The first-ever Happy Trash Day was a thank-you for multimedia artist Jenny Drumgoole's local trash collectors. Since that day, Drumgoole has been holding regular surprise parties for the sanitation workers of her home city of Philadelphia.
This is what happens: dressed as her character, Soxx, Jenny picks a location, finds out when the sanitation workers arrive, and sets up her party (complete with snacks, party favors, and her own colorful clown outfits), and waits for the guests of honor to arrive.
There's also an awareness-raising element: the parties that she puts on are not only a pick-me-up for the trash crews that come down the city's streets, but also a way to educate citizens about the situation of the sanitation workers of Philly, who haven't had a raise in five years. The project she's running will help her to throw a month-long blitz of parties.
We talked to Jenny about Happy Trash Day, how it came to be, and why it continues to happen.
How did the first Happy Trash Day come together?
Happy Trash Day started as just a little thank you for my trash collectors when I asked them to film a couple of scenes with me as this character I’ve used in previous videos, “Soxx." I asked the trash crew as they came down my street to throw me a bag of garbage and lift me up. They were great. It was really hot that day and it was towards the end of their shift. I was not expecting them to oblige the way they did.
So the following week, I decided that I/Soxx should thank them. I put up balloons and streamers and modified a happy birthday banner to read “Happy Trash Day." Then I just waited for them to come. People who passed would stop to take pictures and ask what I was doing. I said “It’s trash day and I’m here to thank the trash collectors”.
When the trash crew finally came, I found out the crew that came the week before was not my regular crew. So when my regular guys drove down the block for this first official Happy Trash Day, they didn’t know what was going on (they just saw a clown jumping and waving them down in the street). Once they saw the signs and balloons they started laughing and said that no one back at the sanitation yard would believe that anyone would do this, so they wanted to take pictures. They also took the balloons and the Happy Trash Day banner for the truck. From then on, I just wanted to make the parties bigger and more memorable.
Once I was several months into doing the parties, I found out that the sanitation workers haven’t had a raise or a contract for more than five years. So Happy Trash Day has become both a special thank you for the trash collectors and a way to help push towards a contract resolution…while having the most fun possible.
What's the best reaction that you've gotten so far?
It’s hard to pick one favorite reaction to Happy Trash Day. I’ve done them in several areas throughout the city, so it’s been really nice to meet so many sanitation workers in the city. Everyone’s reaction starts with a bit on confusion, then turns to excitement when I explain that this is a party for them. It’s also nice to see the reaction of people who pass on the street. Neighbors will come out when they see what’s happening and bring more refreshments for the trash collectors.
I’ve also gotten emails from people in different states (and even in Europe) who want to have their own Happy Trash Day! That’s pretty great.
Speaking of reactions, what's the public reaction been like to the advocacy element of the project?
Everyone has been really supportive of Happy Trash Day so far. It’s hard not to like a happy clown on the street having a surprise thank you party. It’s a fun, spirited (and slightly bizarre) atmosphere at Happy Trash Day. I set up all of the decorations between everyone’s garbage that has been put out. I’ve found that most people in Philly don’t know that the sanitation workers have continued to work without a raise or a contract. It has become a kind of subversive way for me to rally people to do right by people who work so hard for the people of Philly.
I have been going to Philadelphia’s City Council and speaking during the public comment portion of City Council meetings about Happy Trash Day (as Soxx of course). At first I thought they were going to have security escort me out, but thankfully they didn’t.
I’ve even had meetings with Councilmen where we have talked about an official resolution marking an official Happy Trash Day in Philadelphia. But I’ve decided that there can’t be a true Happy Trash Day until the sanitation workers get their contract resolved. So that’s got to happen first.
What influences you in general and with this project?
Filmmakers and artists like George Kuchar, John Waters and Michael Moore. I’m also inspired by really epic ’80s bands like AC/DC. I also am really influenced by my super talented friends who have helped me with the project and make their own work.
What else are you working on?
Well, the project proposed for this Kickstarter is going to take a lot of my time over the next several months. There are going to be some really fun themed trash days (you pick the theme if you donate $100!)…one donor has already sponsored a Robot themed trash day! But I am also working on a really exciting collaborative video series with my husband and two friends called “Soxx’s Power Hour."
We just finished shooting the first episode (there’s singing, dancing and some pretty epic music) and are already planning the second episode. We’re shooting it all around Philly. The first episode should be done in about two weeks, so look out for it!