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50 Years of Political Puppets

7:01 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Massive Bain Capital Monster in Zuccotti Park

Bread & Puppet’s Bain Capital supervillain, complete with MiB guard, was a stunning sight in Zuccotti Park.

The Bread & Puppet Theater turned 50 years old in 2013. Democracy Now! spoke with the founder, Peter Schumann:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of this country’s most beloved theater companies. Founded in New York City in 1963, the Bread and Puppet Theater’s first productions ranged from puppet shows for children to pieces opposing poor housing conditions. The group’s processions, involving monstrous puppets, some about 20 feet high, became a fixture of protests against the Vietnam War. ‘We don’t have playwrights in the theater. Our playwright is the daily news, is this — all this horror that happens,’ says theater founder Peter Schumann. ‘And it’s not so much that we want to do it, but we continuously get obliged to do it, because the goddamn media don’t say it. They are — they live by omission, rather than by reporting.’ In the early 1970s, Bread and Puppet moved to Glover, Vermont, where they transformed a former hay barn into a museum of puppets. Today, Bread and Puppet remains one of the longest-running nonprofit, self-supporting theater companies in the United States. We spend the hour with Schumann, asking him how the theater addresses the most urgent political issues of our time, from nuclear weapons to mass domestic surveillance. Soon to celebrate his 80th birthday, Schumann also discusses why he refuses to retire and the place of older people in our society.

NPR’s Jon Kalish also visited with Bread & Puppet at their Vermont home in August:

The theater is based on a farm in northern Vermont, about 25 miles from the Canadian border. There’s a pine forest on the property with small, colorful huts that memorialize puppeteers who have passed, and a huge barn jammed with the company’s puppets, some of them nearly 20 feet tall.

The barn is used as a rehearsal space on a rainy summer afternoon. Outside there are old bathtubs full of clay dug from a nearby river. Bread and Puppet’s founder Peter Schumann uses it to sculpt his puppets and masks, then covers them with paper mache made from discarded cardboard.

‘It’s the freedom that you get when you can do things because of America’s garbage and the freedom of doing gigantic things for almost nothing, with just collaboration, with just people power,’ he says.

Schumann brought people power to New York’s Lower East Side when he founded the theater in 1963. He grew up in Germany as a refugee of World War II. His company’s name comes from the peasant bread his mother baked to survive. Schumann’s low-tech, home-made puppetry became part of New York’s thriving avant garde art scene, and early on Bread and Puppet put on free shows with inner city kids, including one called Chicken Little in Harlem.

I’ve loved Bread & Puppet Theater since Siun introduced them to me as a child. It was a real treat to see their Bain Capital monster cavorting in Zuccotti Park during the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, adding to the almost mythic atmosphere of the entire proceedings. The creature came with its own handler, a Man In Black. Do you have any Bread & Puppet stories to share?

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#PeacefulStreets Project: More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests in Austin

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Peaceful Streets Project: Antonio Buehler and Peaceful Streets, Police Accountability Summit, and The Buehler Bubble

Under your department’s rules officers are free to create a chilling effect upon far more speech (photography/recording is deemed a form of speech for First Amendment protections) than is necessary to achieve a substantial government interest … We believe that if challenged, such a directive would be deemed to be unconstitutional. -National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher in a letter to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo

Police accountability activist Antonio Buehler arrested a third time for filming police; Occupy Austin’s Sarah Dickerson arrested also

Antonio and Sarah embrace as others look on.

Antonio Buehler and Sarah Dickerson embrace outside the Travis County Jail after their copwatch arrest (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

September 20 marked another Peaceful Streets Project copwatch. Though these happen often, this copwatch had a heightened tension due to a recent court decision in the trial of long time copwatcher John Bush. Bush was arrested for filming the police in mid-December of 2011, before Antonio’s New Years Eve arrest which inspired the Peaceful Streets. Despite video evidence showing a lack of interference with police duties, John Bush was convicted for refusing orders that would have put a traffic sign between their cameras and notorious Austin Police Department Officer Jason Mistric. Mistric is known for harassing cyclists and for threatening Occupy Austin members, including myself, with pepper spray in February.

Pixiq has the lurid tale, from Mistric’s Facebook stalking of Bush and his wife (using the porntastic nom de plume Max Rock) through to last week’s conviction for “interfering with public duties:”

A Texas cop watcher was found guilty Wednesday for not moving away while he was video recording a cop on a public street last winter. John Bush was charged with failure to comply with a lawful order when a cop ordered him to stand behind a street sign to continue recording. Austin police officer Jason Mistric claimed he was ‘interfering,’ even though the video shows he was merely standing on a sidewalk, several feet from where officers were making an arrest.

Further complicating matters was the recent Austin Police Department flip-flop on filming distance. As previously reported on Firedoglake, Austin Police Department threatened to require a 50′ to 60′ filming distance from any police situation; this threat was issued after Buehler’s second arrest during a 6th Street copwatch in late August. Last week, APD seemed to back down. KVUE reported, “No restrictions on distance public can stand, film officers:”

Austin police say there are no rules for where you can stand and record what they do. At a news conference in August, they said they’d like anyone filming to stay 50 to 60 feet away, but now there are no restrictions. Of course, it was the Aug. 26 arrest of Antonio Buehler that put this issue in the spotlight. … Police now say it’s up to the officers to decide a safe distance.

To this journalist, this announcement seemed like a victory for first amendment rights. Unfortunately, rather than a message of respect toward our right to film public servents, this was instead a notice to activists — we can arrest you at any time. Early Thursday evening, Twitter’s @chapeaudefee reported that Peaceful Streets’ Joshua “Comrade” Pineda had encountered a tense situation where while copwatching he was threatened to back up or face arrest:

.@Pisce_Incarnate [Comrade] was just harassed by about three officers and DUI officer w/expensive camera. [Police] locked down the sidewalk so Peaceful Streets members could not approach. No reason given why. Told them arbitrary distance to step back. Our teams are debriefing about the situation.

@chapeaudefee is Sarah Dickerson, a member of Occupy Austin who livetweeted during Occupy Boston’s eviction and other events. As a member of OATX Team Chupacabra, she contributed alongside this journalist to Firedoglake’s live coverage of September 17, 2012. Though she’d escaped arrest during tense situations with both Boston and New York police, before the night was out the Austin Police Department arrested her for filming the arrest of Antonio Buehler.

Peaceful Streets Project members use the Lonestar Liberty Bell alert network to communicate by phone. At 1:08am Antonio phoned in an alert — he and his copwatch team were filming a Driving Under the Influence police stop west of the club district; Oborski, the same officer who arrested him for falsified assault charges last New Years’ Eve was running the stop. Five minutes later, another alert came in: Read the rest of this entry →

#D12 Gulf Port 7 Interview: Questions Still Unanswered About Austin Police Infiltration

9:56 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A bearded undercover 'Butch' stands behind Natalie, whose mouth is taped at an NDAA protest.

Undercover APD Detective Shannon 'Butch' Dowell stands next to Natalie Atwater, a member of Occupy Austin facing felony charges in Houston because of using his lockboxes. (Photo: John Jack Anderson / Austin Chronicle, used with permission).

For more FDL coverage of the Gulf Port 7 case see Undercover Austin Detective Enables Houston Felonies and Judge Joan Campbell Is Not Amused.

Since I broke the story of Austin Police infiltration and provocation at Occupy Austin on Firedoglake, the story has become international news. To review, Austin Police Narcotics Detective Shannon G Dowell, along with two other still unidentified undercover agents, infiltrated Occupy Austin under orders that reach all the way to Chief Art Acevedo. While undercover, Dowell (known to activists ‘Butch’) built and delivered lockbox devices (a.k.a. sleeping dragons) to activists to use at the Houston Port Shutdown, resulting in 7 activists facing state felony charges.

Monday I was interviewed by Marlo Blue of 90.1 KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station. Below is a transcript, but you can also listen here. The interview begins at 1:55.

Marlo Blue, KPFT: The Occupy effort seems quiet these days but controversy continues to swirl around the group’s efforts and that of some of its members, also officers who allegedly infiltrated that camp. Well, back in December of last year, groups of Occupy members from Austin, Dallas and Houston took part in the National Port Shutdown Day of Action.

Seven activists blocked the main entrance into the Port of Houston by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons) which physically linked them together so that police [must] cut them apart. The use of these instruments resulted in these seven being charged with Unlawful Use Of A Criminal Instrument Or Device while others who merely linked arms and legs faced lesser misdemeanor charges.

One of those in attendance has followed the action through his blog and he joins us now. Kit O’Connell. Kit, thank you for joining us.

Kit O’Connell, myFDL Editor: Hi, thanks for having me.

KPFT: Your blog has quickly become one of my very favorites so I’m very pleased to have you on today.

Kit: Thank you!

KPFT: In your blog, you talk about how Austin undercover officers infiltrated this camp. What led you to suspect these officers or was it discovered after the arrests?

Kit: It was discovered after the arrests. Specifically, the arrests of course occurred on December 12 on the Port Shutdown Day. In the first days of February of 2012, the first inkling came in as an anonymous tip to Occupy Austin’s email saying specifically that a person a person who was known to us as Butch was an undercover officer. It didn’t give his full name so it took quite a bit of investigation to find him after that.

KPFT: Now your blog points to a key question in this incident: Why did undercover Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell provide material support for an activist protest that resulted in them being charged with a felony in Houston, Texas? Did you actually get an answer to that question?

Kit: We did not. It’s unclear to what degree the Austin Police Department knew about this. They’re admitting, even bragging about their use of undercover officers. The police chief has been talking on Twitter about how it kept the people safe to do this but they’re at the same time saying that they weren’t aware of Dowell buying the lockboxes. I find that hard to believe and I would still like some answers.

KPFT: And of course when the arrests took place, you know, in order I guess to keep everyone safe, they also droppped tents on the protesters to I guess to prevent other people from seeing the dangerous protesters inside or…?

Kit: I wish I had a good explanation for those tents. I was present when those went over people and it was one of the scariest moments of my life to see friends of mine vanish under an inflatable fire department tent.

KPFT: That must have been terrifying. I mean, because, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. There is no transparency when a big ‘ol tent is being dropped.

Kit: Exactly. And, I mean, there were no threats from the protesters. At that time, we were being corralled, even trampled Houston Police Department horses to be kept back, well back from the scene where they were, I guess, cutting the lockboxes apart under that tent.

KPFT: Now, you did mention at first of course, Austin Police Department Shannon G Dowell. Was he the only one who infiltrated the Occupy Austin group?

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