Spiral Q's Philly Peoplehood puppet parade celebrates those living, working at the forefront of social justice

“The puppet is mighty,” said Spiral Q puppet theater Executive Artistic Director Jennifer Turnbull this week, as staff and volunteers prepared for Saturday’s 18th Annual Peoplehood Parade through West Philadelphia. Turnbull and other staffers met with community members over 2 months ago to determine the 2017 theme, “Nourishing our Roots,” but Turnbull says that it’s the cultivated relationships and intentionality in the last 18 years that makes residents wake up on the day of the parade to say “Happy Peoplehood!”

Spiral Q works with public schools, people in recovery, and activist organizations year round. Peoplehood aims to celebrate folks living and working at the forefront of activism against oppression and discrimination. All are invited to march in the parade. A pre-school that Spiral Q works with created roots for the parade; a senior center will display artwork to marchers from the sidelines.

This year, Turnbull says, many in these groups feel further marginalized from the current administration of the United States, so it was especially important to have the parade. “I think a lot of these people are fighting hard for their communities and are tired. Do we need to be direct about certain things?” said Liza Goodell, an artistic director at Spiral Q. She added that it’s not a protest but a celebration to rejuvenate the groups fighting for marginalized communities.

Goodell has been working with puppets for 25 years. “A lot of the puppets we have are made by people who have never made puppets before,” she said. The process of making found objects into something else, the scale of the puppets, the stories of struggles and victories that are part of the process, all come alive into this one thing. “It might not look real, but there’s a really personal attachment to it. Once it starts moving and you see those people carrying it in the streets, it’s really beautiful,” said Goodell.

Turnbull is proud that the Peoplehood Parade has no sponsors or vendors, that’s it’s completely powered by people who want to celebrate art and community. This year, Rachel Milford traveled to West Philadelphia from Knoxville, Tennessee, to learn about how Peoplehood happens, and take it back to her own puppet theater Cattywampus Puppet Council. On Wednesday, Milford was busily papier-mâché-ing a giant watering can.

The parade begins at noon on Saturday, at the Paul Robeson House at 50th and Walnut streets and moves to Clark Park, where at 2 p.m., participatory art projects and dance will begin.

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