David Solnit at rally to support Lt Watada, Feb 2007.
Photo by Adam MacKinnon
The fine artist of protest
He's pretty much known as "The Puppet Guy." Although there have been many other radical puppeteers over the years, arts organizer David Solnit has been instrumental in popularizing the use of giant puppets in mass demonstrations since the 1990s.
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Solnit began organizing in the early 1980s. But he soon grew tired of the same old protests. He wanted a new way to reach people, a way that was participatory and engaging. So he has used his skills to help others create images for their campaigns, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers campaigns against Taco Bell and McDonald's, the annual School of the Americas vigil, and countless anti-war demonstrations.
What do puppets have to do with protest? "Images have the power to reach people in their hearts," he says, and creating art and street theater is a great way to engage activists and the general public-making politics more participatory and fun for everyone.
Solnit is more than a puppeteer. He has been involved with most mass mobilizations in the United States in the last 25 years. He is a skilled direct action trainer and gives workshops on strategic organizing. He incorporates elements of art and theater into everything he does, including protesting the G8 in Scotland in 2005 with the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army
Nevertheless, Solnit is humble and unassuming, joking that his main purpose in life is to tote around puppets in his pickup truck. He is rarely in the spotlight and is uneasy when he is.
Solnit was a main organizer in the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle in 1999 and in the shutdown of San Francisco the day after Iraq was invaded in 2003. Currently he is supporting GI resisters through an organization called Courage to Resist (www.couragetoresist.org).