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Waking the Giant

 

The Occupy Wall Street protests addressing the gap between rich and poor have inspired Seattleites to take to the streets. Occupier and MC Kathleen Kassis tells City Arts how art plays a part.

 

I wanted something like this to happen for a long time, something that focused on unveiling truth in our system and our government, so I went down to Westlake Center and checked it out. Soon after, I took a life-sized elephant head that I helped make last year as part of a group trying to free the elephants from the Woodland Park Zoo. I pulled her out and told my fiancé, “She’s not sitting in the garage anymore. She’s going downtown.”

When we pulled it out, my landlord was there. She’s the most beautiful Japanese woman, and she and her husband make these wonderful Peace Poles that they fill with prayers. I told her that I was going to write a message on the elephant’s ears and take it downtown in hopes that it could be the center of attention. I thought the elephant would be a great symbol of strength and wisdom. My landlord said, “Can you please write ‘May Peace Prevail’ on one of the ears?” We wrote that on one side and on the other side we wrote a mathematical equation, “99% > 1%.” Her husband, who is an engineer, suggested that. My whole apartment complex came out.

As a member of Occupy Seattle’s arts and entertainment work group, I’ve tried to inspire the artist in everyone to see the world as their canvas, to get out a sheet and write, “We are the 99%” or “Occupy Together.” We’ve also been making waterproof fists—the symbol of Occupy Seattle—and handing them out so people look like a uniform group.

It’s important to be as broad as possible with the message so we don’t exclude anyone. We’ve never told anybody there are restrictions, that you can’t do this or that. We told artists to check the Internet, see what kind of artwork is out there. It’s our responsibility to make sure we are inspiring people, not turning them away.

We are using the same tactics that corporations use to attract us to their products—symbols and colors and messages. We are trying to help people activate the right side of their brain through art and awaken the sleeping giant that is the 99 percent. That’s what we, as artists, can bring to the table.

We cannot wait around for other people to instruct us on what to do. If you’re passionate about something, if you have a great idea, get together a group and push it forward.

AS TOLD TO MARK BAUMGARTEN

Photo by Tyler Stringfellow

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