The Love Truck is by no means a romantic-looking vehicle. Really, it's just a moving truck marked by a spray-painted sign that says "#LoveTruck," autographed with an "XOXO." There are a couple of hearts on there too, but otherwise it's fairly drab.
Employed by Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an organization that hopes to build, sustain, and connect a Southern regional base of LBGTQ people, the Love Truck is kind of like a DIY version of NPR's Storycorps. Last weekend, it roamed around Charleston collecting interviews on what freedom of movement means for marginalized groups. In this instance, that means Southern queers, immigrants, and African-American. As SONG member leader Jillian Brandl explains, these are groups that often find themselves pushed out of their communities, whether because of gentrification, government policy, or, for Southern queers, by the idea that life can only be better in a big city.
"We are really going off Valentine's, the Hallmark hearts, and we have that, but we are really trying to get people to go deeper, to see how your actions affect groups, how a white college student moving onto President Street affects the entire community," Brandl says. SONG hopes that the Love Truck will help these groups discover ways that they can work together to grow and preserve Charleston as they see it, instead of fleeing for safer pastures.
The truck made stops at downtown's gay bars, the main library, the Central Mosque of Charleston, and Santi's Mexican restaurant. Overall, SONG gathered 20 interviews ranging from five to 45 minutes. The stories range in content, but they have similar themes. Immigrants talked about why they feel they belong in America, while one white queer woman explained how she tries to build a community in her primarily black neighborhood. And a white, straight, male lawyer discussed making laws to protect these groups. "The personal stories that we got out of people were so — I can't even find a word for it," Brandl says. "It was so amazing to be able to sit in this small space and hear people's stories of solidarity and resistance and belonging in Charleston."
On Valentine's Day, SONG will host a release party in Saffron Bakery's back parking lot from 5:30-7:30 p.m., complete with hot chocolate, sweets, and a photobooth. The event will premiere some of the highlights from the interviews, mix-tape style. The Love Truck will also be converted into a viewing booth where interested attendees can sit down at a MacBook and listen to more complete interviews.
In the future, SONG hopes to get someone to run the truck on a more permanent basis, and the clips they've collected so far will be put on the internet in their entirety. "We really are impressed by how much of a response we got, people getting into this gaudy truck parlor that we made and really speaking from the heart," Brandl says. "It was so wonderful to be able to make space for these people, all sorts of people, to share their stories, and we really listened and we have some marvelous results."
(Editor's Note: Charleston City Paper contributor Jenna Lyles is SONG's field organizer for South Carolina.)