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'Arts in Action' Protests at World Economic Forum


Activists protesting the World Economic Forum in New York are turning to creative means to spread their message. Demonstrators are using giant puppets and banners to draw attention to their cause.

Cardboard tubes, open cans of brightly colored paints, tape, glue and scissors are scattered on the floor of an old garage temporarily turned into an artists' studio.

Music lends a festive air to the already upbeat mood of 20 activists hard at work. They are putting the finishing touches on the eye-catching props they are making for protests against the World Economic Forum, being held in midtown Manhattan.

Holly Roach is an organizer of the group "Arts in Action." She traveled to New York from San Francisco to participate in the rallies. Ms. Roach says creating the artistic props helps build a community of activists. "It's actually quite liberating to see people come in who have not done any type of art before in their lives and be able to get up to their elbows in wheat paste or start getting paint all over," she says. "You see a real community coming together when people start tapping into their creativity a little bit to talk about what they care about in the world."

Some of the participants are veteran activists, including middle age demonstrators, such as Renee-Noelle Felice. She says that although she has seen the world change for the better, there is still more that needs to be done to combat poverty and preserve the environment. "I've been through the 1960's demonstrations, the civil rights movement and Vietnam war and this is different," she says. "There is a sense of urgency now, and I do see the world changing in some ways for the better and in many ways for the worse."

But most of the activists at the workshop are in their twenties and are newer to the world of protest and demonstration.

Together, Holly Roach and Payl Parekh use a saw to cut material for one of the giant puppets. They decorate papier-mache images of faces and animals with the hope they will draw the attention of television news cameras to the anti-globalization rallies.

According to the activists, puppets represent an array of causes: students unable to afford education, Nigerians affected by oil drilling, birds killed as a result of deforestation.

Ms. Parekh, a graduate student in oceanography, says she believes art is a way to reach people and to bring about social change. "A lot of the images are positive images of the way we'd like the world to be. I don't know if you saw the globes that say "another world is possible" and we have people draw these images of a just world," she says.

Other images offer more direct criticism of the world leaders and corporate executives attending the World Economic Forum. Signs reading "Whose Economic Forum," accuse the WEF of looking out for the interests of the few at the expense of the many. Computer programmer David Taylor has met other activists he knows from past rallies throughout the United States. Although he says he enjoys making puppets and meeting other activists, he calls taking to the streets to get the message out a serious matter. "One of the main reasons that we are going to be protesting in the streets is because it is the last venue that is left to us. We've seen the democratic institutions of this country be bought wholesale by corporations, and if we want to have a voice in government, the only place that we are let to go is into the streets," he says.

After two-weeks of puppet-making, the activists loaded the props into a pick-up truck for one of the first rallies opposing the labor practices of some companies participating in the World Economic Forum.

Organizer Holly Roach speaks at the rally. Behind her, the puppets bob up and down alongside the demonstrators. "Let's reach the top floors of these huge buildings and let them know another world possible? Yeah," he says. "Is another world possible? Un otro mundo es possible!"

The activists say it is hard to know if their message is getting out clearly. But so far, the puppets are achieving one of the group's goals they did appear on television news programs.

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