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Reflections of a puppetista convert PDF Print E-mail
I didn’t really understand what was driving me to come to the pre-SOA Vigil puppet convergence until after we got there. Part of it was that the gathering was organized by Catholic Workers and was taking place at a community, so it was sure to be organic, low-budget, nonhierarchical and a lot of fun. Part of it was trying to find meaning for myself and our children in a witness that’s gotten so big that it’s hard to find a spot, physically and psychically, that feels right and centered, especially when you’ve got small children and can’t take a huge risk. Part of it was wanting to help solidify that connection between the traditional, religious peace activist community and the growing community of dedicated young activists coming out of the anti-globalization movement.

One night, as a bunch of us sat around a bonfire singing "Dancing on the Ruins of Multinational Corporations" and "By the Waters of Babylon", I suddenly saw quite clearly that being a "puppetista" is, indeed, a natural part of Catholic Worker Christian anarchism. Here we were, 25 people with some old cardboard, dumpster paint, staple guns and duct tape, creating a puppet pageant for 200 actors; telling a story really, a story much bigger than ourselves. Trying to manifest the truth as we see it; bringing the kairos time to Fort Benning and inviting others to join us in creating the new reality.

It is probably heretical to say that making puppets is sacramental, but when I saw us all gathered around a huge cardboard head, conferring and conspiring, when I saw my 2-year-old daughter painting suns with a Catholic Worker mom from Oregon, when I watched a big, beautiful colorful, meaningful story emerge out of scraps of junk, the flow of ideas and good, hard work, I see the kindom made manifest.

Puppets are clearly symbolic: the story we act out about ending corporate greed and militaristic imperialism, about local and international solidarity, is a symbol of the story we believe will take place. And the community we become as we create and act out the story is the manifestation of that symbolic truth.

Being part of a puppet action gives participants a way to help write and live out the story. As we create each role, we challenge ourselves and each other to think about what that role means; how it looks, moves, sounds, how it plays into the bigger picture. Practicing this creative process helps us learn to analyze, challenge and change our own and others’ roles in the real world. The busloads of students and dozens of individual resistors who showed up to join our parade on Saturday, and their ability to take a picket puppet and turn it into an awful torturer or a peaceful spirit or a steadfast indigenous farmer, despite the early hour, the cold wind and the pelting rain—THEY are the movement!

Bringing our loud, colorful, slightly chaotic puppet story into the solemn, powerful witness of the traditional SAO vigil was a bit of a balancing act, and the fact that it happened is a testament to the organizing skill and mutual respect of all involved. Saturday’s "rehearsal" was just that, and Sunday’s puppet resistance was exactly what everyone hoped it would be: the symbolic and the real merging into a creative act of nonviolent resistance.

When Bill came out of processing Sunday evening with a glowing tale of pushing the 15’ "resistance head" onto the base and being arrested with the radical cheerleaders ("great spirit") and the black-clad anarchists ("totally nonviolent"), I knew that the movements had not only met, but embraced. The image of the radical transvestites doing skits for bleachers full of nuns, grandmothers, and students as they all waited to receive their 5-year ban and bars is one to hold onto!

Now that we’re home, with nothing but a few tattered cardboard stars and Bill’s ban and bar to show for a week’s worth of puppet making resistance, we ask ourselves where we go with the sacramental energy we received. Certainly we’ll take our story to other places, places closer to home. For us that means the Pentagon and Fort Bragg among other sites. We’ll also reflect on what this year’s story means about next year. What does it mean that almost 2,000 people were barred for five years from carrying this story where it needs to go? Do we come back and violate the ban? Do we try to enlist a new group of 2,000? Do we all refuse to carry IDs? How do we support those who get prosecuted this year? As we sit with these questions, it is good to know that hundreds of other puppetistas and thousands of other resisters are asking the same questions. With all that creative energy, the next chapter of our common story promises to be even more deep and exciting than the one we just wrote!

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