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Saturday’s 80-degree weather didn’t stop hundreds from gathering with huge hand-crafted puppets at the Peoplehood Parade in West Philadelphia. Local nonprofit Spiral Q continued its 23-year annual tradition of knitting communities together through art and activism.
“Free Palestine,” “Trans rights are human rights,” and “No Arena in Chinatown” were some of the messages printed on signs and t-shirts borne by over 30 participating organizations.
But the parade’s stars were puppets: paper-mache sculptures of bats, dragons, and a pair of Black hands in cuffs, each imbued with meaning and weeks of preparation.
Although the parade uplifted many of the same causes promoted at rallies, protests, and tense local government meetings, Peoplehood aims to create space for optimism in organizing circles.
“These are really dark times we’re living in… so I hope people get a sense of hope and connectedness [by participating],” said Liza Goodell, co-executive director of Spiral Q.
Goodell has been organizing events and crafting puppets with Spiral Q for almost two decades. She leads Spiral Q with Jennifer Turnbull, a dancer and advocate. Co-executive Director Turnbull set the pace for the Peoplehood Parade’s 1.25 mile route from the historic Paul Robeson house to Clark Park.
Since its founding in 1996 during the AIDS epidemic, Spiral Q has coordinated countless activist art projects, Goodell said. The goal: build solidarity between groups who wouldn’t have otherwise collaborated.
Anakbayan Philadelphia is a local Filipino organization who showed up to voice support for Palestinians. Though the nations are far apart on the map, Anakbayan members compare their struggles against U.S. imperialism in the Philippines with what they see as a violent occupation in the Middle East.
The Philly Palestine Coalition was there as well and occupied the front of the parade.
“We’re all kind of really tense right now, trying to be in spaces that just uplift us and give us hope,” said Palestinian organizer Nada Abuasi. Internet blockages connected with the Israel-Palestine conflict have cut off her contact with friends in Gaza.
Art is also a way of making a message stick, Goodell said.
Volunteers for the “No Arena in Chinatown Solidarity Group” wore wolf masks and wool jackets and performed a skit at the parade’s endpoint in Clark Park. Organizer Yvonne Lung said an upcoming impact study for a proposed arena in Center City is “a wolf in sheepskin,” falsely promising benefits for the Chinatown community.
Spiral Q has grown into a Philadelphia institution, but the way to becoming one wasn’t easy. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Peoplehood Parade from happening in 2020, and flooding during Hurricane Ida in 2021 destroyed hundreds of puppets, wiping out over two-thirds of their collection.
But Co-director Turnbull said keeping hope alive isn’t an option. “It’s really important that we’re utilizing [the Peoplehood Parade] as a resource to rejuvenate our communities so that they can keep on keeping on, because collective liberation is the goal.”
Saturdays just got more interesting.