Tim DeChristopher vs. the Puppets | Theater | Salt Lake City Weekly

Tim DeChristopher vs. the Puppets 

The environmental crusader is showcasing activism through art.

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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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