By Christian Guzman Community Reporter and Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Hands down, Fleet Week is one of the armed forces most far-reaching marketing tools to restock its volunteer ranks with young recruits.
The military pageantry of Fleet Week serves as reminder that there are still opportunities in which they use the latest equipment and technology aboard naval ships and aircraft carriers. It’s one of a number of ways the five branches of the armed forces (possibly six if the Space Corp is formed) get to maintain their cool factor.
On Labor Day weekend, thousands of Harbor Area residents and visitors will be drawn to the Port of Los Angeles to tour ships and meet the sailors and crew members from American and Canadian Navy ships.
The ships will start docking at the Los Angeles Harbor on Aug. 29, and the tours will go from Sept. 1 to 4. The names of the six vessels that will dock will be announced 10 days prior to the beginning of Fleet Week.
“We will offer a wide range of activities engaging multiple audiences,” said Jonathan Williams, president of the Los Angeles Fleet Week Foundation, which is leading the production of Fleet Week. “I believe Los Angeles [will host] one of the premier Fleet Weeks across the country.”
Williams is also the CEO of the USS Iowa nonprofit and the president of the San Pedro Business Improvement District, both of which directly or indirectly benefit from the Fleet Week event.
San Pedro hosted Fleet Week for the first time in 2016; about 200,000 people attended. The budget for the foundation is about $400,000. Williams said the rest of the costs for Fleet Week are covered by monetary and in-kind sponsorships; sponsors include the Annenberg Foundation, Comcast NBCUniversal, the Bob Hope United Service Organization and Yelp.
U.S. and Canadian militaries also will demonstrate equipment, answer questions and provide live entertainment, while service members tour San Pedro and other parts of Los Angeles.
The City of Los Angeles, the U.S. Marines and Navy, the Canadian marines and navy, the Battleship Iowa, San Pedro PBID and the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce are major partners in producing Fleet Week. The San Pedro Chamber of Commerce will be providing volunteers to direct both service members and visitors to restaurants, shops and tourist attractions.
“There is a lot of pride among our businesses [in hosting Fleet Week],” said chamber President Elise Swanson. “It’s great public relations for this community as a visitor-serving destination.”
Visitors will have to face added traffic issues due to ongoing construction on Harbor Boulevard. But Phillip Sanfield, director of media relations at the Port of Los Angeles, expressed optimism.
“The port is working with California and Los Angeles [Departments of Transportation] to get people here efficiently,” Sanfield said. “We’re anticipating a little more of a challenge [this year, but] … we’ll have additional traffic controllers during the event.”
There will be several parking locations along the waterfront and in downtown San Pedro and complimentary shuttles will ferry visitors to Fleet Week activities. The recently unveiled LA Metro Bike Share will also have bicycles available.
Successfully getting people around town is key to repeating the first Fleet Week’s commercial success.
Locally, civic leaders see Fleet Week as an economic opportunity for merchants to beat last year’s numbers.
“That week attracts approximately 250,000 visitors over the Labor Day weekend,” Swanson said. “That’s a huge economic input. They’ll be visiting the Iowa, eating at restaurants and staying at hotels.”
“Many businesses said that the first Fleet Week was their best weekend in their history,” Sanfield added.
The port and the Fleet Week Foundation want to build on that this year.
Besides stimulating the local economy and providing entertainment to people, an important goal for Fleet Week is facilitating positive interactions between service members and civilians. This past year, service members volunteered at nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity, and they are expected to do so again.
But looking at the event within the context of impending war, Fleet Week takes on more urgent meaning: We’re hiring!
The Anti-War Perspective
“Fleet Week is a glorification of the military and a tool for recruitment,” said Chris Venn, member of San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice.
He added that the outreach to youth in the South Bay and in Long Beach has been frighteningly effective. But Fleet Week also provides an opportunity for dialogue, Venn said.
Local activist Rachel Bruhnke said she wants to counter the military commercialization the Fleet Week represents. Bruhnke is a member of Code Pink, an organization that seeks to redirect global resources away from war and into health care, education and sustainable jobs. She is working with Venn’s group to produce Peace Week.
“[We can’t just] celebrate and dance in the streets to the U.S. military when our [wars] have led to extreme chaos and suffering of millions of people … and to increased insecurity, surveillance and bankruptcies at home,” Bruhnke said. “Peace Week will build and celebrate local peace economies to ensure that our communities are putting social needs over militaristic greed.”
Peace Week will occur simultaneously with Fleet Week. It will include a press conference at Liberty Hill, an Art Build and pizza party at Machine Art Studio, peace leaflets around downtown and a memorial at San Pedro’s Municipal Building.
Bruhnke added that some of the business owners are not entirely in favor of the military aspect of Fleet Week.
“It’s economic chemotherapy for some — [effective but drastic],” Bruhnke said. “Imagine what the American people could do if there was a 50 percent decrease in U.S. military spending? With all that money — imagine all of the creative, community-oriented solutions in health, education, the arts, the environment, small town business support. It would be a boon for America.”
Taken together, Fleet Week and Peace Week will offer the heterogeneous Harbor Area a variety to celebrate or advocate for.
For details on Fleet Week visit www.lafleetweek.com.
For details on Peace Week visit www.codepink.org/lapeaceweek2017.
Zamná Ávila contributed to this story