ambition. This sounds like an accurate description. As an intern, I had a unique view of concert outreach at a Coldplay show because I understood the experience from the perspective of a fan, concert team leader, volunteer coordinator, and team rock member.
After my brief stint on the tour filling in for Pete last fall, it was decided that should an Oxfam America employee be asked to represent Oxfam on the tour, that it would be me. I thought it was cool that I was considered, but didn’t actually think I’d end up on the tour one day… funny isn’t it?
How are you finding life on the road?
Spectacular. I love travelling. Coldplay’s crew is so friendly and fun to hang out with. Perhaps you should ask me again when this leg is over, I may be more road weary by then. The key for me on the road has been to pack light, get at least 7 hours of sleep, and never lose sight of how awesomely cool this once in a lifetime opportunity is. I also travel with a guitar, so I’ve been learning how to play to keep me busy.
What's been your favourite moment on tour so far?
The hardest question thus far! I think the moment that stands out was on my first day on the tour in West Palm Beach. It was the day before the show and Bob and I had spent the day organizing the Oxfam materials and such. That evening when we wrapped up, we headed to the lawn to watch sound check. As I lay on the grass and looked at the stars, it hit me where I was, what I was doing, and how amazing my life was. I had the whole summer ahead of me. I was so happy; I started trying to do cartwheels on the lawn as “Yellow” played. I have moments of realization like this often, but the cart wheeling fiasco hasn’t been repeated. Here’s a picture of me falling on my behind after attempting a cartwheel. It’s my favorite picture I have from this tour.
You've mentioned in your blog that you've missed some family events whilst on tour, does this make it harder? Or do you not have much time to miss home?
I think it’s harder on my family then it is on me to be honest. I was sad about missing my brother’s graduation, but missing it was a choice I made and accepted when I joined the tour. I got some pretty heavy news while out on tour and didn’t have a moment to deal with it. I was in a funk for days; that was hard. It’s funny too because Brian came out for a show during that period and it was the first time he had seen me train a team of volunteers. And you know what? I totally BOMBED it. It was horrible. That night Brian and I talked into the wee hours of the morning about a lot of things. That’s when I wrote the entry “Drop the Bricks and Carry the Balloons” in the blog.
If anyone would like to help out Oxfam America on the Coldplay tour, are there any volunteer slots still available? If not, how else can people become involved with Oxfam America?
Yes! Check out our newly re-launched site: oxfamamerica.org/coldplay where you can offer to volunteer. You can also email me directly at [email protected] and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about a show near you. I also highly recommend that Coldplayers in the US join Oxfam America’s Climate Change Action Team. You’ll be given simple ways to educate your friends, Congress, and the media about the effects of climate change on poor people in the US and in developing countries.
Much love to Coldplaying.com for your unwavering support!