As I've tried to learn about this WTO mess, I've been staggered by my stupidity, helplessness, and collusion. I buy at the Gap. Some of my best friends own SUVs. I thought I was doing well to buy clothes that say "Made in the USA"; I didn't know that meant they were made by indentured Third-World women. The corporations involved with WTO are huge and wily, and I am outraged and confused. I'm not about to turn into a terrorist, which seems like the logical solution, and I'm not fool enough to think there's something effective I can do. So I might as well pretend the whole thing doesn't exist.
But what the hell's been going on? For the past week I've been witnessing 15-foot-tall puppets cavorting and waving their stick arms on the streets. And when some clownish, giant puppet slaps his big feet against the pavement, honking a brass horn and grinning a pre-fab smile, I may feel cynical enough to want to give him a rabbit punch, but I'm not programmed to slug a puppet. He's corny and he's clever, and he makes me laugh at the truly cynical -- -the dudes, the men in suits, the gents who are engineering our children's future by rule of the dollar. Against my better judgment, I start to feel lighter. Are gooney puppets going to make the bad guys quake? No. But among all but the most afflicted among us, they might somehow begin to turn helplessness into hope, even if habit leaves an arched eyebrow behind. It's art as conversation.
Art and Revolution is a group of protesters who make the puppets -- big, big puppets. Their start was at a convergence in Chicago countering the '96 Democratic Convention. Here in a noisy barn of a building on Capitol Hill, joined by many Seattleites, they are a study in optimism. As they lean over possible images -- whose entire point is to reduce complicated issues to visually striking tableau -- they talk about changing a clock image to a sun, so people remember to own their time.
"Anyone can and everyone should make art," says David Solnit of the Direct Action Network, and co-founder of Art and Revolution. He's been here from San Francisco for months, coordinating grassroots groups like the Radikal Cheerleaders, who know how to sashay and subvert an icon, flags a-flitting; locked-out steelworkers from Spokane's Kaiser Aluminum, who've come to act out labor fables under floral banners illegally unfurled from lampposts; the Anti-Fascist marching band; and Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theatre, who will drag their 40-foot paper boat across the continent.
Art and Revolution live in the instant of possibilities, where things can be different. They insist that public space belongs to the public. And they play the fool; in fact, they give up their lives to that role. It's art as a slapstick guerrilla play.
Art is born of the senses. In print or paint, in song or sculpture, a good work of art passionately splashes shocking golds and band-loud reds, whispers the lingering whimper of summer's marigold, or shouts the odor of the grave to waiting eye or ear. Once these sight and smell and sound images land, the everyday world is made new.
Revolution, too, starts from specific locations. Step by step, it starts with story and incident and proceeds with outrage and harm, until the world is made different to the everyday person.