Challenging the Ongoing Criminalization of Dissent

Miami has hired John Timoney to police the FTAA demonstrations, the same police chief who
confiscated and destroyed all artwork and puppetry created for the 2000
Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, after arresting 75
puppeteers and closing the puppet space. All this after infiltrating the
puppeteers for weeks and without ever producing a warrant! His behavior
brought heavy criticism from the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the National
Lawyers Guild, Amnesty International and other civil rights organizations

Fact Sheet with Information on Chief Timoney’s Abuses at the Philly RNC Protests

Articles and Updates:

New Version of the Miami Ordinance

Security Culture and Police Surveillance

RNC ruckus behind it, Spiral Q becomes community asset

You Can Arrest Protesters, But You Can’t Stop The Free Trade Of Subversive Ideas

New Miami Resolution Restricting Protests

National Press Photographers Association Addresses City Officials in Response to Miami Gas Mask Ordinance

New Version of the Miami Ordinance – October 23, 2003

The full text of the second version of the Miami ordinance has been released and will be considered for second reading on November 13th. Read the Ordinance Online

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RNC ruckus behind it, Spiral Q becomes community asset
August 02, 2003

Ask many Philadelphians what they know of Spiral Q Puppet Theater and many
will refer back to the 2000 Republican National Convention, when some 70
activists readying props for upcoming demonstrations were pulled from their
studio warehouse in a SWAT-style police raid as news choppers broadcast the
scene live.

There was tense talk (later proved unfounded) of terrorist plots being
hatched in the “puppetista” headquarters, of bomb building and
anarchist-fueled mayhem. The puppetmakers were jailed, their papier-mache
creations were shredded _ from Corpzilla the capitalist pig to 135 skeletons
representing executed Texas prisoners _ and their workshop was shut down.
What a difference three years makes.

Refusing to accept the label of RNC rabble-rousers, Spiral Q has become a
full-fledged community arts organization that works with neighborhood
groups, schools _ even the city that once thought it a menace to society _
to unite communities through parades and puppets.

“This is the first year that we’ve been out doing our work and people aren’t
always asking what happened at the RNC,” Spiral Q founder Matthew Hart said.
“That means we’re growing up. That means we’re changing. And people in the
neighborhoods believe in us and they’ve opened up to us.”

Hart, 31, a suburban Philadelphia native, activist and stage prop builder,
founded Spiral Q in 1996 after seeing Vermont’s celebrated Bread & Puppet
Theater using enormous puppets to convey progressive ideas and political
commentary. He saw street theater as an inexpensive, straightforward and
powerful way for poor and disenfranchised people to make themselves heard.
“It started with just me in my loft building stuff,” he said. It wasn’t long
before activist groups from Philadelphia and elsewhere started coming to
build effigies and props for demonstrations at Spiral Q, which Hart calls
“imperfect theater for an imperfect world.”

Today, “the Q” has grown into a bona fide nonprofit organization with six
full-time employees, 17 summer volunteers, a board of directors, dozens of
programs, and dozens of partners running the gamut from Sunoco Welcome
America! (sponsors of the city’s July 4 celebrations) to People Against
Sweatshops. It also boasts the Living Loft Puppet Museum, a repository of
six-foot heads, birds and other colorful props from past parades and

The biggest event of the Q’s year is Peoplehood, a raucous festival of
puppets, stilt-walkers and theatrics involving social service groups,
children, activists and cultural organizations each October.

Hart said that as many as 7,000 children, teens and adults will take part
this summer in one of Spiral Q’s programs at schools, community centers and
its West Philadelphia headquarters. That means learning to make puppets and
silkscreen, transform a suitcase into a stage and perform a play they

“That also translates into anything from parades in neighborhoods all over
the city to marching with a puppet of a giant George W. Bush shredding the
Constitution at the July Fourth celebrations,” he said. “What we do is a
resource. What we do is real.”

But fostering relationships with the powers that be doesn’t mean that Spiral
Q has abandoned its radical roots or activist agenda. Instead, having some
big-name backers and partners helps foster understanding about what “the
puppet people” are all about _ and eliminates the kind of fears that led to
what Hart recalled as the “dark days” of the RNC, during which he and many
others spent several days in jail. All the cases stemming from the warehouse
arrests that went to trial, including Hart’s, were dismissed due to lack of

“There’s a lot more at stake now: In the early days we were just like,
‘Let’s do it!’ Now it’s not just about us, it’s about us and the
relationships we’ve forged in the communities we serve,” he said. “That’s
exactly where we want to be, but it means that we have to approach things
somewhat differently.”

Nicholas Royster, 14, and more than a dozen other city teens are spending
four days a week at a community center creating a “contastoria” _ an
Italian-based form of sung performance with puppets, flags and props _ about
overcoming difficulties. For many poor children in the city, it’s an
important life lesson.

“I wrote a poem that’ll be in the program and I collaborated on the script,”
Nicholas said. “It’s about overpowering the negative forces in the world
with positive forces. It’s great to work as a team and it’s a different way
to express yourself.”

He’s discovered he has a knack for writing and wants to make it a career.
Deborah Deery, educational outreach coordinator at Moore College of Art and
Design, has seen the same kind of enthusiasm during summer art workshops at
the school for city teens.

“This is a really big thing for them,” Deery said. “It’s something they
really embrace and take ownership of and get excited about.”
Hart hopes it all will lead to a new generation of activists, community
leaders and advocates for change.

“Our government has prioritized war. Not cities, not arts, not education,
not social services, not health care,” he said. “So what is clear is that we
want to contribute to improving the quality of life in the city, to
transform the lives and the neighborhoods we’re in.”

Article from NEPA News 2003

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You Can Arrest Protesters, But You Can’t Stop The Free Trade Of Subversive
Ideas – Naomi Klein – June 7, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail

“This is David Solnit. He’s The Man.”

That’s how the activist legend from San Francisco was introduced to me last
Friday. We were at the University of Windsor at the time, both giving
speeches at a teach-in on the Organization of American States. Of course, I
already knew that David Solnit was The Man. He was one of the organizers of
the shutdown in Seattle during last November’s World Trade Organization
meeting. And I have been hearing his name for years, usually spoken with
reverence by young activists who have just attended one of his Art and
Revolution workshops.

They come back brimming with new ideas about protests. How they shouldn’t be
quasi-militaristic marches culminating in placard-waving outside locked
government buildings. How, instead, they should be “festivals of
resistance,” filled with giant puppets and theatrical spontaneity. How their
goals should be more than symbolic: Protests can “reclaim” public space for
a party or a garden, or stop a planned meeting the protesters believe is

This is the “show don’t tell” theory that holds that you don’t change minds
just by screaming about what you are against. You change minds by building
organizations and events that are a living example of what you are for.

Not schooled in this theory myself, my speech to the students was a
straight-up lecture about how the protests against an expanded free-trade
agreement for the Americas is part of broader anti-corporate movement —
against growing corporate control over education, water, scientific
research, and more. It was the usual “inchoate” mess of issues that get
slammed in papers such as this one for lacking a media-friendly message,
such as “Hell no, we won’t go!”

When it was David Solnit’s turn, he asked everybody to stand, turn to the
next person, and ask them why they were here. As a child of hippie parents
and a survivor of alternative summer camps, these instant intimacy rituals
have always made me want to run to my room and slam the door.

So, of course, David Solnit had to choose me as his partner — and he wasn’t
satisfied with “I came to give a speech.” So I told him more, about how
writing about the commitment of young human-rights and environmental
activists gives me hope for the future and was a much-needed antidote to the
atmosphere of cynicism in which journalists are so immersed.

It wasn’t until we had to share our discoveries with the room that I
realized this wasn’t just a get-to-know-you game: It was also an effective
way to torment barely undercover police officers. “Yeah, uh, my partner’s
name’s Dave and he’s here to fight oppression,” said a guy in a nylon jacket
and buzz cut.

Less than 24 hours later, David Solnit was in a Windsor jail cell, where he
stayed for four days.

On Saturday, the day before the large demonstration against the OAS, Mr.
Solnit led a small puppet-making workshop at the university. After the
seminar, only a block away from the campus, the police pulled him over. They
said he had been convicted of crimes in the United States and was thus
considered a criminal in this country. Why? Because 15 years ago, he was
arrested at a protest against U.S. military involvement in El Salvador; he
had written (in washable paint) the names of executed Sandinistas on the
wall of a government building. Yesterday, an Immigration Review Board
inquiry found that Mr. Solnit’s arrest was wholly unfounded, and he was

David Solnit preaches revolution through papier-mâché, which makes it
tempting to dismiss the police’s actions as raving paranoia. Except that the
authorities are right to see Mr. Solnit as a threat, though not to anyone’s
safety or property. His message is consistently non-violent, but also
extremely powerful.

Mr. Solnit doesn’t talk much about how free-trade agreements turn culture,
water, seeds and even genes into tradable commodities. What he does in his
workshops is teach young activists how to decommodify their relationships
with one another — an original message for a generation that grew up being
targeted by ads in their school washrooms and sold canned rebellion by soft
drink companies.

Though Mr. Solnit was locked away, his ideas were all over Windsor: Art was
not something made by experts and purchased by consumers, it was everywhere
on the streets. Activists even developed a free transportation system: a
battalion of “blue bikes” repaired and painted for protesters to use at
their discretion.

Communications theorist Neil Postman once wrote that teaching is a
“subversive activity.” When teaching puts young people in touch with powers
of self-sufficiency and creativity they didn’t know they had, it is, indeed,
subversive. But it is not criminal.

David Solnit was the subject of a well-planned, cross-border police
operation. He was identified as a political threat before he arrived in this
country. His past was researched, he was followed, then arrested on
trumped-up charges. All Canadians should be ashamed of the actions of our
police. But most ashamed should be the trade bureaucrats in Windsor. It
seems there is still one aspect of human life not covered by free trade: the
free trade of subversive ideas.

Article from the Toronto Globe and Mail

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New Miami Resolution Restricting Protests

Read the text of a resolution in Miami banning puppets.

Preserve Free Speech Rights in Miami – Take Action!

This Thursday, September 25, the Miami City Commission deferred a decision
on an ordinance banning the use and possession of a variety of items related to
peaceful protests, demonstrations and protest marches. This includes
puppets and other props; street theater masks; signs on sticks; cameras
(still and video; used to record the actions of overzealous police); padded
clothing (for protection against police truncheons and dogs); bullhorns;
gas masks of any kind, including bandannas (used for protection against
tear-gas and other dangerous chemical agents often used indiscriminately
and recklessly by police), and much more.

The ordinance, which will take effect when passed and expire on Thursday,
Nov. 27, is clearly aimed at stifling the voices of the tens of thousands
of people – students, union members, activists, peasant farmers and many
other types of individuals – from around the Americas and the world who
will be coming to South Florida to protest at the FTAA (Free Trade Area of
the Americas) meeting to be held from Nov. 17-21 in Miami.

This ordinance is an outrageous abridgment of democratic rights and civil
liberties, including the right of free speech, the right to protest and the
right to assemble. The ACLU and protest leaders have pointed out that the
“proposed ordinance … is so broadly written that it may allow police to
clamp down on constitutionally protected, peaceful protest activities.”
(The Miami Daily Business Review, “As Miami plans to prevent disruptions
during trade talks, protest groups warn of First Amendment breaches,” Sept.
19, 2003)

The undemocratic nature of this ordinance is in keeping with the
undemocratic nature of the FTAA itself. If the treaty creating it
eventually is ratified by the 34 nations participating in the Miami
meeting, each country’s sovereignty and that of its people will be
seriously compromised. Under the rules that would be imposed by the FTAA,
decision-making power on economic, social and cultural policies, as well as
national development plans will be transferred to transnational
corporations and investors located in North America.

It’s important that concerned citizens immediately contact Miami city
officials to voice their opposition to this draconian, unconstitutional
measure. Although the ordinance seems destined for approval, these
officials need to know that the eyes of the world are upon them and that
their action will be protested rather than allowed to happen quietly.
Please take a moment to e-mail them, or if you can afford to, call them.
Tell them you’re contacting them to express your opposition to this
ordinance which strips away free speech rights – refer to it the parades
and demonstrations ordinance; if they ask what you mean, tell them it was
item J-O3-772 on the Sept. 25 City Commission agenda, which would add
section 6.1 to Chapter 54 of the City of Miami municipal code. Be succinct
and polite, but make sure they understand how you feel.

Miami City Officials Contact Information

Mayor Manuel A. Diaz:

(305) 250-5300

District 1 Commissioner Angel Gonzalez:

District 2 Commissioner Johnny L. Winton

District 3 Commissioner Joe M. Sanchez:

District 4 Commissioner Tomas P. Regalado:

District 5 Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr.:


City Manager Joe Arriola:

City Attorney Alejandro Vilarello:
(305) 416-1800

>> text composed by ben markeson