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Home / Articles / Arts & Entertainment / Theater /  Tim DeChristopher vs. the Puppets

Tim DeChristopher vs. the Puppets

The environmental crusader is showcasing activism through art.

By Jeremy Asay
Posted // January 31,2011 - Tim DeChristopher believes the environmental movement is ready to make a shift in philosophy: Get creative, and take direct action.

DeChristopher is an authority on making a political statement creatively. In December 2008, he fraudulently bid at a BLM auction of oil and drilling rights for land parcels in southern Utah. He also spreads his environmental ideas creatively at many of his public appearances. “There is a big connection between art and activism,” he explains.

Along with Peaceful Uprising, the environmentalist nonprofit organization that he co-founded, DeChristopher created a large papier-maché unicorn named Sustainable Seamus to show that clean coal, like the unicorn, is fiction. They used the unicorn in protests against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and his “clean-coal” initiative. Now, Peaceful Uprising is putting on a puppet show to explore the relationship between citizen, government (a puppet) and corporations (also puppets), and how the true power for change lies within the collective people.

The puppet show will be featured at Kilby Court’s Activism Through Art program on Feb. 2.

According to DeChristopher, activism through art is effective because it provokes creative responses from the audience. Art and music, according to DeChristopher, create a stronger bond among audience members, strengthening the environmental movement.

These are all part of DeChristopher’s efforts to reframe the environmental movement. He’s persuading people to move away from being locked into the mentality of hyper-individualism, in which they feel powerless because no matter what they do—ride a bike to work, carpool, reuse grocery bags—it still isn’t enough to really make a difference.

“That’s disempowering,” he says. People must “start to realize that they are connected to something bigger, that they’re not just an isolated individual but they’re part of a citizenry, a huge powerful body.” When people realize this, DeChristopher says, “They start going after those big issues and not just sitting back.”

The Art through Activism program is designed to bring people together to increase solidarity and to further the impact of the environmental movement. In addition to Peaceful Uprising’s puppet show, Revengers of the Earth Injustice—a renegade troupe of performance-art activists—will put on a dance/comedy designed to help people embrace serious issues through unserious means. University of Utah professor and poet Heather Hirschi will read some of her poems. Local musicians Lauren Wood and La Farsa will fill in the gaps with original political music.

DeChristopher and company’s push for artistic activism is based on what has historically worked in civil activism. DeChristopher repeatedly cites Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement as one of the more successful efforts at changing policy. In the civil rights movement, more than a common belief united the movement; they were united through music. According to DeChristopher, the shared experience of singing together increased the solidarity between the people in the movement.

In order to make an impact, people must join together and act as a unified group. DeChristopher refers to the Freedom Riders, who helped push the civil rights movement forward as a sort of epitome of citizen activists joining forces and making a large impact with a simple act. “When the Freedom Riders went to jail in Mississippi,” DeChristopher explains, “they isolated people by race and gender.” The black men were put in one wing of the jail, the white men another, and so on with the black and white women.

“At night,” DeChristopher continues, “each wing would start to sing as loud as they could for a few minutes and then get quiet. It would echo throughout the whole prison. When they would get quiet, another wing would sing as loud as they could and it would echo through the prison and tell the other groups that they were okay and they were still staying strong.

“That’s part of why we’re doing this thing at Kilby Court,” DeChristopher says. “We realize the power of people beginning to sing together.”

DeChristopher believes that the act of singing together increases the bond and makes the group stronger. “We’ll be a real movement when we sing like a movement. … Somewhere along the line of social movements, singing … got replaced by the three-word chant” (i.e., “No more war,” “Take back Earth,” “Anyone but Bush”).

“It’s not the same as the singing,” DeChristopher says of such slogans. “It doesn’t have the same connection. At Kilby Court, I’m hoping that we sing some protest songs.”

According to DeChristopher, people need to come together to make a difference. Isolated consumer action and “going green” aren’t enough. Art through Activism is designed to bring people together and prepare the movement for the next move.

DeChristopher is scheduled for trial for his actions Feb. 25. Activism through Art is one of many gatherings he is planning in the days leading up to his trial.

Kilby Court
741 S. Kilby Court (330 West)
Wednesday, Feb. 2, 7 p.m.

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Posted // February 1,2011 at 12:43

I'm pretty sure it's not free, unfortunately! We have to cover the costs of running the show, so it will be somewhere between $3-$5


Posted // February 1,2011 at 10:33

Hey DUKE, come to Kilby on Weds and bring that science slide show. I'd be delighted to watch it. You might find that putting together an event (maybe even a slide show), bringing people out to listen, and challenging yourself and the other people to construct a message that not only attempts to inspire, but also to make people feel uncomfortable enough to be (hopefully) encouraged to act, is harder than bloviating online.

Also- ART is important, and Activism is also important, and to have an event that simultaniously celebrates both in our little community, is pretty badass as far as Im concerned. Its also worth noting that PEACEFUL UPRISING isn't the only organization participating, and maybe because the event happened at all, several people coming from different places will meet, through art, and come up with even more plans.

Its not called "Saving the Earth in ONE night at Kilby Court" Its about celebrating Activism through ART.

So settle down. Just sayin.

Louis? Is that you?


Posted // February 1,2011 at 14:46 - Okay, "settle down guys". Whatever you say. I apologize for being such a downer and didn't mean to spin a "positive" event as being negative. I didn't think that's what I was doing, but if that's how you perceive it, that's what I did. Art's funny that way, ain't it? If anything actually comes of this event, something beyond gimmicks and pony rides, you be sure to come back here and rub my nose in it. Seriously, I mean that. I've no doubt that you agree with "Teddy" as well as "blah", no doubt at all. You, er, Teddy provided a nice quote from a great speech and I agree with it, too. What I've written seems too much for your mind to comprehend right now. I'm not saying you're dumb, not at all. No dumber than me, anyway. I'm just saying that you don't get it. It's probably my fault. I'm just not that good at writing. Hope you're better at creating art than I am at crafting sentences. Have a good time at the show and enjoy yourself.


Posted // February 1,2011 at 12:58 - wow Duke. Way to take something that was intended to be positive and make it as negative as possible. That's got to be an effective way to help the world. I am neither "Teddy R." nor "Blah blah" I was only trying to make a point that the art/activism evening seems to be a positive thing and ought to be construed as such. Though I whole heartedly agree with the Teddy R. quote. Couldn't help but notice that : Guess what? No art I've ever seen, made, appreciated, destroyed, loved, purchased, lusted over, eaten, or listened to has ever changed anything other than my personal perception of this world and the spot I occupy in it. I think THATS the point dude. How can you help to create change unless you better understand your perspective and the spot with which you occupy, and what better way to learn about those things than through art? Ill reiterate. Settle down. (There's another dollar for your CD collection!)


Posted // February 1,2011 at 12:50 - Do me a favor, "settle down guys", "Teddy" and "Blah"...pick a name and stick with it. Changing your moniker every post is annoying, stupid and confusing.


Posted // February 1,2011 at 12:44 - Blah, maybe you should read the parts in my comments where I describe how much I love and appreciate art? I've known many artists. I collect art from everywhere I go. Nearly every wall in my house has original art hanging on it. Not prints, not posters, original art. Every shelf holds various carvings, statuary, hand made baskets, etc. I've been to museums in countries I'd wager you'll never see. I've observed anthropology in the flesh, many times in many places. I've seen the skulls of the dead piled high. I've seen the living suffer; I've witnessed suffering that has ripped holes in my soul. I've made art. I write art. I've read more books about more subjects than I care to remember. I've been to so many concerts I've lost some hearing. I buy music often. I listen to music every single day, almost every single night. Over the years, I've collected hundreds of CD's and would have more if I had more money. Guess what? No art I've ever seen, made, appreciated, destroyed, loved, purchased, lusted over, eaten, or listened to has ever changed anything other than my personal perception of this world and the spot I occupy in it. See, this is part of the problem. If you aren't capable of reading and understanding a few words, seeing them for what they are and understanding what they say, how do you expect to change the world with a little art? By the way, contrary personality types, which I admittedly am, have accomplished more in this world than any other, for better or worse. I'll make my contribution when I see the right opportunity. When I do, I'll disappear into it. And maybe I will do that slide show one day. A good cry might do some people some good.


Posted // February 1,2011 at 12:08 - “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” - President Theodore Roosevelt


Posted // February 1,2011 at 12:03 - so is that a "no" on the slideshow then? Its too bad that Duke has never been touched by art or music, and sees as simply some form of artist masterbation. What a banal existence. Art is temporary? Um, WHAT? Art is the only thing that is permenant. That's why it's beautiful. You should try going to a museum, or reading a book about history, or anthropology, I'm sure Art is never mentioned cause it apparently disappears the instant its created.


Posted // February 1,2011 at 11:45 - Wish I had a dollar for every time somebody told me to "settle down." I'm not just some random dickhead taking the piss, you know. I mean, sure, I'm a dickhead, and I might be random, but I'm not taking the piss. I just don't understand using gimmicks to enact political change. Never have. I've never seen it work. I'm sure that's another of my many shortcomings. I've seen something of what art can do and, as much as I personally love it, it ain't much. Art is mostly ephemeral; it's primarily temporary; it's usually fleeting. It is as meaningless for the majority of the masses as it is meaningful for the few that get it. It's fun for the artist. For the artist, it's an exercise in self expression and self indulgence. It's fun for an interested audience, when you can find one. So cool, have fun. Fun is important, maybe more important than anything else. I'll just excuse myself and go pop some prozac or lithium or something and settle down.


Posted // January 31,2011 at 09:00

Instead of making paper mache unicorns and putting on anti-coal/oil/corporate/government puppet shows, why not use art to encourage the kiddies to pursue science and technology degrees so that they can actually contribute and help design viable clean fuel technology?

Nothing but real action and real solutions will real prompt change. Nothing less than affordable, clean, efficient, high-energy, renewable fuel will ween the world off of coal and oil.

Imagine if we simply shut down all coal-fired electrical plants overnight, right now. What then? No heat, no lights, no power. Then we can stop all oil production and leave what remains in the ground, right now. Is that a good solution? Would we be satisfied?

Puppet shows and paper unicorns are great but pretty useless and gimmicky when it comes changing political/corporate landscapes.

The only power you have to change this situation, kiddies, lies somewhere in that brain of yours. Go to school, get educated, learn how to really change something instead of just complaining about it. If you don't, your kids will be watching the same puppet show and chanting the same old chants thirty years from now.


Posted // February 1,2011 at 09:34 - Yeah? Well without good ideas and new technology, it doesn't matter who runs the show. When somebody finally develops the viable energy technology needed to initiate real change, the same rich and powerful pricks will still run the show and will still profit from it. But they won't change over to a new system until they see that it will be profitable and realistic, or until they absolutely have to, when the oil finally runs dry, which won't happen soon enough. Shutting everything down overnight might not have been mentioned here, in this article,, but it's been mentioned before and appears to be about the only solution most "environmentalists" seem to offer - it's not a canned talking point, it's reality. If it is a canned talking point, it's not mine, it's theirs. This group fights and demonizes "clean coal" proposals, right? Well what the hell should we use instead while we're waiting for something better to be developed? Methed-out hamsters running on wheels? A few million more wind powered generators? Let's be realistic, realist. I love art. I love it. I love puppets, too. Always have. Been to puppet shows, have puppets hanging in my house. I'm not huge on unicorns but I hear they make great pets. I'm no fan of coal. I hate oil. My opinions have nothing to do with stopping global climate change, which is almost as possible as stopping the sun from rising. This planet's climate has been in a constant state of change for millions of years. I'm against oil because it is filthy, because it is valued more than life, because it contributes to and helps maintain global warfare, disparity, degradation and destruction. This shit is real. And it's disgusting in every way. If jokes and gimmicks are your way of dealing with it, so be it. That's cool. You'll entertain people and that's always good but I doubt the folks in control will take you very seriously. I responded because Kilby attracts a younger crowd, one with the time and potential to actually do something about this instead of just walk around with a cute sign demanding change and pumping their fist in the air. Maybe it's time to put on a realistic slide show in conjunction with speeches by science professors? What kids need right now is knowledge, especially American kids. Show them how using oil really affects this world, don't hold back. Show them pictures of what bombs do, show them kids with their guts spilling out into the dirt, show them pictures of the Nigerian delta, show them slides of the messes left behind by oil corporations in the Amazon. Teach them that the politics of oil and energy affect everything from presidential elections to which country we'll be bombing for it tomorrow. Show them their future. Then tell them that they can do something about it, that it doesn't have to be this way, that they really can change the way things are. Let the professor take over, tell them what they can do, what they need to do to pursue the education they'll need, should they be interested, to do something more. I wish somebody had done that for me. Maybe I've got no room to speak here, man. Shit, what am I doing about this? Absolutely nothing. I'm just a consumerist parasite like most everybody else. But there are many groups like the one mentioned above that have the energy, interest and talent to initiate real change and I just don't think paper unicorns and puppet shows are going to make that happen. You state that history shows that change only happens when people rise up. Very soon, we'll see what kind of change the Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis and Jordanians will get for their efforts. My wager is that some things will change on the surface, but not much more. We'll see.


Posted // January 31,2011 at 16:03 - Duke, Once I educated myself, I understood that good ideas and new technologies are not sufficient when those who profit from the old way of doing things have the political power to prevent change. History shows that things only change when people rise up, and people only rise up when they are sufficiently educated about political realities and inspired to be part of a movement that changes those political realities. Puppet shows and singing aren't everything, but it's a little piece of the puzzle. BTW, the article doesn't say anything about shutting everything down overnight, so you might want to put that canned talking point back where you got it.