Puppeteers defend PBS, protest funding cuts on Mall

Just 30 minutes after presidential hopeful Mitt Romney pledged to cut funding for public television programs in the Oct. 3 debate, two Muppet fans more than 1,000 miles apart hatched an idea to save the shows.

Los Angeles producer Michael Bellavia and Idaho college student Chris Meacham separately planned demonstrations to save the children’s programs, and began to coordinate after discovering each other’s website and Facebook page for the Million Muppet March.

After a month of coordinating through social media, the pair met in person for the first time Nov. 3, joined by more than 700 colorfully clad public broadcasting supporters.

Media Credit: Allie Schiffer | Hatchet Photographer

Supporters gathered in Lincoln Park and marched to Capitol Hill, shouting, “No puppets, no peace” and “Give felt a chance.”

Most wore puppets and many dressed up as Sesame Street characters, carrying signs that read “Elmo wants equality, not binders.” Dozens of Big Birds held signs like “Flip the GOP the bird” and “Keep your Mitts off me,” referring to the Sesame Street character Romney assured audiences he supported, despite his intent to cut funding to the program’s benefactor, the Public Broadcasting Service.

The demonstration culminated in a Twitter campaign, with thousands tweeting at 2 p.m. “I support continued funding of public broadcasting” with the march’s official hashtag.

Media Credit: Boting Wu | Hatchet Photographer

Andrea Klein, a Silver Spring, Md. resident and alumna, came out for the march because she believes the impact of public broadcasting stretches beyond shows like Sesame Street.

“This doesn’t just have to do with Big Bird, it’s about supporting PBS stations all across the country,” Klein said. “Stations will close if we don’t support them.”

Rather than taking a bitter stance on budget cuts, the marchers focused on the benefits of public broadcasting.

Freshman Amelia Williams said public broadcasting outlets shouldn’t be a partisan issue, calling Big Bird “a puppet, not a political issue.”

“[Public broadcasting] brings people joy, it’s educational and it brings America together,” Williams said.

Baltimore-native Louis Triandafilou said those without cable depend on public channels like PBS, backing the company’s programs that provide essential information and entertainment.

“It’s a resource that’s available to enlighten us and make everyone so happy,” the 60-year-old said. “The country could be robbed of something so important.”

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