D.C.-Area Artist Plays Puppet Master for Protests

Deep in the garage of Nadine Bloch, a ghoulish devil lurks.

It's not just any devil, though. Fashioned of stiff cardboard and crimson watercolor paint, it stood about 15 feet tall Saturday as it was carried from the White House to the Capitol during a march against the war on Iraq.

The devil is one of many effigies fashioned at Bloch's home that anti-war activists have used. Made of papier-mache, cardboard and other environmentally friendly products, they provide some of the most dramatic and mocking symbols at marches and protests today.

"Art has always been a part of my life, and using art is a great way to communicate with people," said Bloch, a single mother with a 7-year-old girl. "With the right images, we can get our point across very clearly."

Saturday's march comes at a time when the debate on Iraq has intensified with the testimony this week of Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. In hearings before the Senate, Petraeus said no timetable could be set for the complete withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq, angering some senators and activists.

Bloch, an environmentalist and organizer with the Washington Action Group, participated in the march, but not its "die-in," in which about 1,000 people lied down outside the Capitol.

Bloch's support manifests itself, as it often does, through puppets. Sometimes ominous and sometimes comical, the puppets her group has made have appeared in everything from pro-environment rallies to protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. Most weigh less than 10 pounds, although they are carried on everything from stilts to shopping carts during marches.

The puppets carry on a centuries-old tradition of drawing attention to political causes and mocking authority. They also have appeared in popular culture — from the John Fogerty song "Effigy" to the concerts of Pearl Jam, when the rock band famously blasted President Bush's foreign policy by ridiculing an effigy of his head stuck on a microphone stand.

Bloch's puppets have appeared in images on television and in photos in some of the largest newspapers in the country.

Several figures, including Presidents Bush and Clinton, sit on her front porch. A woman's six-foot wide face is hung on a wall in a sitting room, the remainder of an effigy that once touted breast cancer awareness. Dozens of faces peer out from piles on shelves and tables in her garage, including that of the devil and a female member of the military.

President Carter's Mutual Assured Destruction policy, which holds that if the United States is attacked by nuclear weapons, it would immediately retaliate in kind, was Bloch's first introduction to activism. Since then, she has worked for Greenpeace, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Organization and Oil Change International, a non-profit organization that campaigns for clean energy.

Bloch, who was once paid a few hundred dollars by a grassroots organization to create a 12-foot effigy satirizing former Anne Arundel County, Md., Executive Janet S. Owens as "Queen of Sprawl," said it helps to have a sense of humor when creating the puppets.

"It really helps to get the point across, especially when you're dealing with demoralizing issues," she said. "Corporations tell you that the individual doesn't matter. Using art like this helps people reclaim their own lives — and also, it's plain fun."

Carlos Alvarez, an organizer of Saturday's events, said ANSWER welcomes the creativity — "so long as it's progressive."

"People make that statement in many satirical, comical and artistic ways, but their message is clear," Alvarez said. "They want an end to the war now."

Brad Brown, who organized a bus trip to the march from Carroll and Howard counties, said a "peace puppet" anchored to the roof of a car during a Sept. 11 peace rally in Baltimore made a big impression on him.

"An image like that will last longer in someone's head," said Brown, organizer of the group Carroll County Progressives. "It showed solidarity with a whole group of people, and that there was a whole group of people out there for the same reason."

Tina Richards, CEO of the activist group Grassroots America, said she looks forward to seeing the puppets, so long as they are not burned, a symbol of violence in her eyes. Her favorites to date: A "chain gang" featuring Bush, Vice President Cheney and others in striped prison garb.

"It's not anything threatening, and it's not anything violent, and it gets the point across that they're guilty of war crimes," said Richards, of Mt. Ranier. "This is very serious, serious work, but if we don't take a moment to have some humor in our lives, we'd all end up on pills or committing suicide."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.