Puppets and public media advocates converged on Capitol Hill on Saturday afternoon to hit back at Governor Mitt Romney’s attack on Big Bird and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
Last month during the first US presidential debate, Romney pledged to end the federal subsidy of PBS — despite his fondness for Big Bird. Sesame Street is one of PBS’s most successful and longest running programs.
In response, Michael Bellavia and Chris Mecham, who had never met before they paired up to launch a social media campaign in defence of public media, organised Saturday’s Million Puppet March in Washington DC. The protest was originally called the "Million Muppet March" but was renamed to be a non-discriminatory puppet gathering.
Puppets of all shapes and sizes came together in the chilly Washington weather for an upbeat event that culminated in a puppetry performance of The Rainbow Connection that would’ve made Kermit proud.
Craig Aaron, president of the media advocacy organisation, Free Press, addressed the crowd.
"This fight isn’t just about Big Bird or [NPR’s] Morning Edition or the networks," he said.
"This is about the thousands of local community stations that wouldn’t be on the air without this funding. This is about the tens of thousands of jobs this funding helps support.
"What we need is to build a world-class public media system in America that is free from the whims of Washington and the pressures of Wall Street."
Aaron pointed out that Americans spend a mere US$1.50 each per year on public broadcasting — a miniscule amount compared to Canadians, Australians and Brits. PBS received just US$445 million of the US$3.8 trillion federal budget in 2012.
Public media is not the foremost issue in the US presidential campaign, but it is symbolic of the bigger question that will eventually decide Tuesday’s race: do Americans want public subsidies, healthcare and welfare; or lower taxes and deregulation? Do they want a government that bails them out; or one that leaves them alone?
New Matilda will be reporting from Washington DC this week as America decides.
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