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The peopleís party
Once simply a forum for expression, protests are more and more often becoming the greatest shows on earth
BY CHRIS WRIGHT

On April 1, a CROWD of antiwar demonstrators gathered outside Park Street Station to protest the latest Israeli incursions into the West Bank. The vigil was, by all accounts, a somber affair, the kind in which protesters carry signs with messages like: AS A JEW, I DEMAND AN END TO ISRAELíS BRUTAL OCCUPATION OF THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES.

A month later, during a May Day rally at the same spot, a rather frayed-looking member of the Socialist Workers Party launched into an equally dour disquisition on the injustice of Americaís War on Terror. "US imperialism is killing women," he explained, "and ó "

And then the drumming started. And the whistling. And the shimmying of hips. And the twirling, cheerleader-style, of flagpoles. The Socialist Worker, his Party newspapers fluttering in the breeze, struggled valiantly to make his point for a while before succumbing to the calypso rhythms of the Tiger Tassel Boom-Boom crew.

According to literature promoting the rally, Bostonís May Day march this year was intended to promote "a Classless, Stateless Society!" Yet the occasion seemed more like a spring fertility rite than a call to arms. The Boom-Boom kids ó dressed head to toe in orange, with an assortment of zany headgear ó bongoed and boogied in the afternoon sunlight as if they hadnít a care in the world. And when, an hour into their march, they finally started to chant ó "What do we want? Class war! When do we want it? Now!" ó you didnít really believe them. In fact, you found yourself wanting to rip the bandannas off their faces and give their cheeks a big squeeze.

So what were they doing there?

"Having fun," said a young Boom-Boomer who called herself Culture Jam.

Her compatriot, who went by the name of Tigger, chipped in with the old nugget: "Itís not my revolution if I canít dance to it."

Two days after the May Day rally, soccer teams from across the country ó Tompkins Square Riot, Iron-Sloth Thunderfist, Saufen! Saufen! Saufen! ó convened at Tufts University to compete in an anarchist soccer tournament (predictably, perhaps, organizers accused the winners of not abiding by the rules). The day after that, there was a Carnival of Resistance in Jamaica Plain, at which kids with eyebrow rings played Pie the CEO, Disassemble the Prison, Smash the Capitalist PiĖata, and Dunk the Landlord. "No more rent!" whooped the masses every time the evil landlord got his watery comeuppance.

For most of us, the notion of a political protest calls to mind something more in line with the anti-Israel rally mentioned above: grim-faced mobs bearing businesslike placards, interlocking arms and pumping fists, perhaps breaking into the occasional rendition of "We Shall Overcome." The reality, however, is a very different kettle of fish. In fact, attend a demonstration today and you may see an actual kettle of fish, or a group of people portraying a kettle of fish, and those fish could very well leap from their kettle to perform a musical adaptation of Waiting for Godot.

More and more, the nationís progressives are using so-called Creative Action ó a many-ringed circus involving pageantry, puppetry, tomfoolery, theater, and song ó to protest anything from racism, sexism, and globalization to the high price of asthma medicine. As one local activist puts it, "I donít want to go to some boring rally with a bunch of talking heads telling me how bad things are."

The trend is certainly evident in Boston, where rallies are routinely attended by outfits like the Radical Cheerleaders, a contingent of pompom-wielding, combat-booted grrls who chant things like, "Throw those arms up in the air!/Let me see that armpit hair!" Sometimes, the Radical Cheerleaders will be joined by the Raging Grannies, a group of elderly women who wear floral hats and sing sweetly subversive songs. Throw in a few Tiger Tassel Boom-Boomers, a handful of Lesbian Avengers, a Vegetable Warlord or two, and a Global-Village Idiot, and itís easy to see how palm-thumping, newspaper-hawking lefties can get lost in the mix.

But itís not only about noise ó Creative Action types are also big on props. A side of beef might be used to highlight the perils of bioengineering, say, or a huge pair of scissors might symbolize cuts in social services. Large, colorful puppets are a ubiquitous presence, often in the form of corporate archetypes. Giant Monopoly boards are used to ridicule the excesses of capitalism. People don Darth Vader costumes to mock the heavily armed cops staring them down. And then thereís Vermin Supreme, a local activist given to appearing at rallies with a giant toothbrush in his hand and a boot on his head. "Sometimes," he says, "I wear a fake ass."

Perhaps the revolution should be televised.

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Issue Date: May 30 - June 6, 2002
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