Letters to the Editor

Talk about taking it to the streets — Backbone ‘Procession’ goes nationwide

The puppets of the Procession for the Future in the staging area in Portland, Ore., on March 4, 2008. - Courtesy photo
The puppets of the Procession for the Future in the staging area in Portland, Ore., on March 4, 2008.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

At this year’s Strawberry Festival, the Backbone Campaign brought some of its giant puppets to the parade, including one of our newest creations, the Penta-Gone. Carried by five people, the Penta-Gone shows the outside of the Pentagon building, with five questions about our national priorities: “One-year nuclear weapons budget or renewable energy for 16.5 million homes?” “One year ‘star wars’ spending or 200,410 new teachers?” “One month in Iraq or health care for 3,214,990 Americans?” “Twenty F22 bombers or 274,000 four-year university scholarships?” (These numbers, based on the Pentagon’s budget for 2009, were provided to the Backbone Campaign by the National Priorities Project — www.nationalpriorities.org.)

As it processes down the street, the Penta-Gone turns inside out — dismantles — and shows an alternate vision for national security, in which our military budget ($650 billion per year) is used to fund real human needs. Fifteen beautiful photographs testify to how we can build true security — with sustainable agriculture, clean renewable energy and transportation, cultural exchange, international peacekeeping, human rights, more college graduates, universal health care and the like. The piece of art is a compelling carousel of facts, figures, visuals and a celebration of our human potential for good. It was created by a team of volunteers on Vashon Island, led by master builder Evan Simmons.

Later at the Strawberry Festival, a woman approached the Backbone Campaign booth, identifying herself as a “rabid Republican.” She went on to say, however, that upon seeing the Penta-Gone she had to stop and consider “for the first time” what that meant and what her support was actually achieving. The equations and visuals were thought-provoking enough to cause her to question her allegiance to neo-conservative policies.

This is the purpose of the Procession for the Future — not to preach to the choir, not to present the same old oppositional message with an angry mob of weathered protesters, but to inspire new activists and recruit Americans of all stripes to a progressive agenda.

We know that the status quo concedes nothing without great pressure from below. While many polls cite that Americans across the political spectrum want change, the politicians are afraid to instigate it. This is nothing new. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with representatives of labor, he told them he liked the idea of a New Deal, but then challenged them, “Now make me do it.”

Our nation is gasping for a Green New Deal, for diplomacy instead of war, for a national dialogue on race and economic disparity, for free health care and for governmental accountability.

Because there is so much at stake, the Backbone Campaign is embarking on a tour across the country to tell the nation that change we can believe in will not come from politicians pushing the people, but from we the people pushing the politicians. By combining art, policy and a propositional message, we can build pressure for changing the political status quo, regardless of who sits in the White House.

With a truck full of puppets and a team of several activists, the Backbone Campaign leaves this week for a national tour to Denver, Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago, Columbus, Knoxville, New Orleans, Austin, and other cities. Our first stop is the Democratic National Convention in Denver, then on to the Twin Cities in Minnesota for activities outside the Republican Convention.

For it is up to groups like the Backbone Campaign and our allies — Organic Consumers Association, Code Pink, Ruckus Society, Rainforest Action Network, among others — to mobilize voters, raise the bar of political debate, increase citizen expectations of elected officials and expand the power of grassroots progressives.

In the words of Reverend Lennox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus and the keynote speaker for the Procession for the Future’s debut in Portland earlier this year, “We sit at our lunch counter moment for the 21st Century. We can come together and not just talk about ‘Yes We Can,’ but we can change history.”

We’ll see you in the streets.

— Amy Morrison is the Backbone Campaign’s managing director, and Bill Moyer is Backbone’s executive director.

activism

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