Young Portland activist organizes July 22 benefit for Gulf Coast

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PORTLAND — The ruptured BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico may be capped and leaking only a fraction of the oil that once gushed from it, but the catastrophe is still at the front of Simon Thompson’s mind.

The local activist, a recent Portland High School graduate, has organized a fundraiser Thursday night, July 22, to benefit Gulf Coast residents.

The fundraiser will take place at the Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., from 6-8:30 p.m. Gulf-themed food, including gumbo, will be provided by Po’ Boys & Pickles, Rosemont Market and Local Sprouts Cooperative. Live jazz will be performed by The Swinging Hammocks.

Suggested admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and additional money will be raised through a silent auction of local gift certificates, art work and other items.

Proceeds will benefit the Greater New Orleans Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund.

Thompson said he felt compelled to organize the event, because like the Gulf, Portland’s economy is closely linked to the ocean.

“We have a vibrant fishing community, a vibrant boating community,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s part of our economy, just like it is down there.”

He said the event will serve two purposes. The short-term goal is to raise money for struggling families, who once made their living fishing in the Gulf. Many fisherman have been forced to hang up their nets and pick up oil booms to keep the oil from reaching the shoreline.

While battling the spreading oil has provided families with much-needed income, Thompson said BP’s deduction of those wages from any future claims by those fisherman will make for lost income.

Meanwhile, Thompson said he has seen reports that some residents have been forced to wait in line at Salvation Army stores for up to five hours.

“BP is taking all the shortcuts they can to save money,” he said. “(Residents) really need our help.”

The event will also be used to muster local support for renewable energy, like wind, solar and tidal power.

“It really brings to light that our country is so over-dependent on oil and nonrenewable resources,” he said. “We all have to switch that dependency to something that is clean and efficient.”

To that end, Thompson said Repower Maine will be on-hand at the fundraiser, along with some local politicians, to discuss local and national renewable and clean energy legislation.

Thompson, who will attend Harvard University in the fall to study government and social studies, got his start in activism by serving as a student representative on the Portland School Committee last year.

Last summer, he raised about $700 to fight human trafficking by setting up a table in Monument Square and networking at school. This spring, he helped organize a fundraiser for then-gubernatorial candidate Steven Rowe, a Democrat.

Thompson said he hopes Gulf residents will not be left alone to deal with the aftermath of the oil spill.

“I feel like much of the burden is placed on the Gulf coast region to clean it up,” Thompson said. “It should really be a collective effort by the whole country, because we are in this together.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or

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Recent Portland High School graduate Simon Thompson, 18, has organized a benefit on Thursday, July 22, at the Maine Historical Society for the victims of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.